Recently Kumail Nanjiani tweeted that the best Star Trek film was Galaxy Quest. I laughed at that because it’s a funny joke, but after having seen Star Trek: Into Darkness I enthusiastically agree with Kumail.
I don’t want to give you nightmares, but I feel like there’s something really important you need to know: there was a time, before the Internet, when if you liked science fiction because you liked to read and think outside of school, kids would probably just turn and walk wordlessly away from you on the playground. You didn’t know fanfic was a thing. You spent a lot of time trying to convince your sixth grade basketball team to watch Star Wars at sleepovers and only got your way once, while everyone was going to sleep, and it was clear you were meant to stop talking about it after that.
Nerd Chic in mainstream pop culture hasn’t been a thing for very long. It’s actually very strange for me that I write these movie reviews for this website. I didn’t get flat-out bullied much in school because I was an awkward nerd who was obsessed with The X-Files in high school, although I did learn through trial and error that it was about as popular a topic of conversation as family members with alcohol problems. But suddenly Geek has become a lucrative marketing tool and strangers in bars will listen to my elaborate arguments about spaceships.
So of course my immediate reaction to this flood of superhero and sci-fi in movies is to go full fangirl. But as much as I love to love this stuff, it’s not quite the stuff I fell in love with as a pubescent mess literally praying at night for a wormhole to open in my bedroom so I could finally get onto the Millennium Falcon. Part of what makes the classic mine of nerd-fuel so powerful is the fact that there is so much of it. Galaxy Quest is the best Star Trek movie because it’s about the way people love sci-fi as much as it is about the episodic adventures, silly and dramatic.
There are plenty of terrible movies that show that action sells; but it’s the slow burn of personal relationships, the intelligent humor, the self referencing and the variety that make Star Trek in particular so much fun. It’s aspirational stuff: the crew leaves Earth to explore, to seek out new life and new civilizations—not in a military capacity but an educational one. And along the way there were tribbles. And Whoopi Goldberg as a bartender explaining the complexities of human feelings to an android. The obscenely complicated, logically flawed way the ship’s engine works is almost always more fun than the inevitable fist-fight on the floating utility platform.
But that’s not really what this new feast of sci-fi film franchises are about. They’re about taking a pared-down, amusing version of the complex universe I love and selling it to as many casual movie goers as possible.
That said, Star Trek: Into Darkness is all that and a bag of Tribbles. Every shot you want to see, every “Damnit, Jim,” you want to hear, the fun crew chemistry, the hooking up with alien girls, the ridiculous music, Benedict Cumberbatch just being SO Cumberbatchey, the phasers set to stun, it’s all there. I accept that movies like this are made for the masses and are different from the science fiction I used to love in a way that made people uncomfortable. I’m content with a movie that just has fun.
Am I angry with J.J. Abrams for saying earlier this week that he doesn’t like the philosophy in Star Trek? Yup. Did I get action-fatigue two-thirds of the way through the movie and wish people would stop punching each other so they could talk about the reactor core and reminisce about obscure back story? Yup. But Galaxy Quest is there to reassure me about my feverish love of fictional bulk minutia. Into Darkness may paint with a broad brush, but there’s a scene where two characters shoot out of an airlock into a wide shot of space, the theater goes silent and everyone gasps together. In that moment of—scientifically accurate—silence, one guy in the back of the theater whispered “Oh shit!” and the whole room cracked up together.
Into Darkness is not the perfect nerd movie I’ve been waiting for but there was in fact a tribble in it, and maybe that makes it good enough for now.