Star Trek Into Darkness

I am a Star Trek fan.

I won’t say I’m a Trekkie, because I’ve recently discovered quite a few people of my generation and below don’t even know what Star Trek is. I’m not joking about this – take my good friend Daniel. He’s smart, likes video games, has friends, and is a pretty good representation of modern geek/nerd/plain ol’ pop culture. And when I first asked him what Star Trek was, he responded “Oh, yeah! The spaceship show that had George Takei on it, right?”

I’m just gonna let that phrase hang there. Daniel’s a great dude, but sometimes I just have to look at him and stand back, and…whatever. Point is, I’m a Trek fan – I know my Romulan Ale from my Saurian Brandy, and my multi-modal reflection sorting from my multi-spectral subspace engines. So this review of the latest Star Trek piece, Team Abrams’ no-one’s-sure-what-to-call-it-quel Star Trek Into Darkness, will be heavily grounded in my long experience with the franchise. And from the outset, let me say that though a lot of my compatriots in Trekdom have been bad-mouthing the movie, I didn’t really hate it. I hated quite a few aspects of it, and loved some others, but overall I was mildly entertained yet overwhelmingly disappointed. And I don’t want to take up too much space with this before I head into the recap, but I’ll briefly explain why I think this movie was a bad idea from the beginning.

Even though I’m a Trek fan, I’ll be the first to admit that not all of Trek is good. Voyager was mostly predictable filler, and Enterprise was just four seasons of one dumb and baffling idea after another. But even those two shows had their high points, their fun or thought-provoking episodes that, while not justifying the entire series, at least were good stories on their own.

But the rest of Trek has had, like all other shows, its ups and downs. There were characters you liked and disliked, plotlines you thought were brilliant or laughable. And if there was an episode you didn’t like, well, maybe the next episode would be better, or focus on something entirely new and different.

And that worked, because the premise of Star Trek was designed specifically for serialized storytelling. The central cast of our Starfleet crew would travel around on their ship (or, if you like that sort of thing, orbit around on their space station) and have to deal with something new every episode – discovering a new alien species, having a recurring character return, dealing with a personal problem among themselves, or maybe all three at once.

But I’m not reviewing a TV show here – I’m reviewing a movie. Some movies have experimented with some rudimentary form of serialization – in every level of filmmaking, from Iron Man 3 and its Marvel Cinematic Universe (by the way, check back here for the sketch version of its banner image) to Richard Linklater and his Before Time-of-day series (anyone else notice a similarity to the Twilight Saga with that naming scheme?).

But even those films have premises conceived for the more monolithic story structure of films rather than television My point is that whatever good points the Abrams movie reboots may have, they can’t ever hope to be as popular or influential as a TV show would be because there’s much fewer opportunities to flesh out the many characters or the huge and wondrous world they live in, and the work suffers both as a dramatic serial and a piece of science fiction because of that. Every single one of the Star Trek movies has been about one of three things:

– Captain Kirk and his loyal, inhuman friend Mr. Spock, flying around on the Starship Enterprise as they save Earth and the Federation from a big evil guy.

– Captain Picard and his loyal, inhuman friend Data, flying around on the Starship Enterprise as they save Earth and the Federation from a big evil guy.

– Captain Kirk and his loyal, inhuman friend Mr. Spock, running around on the aircraft carrier Enterprise as they save Earth and the Federation from a big being of unknown morality

…and I’ll note that this one-time variation was the most popular of the movies until the reboot.

But let’s get down to business. The movie starts with the energetic young crew of the Enterprise (“no bloody A, B, C or D!”) on an action-packed away mission to an alien planet. I really enjoy this opening – I don’t feel Star Trek movies have to be dumb sci-fi action flicks, but this is a great way to draw us into the world, and show off the big-budget special effects that are one of the good things about these movies.

Yeah, just take a look at that. Bright-red forest with Quarry People. I got nothing.

Now, let me make a note here about J.J. Abrams: He is a quality filmmaker. People don’t like the movies he makes because the stories don’t add up or the characters are shallow or things like that, but that’s not his department. He was responsible for the best aspects of the movie: The tone and the visuals. Not only does this crazy-looking alien planet in the opening scene just look fantastic, but we get a real sense of familiarity with the Enterprise crewmembers as they run around on it, like we’re another member of this big family. The dialogue is a bit dumb as everyone goes through the motions, but I’m willing to forgive them that for the sake of establishing their characters right off the bat.

The plot of this scene is quickly established: Captain Kirk and Dr. McCoy are on the planet’s surface to attract a bunch of primitive aliens. A volcano is erupting, you see, and the aliens will be destroyed by Mr. Spock’s “super ice cube”, which he needs to activate inside the volcano to neutralize it. There are a few hiccups in this plan, but it mostly succeeds until Spock finds himself cut off inside the volcano. He says that the best course of action is to let him activate the ice bomb, which will save the aliens while killing him preserving the Prime Directive (basically, don’t mess with primitive aliens, because apparently everyone in the future is a big fan of Stargate: SG-1).

Kirk and Spock are bros 4 life, though, so Kirk decides to break the rules to save his friend.The Enterprise majestically emerges from the water to get into teleporting range of Spock, while the Quarrymen start worshipping the ship as a god. Now, this sequence is nice – the visuals remain awesome except for one pretty freakin’ weird detail – the Enterprise now apparently has an exhaust trail of blue stardust, for no reason.

Why is this here? I’m not talkin’ diegetically here, I literally cannot think of any reason for this blue stardust crap to be here.

Anyway, the sequence is nice, and the visual of the ship emerging from the water is cool, but the problem is there isn’t any real reason for it to be underwater, and those sort of signature images should probably be saved for the climax of the movie rather than the opening anyway. In fact, the actual climax can’t think of any better striking visual to use, so it just does the same thing over again.

Before the next scene, I’ll take an opportunity to talk about our actors. Chris Pine as Kirk? I thought he was fine in the first reboot movie, as the young Maveresque officer who’s forced to take responsibility and work together with a team. Here, when he’s supposed to be closer to the Shatnerman we’re familiar with from the original show, he’s not as convincing. Captain America’s Chris Evans was able to pull off the cinematic transition from jock to hero, but Pine has less range, and this role really calls for someone with Shakespearean training. As for Zachary Quinto’s take on Spock, he’s pretty darn good. I wish his voice were deeper, but in a way the younger and uncertain portrayal gels with the more emotional interpretation of the character.

Then there’s the supporting crew. Simon Pegg brings a judicious mix of the comic relief and the audience surrogate in his take on Scotty, and Karl Urban as Bones is just criminally underused – he’s probably the best of the bunch at balancing modern day sensibilities with the classic interpretation of the character. Meanwhile, Zoe Saldana as Uhura shows why she’s on her way to replacing Sigourney Weaver as the First Lady of sci-fi (Anyone notice how she’s played a green space lady, a red-shirted space captain, and a blue space alien? Rainbow casting – I love it!). As for the dudes playing Chekov and Sulu? They’re fine. Neither really had much to do on the show anyway, so they probably have the most leeway here.

And our last lead is introduced in this scene. He’s played by British heartthrob Bensonhurst Cummerbund…I mean, dynamic Sherlock star Henderson Kayaclasch… I mean, the soulful and imposing Menelik Dumbledore…ah, screw it. Let’s just call him Big Ben, after that other popular and abnormally tall British institution.

He’s certainly wearing a heavy coat, for a movie that supposedly takes place in July.

Big Ben first appears in this scene, but it isn’t really an introduction. The scene is mostly silent establishing shots of 23rd-century London. I’m sort of sad that all of it turns out to be utterly pointless, because it’s a freakin’ transcendent scene – the cinematography is powerful and sweeping, the visuals are just filled with subtle touches of creativity that make you want to learn more about the world, and the complete lack of dialogue or sound effects allow the music to take center stage and artistically set the mood – by the way, Michael Giacchino’s score for this movie is one of the best I’ve heard for any movie in quite a while.

We don’t learn much about Big Ben’s character in this scene, other than that he does a favor to some random dude. In fact, the scene is so pointless it allows me to share a quick note – we’re just over ten minutes into the movie at this point, and this review is already clocking in at over 1500 words. The biggest reason for that is that I had so much to say about this movie that it was the event that really galvanized me into starting up this happy little website (a bit more on that later), so it has a special place in both my heart and this website’s history.

Back on Earth, Kirk and Spock are told to report to Starfleet Headquarters and talk to Admiral Pike, played by the seriously underappreciated Bruce Greenwood. He reprimands Kirk and Spock for breaking the rules. Kirk is angry, since no one got hurt, but Pike spells it out: Kirk is just a punk kid who got lucky a few times and was able to coast that to becoming the captain of the Federation’s flagship. He’s been relatively safe so far, but he doesn’t have nearly enough training or experience for the big chair, and someone has to let him know that before he or his crew suffer for it.

“Get me my pipe, James. I need to refill it while I give you worldly advice.”

This is great stuff. This scene reflects the attitude of many Trek fans toward the first Abrams movie, where Kirk was just a trainee from the Academy who suddenly got promoted to captain with zero real experience. Roberto Orci, the movie’s co-writer, gets the credit for this – he’s the real experienced Trekkie among the writing staff, and in fact got pretty angry late last year when accused of writing a shallow and dumb movie that didn’t live up to the fan’s expectations. He defended himself by pointing at this scene, where the fan criticisms were directly addressed and weaved into the narrative.

Roberto. Bob. If you’re reading this, first off, thanks for checking out this here operation, Mister big-shot-director-of-the-next-movie. second, I’m still eager to hear about the thought process behind the screenplay of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, and third, this wasn’t the part we were complaining about. I liked this scene, and I liked a lot of stuff in this movie, but there’s quite a few things – which I’m not saying were the parts you wrote, Rob, but they’re in the movie – that are just plain ridiculous, dumb and pathetic. And you can explain and justify your decisions to us, but that doesn’t discount our objections.

Anyway, in the next scene the plot kicks off – in another wordless, masterfully crafted and completely pointless scene, we check back with Big Ben and his Londoner friend. (Again, it’s sort of sad and disappointing to think that the only reason these scenes are in London is to justify Big Ben having a British accent). Big Ben blackmails the dude into going to a top secret Starfleet base and blowing it up. Pike and Kirk are told to report to a briefing about this, and they talk to each other on the way. We see Pike has become a serious, long-term father figure for Kirk, and that the two men really care about each other no matter how much they disagree. Kirk and Spock also have one of their trademark scenes – a clash of Vulcan and human viewpoints on a difficult situation, tinged with just a hint of sexual tension. It’s the sort of thing I want to see more – again, this is why this should be a TV show, so you can have a better ratio of action stuff to character moments.

At the briefing, we’re introduced to the head of Starfleet, Peter Weller. It’s sort of fun seeing him, but he is just not a well written character – we don’t get a whole lot to inform us of his character other than “Growly man who likes violence”. Anyway, Admiral Growly tells us that Starfleet’s top priority is to hunt Big Ben down, and drops some War On Terror allusions that will pay off later.

“Ladies and gentlemen, it is my great pleasure…to introduce…RidicuPlot.”

Just like the first movie, though, Kirk is the only one there to realize that this is a trap (Yeah, people have accused the movie of having pretty much the same dramatic arc as the first reboot movie – I think it’s a justifiable decision given the last movie’s lack of substance, but it could have been handled much better by acknowledging this and showing that their development started but didn’t complete). Kirk manages to warn everyone just in time for Big Ben to attack, causing a very well-shot action scene – chaotic, wordless and moodily lit, but still very easy to follow. Big Ben retreats, but only after killing quite a few officers, including Admiral Pike. As he lies dying, Spock goes up to his corpse and mind melds with him – a (pun intended) fascinating idea that doesn’t get nearly the amount of attention it should.

The next day, our crew discovers what’s happened. Big Ben used a super-secret and powerful technique called “Transwarp beaming” to escape after Kirk saw through his scheme. Those of you unburdened with lives may remember that this was the same stuff used in the last movie, with very ill-defined capabilities that could be interpreted as making all spaceships unnecessary. Well, the way it’s used right here – you still listening, Bobbo? – really doesn’t help matters. Not only does it confirm that, yeah, it’s much more convenient and safe than starships are, but after this single use it’s never even brought up again. Scotty, the transporter wizard who invented the process, gets a chance to bellyache a few minutes from now, so why not have him bring up this, however briefly? Isn’t that the sort of thing he does anyway?

But the important is that Big Ben used his plot device to hide out on Kronos, the homeworld of the Klingons (by the way, nerdy gripe for a second here – yes, I’m fine with calling it Kronos. Qo’noS is the home of the tlhlIngan, not the Klingons), the renowned race of funny-foreheaded space samurai (yay for alliteration!) who have been in a state of cold war with the Federation for decades. This situation was oddly prescient of Edward Snowden’s from just a couple of months after the premiere, and I think it’s a testament to the movie’s ultimate failure that so few people cared about this. The underrated Star Trek VI, from late 1991, became well-known after its release for predicting the stormy events surrounding the collapse of the Soviet Union, particularly the failed eleventh-hour coup which was mirrored by the conspiracy of…well, I won’t spoil it for you, since it’s still a good movie that very few people have actually seen.

It’s got Christopher Plummer as this here tough customer.

After our crew finds out that Big Ben is on Kronos, Adm. Growly says to Kirk that the cold war with the Klingons could heat up at any second, and the situation needs to be handled as quietly and delicately as possible…before turning around and giving a few dozen super-powerful photon torpedoes to the man who was demoted less than 24 hours ago for his inability to handle a covert operation or follow specific orders. With orders to go on a covert mission by carpet-bombing an unrepentant terrorist on a known enemy’s home soil, Kirk eagerly suits up.

On the way to the Enterprise he gets a great scene with Bones and Spock. The latter is unhappy that he’s accepting this pig-headed and obviously doomed mission without a second thought and is obviously allowing his desire to avenge Pike get the better of his judgement, while the former is just quietly resigned because he does this sort of thing all the time. I just don’t understand why this is the only time these three central characters have any meaningful dialogue with each other, especially since even these scenes are visually striking and exciting to watch, thanks to J.J. Abrams.

Speaking of the movie’s visual style, let’s get to the Enterprise. Opinions on the heavily redesigned ship have been divided, but I’m generally for it. The whole point of these new movies is that the creators are prioritizing dramatic and engaging sci-fi storytelling over reliance on classic Trek continuity, and the new areas of the ship are all very interesting and cool looking – true, quite a bit of it makes no sense in the context of a centuries-advanced FTL starship, but I’m willing to take that trade-off if we can still keep the warp core that’s an actual state-of-the-art power generator.

And no, I’m not saying a word about the lens flare. It’s there, and it doesn’t particularly change the way I feel about the movie.

Onboard the ship, Scotty is angry at Kirk. He refuses to go through with this mission not because it’s a horrible idea that no one would agree to, but because his authority is being countermanded by the mysterious and alluring Lt. Britishley, a scientist and weapons technician who shows up out of nowhere. Scotty shouts at Kirk to get his head out of his ass, Lt.  at Britishley to tell him what’s going on, and at Ed to close the front door and keep the zombies out. No one listens, though, and Scotty resigns from Starfleet after a loud rant meant to distill the fans’ problems with the first reboot movie into a single half-minute tirade. I’ll have to give you a nod here, Bob, but admitting you have a problem is only the first step to solving it…and I’m still waiting for that Amazing Spider-Man 2 explanation.

After the recommended daily allowance of iconic majesty, the Enterprise jumps to warp and heads to Kronos. Kirk decides that he’ll lead an away team to capture Big Ben while in disguise, which makes sense. He also assigns Mr. Chekov to be Scotty’s replacement as chief engineer, which makes less sense – especially when he breaks the warp core not 2 minutes after his promotion, meaning there’s a ticking clock for Captain Kirk and his away team of Spock, Uhura, and two redshirt clones of Jayne Cobb to complete the mission.

As part of their disguise, they go down to the planet in a ship that I would probably say was the Millennium Falcon with the serial numbers filed off, even if it didn’t literally look like a Corellian Engineering YT-1300 light freighter after a belt sander, a paint job and a set of phony plates(I’m less of a Warrior than a Trekkie, but I still know my Sio Bibble from my Sebulba). As Mr. Sulu tracks Big Ben as part of the mandatory Trek movie Thing-To-Do program, our actual main cast gets to talk about things.

Uhura is in a relationship with Spock, you see – although this has mattered precisely not at all for the first third of this movie. Now, though, she confronts Spock on his strictly logical viewpoint – it’s not okay to do Vulcan things like sacrifice yourself for the Quarrymen or try to get reassigned to another ship, if you’re in a relationship with a human who loves you and needs you to be there. Spock responds that he doesn’t want to allow his emotions to show because he’s constantly in emotional turmoil – his entire planet was blown up in the last movie, and he’s mind-melded with the dying Admiral Pike to get a firsthand experience of death. He did that to try to come to terms with his powerful feelings of death, but he’s still working on it, and he doesn’t want to bring that to the surface because it would interfere with his Starfleet duties.

Okay, got all that? Because that’s pretty much the last real character development we’ll get until after the climax of the movie. It’s time for a dumb action sequence, as the [spaceship not registered] gets chased by some Klingons. It’s fast paced, and the music is great as always, but the consequence of the weird alien environment they’re in is that you can’t tell what the hell is going on.

A Klingon…mine? Space elevator? Cloud factory?

Eventually, the Klingons agree to meet in a Gears of War multiplayer map (Gee, I wonder how this meeting will go?). The Klingons look pretty cool and menacing, but the problem is there’s no hint of the Soviet allegory that was the original conceit of the characters – of a people who had an opposing ideology, but were still easily relatable beyond that. Here they’re just bad guys, which works just fine in the context of the movie but doesn’t bode well for future installments. But we’re stuck with these Klingons, who get into the expected firefight. The redshirts are killed because Redshirts won last year’s Hugo Award, but all the people with a name are rescued by Big Ben, who’s somehow found an authentic Sherlock coat somewhere in the desolate Kronosian (is that the right demonym?) wastes.

Big Ben surrenders and willingly goes to the Enterprise’s brig. He says that there’s lots more to the story than Kirk realizes. Spock and Bones both warn Kirk that this is a trap, whereupon Kirk kicks them out to have a one-on-one. This doesn’t make sense from a storytelling or dramatic standpoint – not only does it deprive our villain with the chance to interact with each of the central characters and respond to each of their varied viewpoints, but when you’re a commander of a ship, it’s a dumb decision to make yourself this vulnerable to a psychological assault from a known blackmailer.

Big Ben tells Kirk that he’s being played – that he was expected to bomb Kronos with the super-powerful torpedoes, which are apparently plot devices now. He tells Kirk to investigate both the torpedoes (which he agrees to almost immediately) and a very precise location in high Earth orbit, which makes no sense at all since they’re still at Kronos.

Luckily, Scotty’s still on Earth, and wearing some manner of 23rd-century leisure suit while he parties in the Mos Eisley Cantina. He goes to the location and finds a frightening chord sequence and a scene transition, to Kirk talking to Lt. Britishley about the torpedoes. Not much really happens in the scene, which means I can talk about the incidental dialogue. Overall, it’s pretty darn good, achieving a good balance of information about the plot and universe with characters trading punchy barbs. It doesn’t save this scene, though, which is an excuse to show Lt. Britishley in her underwear. No, that’s not a joke, that’s the whole point of this scene.

And the irony is, I get a lot more enjoyment from this awesome pan-in from the ship’s exterior to the bridge.

Y’know, it wasn’t too long ago when the Trek franchise reached the level of a Shakespearean drama, in its touching portrayal of people pushed to the limits of their feelings and abilities…and now we’ve sunk to the level of brainless comedies. I really don’t like the snobs who say that Abrams has ruined the franchise, but in places like these I can really see where they’re coming from.

Back in the realm of scenes where important things happen, Lt. Britishley discovers that the warhead of the super-powerful photon torpedo is…a person. (Yes, the torpedoes still work. We’ll see them blow up later. No, don’t ask me how) Kirk angrily asks Big Ben about how he knew this, and he tells them everything: He’s actually a genetically-engineered superman, who was put in cryosleep along with his followers after his attempt to take over the world failed thanks to whichever preteen spy TV show is your favorite (I’m partial to Inspector Gadget, myself).

Now, as someone who’s seen a lot of comic-book movies but not read a lot of comic books, I can totally understand the feeling those of you unfamiliar with Trek have with this backstory: “Oh, this is needlessly complicated and unnecessarily detailed. This guy must be someone important on the original show, who was brought in as fan service.” And you’re right – it’s treated as very important when Big Ben reveals his true name: “KHAAAAAAAAAAAN!”

Meh. Not really. Let’s just call him “Khanberbatch”.

Yeah, that was a pretty safe reference – even Daniel knows about William Shatner shouting the name, after being tricked by the ancient dictator in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. The problem is that this is all people are expected to know – and thus, having Khan here really does nothing for the story. Quoth Bob:

“We did conceive of the story without Khan  in mind. If you think about it, he could’ve revealed his name was Schmuko[sic] with a slightly different back story – the story still stands.”

Yeah, no. The story is very clearly set up for Big Ben to be a man much more powerful and smarter than Kirk – and because of the commonalities between all Trek movies I mentioned earlier, this means that the villain will do Khan stuff regardless. But this isn’t on you, Bob – no, no, step aside. Get your old pal and co-worker Damon Lindelof on the line. Go on, I’ll wait.

Okay, you there? Hello, Mr. Lindelof. I’m a fan of work with your name on it – which is not to say I’m a fan of your work. Let’s run down your list of accomplishments. First off, you took over as the head writer of Lost in its latter years – which I’m not blaming you for, it’s obvious that quite a lot of that was made up as they went along, and not many people could do anything at all while picking up all the pieces. Next up, you penned Cowboys and Aliens – which was a pretty darn underrated film, let’s be clear. It’s obvious you knew how to handle material like…well, cowboys and aliens.

But thing things turned sour. It’s pretty much universally agreed that you were the one who turned Prometheus from an above-average philosophical sci-fi horror movie into Inception’s replacement as the Internet Whipping Boy. And then you were contracted for the film of World War Z – I wasn’t the biggest fan of Max Brooks’ original book, but it was a powerful, unique and deeply human tale compared to the forgettable popcorn flick that I don’t feel the need to review.

And this problem is on you – says this film’s least culpable screenwriter Alex Kurtzman. Khan isn’t the worst thing about this, but most of the problems people have with the story seem to lead back to him, and he is definitely the dumbest thing. Why? Well, let’s break it down: My tried-and-true method for finding plot holes in a poorly-thought-out bad guy’s plan is a two pronged attack. First, we ask “Why is this happening now?” And second, “What was the actual plan from the very beginning?” Play the game for yourself at home, if you’re the sort of person like me who enjoys finding flaws in movies, otherwise you can continue to enjoy the things you like.

In terms of the first question, there’s no real answer because of how needlessly complicated they try to make the plot. Something about how Admiral Growly used the events of the first movie after an excuse to start a war with the Klingons and needed his brilliant military mind, in a fumbling attempt to duplicate the Iron Man 3 ethos. As for the second question? Khan’s plan is never really stated. He says he wanted to protect his followers by putting them back in cryostasis and smuggling them in the torpedoes, but then he blows up London and Pike and escapes to Kronos. None of it holds up to the briefest of second looks, which is a drastic failure for a plot filled with intrigue.

Back in the realm of that plot, Kirk is still reeling from the revelation that Admiral Growly is the bad guy when he shows up right next to the Enterprise, in this ship: No, really. That confusing mass of polygons and bad textures, looking like something straight from a Mass Effect game or even the Star Trek Online MMORPG, is real. Someone actually spent quite a while designing and rendering that ship for a Star Trek movie. Even before the film was released, I had seen it in preview images and took to calling it the USS Please Be Intimidated, Please!

Kirk faces down the Intimidated, and tries to warp back to Earth to escape it, but apparently those blocky, PS2-graphic warp engines are the pinnacle of Federation technology, because they have the ability to enter the same warp field as another ship…which, I’ll admit, makes for an awesome scene. It takes a lot to get me to physically react to something onscreen, but I’ll admit I winced when all the redshirts get sucked into space at warp speed.

Kirk tries to take responsibility for himself by sacrificing himself to save the crew, but that gets shot down quickly as the ships face off in Earth orbit. Kirk realizes that there’s no real way they can hope to stand against the Intimidated, until he gets a call from Scotty. He found the ship during his investigation, somehow managed to sneak his way on (My guess is that he took off his leisure suit and instantly became invisible to everyone by comparison), and he’s temporarily scrambled their systems. This only buys them a few minutes of time, so Kirk needs to come up with a plan to take down the Intimidated fast. He says that the best idea is to bring Khanberbatch along to infiltrate the ship, taking advantage of his super strength and tactical experience. Spock says that this is stupid because Khan is obviously a bad guy who will betray Kirk at the first chance he gets, whereupon Kirk gets one of the most laughable attempts at a character moment in a Trek movie – and yes, I’m counting Generations, Nemesis and The Final Frontier here. Kirk’s speech is reprinted in full below:

“You’re right! What I am about to do, it doesn’t make sense, it’s not logical, it is a gut feeling! I have no idea what I’m supposed to do. I only know what I can do. The Enterprise and her crew needs someone on that chair who knows what he’s doing. That’s not me. It’s you, Spock.”

What is this supposed to tell us about Kirk? That he knows he’s a reckless meathead, but that’s okay because he’s putting himself at risk of death with his dumb ideas? I just can’t parse this. Let’s just skate over this entire stupidity to the next action scene, where Kirk and Khan having to manually penetrate the Intimidated’s shields by flying through a cloud of space junk. Trek fans have noted the similarity to a hilariously dumb scene from Star Trek Nemesis where Data the robot tries to do the same thing to an enemy ship, and ends up looking like an idiot due to the wideness of the ship and his pathetic flailing:

Wheeeeeee!

But once again, this shows that director J.J. Abrams is just about the best thing that could be hoped for when it comes to these exhilarating sequences – mixing harrowing views of Kirk and Khanberbatch flying at unimaginable speed with Simon Pegg’s well-practiced mid-combat antics.

They make it to the Intimidated and prepare to storm the bridge, but Spock is scared that they won’t make it, and so he puts in a call to – you didn’t guess it – Leonard Nimoy, as Old Spock. I just hate this scene. Not only had Nimoy said that he wasn’t going to reprise the role of Old Spock, but he doesn’t need to be here at all. He’s just there to remind the audience that Khan is a bad guy, as if we couldn’t tell from his evil appearance, evil voice or evil behavior. To quote Mike Nelson &c., He just says the catchphrase and cashes the paycheck.

Say, you know what would have been a smart way to have him in the movie? How about use him as the voice of the Intimidated’s ship computer. Not only would it be yet another reference to classic Star Trek, but it would be subtle and classy…just like the muted Wilhelm Scream that belts out in the next when Kirk, Scotty and Khan get into a fistfight in a corridor on the Intimidated – which also has a prominent “42” stencil on it. After this business, they storm the bridge and take out everyone except Admiral Growly. Kirk chooses to lecture him rather than paying attention to the guy who he apparently knows will betray him, and sure enough Khan overpowers Kirk before sending him back to the heavily damaged Enterprise and crushing Admiral Growly’s head like a tomato.

He died as he lived – laughably attempting to be serious.

Khanberbatch threatens to destroy the ship if Spock doesn’t give him the photon torpedoes with all his goons inside them, but thanks to some trickery Dr. McCoy and Lt. Britishley have rigged them all to explode (Again, can someone go into how that works if the warhead has been replaced by a dude?). Khanberbatch is angry and strikes back, meaning both ships are severely crippled and begin falling toward Earth. This means that the gravity starts becoming erratic as Kirk rushes through the ship to get the power online. I like this idea – it’s a good way to keep the action varied, and do things with the ship that you never could on a TV budget.

Going through the ship, Kirk finds that Spock actually removed Khanberbatch’s followers from the torpedoes before they blew up, and Dr. McCoy is currently doing some lightning-fast medical studies of their regenerative powers, presumably to treat the many people guaranteed to be wounded when, gravity starts spinning around like…something funny, which spins around. Meanwhile, Spock and Sulu strap in their seatbelts (which I’m happy to see as a fan, after forty-seven years of shaking the camera and adding spark effects) and prepare to go down with the ship, but Kirk has other plans, as he finds the damaged warp core and looks for a way to fix it and…

…Some background before this, folks. I’ve said that this movie is chock-full of references to the original movies, but every single part of the franchise made after the original series owes something to The Wrath of Khan. This is the third Trek movie made to replicate that film’s success(They’ve gone 1-for-2 before this, with the action-horror oriented Star Trek: First Contact taking its place among the best of Trek and the much closer remake Star Trek Nemesis as one of the worst), and the first one to actually have Khan as the bad guy. Other than Khanberbatch, the film has largely had its own story that takes more cues from space political thriller The Undiscovered Country, but that stops right here to go back to the Khan well.

So we get not even a rehash, but a straight-up repeat of the climax of Wrath of Khan, with the minor change that Kirk is the one who goes into the warp core to fix it, exposing himself to a lethal amount of radiation poisoning which he succumbs to as he talks to Spock. The only real difference that I like is the more elaborate-looking warp core, which Kirk restarts by doing some high-precision Fonzarellic maintenance.

As the scene continued, and Kirk and Spock had a goodbye that was only tragic to them (Death is only tragic if it looks like it’s permanent, folks), I reflected. “Well, obviously there’s going to be more to the movie, since we still haven’t finished off Khanberbatch yet, so they might have a chance to save themselves from this. And they’re still showing some restraint – they didn’t have anyone scream “Khan”, so they might actually be going somewhere serious.” Well, not ten seconds later, as Kirk fades away, we cut to Spock…

Everyone in the theater I was in laughed at this. I assumed this was a joke on their part – keeping the movie’s tone light by satirizing both their own propensity for references and the ending of a certain other sci-fi prequel…but upon reflection it looks like they were being completely serious. I really just can’t fathom why they would let all the drama out of the movie like this.

And now that the drama has been let out of the movie, the action loses its luster for me. The Intimidated falls to Earth past the Enterprise, causing massive damage to San Francisco. Spock chases Khanberbatch down on foot, which I only tolerate because it means we get more views of everyday life in the future.

Eventually the two confront on top of a space fire engine, and Spock overpowers Khanberbatch and starts punching him in the face. This shows why the film has fallen apart – Spock never had a real character arc, he just got really angry after something bad happened to him. And since it’s the end of the movie, I guess this is supposed to be a positive change.

Oh look, his girlfriend’s there – it’s a bonding activity!

But meanwhile, McCoy has his own problems – he examines Kirk’s radiation-riddled corpse, and figures out that he could be revived if he received a transfusion of Khanberbatch’s super regenerative blood. One smash cut later, Kirk’s back from the dead, Spock has gained a new respect for Kirk’s emotional ways. In a short coda, we cut to a year later when the Enterprise has been refit for its famous 5-year mission, Lt. Britishley has become a main cast member, and Kirk recites the original intro, as the ship pixie-dusts its way to the end credits.

Now, the movie fell apart around halfway through, but there’s no denying that there’s some really great ideas in Into Darkness. Dropping the whole Khan plot entirely would obviously be first on the agenda were I in control, but what to fill it with? Well, I think the answer lies in the original series – specifically, the episode “Journey to Babel”. The episode centers around Kirk and the Enterprise having to host a huge contingent of diplomats, and dealing with the tension between the many alien races that made up the Federation while also trying to solve a murder mystery, with the victim being Spock’s father.

The planet Vulcan was destroyed in the last movie, so this provides the perfect jumping-off point. Start the movie with the same opening sequence where they save the planet, but make those events actually important – maybe they discover the planet was destroyed inadvertently by Vulcans. This means Kirk and his crew will have to go to a big conference to get to the bottom of this – with Admirals Pike and Growly escorting him. Show us what the highly traditionalist Vulcans are doing without their home planet, which gives you an opportunity for a Leonard Nimoy cameo that makes sense. Maybe you could also have Big Ben in here too, as an aloof Vulcan leader – it would be a much better reason to cast him. He can keep his role as the red herring bad guy for Admiral Growly – he looks menacing, but he turns out to be doing everything for logical reasons as the Enterprise and its crew get into a series of action scenes. I haven’t really been thinking about this long, so I haven’t filled in the details – but even then, I think this would be a better premise than we got (though still not as good as a TV show).

Though Into Darkness was heavily inspired by The Undiscovered Country, the film it resembles most is probably Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. It also featured Kirk breaking the rules to do what’s right, the Enterprise facing down a huge Starfleet ship, a skirmish with the Klingons, a hand-to-hand final battle amidst a destroyed landscape, and of course, lots of stuff from The Wrath of Khan – although it’s more forgivable in this case since it followed directly on from that film.

And like The Search for Spock, Into Darkness was initially well-received by fans and critics alike, before it was seriously reevaluated later and found to be a worse film in hindsight. This is a problem many people have with J.J. Abrams’ movies, and I can attest that it’s a readily observable phenomenon – you see, when the movie first came out, I really liked it, and so did most of my fellow Trekkies at my local haunt, stardestroyer.net. If you go on that forum today, though, you’ll see a much more negative reaction from all corners. I started to see this just weeks after the movie was released, and it got me thinking; “What will people think of this movie in a year?” The thought of starting a review blog had been slowly coalescing in my mind for months, but it wasn’t until I made the connection and saw I had an obvious gimmick/money-saving device going, that this site began to take shape.

So again, thank you, Star Trek Into Darkness. For everything and for nothing.

TWO THUMBS UP: Direction, visual design, action scenes, most of the actors

THUMBS UP: The first act, the themes of the movie

WAVY, DOWNTURNED PALM: Creating this site

THUMBS DOWN: Pine, Weller and Big Ben, most of the plot

TWO THUMBS DOWN: Khanberbatch and his paphernalia, the Please Be Intimidated, Please

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