Star Trek Into Darkness

Star Trek Into DarknessSynopsis: J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek Into Darkness is the best-reviewed blockbuster of the year. When a ruthless mastermind known as Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch) declares a one-man war on the Federation, Captain Kirk (Chris Pine), Spock (Zachary Quinto), and the daring crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise will embark on the greatest manhunt in history. It will take all of their skills and teamwork to defend Earth and eliminate Khan’s threat in this “sleek, thrilling epic.”
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Star Trek Into Darkness 7.75

eyelights: its nods to the original Trek.
eyesores: its out-of-character characters.

“If Spock were here, and I were there, what would he do?”

Before 2013’s belated sequel to 2009’s ‘Star Trek‘ reboot came out, I knew I wasn’t going to see it.

First: It’s called ‘Star Trek Into Darkness’. Oh, for god’s sake, call it ‘Star Trek 2’, if you must. But don’t call it ‘Star Trek Into Darkness’ – especially without a colon or hyphen. It sounds like someone was trying to be clever and failed.

Second: It has frickin’ Khan in it! Look, even before the picture came out, everyone knew. And, you know what? We don’t need a rehash or even an homage to ‘The Wrath of Khan’. It already exists. Come up with something new, already!

So, naturally, I boycotted the movie.

I mean, as exciting as the reboot was, it basically transformed ‘Star Trek’ into the ‘Star Wars’ prequels: all style and little substance; it was flashy, wall-to-wall action with little understanding of the Star Trek universe and its characters.

I really didn’t need another one.

But some of my friends kept telling me that I should give it a try: despite its lower domestic gross, it was better than its predecessor – and it was simply a good Trek picture. So, when the blu-ray got dirt cheap, I decide to give it a shot.

And, you know what? I liked it! I really did.

This time, the Enterprise crew 2.0 find themselves faced with an unknown (to them!) enemy by the name of John Harrison. Having just attacked a Starfleet archive, Kirk realizes that Harrison has much more insidious plans in store.

Unfortunately, he’s too late and his mentor is killed in a second attack. Kirk negotiates for permission to send the Enterprise on a manhunt for Harrison – even though he’s deep in enemy territory on the Klingon homeworld of Kronos!

Now Kirk and company are faced with threefold danger: from Harrison, from the Klingons and… from within.

Sounds exciting, doesn’t it?

And it was.

The first time.

Sadly, upon the second viewing, many months later, my enthusiasm for ‘STID’ has waned. While I had initially felt that it was more in line with the classics, having recently re-watched the original films reminded me of what great Trek was.

And this wasn’t it.

Firstly, there’s the matter of its lack of depth. At its best, ‘Star Trek’ discusses important concerns and uses science fiction as a vehicle by which these discussions may take place. This is true of most Trek films, even the really bad one.

The problem is that ‘STID’ either only lightly touches on the few subjects it brings up, renders them murky by overwhelming the picture with trivialities, or is completely off-base with the message that it is trying to send to audiences.

Case-in-point:

  • Responsibility: Kirk’s disregard of Starfleet regulations come into play when he ignores the Prime Directive in the pre-credit sequence – and then proceeds to conceal it from his immediate superior, Christopher Pike. While he’s taken to task for it, at no point is he confirmed wrong nor does he ever concede that he was – he consistently fights to prove himself right.

Not only that, but Spock’s unflinching big picture view is under consistent fire from both Kirk and Uhura – as though he were in the wrong. Plus which the true value of the Prime Directive, and the impact that Kirk had by ignoring it, is only barely touched upon. It all blurs the line to such a degree that it’s impossible to know what the message the audience should take home is.

  • Terror: Okay, so Khan has been revived by Starfleet to create advanced weaponry to be used against the Klingons. And the attack on Starfleet is by Khan. So the suggestion is that sometimes our enemy is in our midst, is one of us.

But the picture doesn’t delve into the idea that the attack was also an act of desperation by someone who is being blackmailed. And that, ultimately, in the film, those who decry the attacks are the instigators; it benefits them.

It’s there, in the script, but it’s not cleanly illustrated.

  • Friendship: The original shows and films were about friendship – in particular, between Kirk, Spock and McCoy. Here the value of friendship is discussed in absolute terms: Friends always look out for friends. Relationships are all-consuming. There are no other concerns but the bonds between people.

Kirk ignored the Prime Directive to save Spock. Spock gave his life without any concern for the impact it would have on those he loved. Kirk is good. Spock is bad. Spock is incessantly berated by friend and lover, but Kirk is only berated by his superior once – and without explaining why the rules are important.

Further muddying the waters is that Khan tells Kirk that he attacked them because he wanted to avenge and/or protect his peers, who to him are family – reminding Kirk that, he too, would do anything for his own. This either makes Khan a good guy, or it makes Kirk a bad guy, but this is never explored here.

Kirk continued to be the good guy. And Khan the bad guy.

Period.

The problem is that, by letting audiences make up their own minds, heart wins over intellect; people always react more strongly to their guts than to logic. While they may have been well-intentioned, the filmmakers scuttled their message.

Whatever it was.

Secondly, there are the characters – a concern I had with the first reboot but that has grown immeasurably with this one. Although it’s an alternate timeline, with a new cast, the characters should at least seem familiar.

  • Kirk: I have absolutely nothing against Chris Pine – his performance is solid throughout. It’s inarguable that it’s more consistent than William Shatner’s, too, but he lacks Shatner’s charm – he trades it in for cockiness instead. And his Kirk is far less diplomatic and far more reckless.
  • Spock: I could never get beyond the lack of gravitas in his voice the first time around, and I still can’t – it would have been so easy to fix this in post-production. His voice is key to his character; it adds seriousness, credibility. Not so here. But Quinto also plays him soft this time, not firm. It’s as though Spock’s not committed to his decisions and actions. Even his posture is weak. If it’s intentional it was a poor choice. If it’s inadvertent, Quinto was asleep at the wheel. He’s also totally out of character, emotional as he is, unless you base yourself on the Spock from “The Cage”.
  • McCoy: Karl Urban was an unexpected delight in the previous film, capturing the essence of McCoy so keenly that he almost made me forget about DeForest Kelley – he owned the part. This time, he’s more cantankerous, less humourous, and less of a joy to watch. Perhaps it’s because his part was comparably smaller, which is also a problem – McCoy should be as significant as Kirk and Spock; he balances them out. Not so here.
  • Uhura: Yes, she has more to do than in the first film and than Nichelle Nichols’ Uhura did, which is an improvement. But why is she such a dick? Honestly, I like Nichols’ Uhura: I find her personality alluring; she had charm. This Uhura is meant to be a bad@$$, but she has no real redeeming value. It makes me wonder why Spock is even with her. Spock didn’t need Uhura in the original, so what in the world is so captivating about her here that he just couldn’t help himself? It’s baffling.
  • Scotty: Simon Pegg is quite excellent, as per usual, but he plays Scotty a bit too cartoony for my taste: Aside for a couple of bits in ‘The Final Frontier’ (and the less said about that, the better), Scotty was always dignified. Pegg’s Scotty is googly-eyed and always losing his !#@$. He’s the running gag. Literally.
  • Sulu: John Cho is excellent in the part. While he doesn’t have George Takei’s captivating voice, Sulu was never a central figure, so Cho’s acting compensates.
  • Chekov: Anton Yelchin is also excellent as Chekov. I dislike that Chekov is rendered inept for comic relief, but thankfully he has little screen time. Nothing against Yelchin (RIP) who was stellar in the part.

My gut feeling watching this second film is that the actors based their personages on the previous films, forgetting that they should be based on three seasons and six motion pictures of ‘Star Trek’; the characters have a history.

Yes, they want to own the characters, inhabit them with their own persons, but these are iconic characters. At some point, you also have to give the characters respect. And I think that this is severely lacking in this particular movie.

Then there’s the no small matter of Khan.

Khan Khan Khan… why oh why did they take a Caucasian to play a Sikh? It was bad enough that they originally took a Mexican, but back in the day there was a tremendous amount of naïveté around the casting of other races.

Now, however, there’s no excuse for white-washing. I read a quote from one of the co-producers who said that they were uncomfortable “demonizing anyone of color, particularly any one of Middle Eastern descent or anyone evoking that”.

Fine. I get it.

Then create a new character! Or don’t make Khan a terrorist!

It’s not rocket science, man!

As for Benedict Cumberbatch’s interpretation, well, could he be any blander? I mean, he’s perfectly credible in his delivery, but he’s bland as toast. And if there’s anything that Khan is not, it’s f-ing bland. He’s passionate, charismatic!

This Khan if the most underwhelming villain EVER!

As for the rest of the picture… let’s pick it apart, shall we?

  • ‘Into Darkness’ starts with a lengthy, high speed foot chase involving Kirk and McCoy. And no red shirts. They wind up escaping by jumping off this massive cliff into the water below. Naturally, they aren’t stunned or injured; they’re just human, after all. Then they swim to the NC-1701, which has been waiting underwater. Yes, they hold their breaths the whole way, even though they’d been sprinting and dove 100 feet. Seriously, most athletes wouldn’t pull this feat. It’s exciting, but most illogical.
  • Um… why is the NC-1701 parked underwater? Wouldn’t it be easier and less of a risk to just monitor the alien race from space or to send a small complement instead? Further to that, since the Enterprise is designed for space travel, I have a difficult time imagining that it’s 100% waterproof. Or that the alien race wouldn’t have heard or seen them land when they first got there.
  • Spock is sent out to drop a device that will prevent an eruption that will devastate the only civilization there. Firstly, this infringes the Prime Directive, and Spock wouldn’t do that. Secondly, he’s hung by a cable that breaks because a drop of lava hits it. But then, standing in the middle of the active, boiling volcano, the whole time he’s there he isn’t touched by any lava – he remains unharmed even though he’s right in it. Whatever.
  • The film shows the initial impact of violating the Prime Directive, with the nascent civilization seeing the Enterprise and incorporating it in their lore. But they never show the long-term effects: What does it mean that they draw the NC-1701? Will they worship its form in the future? Did they even know religion before this? What influence will it have on them?

Who knows.

  • Michael Giacchino’s music is really quite good, but I don’t like the new title theme; it’s sort of generic, not at all iconic like past ones.
  • Christopher Pike takes Kirk to task for interfering and breaking the rules – and this cocky version deserves the tongue-lashing.
  • Khan’s… ahem… Harrison’s experiments help him find a cure for a Fleet staff whose daughter is dying of something or other. In trade, he asks for confidential Starfleet information and the man’s life – along with everyone else’s who happen to be in the building he’ll be blowing up. It’s dramatic, but somehow it’s not ominous; Harrison doesn’t feel dangerous.

(Okay, so we know it’s Khan. Lame. But at least they don’t only try to reveal it at the end; it was a wasted effort, but at least it didn’t become a joke.)

  • Kirk gets a second chance, but now he’ll be Pike’s First Officer on the NC-1701. Meanwhile, Spock is sent to another ship. That seems realistic enough, but they scuttled that idea really quickly with a second attack by Khan.
  • After the initial attack, some of Starfleet’s most prominent leaders meet in a conference room that is exposed and unprotected. This seems like a huge security oversight to me. Naturally, Khan makes the most of it and attacks a second time. But it’s so obvious to anyone with half a brain that you don’t encase your “War Room” in glass and expose it to the outside. Duh!
  • Kirk requested a second science officer for some reason, and Dr. Marcus arrives unannounced; there’s clearly something up with her. We later find out that she assigned herself, even though she introduced herself to Kirk as the person he’d requested. Doesn’t he check his records? And what happened to the person he’d asked for? Is he/she/it just floating adrift in a bureaucratic nightmare?
  • I love that Spock and Scotty challenge Kirk’s decisions or aspects of the mission:

Spock questions the so-called morality of it and there’s a discussion of what feels right vs what is logically correct. The outcome of that discussion isn’t entirely clear – but at least they didn’t explicitly go against logic, with reigns supreme in my book.

Scotty resigns over Kirk’s attempt to get the missiles on board the ship without having them screened first. Scotty refused to sign off on it, though Kirk insists. Good on Scotty. But I’m surprised that Kirk found someone else to do it, seeing as it infringes on tons of security and safety regulations. For some reason, Chekov replaces Scotty (although I’d imagine that someone else in engineering would be better suited to the task), but who signed off on these uncleared weapons, which are a risk to the ship and crew? This is never established.

  • Spock discovers that the other science officer isn’t who she says she is, but gets distracted and doesn’t tell Kirk. He later justifies it by saying that he was waiting for a time when it mattered to tell him. As if.
  • Gosh… I hate the guns/blasters that the Enterprise crew uses instead of proper phasers when they go on Kronos.
  • Speaking of which… what with these “NewLook” Klingons? Changing the timeline doesn’t change the basics. And these designs suck anyway. Heck even the original TV shows’ Klingons look better than this. Bring back the proper Klingons!
  • Why is McCoy sent out with Dr. Marcus to try to defuse the missile? What exactly is his skill set here? Didn’t the writers have anything better for him to do? Is this all they could muster up?
  • If he knew that the 72 missiles weren’t weapons, weren’t a threat to him, why then would Khan surrender and allow himself to be taken aboard the Enterprise instead of simply taking them all down? Plus which it’s painfully obvious that this was his intention all along, but none of the characters wonder about any of this – at the very least, Spock should have seen it. But he really is an intellectual wimp in this picture.
  • Not only was the misnomered Vengeance a MUCH bigger, blacker ship than the Enterprise (of course, being the villain’s ship!), but it can chase the latter through a time warp? Really? Could that really happen? And could they actually have the same exact trajectory, as though they were in a tunnel? And how could they waver as they move through warp? Wouldn’t their trajectory depend on the ship going in a linear motion, with any wavering being a risk to the ship, its contingent and anything in their way? Call me incredulous.
  • I don’t like the new transporter effect. I didn’t like it in the last movie and I still don’t. Plus I dislike that they can get a lock on people anywhere, whether they’re in motion or not. I mean, what’s the point of having a transporter room if they’re mobile, then?
  • It’s extremely unlikely (because he just joined a convoy to the new ship and no one noticed – not even those behind him), but I love that Scotty snuck aboard the Vengeance.
  • As with ‘The Wrath of Khan’, there’s a significant discrepancy between the countdown and the time it takes the crew to get the job done: They’ve got 3 minutes to stop the attack by the Vengeance, but it takes them at least that just to get to the ship. WTF. And don’t even get me started on the fashion in which they got there – it’s the most ridiculous and implausible thing. But it’s exciting! Uh… does everything have to be a video game?
  • Um… how did the Enterprise crew get all 72 of Khan’s contingent out of the missiles in such a short time? Let me reiterate: there are 72 of them!
  • And, about that, is there even room for people inside those missiles? If there’s so much empty/wasted space in them, don’t you think that Starfleet would simply have made them smaller? I mean, it would be more efficient and less expensive! From the look of it, the missiles are maybe 25% larger than the pod that the people are in. So where’s the propulsion system and the explosive?
  • Snicker, snicker… maybe I don’t understand the science behind this one, but… if the gravity system stops working, wouldn’t people float around instead of falling all over the place? It looked more like gravity stopped working right and instead of pulling people downward, it pulled them toward one of the sides (hence why it looked like they were falling when the ship was tilted one way). But why would the system even be capable of doing that?
  • Leonard Nimoy’s appearance was a total throwaway, and utterly redundant: Spock asks Spock Prime about Khan, and Spock Prime, for reasons unknown, breaks protocol and tells Spock all about him. Why? Logic dictates that this serves NO practical purpose other than saving his favourites. Since he’s not supposed to interfere under any circumstance, this is highly illogical.
  • Somehow, Kirk kicks the warp core back in place – by kicking down on it. And, magically, it tilts sideways into position even though he never kicked it in that direction. And, somehow, it didn’t sustain any damage; it just worked. Like magic. Movie magic.
  • I kind of liked the nod to ‘The Wrath of Khan’, except with Kirk dying. The only problem is that Spock cries, and then he screams “KHAAAAAAAAAAAAAN!”. !@#$. This is SO out of character it’s beyond words. Does anyone on this filmmaking team understand the characters?

Shit… Zack Snyder understands Superman and Batman better.

Okay, maybe not.

  • Sigh… it was so obvious that the Tribbles being revived were going to play a part later – in reviving Kirk, conveniently enough. Duh.
  • On that note, like, now that they have Khan and his crew’s blood, couldn’t they heal everyone around the world and stop all illnesses, making humanity immortal?

Or does it only conveniently work for Kirk and that little girl?

  • Look, Spock vs Khan is a great idea in principle, given that they’re both superhuman. But, when we see Spock run, he runs no faster than your average human. You could almost give him a walker. He’s supposed to be stronger and faster and should have been established that way to explain how he can hold his own against Khan. Because, honestly, no human could.
  • All of this leads to a preposterous fight aboard a flying transport, as though Spock and Khan could keep their balance. Uhura even joins them at one point and just stands there, not holding on to anything. That puny woman? At that speed? Riiiight!
  • Since when does Spock lose it? At one point, he totally loses control and beats Khan over and over and over again, like a madman. WTF. This is exactly what Kirk did earlier and it was F-ing stupid. Coming from Spock it’s jaw-droppingly moronic – it’s completely out of character. And since when are our heroes senseless brutes, anyway?
  • So… um… in the epilogue, why did Kirk recite the TV show’s tagline at the end of his speech, as though it were a Starfleet dictum? It just doesn’t make sense. It’s such a putrid bit of fan pandering – and it doesn’t even work contextually. Just like the Tribbles. Couldn’t they just watch the original shows and movies to get the tone and characters right, and not pillage them into a “greatest hits” picture?
  • At least the picture ends with the proper Star Trek theme from the original series. Nice.

Ultimately, ‘Star Trek Into Darkness’ is a fast-paced, exciting motion picture. It’s rather entertaining, even if the characters feel off. But that’s not enough: ‘Star Trek’ is not just visceral, it’s cerebral as well. And this one’s anything but.

Sure, it’s a fun sci-fi action film. But it’s not good Trek.

Date of viewing: January 14, 2016

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