Geek Pride Day — as well as Towel Day — was last weekend. I celebrated by finally going to see Star Trek Into Darkness.
I had a good time watching the movie. It was a lot of fun. But . . . I have some pretty serious story problems with it, too.
After a devastating terrorist attack, Kirk (Chris Pine) and his crew go after the man responsible, John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch). Action ensues.
1. The Non-Spoiler section of this review might be fairly brief, since most of my issues with the film are chock full of spoilers. I can say, though, that for all the things that don’t work for me in this movie, the cast is still pretty spectacular. Chris Pine, in particular, does really good work here, and I’m hopeful he’ll stop starring in films I have no earthly interest in (such as People Like Us) and start appearing in more awesome projects.
2. Sadly, despite their talent, some of the cast is left out in the cold when it comes to screen time. Spock (Zachary Quinto) and Scotty (Simon Pegg) probably make out the best, while Chekhov (Anton Yelchin) easily has the least to do. Even Bones (Karl Urban) isn’t around as much as I would have expected. That’s the way of things, I know, when you have such a large cast, but I still feel like the first movie managed a much better balance between characters.
Although. I would totally watch a spinoff movie with John Cho as Captain Sulu.
3. As far as our chief antagonist goes . . .
. . . well, on one hand, he’s Benedict Cumberbatch, so he kind of owns. He’s certainly a much more charismatic and entertaining villain than Eric Bana was in Star Trek, and his voice . . . good Christ, that’s a good voice. Cumberbatch does a decent job with John Harrison . . .
. . . but man, Harrison’s storyline has issues. And by that, I mean kind of the whole plot has issues.
Like I said, I can’t really talk about these issues until the Spoiler Section, but for the first . . . I don’t know, hour? Sure, for the first hour, Star Trek Into Darkness is pretty enjoyable. And then comes the scene where Harrison starts talking about all his secret motivations and whatnot, and that’s about the time when I started struggling with this movie. I mean, I still had fun. It’s definitely a fun movie, but even as I watched, I couldn’t help wishing for a stronger storyline and less clunky cliches.
4. And as far as the new girl goes . . .
This is Carol, and she’s . . . okay. Carol is played by Alice Eve, who’s certainly much better here than she was in The Raven. (Where she hideously mangled, “Annabel Lee,” much to my horror.) Acting-wise, at least, Eve is totally fine, but her character is just kind of . . . there and feels awkwardly inserted into the whole proceeding. I couldn’t help but feel like she was taking time away from other characters I was more interested in.
Also, there’s one shot of Carol where she’s sort of randomly in her underwear, which has stirred up some minor controversy. Damon Lindelof has since apologized for this, agreeing that it’s gratuitous, and . . . it is gratuitous, and it’s awfully silly, but I have to tell you, I wasn’t particularly offended by it, either. You know, I’m more annoyed as a writer than I am as a woman — there are much smoother ways to insert your gratuitous underwear shots. Maybe next time, just have both your girls and your guys stripping down to get into their radiation suits. There’s nothing wrong with equal opportunity eye candy. At the very least, keep in the Benedict Cumberbatch shower scene. I’m thinking many an audience member wouldn’t have objected to that.
5. Speaking of eye candy . . . at one point, Zoe Saldana speaks Klingon, and you know . . . I think I might have a bit of a girl crush on Zoe Saldana. I feel this is fairly understandable to anybody who’s, you know, seen Zoe Saldana.
Kirk: “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”
Spock: “An Arabic proverb attributed to a prince who was betrayed and decapitated by his own subjects.”
Kirk: “Well, it’s still a hell of a quote.
7. This movie has some really interesting nods to the old Trek movies. There are a couple that aren’t quite as effective as I’d like them to be — mostly because of poor placement — but some of the homages are great. One of the things I really enjoy about this particular universe is seeing how the changes in the timeline from Star Trek continues to alter the course of events, so that while some things play out the way you remember, other things are . . . just a little bit different. There’s an interesting essay somewhere in this series about destiny, but maybe I’ll just read some Kirk/Bones fic instead.
(Actually, I’m not really a big shipper in fanfiction at all, slash or otherwise, but I have discovered that if the choice is between Kirk/Spock and Kirk/Bones, I’m actually in favor of the latter. I know. I was kind of surprised too.)
Honestly, that’s about all I got before Spoilers. So — for those of you who’ve seen it — scroll a little further.
The movie begins with Kirk disregarding everyone’s favorite killjoy rule, the Prime Directive, and leading a mission to save a planet from an evil volcano. Technically, Spock is the one who saves the planet, while Kirk disregards the Prime Directive in order to save Spock’s life. Unfortunately, Starfleet finds out about it . . . because Spock tells them.
Starfleet’s pissed, so somehow Admiral Pike (Bruce Greenwood) is basically demoted into being Captain again, which a, seems unfair, and b, is clearly a death warrant for Father Figure Pike. Seriously, I’m surprised he doesn’t immediately put on a T-shirt that says, “Miss Me When I’m Dead.” On one hand, I was kind of annoyed about this because I was surprised and more than a little impressed that they didn’t kill him in the first movie. On the other hand, his death happens much quicker than I expected it to, which made me happy — I didn’t want to waste the whole film, waiting for something that was clearly inevitable.
Before Pike gets killed, though, we are introduced to our villain, John Harrison, and if you followed any of the news about Into Darkness, you damn well knew that the name “Harrison” was just a smokescreen. And mind you, I’m not talking about looking at reviews I shouldn’t have been looking at or even my penchant for accidentally stumbling into spoilers online while reading about entirely different things — there was speculation about Benedict Cumberbatch EVERYWHERE. Which is only natural, after all, but unfortunately, the media campaign in charge of promoting Into Darkness completely mishandled things. It went kind of like this:
MEDIA CAMPAIGN: Benedict Cumberbatch is playing the villain in the next Star Trek movie.
INTERNET FANDOM: Holy JESUS. That’s the best news EVER! Who is he playing?
MEDIA CAMPAIGN: Uh . . . we’re not telling you. It’s a SECRET.
INTERNET FANDOM: Cool! Forums, let’s speculate!
INTERNET FANDOM: Okay, we really want to know now: who is Cumberbatch playing? It’s gotta be Khan, right? Or maybe Gary Mitchell? But probably Khan?
MEDIA CAMPAIGN: Um . . . that’s not important right now. *runs away*
INTERNET FANDOM: For the love of God, who the HELL is our villain?!
MEDIA CAMPAIGN: All right . . . prepare yourself. Benedict Cumberbatch is playing . . . John Harrison!
INTERNET FANDOM: . . . who the fuck is THAT?
MEDIA CAMPAIGN: He’s, er, original. He’s an original villain. Yeah.
INTERNET FANDOM: So, you waited, like, eight months just to reveal this BIG SECRET that Benedict Cumberbatch is playing some guy we’ve never heard of with a boring-ass name like John Harrison?
MEDIA CAMPAIGN: . . . yes?
INTERNET FANDOM: Fuck you. He’s totally Khan.
So, anyway. It will be a while until Cumberbatch reveals that he’s actually Khan, but since he’s totally Khan, well, that’s how I’m referring to him henceforth.
Okay, so Khan introduces himself to Poor Schmuck whose daughter is dying from some horrible disease. Khan saves the little girl. In exchange, Poor Schmuck blows a bunch of people up, himself included. The upper-ups of Starfleet gather together to discuss this terrorist attack, and just as Kirk’s realizing IT’S A TRAP, Khan shows up to shoot the shit out of people, namely Pike.
Despite being utterly predictable, it’s a pretty good death scene. Bruce Greenwood and Zachary Quinto are both great in it. Chris Pine, too, when he comes back and sees Pike’s dead body. It’s all good stuff — like I said, I have a lot of story qualms with this movie, but the acting . . . the acting is awesome all around.
Okay, so Starfleet figures out that Khan is hiding in Klingon territory. This is bad because the Federation is basically on the verge of war with the Klingons, so they can’t risk anyone going after Khan. Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller) tells Kirk to take the Enterprise very close to Klingon space and fire about seventy of these special torpedos at Khan’s location. (It’s supposed to be otherwise abandoned, so you know. No problem there.)
It’s pretty obvious that Weller’s a bad guy, especially since both Spock and Scotty have moral concerns about this plan, but Kirk’s too deep in Vengeance Mode to care. Scotty even resigns because of it — mostly because he can’t condone having these super torpedoes on board if he isn’t allowed to inspect them and secure the safety of the crew. Admittedly, the argument between Scotty and Kirk is a little transparent as a way to keep Scotty off the Enterprise but, you know, weirdly, that doesn’t bother me so much.
Continuing forward: Spock’s continued logic-fueled guilt trips finally convince Kirk that outright assassination via super torpedoes is not the way to go. They fly covertly into Klingon space, attempting to capture Khan and bring him back to Earth for trial. There they briefly run into some Klingons — who, honestly, are pretty stupid looking. I know the makeup of the Klingons changes per generation, but come on now. Klingons are supposed to look like Worf, and that’s all there is to it.
Anyway, Khan rescues the away team from the Klingons and then surrenders himself to the Enterprise when he learns how many super torpedoes they have on board. Then Bones and Carol Marcus — oh yeah, she’s totally the Admiral’s daughter — figure out what’s in those super torpedoes: namely, people. Cryogenically frozen people.
And then we get to The Scene where everything starts going downhill for me.
Here is what we learn from the scene:
A. John Harrison is actually Khan. (Yawn.)
B. Khan is a genetically enhanced evil bastard who’s been in cryogenic sleep for the past 300 years. Admiral Marcus woke him up because the war with the Klingons is basically imminent, so Marcus figured he might as well get the ball rolling and strike first. And to win agains the Klingons, the Federation is going to need men from a different century, savage men like Khan who can create diabolical weapons and be all amoral and shit.
Here are my problems:
A. A bad guy whose Big Motivation is to start a war is basically a time-honored tradition in Hollywood. But . . . we haven’t really even seen the Klingons yet. Sure, I know something about them because I’m a Trekkie. But this series reboot is very clearly supposed to be mass-marketed to everyone, Trekkies and newbies alike, and if you’re going to have a plot where Admiral Asshat wants to start a war with these guys . . . shouldn’t they have been in the movie for more than three minutes? Shouldn’t we know something about them? Instead, we get a very, very brief scene where they shoot at the away team and a bunch of silly exposition from Admiral Asshat about all the bad things they’ve done. It’s not good enough.
B. Also, if you’re going to bring in people from 300 years ago, there ought to be a reason to do it. Oh, I know . . . the Admiral needed “savage men”. Bullshit. Is this fucking Demolition Man? I don’t think so. And even if it is . . . we need to spend some time showing the disparity between the supposed savagery of the past with our current, intellectual utopia. We need to see how our civilized values are getting in our own way. That’s actually not a terrible idea for a couple of reasons: one, Trek has always been a pretty sanitized universe in comparison to, say, the world of Star Wars, and showing the positives and negatives of such a verse could actually be kind of interesting, and two, it’d be an easy way to introduce the Klingons, if we just showed how they were a serious threat because of our own moral code.
But Into Darkness doesn’t bother with any of this because the real reason the Admiral wakes up a 300 year-old man from cryogenic sleep is that Khan is the most infamous bad guy in Trek history, and that’s his backstory, so fuck it, let’s just shove the storyline in there and make it work, right? There’s potential in this plot, but the writing is lazy and full of cliches that are all tied together into one big Convenience Ball.
Anyway, a bunch of action stuff happens here, but I’m tired and I don’t feel like going through it scene by scene. Here are the important things, in no particular order:
A. Kirk is forced to start working with Khan in order to stop Admiral Asshat Marcus.
B. Scotty saves everyone’s lives and gets back on board the Enterprise.
C. Khan kills Marcus by squeezing the guy’s head together with his bare hands, which Carol, legitimately, freaks out about. (By which I mean, she does a full-on, horror movie scream. That scream was in every trailer, and I was wondering if it would play, but surprisingly, I think it does. Whether your dad’s a murderous dick or not, I think you’re allowed a long, drawn-out scream if you watch another dude crush Daddy’s skull in front of you.)
D. In the most awkward, obvious scene EVER, Kirk stops whatever he’s doing and is all, “Yo, Bones, what are you doing with that ridiculously fat tribble?” And Bones is like, “This tribble’s dead, Jim. I’m injecting Khan’s Super Blood into it for shits and giggles. Cause that won’t be important later.”
UGH. It is SO BAD. It is the WORST THING EVER.
E. Spock gets one over on Khan, just like Kirk does in The Wrath of Khan.
F. Kirk is forced to sacrifice himself to save his crew, just like Spock does in The Wrath of Khan.
First, I would be remiss if I did not point out that Mekaela correctly called this twist from watching the trailer and deserves a celebratory woot! dance.
Next: I adore the reversal here, and I love the scene between Spock and Kirk. Really, both Pine and Quinto are fantastic in this moment. It’s extremely well-acted and very moving and totally made me cry . . .
. . . only for it to be promptly ruined by Quinto screaming, “KHAAAAAAAAN!”
For those of who you are unfamiliar with the original Trek films . . . well, this is a reversal too, of an iconic and ludicrously hammy moment in The Wrath of Khan.
I don’t at all object to Spock screaming, “Khaaaaaan!” instead of Kirk. I like reversals. I find them endlessly intriguing. But it’s such a badly placed moment of rage (and such an obvious transition to cut back to Cumberbatch) that it doesn’t play at all. If Spock had screamed it while chasing after Khan, I bet that would have worked. But here . . . it just abruptly and badly cuts off a really nice scene, and honestly? I giggled a little at it in theater. Not the proper reaction when your lead character has died not ten seconds earlier.
Anyway, so Spock chases after Khan. Meanwhile, Bones sees that his gigantic dead tribble is now a gigantic living tribble and theorizes that he can save Kirk if he can get his hands on some of Khan’s special blood and synthesize some type of magic cure out of it.
Look, there aren’t very many ways to keep Magic Blood from being a cheat, and I know we can’t resurrect Kirk the same way we resurrected Spock in The Search for Spock — nor would we want to, because that movie had a whole host of problems itself, and Genesis was at the heart of most of them — but I still think this could have been done better. Cause, seriously, the tribble scene? It’s the WORST. I really can’t stress that enough. Somehow, Bones needs to be studying Khan’s blood for some actual story reason, not just Foreshadow Reasons.
(Also, can I just say? As much as I honestly did love the reversal, I’m just a little bit sad I’ll never see Karl Urban channeling Zachary Quinto as he carries the dead Vulcan’s katra around. They need to make that shit a special feature on the DVD. I can’t even tell you how happy that would make me.)
And really, I think Kirk should have stayed dead at the end of this movie. I mean, we could have teased his return, like with some optimistic ending because, seriously, no one would have believed that he’s actually dead forever. But bringing Kirk back to life through Magic Blood not ten minutes after he dies . . . well, it takes away from his death scene considerably. And godammit, it’s such a good scene.
Anyway, Kirk wakes up on Earth sometime later. Bones jokes about any possible side effects, namely megalomania, but I’m sort of hoping there are some kind of psychological or physical side effects for the third movie, just to make the Magic Blood more relevant and less lame. The Enterprise gets a five year commission with Kirk as captain, and . . . that’s about it.
As much as I complained about it, this really is a fun movie. A lot of enjoyable action scenes and some great acting. I’ll definitely own it and watch it, I’m sure. But, man, with some better, less lazy writing, it could have been so much better.
Blind revenge is bad. Friendship is good. Magic Blood will save you. Take your pick.