Posted by: jgurner | May 18, 2013

Star Trek Into Disappointment

Star Trek Into Darkness

Starring: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, Zoey Saldana, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Bruce Greenwood, Peter Weller and Benedict Cumberbatch.

Director: J.J. Abrams

“Written” by: Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof

WARNING: I’m going to spoil the fuck out of the movie, so don’t read any further if you don’t want to know what happens.

When I was about 10 years old or so, what I wanted more than anything was a Micronauts Battle Cruiser.

This was it. The end-all, be-all of toys. It was the Holy Grail. It was my official Red Ryder Carbine-Action 200-Shot Air Rifle. It was the only thing I wanted that Christmas. I waited for weeks in anticipation, knowing I would wake up Christmas morning and it would be sitting there under the tree.

However, when I woke up Christmas morning, I did not get a Micronauts Battle Cruiser. I got a Bible.

I already had a Bible, but this was a new Bible, aimed at a new generation. It told the same stories, but in different way, hoping to make them more palatable for a new generation that had previously only heard the stories told the way their parents and grandparents had heard them

Well, yesterday, May 17, was Christmas morning and when I walked into the theater to see StarTrek Into Darkness, I just knew there was going to be a Battle Cruiser under the tree. But guess what…

This was a movie that I could have easily enjoyed. In fact, for the first third of the movie, I was enjoying it. The roller coaster of the opening scenes and the conflict it set up between Kirk and Spock over Kirk’s violation of the Prime Directive to save Spock’s life. The dressing down by Admiral Pike of Kirk and his demotion from Captain of the Enterprise and Pike’s moves to give Kirk a second chance. The scene in the bar between Kirk and Pike before all hell breaks loose is a great scene between the two. It hammers home Kirk’s relationship with the father he never had.

The terrorist attack on a Starfleet facility in London is great. The brief introduction of Cumberbatch’s character is done really well. Who is he? I mean, you already know, even though you’re really hoping against hope you don’t know and that Abrams has fooled you. Everything up to this point has been setting up something that looks like it’s going to be great. The pieces are all there.

Them, things slowly start to unravel. Pretty much from the moment Christopher Pike is killed in the attack on Starfleet Headquarters, it’s like  the writers ran out of steam and just started patching together parts from previous movies and episodes from various incarnations of Trek. There’s the plot from the DS9 two-parter Homefront and Paradise Lost that makes up a big chunk of the last two-thirds of the movie. There’s Section 31 from DS9 and Enterprise. There’s a some Nemesis thrown in – Enterprise vs. monster ship, flying through space to get to the monster ship, a death that has no meaning because it’s immediately undone. There’s Peter Weller playing a rogue StarFleet Admiral – can we say Admiral Dougherty from Insurrection and Admiral Leyton from DS9? And, of course Space Seed from TOS and Wrath of Khan.

But, even with a lot of the flaws that started stacking up after the first 30 minutes or so, I was still good with it. The actors were doing a great job of taking the characters and making them their own. Simon Pegg and Karl Urban as Scotty and McCoy in particular. Pegg definitely plays up the humor in Scotty’s character, but not to the point of buffoonery (or hitting his head on a pipe and knocking himself out by accident). Everyone focuses on how Quinto almost channels Leonard Nimoy in his portrayal os Spock, but they kind of pass over just how well Karl Urban has done with McCoy. He’s got the barbs and the one-liners down, but Urban really has the soul that the late DeForrest Kelley brought to the role. McCoy is a complex, damaged character and Urban really brings that across.

And while were talking actors, let’s touch on a couple more before we get to you-know-who. Bruce Greenwood. If there was anyone from the first Star Trek who really outdid himself, it was Bruce Greenwood as Christopher Pike. In those first few scenes with Chris Pine, he cemented himself in the role. He does the same in Into Darkness. That’s why I’m so pissed they killed him off. I get why they did it, but, considering how the movie went after his death, it was kind of a meaningless sacrifice. Then there’s Peter Weller. He actually takes a way overly cliched role with no real depth and does the best he can with it. He’s great. His part sucks.

Now. On to Cumberbatch. He’s awesome. Read what everyone else says about him. They say it much better than I could. The only thing I’ve ever seen him in was a docudrama on Steven Hawking that was on the Science Channel about 10 years ago and he played Hawking.

As for what the writers did with his character, I love parts of it and I hate parts of it. Khan was THE villain from the good old days. He only showed up twice – once in the series and once in the movie – but in those two appearances he made an impression and he changed the lives of those he encountered forever. Ricardo Montalban played Khan as the classic villain. He was dynamic, bigger than life. Cumberbatch’s Khan is a different animal. Unlike Khan of old, he’s not in control, so instead of being Montalban’s Khan, he’s more crafty. A little more Hannibal Lecter. It’s frustrating, because like so much else in this movie, they almost got it right, but ultimately fucked it up leaving the actor to try and save the day. As a result, despite Cumberbatch’s best efforts, Khan is really just another bad guy. He’s not really that different from Nero from the first movie. A little less generic, but only because of the relationship the audience has with the character and the efforts of the actor. Oh, and apparently, part of Khan’s genetic augmentation is that he was made to look completely European and nothing like someone named Khan Noonian Singh from the 1990s would look. At least Ricardo Montalban looked “foreign.” At least to American eyes. You know us. Hispanic, Asian, Indian – they all look alike so you can get anyone who isn’t white and European to play the part.

Okay, back to the movie. Admiral Marcus, blah, blah, blah. Klingon home world, blah, blah, blah. We’re going to kill the bad guy, no wait, we’re not supposed to do that kind of thing, blah, blah, blah. Lot’s of things that don’t make any sense. blah, blah, blah. The real plot behind everything that’s happened so far, blah, blah, blah. The capture and revelation of Khan’s identity, blah, blah, blah. That’s about as much attention as the middle third of the movie deserves. There are three great character moments – Scotty’s confrontation with Kirk that leads to his resignation, Checkov’s reaction to being named chief engineer and Scotty talking to Kirk on his communicator in the bar.

Then, big ship. Threats. Fire phasers. Run. Crippled ship. Scotty sabotage. Kirk and Khan flying through space. Khan’s oh so shocking betrayal.

Even up to this point, I could have come out of this movie and been fine with it. Not what I’d hoped for. Not a Micronauts Battle Cruiser. Maybe just a Mobile Exploration Lab or Hydrocopter and yet another Time Traveler figure instead of Acroyear. (Okay, if you don’t know anything about Micronauts, you should still be able to get the gist of what I’m saying.) It could have ended with a pitched space battle between Khan’s commandeered big-ass ship and the Enterprise with some contrived reason to get Kirk and Khan together to duke it out with Kirk ultimately winning. Fade to epilogue and the crew of the Enterprise starting on their Five Year Mission. I would have been fine. Slightly disappointed, but I’d probably still be going back today for a second viewing and anxiously awaiting the Blu-ray release.

But no.

On the Daily Show last week, J.J. Abrams said until he started working on Star Trek, he actually grew up hating the show. He tried to watch it. His friends loved it, but he preferred Star Wars over the deeper, more philosophical Star Trek. Well, that really comes through in this movie, because Abrams, Orci, Kurtzman and Lindelof apparently decided to end the movie not with a bang, but with a flaming bag of dog shit placed right on the theater screen. And, the sad part is, you actually have to sit there in the theater and watch the whole process as it unfolds on the screen: the dog hunkers down, Abrams and company pickup the dog shit and put it in the bag, they put it on the screen and then set it on fire. And you, as the audience, have to stomp it out even though you know exactly what’s going to happen.

And, to add further insult , all of it – Kirk’s “sacrifice,” the shallow aping of the greatest moment in Star Trek history with the death of Spock on TWOK – it’s pointless. It’s not needed. It’s like tits on an Andorian boar megahog. It’s useless.

And STILL, if that had been it, I could have still walked out of the theater and been all like “Oh well. It wasn’t that good, but it was okay.”

However, in the immortal words of Steve Martin: “But noooooo.”

And, speaking of “nooooo,” remember when Darth Vader screamed it in both the end of Revenge of the Sith and it was added into the final confrontation between Vader and the Emperor in Return of the Jedi? Remember how lame that was? And remember how great it was when Kirk was trapped inside the Genesis moon after Khan leaves him stranded? Here. Watch it again.

When Spock yells “Khan” after Kirk dies, together with the resurrection of Kirk, using Khan’s blood, that has been telegraphed for the previous twenty minutes, were the straws that broke the camel’s back. If fact, when I realized what I suspected was going to happen was going to happen, I uttered a very audible, disgusted “Oh fuck!” I never would have dreamed of walking out of a Trek movie. The mere thought hadn’t even begun to speculated about the merest possibility of crossing my mind. Not with The Final Frontier. Not even Nemesis. But I actually considered it and, if it had just been me, I might have.

I’m not even going to mention Leonard Nimoy’s brief appearance as Spock Prime. He deserves much better.

They could have cut out five minutes. Just five minutes and I would have been okay with the movie. Definitely not a Micronauts Battle Cruise. Not even Micronauts. More like a random selection of Metal Men action figures bought at the drug store.

Maybe they thought they were making a clever homage to TWOK as a special treat for the Trekkies. Or, maybe J.J. really still hates Star Trek and this was a middle finger to the fans. I really doubt both ideas, but I don’t have a clue what they were thinking. Did they really watch this in the months of putting it together and think it was good? They had four years for fuck’s sake. They couldn’t have done better than this?

And, before you say anything, yeah. I watch this and the first movie well aware that this isn’t “real” Star Trek. Alternate timeline, blah, blah, blah. It might be alternate, but that doesn’t mean it has to be alternate to good story writing. Let’s talk plot holes. Khan can beam to Q’onos, but Kirk has to go by Starship. To revive Kirk, they need Khan’s blood, because he’s genetically engineered and his blood can work miracles, but they have 70-something identically genetically engineered augments on the ship, including one they’ve already taken out of stasis. Or why Admiral Marcus was using Khan’s flight to Q’onos as a trigger to go to war with the Klingons, a war that was being planned before he even knew what Khan was up to. Or why he would need to send Kirk to Q’onos in the first place to start a war when he could have just taken his big-ass ship and done it himself. If you watch Trek, you have to learn to ignore plot hole (the transporter doesn’t work and those crewmen are stranded on the planet and will die. Shuttlecraft? Never heard of such a thing.) But when they plot gets too swiss cheesy, it makes it much harder.

Then, there’s the things only Trek nerds like myself have a problem with. In the first movie, I was able to forgive little things like the fact that apparently you can get anywhere in the galaxy in five minutes at warp, that the bridge looks like an Apple Store and the Engine Room looks like a brewery, or that the Enterprise was built on Earth in Iowa instead of in orbit at the San Francisco Navy Yards. Into Darkness carries those things ever further. Not only does the bridge still look like an Apple Store and the Engine Room still look like a brewery, the rest of the ship looks like a Galleria. The Enterprise isn’t designed to operate within an atmosphere and it certainly isn’t designed to sit at the bottom of an ocean. Oh, but this is an entirely different Enterprise, you say. They’ve changed the design because it’s an alternate timeline. So? It doesn’t matter. Does it even look like a ship that can land on a planet?

Oh, you might have noticed I haven’t mention Carol Marcus. I didn’t because there’s no reason to mention her character any more than there is reason to mention the inertial dampeners or the Heisenberg Compensators. She is completely irrelevant to the movie. Take her out completely and you don’t change anything.  You don’t make it any better. You don’t make it any worse. As far as I can tell she’s there because there was no reason for Uhura to strip down to her space bra and panties and there were no green girls.

In the end, it was just all too much. You know the rules when it comes to Trek: 347 strikes and you’re out.

I know I had my expectations too high, but why shouldn’t I have? It had everything it needed to work: a great cast, a great director, great writers, wonderful setups for telling a great story. The box was certainly the right shape to be a Micronauts Battle Cruiser and the first movie had really exceeded my expectations.

With the original series movies, initially, there was no bar, then there was Wrath of Khan. and suddenly, there’s a bar which was never reached again. The Undiscovered Country was close, but still fell short. And the Next Gen movies? They were all pretty much disappointing, even First Contact. I actually hated it too when I walked out of the theater. I’ve warmed to it since once my expectations for TNG movies were appropriately adjusted. What can I say other than Rick Berman.

I don’t see myself really revising my opinion of Into Darkness in the future, however. It’s got fatal flaws that not even the blood of Khan can cure. However, in spite of my disgust, I hope it does really, really well and there is a Star Trek III. If there is, then I hope whoever takes over, now that Abrams has left for Star Wars, can pick up the pieces and tell a good story. And the pieces are still there to do that. There’s still a great cast and the alternate universe is set up to tell some great, different stories. Even if they decide to jump off from a TOS story line. (Klingon war and Organians anyone? That could be awesome. Hell, even Spock’s Brain. At least that’s something they couldn’t make worse.) I still have faith in Orci, Kurtzman and Lindelof as writers. And maybe Abrams being out of the picture as someone who actually shapes the next movie will help.

No matter what, in two years (if rumors are to be believed) or how ever long it takes, one thing will be different. I won’t be expecting anything close to a Micronauts Battle Cruiser. My hope will be simply that I don’t get another Bible.

Now, if like me, you feel pretty down after seeing the movie, just watch this. It has nothing to do with Trek, but it’ll make you feel better.

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Responses

  1. Yes, yes and yes.


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