Seriously. Stop right now if you have not seen Star Trek Into Darkness because this post is RIDDLED with spoilers.
I am totally not kidding you. Go away, if you have not seen the movie. Truly, SCRAM. IT IS NOT SAFE FOR YOU HERE.
Okay, are all you people gone? Are we now left with only those who have seen STID?
Now, if any of you remaining have seen STID but NOT Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and you find yourself wanting to watch that movie knowing as little about it as possible, you should also GO FAR AWAY (I say with love).
Also, if you are uncomfortable with people a) nitpicking movies within an inch of their lives or b) flagrant displays of nerdiness — specifically Trek-related nerdiness — you should probably also jump into an escape pod right now because this ship is not for you. That’s an ORDER. (You see? It has already begun.)
Now that that’s done, let’s get down to business.
Friday night, I saw Star Trek Into Darkness. I enjoyed it, yes I did, for reasons I list below, and I will probably go see it again while it’s still in theaters. But I also had some serious issues with it, which I also list below.
And I would LOVE LOVE LOVE it if we could get some dialogue going in the comments about this — from die-hard Trekkies and the newly initiated alike. I mean, I am literally bouncing around with nerd energy as I write this, and it’s taking all my willpower not to forsake all responsibilities and marathon everything Star Trek for the next several days. So I will satisfy myself with this blog post.
THINGS I LIKED ABOUT THE NEW STAR TREK MOVIE
THE MUSIC: Sometimes composer Michael Giacchino’s Star Trek music feels a bit too cartoonish. For example, I never listen to his score for the 2009 Star Trek film because it’s just so very loud and unsubtle, and I find the orchestration less than compelling (although I do love the main theme and the track “Enterprising Young Men,” and I understand that he is probably trying to pay homage to the original series music, which was loud and unsubtle). I was pleased that he (appropriately) took the score to a darker place with this new movie. The tracks “London Calling” and “The Kronos Wartet” were superb, especially the former, which is my favorite of the album (and coincidentally sounds like it belongs to a different movie altogether).
THE SCENES “LONDON CALLING” ACCOMPANIES: The opening sequence in London during which Khan saves that Starfleet officer’s daughter was wonderful — ominous, touching, beautifully scored and shot. I was more scared of Khan here than I was throughout the rest of the movie.
UHURA: I was not a fan of Uhura/Spock in the first movie. They were cute and all, but they just didn’t sit right with me, and maybe that’s because I’m a stodgy hardcore Trekkie, and maybe it’s because of my issues with New!Spock (which I’ll get into later), but regardless, I didn’t like them very much. However, I warmed to them in this new movie, and I think it’s because Uhura actually got to do stuff. She was more than just “Spock’s girlfriend” in this movie. How badass was she during the scene with the Klingons?! Saldana nailed the crap out of her Klingon lines, and she also kicked ass when the fighting broke out.
ADMIRAL PIKE: I was so sad to see him die because let’s be honest, everything about this man is as fine as his face. (I may have
an enormous a bit of a crush.) But I knew he was a goner during that bar scene with Kirk. No way do you, as a secondary character/father figure, get to have a touching emotional scene with the main character so early in the movie and survive.
THE CAST (MOSTLY): THIS CAST. I love them. I love them all. They have fantastic chemistry, they are compelling as individual characters, and on a more superficial note, they are ridiculously attractive. I would sit and watch a movie of them on a routine mission cataloging gaseous planetary anomalies in Beta Quadrant. They wouldn’t even have to save the universe. They could just go about their business cleaning the engine room and bantering over the Romulan ale McCoy snuck onboard, and I’d be happy. Somehow this cast manages to make us feel like they really know and care about each other, although this is only their second movie together and they didn’t have a TV series to build up that rapport. (If you are wondering to whom the “MOSTLY” refers, just wait for it.)
THE SHINY SHINY LENS FLARE EXPLOSIONS BOOM BOOM FAST SHIPS: I will say this for J. J. Abrams: He knows where to put the camera and how to use his massive budget. The movie looks fantastic. I saw it in IMAX 3D, and it was audio/visual bliss. (Although the 3D element, as always, left me indifferent. Basically I am still not convinced of 3D’s artistic merit. I mean, 3D Gatsby? Let’s be real: 3D = 3 x Da money.)
CHRIS PINE: I absolutely love his interpretation of Kirk. He has just enough Shatner-esque swagger to make Kirk seem familiar, while still making Kirk completely his own incarnation in the context of this new universe. This is a guy who continually gets the crap kicked out of him and yet keeps getting back up afterward with twinkly-eyed determination. And there’s some real depth there, too. The moment when he confesses to Spock, voice cracking, “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do here,” (or something along those lines) made me well up. Loved that glimpse of Kirk’s vulnerability.
CHRIS PINE’S BLUE EYES: They are stunning. They give Daniel Craig’s eyes a run for their money, and y’all know how I feel about Daniel Craig, so.
SIMON PEGG: Scotty didn’t get to do much in the 2009 film other than serve as comic relief, so I was thrilled to see how much screen time he got here. The expression on his face when Kirk accepts his resignation kicked me in the gut. And the true title of this film should be Star Trek: Scotty Saves EVERYONE, All the Time. (I still hate his little alien sidekick, though. He just makes me cringe. That whole element tries way too hard to be cute.)
(SOME OF) THE NODS TO ESTABLISHED STAR TREK CANON: The design of the Klingon ships was reminiscent of the Birds of Prey we’ve seen before, although not nearly as pretty. I liked the design of the admirals’ uniforms, which reminded me of Admiral Kirk’s uniform from Star Trek: The Motion Picture. And speaking of that movie, I could have SWORN (and someone help me out here and let me know I’m not crazy) that the shot where Scotty pulls up to the giant hangar in which the new Starfleet warship is being built, is a direct replica of a shot from Star Trek: The Motion Picture, when V’ger destroys space station Epsilon IX.
THE KLINGONS: I LOVED seeing Klingons. I love Klingons, and I’m actually hoping this movie is setting up the larger arc of a Federation-Klingon war. Although . . . how did it take seriously only like 45 seconds for the Enterprise to warp to Qo’noS? And why “Kronos” instead of “Qo’noS?” Come on, audiences can’t figure out that phonetically the word is Kronos but it’s spelled Qo’noS? I realize that this is a minor quibble and I’m probably just being ridiculous, but still. Also, was that Praxis, the Klingon moon, that had crashed into Qo’noS? Will Abrams’ next Trek film be an alternate universe remake of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country?
DAT SHIP: Every time I see the Enterprise, I tear up. That’s a beautiful ship, and she always will be — no bloody A, B, C, or D (or E).
IT WAS FUN: Watching this movie was a really enjoyable viewing experience, plain and simple. I gasped, I laughed, I cried. In the moment, I thoroughly enjoyed myself (for the most part). It wasn’t until the credits started rolling that I started questioning things.
THINGS I DIDN’T LIKE ABOUT THE NEW STAR TREK MOVIE
KHAN: Yeah. I’m gonna say it. There was no need for Khan to be in this movie. Absolutely none. The revelatory “My name . . . is Khan” scene fell flat. All I could think was, “But . . . why did they decide to do this? Just so we would all oooh and ahhh?” His true identity felt entirely superfluous. And for people who don’t know the original series, the meaning of Cumberbatch’s true identity is inconsequential. They don’t know who Khan is, or what this means. The “rogue special ops agent defecting and turning terrorist as he tries to stop an admiral from militarizing Starfleet” thing was interesting enough on its own. He could have been an actual guy named John Harrison and the movie would have been exactly the same, minus all the “aren’t we clever” TWOK references. Khan’s inclusion felt so, so very disingenuous to me, like they shoehorned Khan into the script as some sort of ill-conceived homage. Also, it was kind of . . .
LAZY STORYTELLING: Basically this movie is The Wrath of Khan: Alternate Universe Version, and I wish they had been more original. I mean, the central conceit of this whole reboot franchise is that this is an alternate universe — same characters, yeah, but literally anything can happen here. New stories, new conflicts, new wars. A new Federation. And yet they basically just remade TWOK here, with not enough compelling new material to justify it. Why didn’t they just go with John Harrison, rogue Section 31 agent? Wouldn’t that have made more sense and been more timely, without unnecessarily bringing in Khan and referencing the Eugenics Wars without any real narrative depth?
NOT ENOUGH KHAN: As a villain, I thought he was sorely lacking, and I’m not sure if this is a result of the writing or the acting, although I’m leaning toward the former, as Cumberbatch showed serious promise in his early scenes (and apparently he’s quite good on some show about some detective or whatever). I read somewhere that Abrams wanted this to be his The Dark Knight of the Star Trek movies, and I can see where he might have been trying for that, but it simply didn’t work. One of the things that made The Dark Knight so great was a tremendous villainous presence from the Joker, and Khan simply didn’t have enough screen time to feel like anything other than a ho-hum plot device rather than a fully realized character in his own right. Another thing that made The Dark Knight so great was that it did not pull any punches. It went to some truly dark places and stayed there, and didn’t ignore the consequences of those dark places. Which brings me to . . .
KIRK’S “DEATH”: What I’ve seen dubbed the “Jesus tribble” telegraphed pretty plainly that someone was going to die and Khan’s “superblood” via the Jesus tribble was going to bring that someone back. So Kirk dies, and that scene between him and Spock was actually quite touching. It was lovingly acted and directed, and I cried. Even though I figured they were going to Jesus tribble him, which took away much of the scene’s emotional verisimilitude, seeing Scotty so upset and Kirk saying, “Spock, I’m scared” gutted me. But then sure enough, he’s alive again not ten minutes later! So it was like they wanted to pay wink-wink-nudge-nudge homage to the iconic Spock’s death scene from The Wrath of Khan without the threat in the air of someone actually dying and staying dead, and therefore having to deal with the consequences of a major character dying. (Say what you will about Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, it at least wasn’t an easy fix, and we had a whole movie full of grieving and uncertainty and questions of mortality and what one man’s life is worth and death and aging before Spock came back — in a much more poignant and organic fashion than Jesus tribble, by the way.) Also, now that we have Khan’s superblood — and access to him and his crew all in stasis — will they replicate that blood and stock all Starfleet ships with it so that no one ever dies? That would seem to eliminate a lot of suspense in future films. And, since they did have access to those 72 other genetically engineered crew members, why couldn’t they just have killed Khan and used the blood from one of the other superhumans to save Kirk?
THE MOVIE AFTER KIRK’S “DEATH”: Just as with Spock’s death in TWOK, Kirk’s death was the dramatic climax of this film. But unlike in TWOK, they kept this movie going for an unnecessary and utterly uninteresting extra few minutes after the death during which Khan crashed his ship into a bunch of skyscrapers without any real repercussions for the characters or story. And then BOOM Kirk’s alive. And BOOM Khan’s in stasis again. (Is he coming back? Ugh, I hope not.) And BOOM it’s a year later or whatever and everything’s coming up daisies again.
“KHAAAAAAAAAAAAN”: In my crowded theater, everyone burst out laughing when Spock yelled out Khan’s name after Kirk died. I was one of them. It was embarrassing and unnecessary and completely ruined the pathos of the preceding scene. Shatner as Kirk yelling “KHAAAAAN!” from TWOK has at this point endured thirty years of pop culture parodies, so to include it here felt like a slap in the face to all of us invested in the tender moment between Kirk and Spock. At least in TWOK, we had a moment to react to Kirk’s scream before the next scene began (and it didn’t come hot on the heels of the film’s emotional climax). In STID, we immediately cut to more BOOM BOOM BOOM EXPLOSIONS in a jarring shift that just left me feeling irritated. (For more on the original “KHAAAAAN!” line read this awesome article with TWOK director Nicholas Meyer. The article brings up the interesting point that Kirk’s “KHAAAAAN!” line might have at least in part been to convince Khan of the “hours would seem like days” trick Kirk and Spock were pulling.)
ZACHARY QUINTO’S NEW!SPOCK: This might be an unpopular opinion, but after two movies I can now safely say that I am not a fan of Quinto’s Spock. As much as I like Quinto, he lacks gravitas. When I watch him, I feel like I’m watching someone at a convention cosplaying Spock. I know he’s a young man in these movies, and I understand that they’re trying to emphasize Spock’s human half in the reboot, and he therefore won’t be like the Spock I know — but I just haven’t gotten on board with his portrayal yet, and that makes me sad because Quinto himself seems great.
CAROL MARCUS’S GRATUITOUS NUDITY: Was it really necessary for us to see Carol Marcus in her underwear? If we needed to see her change uniforms for her away mission to deactivate the warhead with McCoy, could we also then see McCoy changing? I mean, come on, if we’re going to have gratuitous underwear shots, let’s have equal opportunity underwear shots and strip Karl Urban down to his skivvies too. Or, you know what? As Ross says, “Why does anyone have to be naked?“
BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH AS KHAN: This was my first exposure to Cumberbatch. The man has an excellent voice, I will say that. But the casting of a pasty white English gent as “Khan Noonien Singh” is ridiculous. When Spock Prime said the words, “Khan Noonien Singh” I had to stop myself from laughing because the idea of Cumberbatch as anyone named Khan Noonien Singh is just that — laughable. It was problematic enough IN THE 1960S, LIKE A HALF-CENTURY AGO for the showrunners to cast a Mexican gent as an Indian character . . . but to cast a white English guy as an Indian character seems either completely thoughtless or the result of J. J. Abrams being so obsessed with secrecy that he deliberately cast Cumberbatch to throw speculators off the scent. “No way could that white dude be playing Khan,” he wanted us to say. And we did, and now he’s somewhere cackling to himself. But then again, perhaps it would have been problematic for them to cast a man with brown skin as this antagonist whose final act of villainy is crashing his ship into a bunch of skyscrapers. I think they were damned if they did, damned if they didn’t on this one. But I still think the whitewashing of Khan’s character is problematic and merits discussion. Especially since I wasn’t too impressed with Cumberbatch’s performance, so the already thin “But he was the best man for the job!” argument doesn’t really hold up.
NOT ENOUGH BONES: In the original series/movies, Kirk/Spock/McCoy were the Enterprise‘s Three Musketeers. Obviously in the Abrams films, the new trio is Kirk/Spock/Uhura, and that’s fine; I’m all for Uhura having more screen time, especially if they continue to expand her role in the next film as they did in this one. I just miss my surly old doctor, is all. Plus, KARL URBAN. The man is delish.
Star Trek Into Darkness: Into what darkness? Darkness we gloss over and don’t commit to and Jesus tribble away. Also, what happened to the colon in this title? We are literally Star Trekking into darkness? Oh. Okay. So edgy! But I will still see it again and buy it on Blu-ray because the cast is great and it is, after all, still Star Trek. Also, Scotty.
And I’ll stop there because I have just written 3000 words about Star Trek before even making myself take a shower, and while it was fun, it might also be a bit worrisome.
Sound off in the comments! Did you see the new Star Trek movie? Do you agree/disagree with me on anything I’ve said in this post? Did anyone else see the Epsilon IX reference?? (I’m seriously tempted to bust out my Star Trek: The Motion Picture Blu-ray to verify this.)