Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness: Great, or Hate?

Star Trek Into Darkness arrives on Blu-Ray combo today.  Reaction to the film was mixed, and largely depended upon whether viewed by general audiences or Trek devotees.  Accordingly, I have judged the film from both perspectives.

Image (c) Star Trek

For General Audiences  (No spoilers)

Star Trek Into Darkness is an engaging thrill ride featuring almost everything you could want in a sci-fi action flick.  Appealing heroes?  Kirk, Spock, Sulu – check.  Hilarious sidekicks?  McCoy, Scotty, Chekov – check.  A complex, cunning villain?  The phenomenal Benedict Cumberbatch as John Harrison – DOUBLE CHECK.

Of several things that recommend this film, humor is high on the list.  Whether Bones is grousing or Kirk and Spock are matching wits, the wisecracks between the Enterprise crew remind of us the bond they’ve formed.  Which leads us to the most significant aspect of the film – the Kirk/Spock bromance.

My sister, who has no interest in the sci-fi/fantasy genre, unsurprisingly had no interest in seeing this film with me.  Her reasoning:  she prefers a love story.  After watching the film, I informed her; it is a love story.  

Kirk and Spock have come a long way since their mutual acrimony of the 2009 film.  In fact, they’ve become essential to each other.  Spock offers the wisdom of restraint Kirk lacks, while Kirk brings his skills of improvisation and eagerness to think outside the box.

The fact that each is beginning to acquire the other’s skills makes them an even more formidable team.  With that knowledge comes appreciation, and it’s clear how much they’ve bonded when facing their greatest test together.  We can’t help root for them and their merry band of misfits as they take on a villain bent on their destruction.  All in all, Star Trek Into Darkness is a popcorn feast for the moviegoing senses.

For Trekkers  (DANGER:  MASSIVE SPOILERS AHEAD - plus a few justifiable swear words)

I’m not especially worried about spoiling a Trek audience, as we’ve all seen this film, anyway – even if just to decry it.

What.  The Ever-Loving.  Fuck.

Why in the name of Gene Roddenberry did J.J. Abrams & Company decide it was a good idea to remake the most perfect Star Trek movie of all time?  Dear God, what’s next?  Do they plan to improve upon the Magic Johnson hook shot or Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey?  This inexplicable venture was just as foolhardy as those would be.

With the 2009 film, they've already proven they can reboot the franchise and make an entertaining movie for all factions, without relying heavily on re-creating past material. In making the crazycakes call to re-vamp The Wrath of Khan, their challenge was to produce a film as good or better than the original – because why bother, otherwise?  The Trek team seemed to feel the avenue to do this was via alterations to the original plot; I suppose “improvements,” in their minds?

Too many of the attempts to distinguish this effort from its predecessor actually detracted: clingy-girlfriend Uhura, cupcake Carol Marcus, overemotional Spock, and oh, by the way - Khan's now a white British dude the crew has never heard of.   Simply having old!Spock phone in to tell them the guy's the most dangerous adversary they'll meet doesn't quite pack the punch of the crew already having an existing, hostile relationship with the baddie. 

And really, that Spock never met this Khan.  How does it work that Spock's jump backwards through time changed Khan's genetic makeup?  Spock didn’t arrive in the past before Khan’s birth, so the villain’s racial transformation from Indian to pasty white guy makes.  No.  Sense.  This doesn't bother an average moviegoer, but any self-respecting Trek fan who cares about things like continuity and, well, logic can't help but be annoyed.

Revealing John Harrison as Khan was a cheap device to play on the fact that we, the fans, had an existing relationship with the character. This was a lazy attempt to hot-wire the emotions spurred by the original film and transfer them to this one, rather than write a new story which creates that investment on its own.  It's like selling Cliff's Notes for a great novel as the story itself, and expecting people to experience the same depth of feeling they'd have gotten from reading the original instead.

In one of the climactic final events, the Spock death scene is flipped to a Kirk death scene, and the sense of sadness and loss between the two characters is easily the most affecting moment of the film.  Rather than let the audience join Spock in grieving Kirk’s beautifully heroic sacrifice, the movie scrambles to resuscitate him within minutes, robbing the story of its one near-masterstroke.  Waiting until the next film to revive Kirk would’ve packed a genuine emotional punch, instead of ripping the rug out from under it.

All I can say to this adventure in pointlessness is:  Nicholas Meyer, your classic stands alone.  It wasn’t even close, sir.


  1. Wow! You ripped that movie a new one. And I didn't even know it was a remake of the wath of Khan. Hmm now I wanna watch just to see what you mean.

    Great review. Harsh but great.

    1. Thanks, but that's only half the review; in the first half, I loved it! It helped that I'd heard the rumors about Khan, so went in wearing only my "general audience" hat. I ended up enjoying the movie a lot. I just wondered why the hell they (re)made it?

      Anyway, Benedict Cumberbatch makes everything better.