Star Trek Into Darkness

I just watched Star Trek Into Darkness for the second time and ignoring the confusing title with its missing colon I found it even more incomprehensible than the first time.

First let me say the one positive thing I have to say. All the actors in this movie are top notch. They sell me the most ridiculous lines, the stupidest nonsense and the worst tripe writing I have seen in a very long time but they mostly pull off a powerful feat of acting sleight of hand that convinces me that they actually mean to say those things.Khan.jpg

First this movie starts out with a great (and by great I mean stupid) scene of Kirk fleeing a temple on a primitive planet. He has stolen something that the natives worship, just because it seemed like fun, I guess? (There’s a flimsy bit of paste where they hint that he’s trying to move them away from the volcano so they don’t die but that doesn’t make sense since Spock is about to freeze the volcano so they don’t die…) Then he goes cliff diving with Bones and swim under water to the enterprise, which apparently didn’t think that hiding in SPACE was a good idea? Apparently even the writers knew that was a stupid idea because Mr. Scott’s first line in the movie is to point out that it’s a stupid idea to hid a spaceship under the ocean.

Then Spock goes rappelling into a volcano, freezes it and Kirk has to come out of the ocean to beam him up, thus altering the lives of the natives further when they see the Enterprise that shouldn’t have been there to begin with. To make matters even more fun this is sort of the moment that hinges on the next little bit of plot stuff.

Uhura is mad at Spock because he didn’t cry when he almost died in the Volcano. Later when her and Spock and Kirk are in their little ship, flying into Klingon space she interrupts the mission to argue with Spock about his feelings — because, obviously as a woman she can’t wait to share her feelings until an appropriate time.

Kirk lies on his report and Spock tells the truth thus exposing Kirk as the careless layabout with no respect for culture or other people that he really is. Pike realizes that this is evidence that Kirk is not ready to be Captain (his first clue should have been that Kirk got promoted from smart-mouth cadet on his first mission) and makes him a cadet again because there are apparently no ranks in between Captain and cadet. You sink or you command the Enterprise in this world, buddy, there is no in between.Enterprise.jpg

Then Pike realizes that Kirk is supposed to be the main character of this movie and if the next scene doesn’t have him in it then what’s the point really so he promotes Kirk back to Commander because he went to a bar to get drunk and talk about getting beat up.

Kirk and Spock don’t like each other again because Kirk is being a petty idiot about Spock telling the truth. Seriously, this feels more like sixth grade than like an exploratory service. “You tattled on me, I’m not your friend any more.” Then they’re friends still because the writers remembered they already made that movie where Spock and Kirk don’t get along and learn to be friends.

There’s a technique used in writing called hanging a lantern on it. What this means is when you introduce something that is actually kind of ridiculous you have a character point out that it is ridiculous and move on. People laugh, it’s fun and then they get over it. If you do that once in a movie, it’s entertaining and people forget that the ridiculous thing is ridiculous. I noticed it three times in the first fifteen minutes of this movie. In other words the writers aren’t saying we know this element is ridiculous, just go with it, we think it will be fun. They’re saying we’re too arrogant to bother thinking up intelligent plots because we think the audience is too stupid to care.

Then Khan shoots up a room full of Starfleet commanders that is conveniently positioned near a large window so that he can get close with his spaceship. Unfortunately he proves to be a terrible terrorist because he only actually kills one person while gunning down the room with ship phasers. He transports away at the last minute using secret technology that renders warp drive and all spaceship transportation completely obsolete. (I have to ask: Do these writers have any concept of the distances and speeds involved in space? I really don’t think they do. They throw out numbers about hundreds of thousands of kilometers and they travel to other planets using transporter beams — which by definition are sort of limited to light speed. Maybe there’s a time lapse thing and it actually took Khan 300 years to get to Kronos?)

Kirk gets made Captain because as he says, “Starfleet can’t go after him, I can.” I have to raise all my eyebrows at this. Are you forgetting whose logo is on the corner of your paycheck, Kirk? Or whose insignia is on your uniform, or whose ship you are asking to be made Captain of? Or who you are asking permission from? If the head of starfleet sends a starfleet captain (newly repromoted after his other promotion after his demotion) on a starfleet ship with a starfleet crew armed with starfleet missiles on a secret mission to bomb the Klingon home world doesn’t that sort of make it a Starfleet mission?

I don’t know, sounds shifty to me.

Then Kirk, who knows that his mission is completely immoral refuses to listen to his crew, browbeats his first officer into complying, ignores is engineer who has valid safety concerns, hires a stowaway under a false name because she’s prettier than Spock (because this Kirk can’t seem to leave his own crew alone — this guy is a walking sexual harassment lawsuit, though, apparently in the future all the women like that kind of attention?). Then he fires his chief engineer for expressing a valid concern and promotes his navigator to chief because there are apparently no under studies or other people on the ship who have actually worked in engineering.

So Kirk decides to capture Khan because killing him would have ended the movie too quickly so he flies away with Spock and Uhura and get attacked by Klingons because, what did he expect to happen when he flew to their home world. Using our current technology it would be hard to land a spaceship anywhere on earth without somebody noticing. The Klingon’s are hundreds of years more advanced but Kirk seems to think they shouldn’t have noticed him because he’s trying to land in the desert or something.

Khan shows up and shoot some Klingons and saves them all. They all live because they are good guys and important. The Klingons all die because they are played by minority extras. Then Kirk expresses his anger by beating up the bad guy who totally just stands there and takes it without even looking like it even hurts him at all, and in fact it doesn’t, he never even gets bruised. They take him back to their ship and Khan reveals his secret that he went on a murderous rampage because he thought his crew was dead but the special torpedoes that Kirk has are actually cryo-chambers with his crew inside.CUMBERBATCH_STAR-TREK-INTO-DARKNESS.jpg

So it turns out that Khan was not really the bad guy in this business? Instead there’s a secret spaceship that Admiral Marcus built because he’s a super secret kind of guy. How this kind of thing gets done without anybody knowing makes no sense to me. How many people did it take to design, test and build this thing? How long has it been since the last movie? How did something so super secret stay super secret if Scotty can sneak aboard by just flying in and opening the door?

Kirk goes space jumping again because apparently it was just that much fun in the first movie. There is a lot of debris between the two ships, enough that it looks like at least two more ships probably got trapped between them while they were fighting and are now just giant pieces of metal for Kirk to dodge on his way to an impossibly small hole. Scott shows up to take his role as the resident lantern hanger and tells Kirk that this is like jumping out of a moving car, off a bridge and landing in a shot glass. Kirk goes for it anyway because he, like the writers do not understand that the analogy is actually accurate.

Old Spock shows up just to say, “I promised not to say anything but I’m going to say something.” Then he doesn’t actually say anything.

Then Kahn betrays them all but only kills the guys who’s actors are not on the list of the main cast.

Spock, trying to save Kirk and Scott offers to give Khan back his crew in exchange for his Captain. In a moment of sheer stupidity he tricks Khan into thinking that he has his crew and then detonates all the missiles. Of course Spock didn’t really kill Khan’s crew, he’s just playing a little joke on the guy who ruthlessly failed to kill anybody except Pike the last time he thought his crew had been killed.

Well. Now he’s really angry so he crashes his ship into San Francisco, which is, apparently, conveniently close to space, or something. Meanwhile the Enterprise is also crashing so all the laws of physics fly out of a convenient hull breach and we get to see gravity play games in space. First the Enterprise starts to fall out of orbit because it lost power. All nearby debris simply stays where it was put, apparently the debris hasn’t lost power yet. As the Enterprise tumbles the actors gain super powers and are suddenly able to run on the walls. Either that or this whole things is a giant mass hallucination because I can’t think of any other reason why a ship in freefall would have gravity that suddenly rotates it’s reference frame.

Kirk plays the role of Spock (and hangs a lantern on it later — this time in case the audience is too stupid to figure it out) and Spock plays Kirk’s role. Kirk dies, Spock runs around in San Francisco because transporters on the Enterprise only work when the writers don’t feel like having another chase scene. Then the transporters do work when they realize that Spock will need some help.

It turns out Khan’s blood is magic and brings Kirk back to life. The end.

Now my thoughts:

Apparently there are no competent Indian actors who could have played Khan.star-trek-into-darkness-khan.png

So instead of a court martial, or a hearing, or a trial of any kind Kirk is just sent back to the academy. His career looks like this: Cadet, Captain, Cadet, Commander, Captain, Maybe Admiral of everything? (At the end he’s the one leading the ceremony because he’s apparently the highest ranking feller there is — and he’s about to leave on a five-year mission so that’ll be fun for the leaderless people back home. Plus he’s apparently immortal now, so…)

None of this makes any sense to me and the reasoning behind it in the movie makes even less sense. Why would any organization promote a cadet to Captain of a starship? Why would they then decide he needed to be a cadet again only to change their minds back later that same day. This has got to be the most schizophrenic command structure ever.

While I think that Chris Pine does a brilliant job of playing Kirk and looks enough like the young Shatner that I can no longer see him as anybody else, I feel like the writers and director completely missed who this character is. Kirk is a deeply caring person, he knows who his crew members are, he performs weddings for them, he fights for them. Sure he goes on away missions when it should be the first officer and he has broken the Prime Directive a few times (a lot) but they were always in situations of actual moral dilemma. This new Kirk is a womanizing drunk who picks fights with his friends, has sixth-grade arguments and is completely careless with the lives of his crew and of indigenous peoples. When he is confronted by his actions he does not recognize that the Prime Directive is an important law but he scoffs at it and expects to be let off for his actions. He breaks the law because it would be fun and have cool looking scenes.

In other words he’s an arrogant, amoral, prick.

And it completely misses the point. If you were to compile a list of Shatner’s traits from popular media you would probably find this Kirk. If you were to actually watch the show you would see that he is something completely different. The writers completely missed this character.

One of Kirk’s arguments to Pike about why he should keep his command is that he had not lost a single crew member. The rest of the movie shows him losing crew member after crew member and Kirk doesn’t seem to care in the least. His ship gets blown up, people fall down corridors when gravity changes right in front of him. People get sucked into space. Kirk is only worried about running around and reaching the next plot point because he has no depth.

There is one moment where the writers accidentally hinted at something interesting. Kirk tells Spock that he doesn’t know how to lead, so he’s going on a space jump and leaving Spock in charge. I found myself wishing that they would have dealt with that more. Kirk goes on all these away missions because he’s insecure. He doesn’t know what to do on the ship and he wants to get away sometimes. It’s almost brilliant. If only it had been more than a single line of dialogue.

Several times the characters say random things to draw attention to things that will come up later. Kirk is talking to Khan and trying to be intense about who can be trusted. He interrupts himself by asking Bones what he’s doing. McCoy tells him he is using Khan’s Magic Blood(TM) to resurrect a dead Tribble. Then Kirk goes back to his intense conversation. Even the first time I saw this scene I could see it was blatant and clumsy exposition — Oh, Kirk’s going to die and get resurrected with Magic Blood(TM).

The sexism inherent in the early franchise at least had the excuse that it was a product of it’s time. This movie seems to think that Uhura can’t keep her emotions in check because she’s a woman and Carol Marcus can’t keep her clothes on because… I don’t know, women like to invite men into shuttles and make them turn around while they change their clothes? Plus, I understand it’s tradition from the old show (again it was the sixties) but in what warped imagination is a miniskirt a reasonable uniform for a person on an exploratory service?

So, I get that Khan is ruthless and smart and strong and has Magic Blood(TM) but how does it make any sense to wake him up to help them design weapons? He had been asleep 300 years. That’s like us waking up Isaac Newton to help us design better drones for our military servicemen. Does that make any kind of sense? Science and technology change so much in 300 years that Khan would have no background of relevance able to be of any use. How did they find his ship anyway? After the first movie the Enterprise is the only Starfleet ship left capable of long distance travel. If Kirk and company had found Khan they would have known about him so it wasn’t them. Maybe Starfleet sent out a plot hole and sucked him back home through it’s spinning vortex.

Finally my biggest complaint:

At the end of Wrath of Khan — that this movie is obviously completely ripping off — Spock dies. It’s heart-wrenching and powerful and beautiful. It works that way because it is an earned moment. At that point Kirk and Spock had shown their friendship in seventy two television episodes and two motion pictures. They had not only shown their own friendship but they had spent all that time being characters that the audience loved.

Into Darkness tries to cash in on that emotional train wreck with no success. Kirk dies and Spock screams in agony and runs off to have a Star Wars chase scene. It’s flat. It means nothing. These characters haven’t earned an emotional response. These actors haven’t been around long enough, been endearing enough to earn an emotional response. These writers haven’t given us lovable characters or lasting friendship or even any sense of personal sacrifice because they told us just twenty minutes ago that there is Magic Blood(TM) that will save Kirk so, no worries.

In short, Star Trek Into Darkness is a badly made version of a sixth-graders fan fiction after watching Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. That these writers and director tried to sell it as an actual movie is pretty embarrassing.

Also, this can’t be Star Trek, they have actual pillows.No Pillow.jpgPillow

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2 thoughts on “Star Trek Into Darkness”

  1. Excellent review: thoughtful, truthful and entertaining. Especially agree with your points about sexism, Kahn and Newton, promotions and demotions, the death scene and of course, the pillows.

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