Here be spoilers: “Star Trek: Into Darkness” in review

May 20, 2013


Okay, my initial review of Star Trek: Into Darkness (is there a colon in the title? It feels like there should be a colon) was a bit threadbare. Yeah, it’s hard to talk about the movie without getting neck-deep into spoiler territory. So, here is my SPOILERRIFFIC™ discussion of Into Darkness. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, don’t click the READ MORE link. Just, uh, hey click this link and read about another movie with Darkness in the title. It’s called Creature of Darkness, and it really crazy. Seriously. It’s got this alien that dresses in a raincoat and hat and hunts people, and…well, just read it. Unless you’ve seen Into Darkness. Then, click away…

So, I assume we’ve all seen the movie, right? Okay, cool. Now, let’s unpack some of the problems I had with the movie in gory detail. First off, remaking The Wrath of Khan is a truly awful idea. As I pointed out in my review of it, TWOK basically created Trek as we know it. They essentially remade it when they rebooted the series.

But the biggest problem is that TWOK is a damn-near perfect storytelling machine. There is nothing extraneous, nothing overly ambitious, and the screenplay moves with the precision of an Omega Seamaster. It establishes emotional stakes, tells a rollicking story, and ends with an emotional catharsis, and everything in the movie works to those ends. Monkeying with that is a fool’s errand.

Into Darkness, on the other hand, is rife with problems that nag as soon as you leave the theater, to wit:

* Khan: He makes no sense in the context of this story. He worked perfectly in TWOK, because he is an enemy from Kirk’s past, repercussions of a long ago judgment call that turned out bad. This fits perfectly in a movie about Kirk reckoning with middle age. In this he’s just, well, there. He has no history in the rebooted series and is barely introduced through some rushed exposition. Rather than have a tangible story that establishes his ferocity, we’re expected to understand the danger he poses, because, well,  we all liked TWOK. Dude, that’s just lazy.

* Admiral Robocop: Are any Admirals in Starfleet not criminals? I mean, we had that one is DS9 that tried to impose martial law, the one in TNG that brokered a backdoor deal with the Cardassians, the one who collaborated with Klingon assassins to derail the Federation/Klingon peace negations…I mean, aside from Kirk, it seems like once you get those Admiral’s bars you immediately become power-mad, hatch the worst scheme possible, and maybe end up facelifted to death for your troubles.

* The Plan: So, can someone explain this to me? Admiral Robocop’s plot seems to be: 1) thaw out Khan, 2) ???, 3) win the war they aren’t fighting. Uh…a lot of this is confusing. Mostly that middle part, wherein Khan helps design war machines for the Federation. The guy who’s been on ice since before the invention of warp drive. Sure. And if we had a TARDIS we could ask Alexander the Great for help upgrading our drones.

* The torpedoes: Khan puts his crewsicles inside the torpedoes he designed. Admiral Robocop kept them there for leverage against Khan. Neither of these seem like good ideas. Or even ideas any rational human being would come up with. Or ideas any human being blitzed on Boone’s Farm and mescaline would come up with. This is a bad MacGuffin.

* Kirk’s sacrifice: In the context of this story it’s pretty meaningless, and has no emotional stakes. Think he’ll stay dead? Of course not. Further, his relationship with Spock is still new, so the moment lacks any emotional fission. Certainly, it shouldn’t send Spock on a rage-fueled quest for vengeance.

* War with the Klingons: Like every other motive in this movie, the reasons for this are heard and not seen. Why does Admiral Robocop want a war with them so badly? Is he bored? Desk getting a bit constricting? I mean, he gives a little speech before he sends Kirk on his kamikaze mission, but it lacks any real rationale. Couldn’t we at least see some sign of aggression from them? Get some idea of the threat they pose? This would give us some idea of why he hatched the Worst Plan in History and give the film the moral complexity it wants to have. And hey, is it a good idea to have a model of your Super-Mega-Banzai battleship right there on your desk?

With all that, why do I still like this movie so much? I’ve been pondering this question for several days now, and finally it hit me: because I’m a Star Trek fan. I’ve been with it since my uncle took me to see TWOK in 1982, through thick and thin, and you know what? This is still a good Trek movie. I mean, we’ve had Kirk makes jokes about farting, Spock nerve-pinch a horse, Kirk die by falling off a bridge on a shithole planet, a movie about a bunch of Space Amish people, Data clowning around, and that last Next Gen movie made by a director who couldn’t even be bothered to remember his actor’s names. I mean, c’mon! We’ve been through so much mediocrity a big, exciting, well-made spectacle is still heads-and-shoulders above a lot of the series, even if it had severe narrative problems.

Plus, you know, Kirk threesome with some alien twins with tails. Something well suspected went on, but never had the proof.

Engage, amigos.

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