I have done it. I promised I would and last night I fulfilled my promise. I watched “Star Trek: Into Darkness”. For those familiar with my deep felt prejudices against the movie for its apparent lackadaisical approach to the Star Trek cannon and film making in general you will perhaps appreciate more what I have to say than those who have not experienced my distaste. As a preface, I enjoyed the first film of this Star Trek reboot and had only a few quips that I felt were fair to complain about. But when I saw the first trailer for “Into Darkness” I was filled with a deep dread that all my little quips with the first movie had been exploded into a full blown disaster. The only thing saving my enthusiasm for its release was my actor crush with Benedict Cumberpatch but as more information about the film released and reviews came out my disappointment turned to something of a vengeance as I couldn’t believe the arrogance of the production team. And after watching the film, I have to ask, has anyone figured out why it was called “Into Darkness”?
Some of my friends who were witness to my tirades rightly insisted that I had to give the second film a shot and so, promising to put my bias aside, I watched it last night expecting nothing but to be entertained by a good movie with no TOS notes beside me and no other audience to sway my opinions.
And well…..I was mostly entertained.
As an olive branch of peace to those who absolutely loved “Into Darkness” I will extend my thoughts on probably the most controversial part of the film and state that I enjoyed the character of Khan- solely on the merit that there is no parallel drawn to the TOS Khan. If there were parallels drawn then this new Khan would fail miserably, shrivel up and waste away saved to life only by the acting prowess of Cumberpatch. However, as a newly imagined villain he flies high and is a great villain but is now sold short on potential. He could have been so much more dangerous and the stakes could have gripped your insides and shaken your surety of success rather than only making you mildly curious to see how the plot will work out in our heroes favor. This could have been done as easily as was done in TOS by having some of Khan’s crew mates also become awoken so that he has a small army of super-beings. Then have Khan seduce one of Kirk’s crew to joining his side which dramatically increases the chance of betrayal and the suspense. I will also admit that the conclusion with Khan being put back into cryogenic freeze was satisfying even though Khan’s storage for another time is obvious. All considering this new Khan passes the test.
As for what I didn’t like about “Into Darkness” there were a significant number of areas I could point out as showing poor (did anyone else think the Klingons looked like the Persians out of “300”? The design team were onto something but stopped short of finding what they should have been looking for). What I’ve done is lumped the overwhelming problems I have with this movie into two main categories since there are multiple other reviews out there that draw attention to all the other problems.
1) The first problem is a carryover of my largest quip with the first film and that is the relationship between Spock and Uhura. Without making a long winded tirade about what a bad idea this was, and is, let me summarize by saying it’s awful. Is Spock trying to be fully Vulcan or isn’t he? Either he is and he is dead to relationships until he goes into Vulcan heat or he is human and embraces all relationships. Either Uhura understands she’s dating a stone wall and loses her right to complain- ever, or…sorry, how did she start dating him again? This relationship undercuts everything ever established about Spock rejecting his human half and makes it difficult to believe that Spock is trying to be fully Vulcan. Good job writers, you have called into question the one defining feature of one of your main characters.
2) The second problem is the most overwhelming problem and it is Kirk. “Captain” James T. Kirk is the entire problem with the second movie and I use the quotation marks because it takes no great investigation to see that he is no great leader of men and no warrior. Just ask yourself, “Would I want to be under the command of this man?” Probably not. James Kirk has been devolved into a frat boy and his poor characterization encourages the writers in their bad writing decisions. What was most frustrating was that the writers let Kirk run wild knowing full and well that he was a terrible captain. How do I know this? Because most of the first half of the movie’s dialogue with Kirk was centered around other characters telling him what a bad job he was doing and therein suggesting better courses of action proving that the writers knew what Kirk should have been doing. You may say that the first half of the movie is supposed to show Kirk’s transformation and so is justified. But I’m sorry, is this a coming-of-age film or a chronicle of the universe’s best and brightest going where no man has gone before? Throughout the entire film the wisdom and smarts of the TOS Kirk was spoken from the mouths of Spock, Bones, Scotty, and certainly Captain Pike as well, and yet Kirk dismisses them all effectively turning his back on the legend he is supposed to be representing.
It’s like the secondary characters are all trying to make a decent film but frat-boy Kirk just keeps wanting the movie to be all about him and the consequences of his decisions and to Rura Penthe with anything else. In fact, didn’t Kirk get demoted for this very attitude? Oops, too early in the movie to see it continue with a spanking from Captain Pike and First Officer Kirk taking orders. Guess there is a need to kill off everyone standing in his path to success. One of the most effective secrets of good plot writing is that it is okay to have coincidences get your character into trouble, but using coincidences to get them out of trouble is cheating. The writers use Kirk as a cheap escape for lazy plot development as all the secondary characters are quite all solid and ready for action in a good, proper, Star Trek reboot (Dr. McCoy could use a couple of lines not written in catch phrases) but they are stuck waiting for Kirk to keep his pants on long enough to remember a thing called responsibility to Star Fleet, to his crew, and to the institution of exploration which he swore himself to. (On that note, TOS Kirk was always more proud of his ability to conquer the strong, beautiful woman rather than just bed any party girl whose pants were looser than his.)
As a prime example look at how the writers made room for Chekov’s cameo: by having Kirk make him Chief Engineer in place of Scotty. Kirk assumes that just because the brilliant new Russian grad can not only navigate a starship, perform complex transportation equations at lightening pace and even make a few facial hairs magically appear when he puffs his cheeks out really hard, he is also the BEST POSSIBLE choice for being in charge of the sensitive warp core. Not Scotty’s second in command, third in command, or even any other engineer, but Chekov. While the sabotage on the warp core was not Chekov’s fault, not having any idea on how to start fixing it is something Kirk should have thought of as just one of many possible issues. Kirk just about destroyed his entire ship because he sent the navigator down to take the role of Chief of Engineering and as Khan continued to gain the upper hand this short coming became more and more critical and Kirk never once thought to fix it. If Star Fleet is pushing out officers like Kirk, graduating them, and calling them worthy of command then I would be ashamed. I might even re-enlist as a red shirt since then my sure demise would be less painful and drawn out that way.
The problems with Kirk got to be so bad during “Into Darkness” that when it was time for him to die, (why wasn’t his face melting? He looked like he was hung over not dying from intense radiation poisoning ) I honestly couldn’t have cared less. There was absolutely no emotional investment in “Captain” Frat-Boy Kirk and I think I actually went to fill up my glass of water during his final moments. And then I laughed out loud when Spock yelled out a stubbed-toe sounding yell at a villain I had begun to enjoy watching more than our heroes long before. I tried to tell if Spock had shed a tear at Kirk’s uninspiring death or if that was just the lens flare getting in the way again. But I digress, I had promised to keep my issues to two categories. And yet, I still have. Desperate to keep the movie all about him, Kirk’s ego made the writers bring two story lines together for some sort of show stealing Oscar moment and gave up his famous anger ridden line to someone who doesn’t weep without biological predisposition- or does he? It’s hard to tell now that he’s yelling and loving and being emotional like the rest of us humans. Kirk so ruined this movie that even after his death I found myself cheering for Khan because at least he had his story together and had a reason to be in the position that he was. Throughout the entire two movies Kirk never once earned his position as captain but instead got the spot by merely being the only one who wasn’t dead yet. What needs to happen is for Kirk to be re-written and to start being a starship leader and a captain who inspires greatness and to stop being a reflection of our current generation of up and coming first world entitled preppies. TOS Kirk could play 3D chess because he understood cause and effect. Re-boot Kirk couldn’t play Tic-Tac-Toe.
Final movie rating:
Without Captain Kirk: 3/5 stars.
With Captain Kirk: 1.5/5 stars.