AAR: Star Trek Into Darkness
Hello GGR readers; my name is Frank Landau. I want to start with a little background on who I am and where I come from. I’m the father of a 16 year old step-daughter and a 6 year old son. Their schedules make it difficult for me to watch any new movies that don’t involve Legos, cartoons, or Zack Effron. These are the things that change as you get older. Recently, I’ve been on a binge of watching movies that, if I were still in my early 20’s and single, I would have stood in line to see in a theater.
Let me set the stage for my first review, Star Trek: Into Darkness. I have loved Star Trek since I was a young boy when my father introduced me to the original movies. The first one I ever saw was Star Trek 3: The Search for Spock. I fell in love. I then wore out our Betamax copies of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. I was already a fan of Star Wars at this point, too but Star Trek hit a nerve with me. It was people from Earth, of all races and creeds, working in harmony with other races and species from other planets. There was no magic; it was all based on science that could happen in the future. I even talked my dad into taking me to a Star Trek Convention. Hey, it’s not my coolest moment but it happened (and bravo to my Father for taking one for the team. Good on ya, old man). Then they announced that Star Trek would be getting a reboot by JJ Abrams of Lost fame. I was simultaneously excited and nervous. It was like the night before Christmas when you can only hope that your parents got the gifts on your list and didn’t go all “Hanukah” on you and got you socks and a calculator. JJ would hopefully bring life back to the stagnant Trek franchise.
Despite the ridiculous amount of lens flares and the bridge of the Enterprise looking like an Apple store, I loved the reboot. Chris Pine WAS James T. Kirk, you couldn’t have had better writing or casting for the role. Zachary Quinto made a good Spock, Karl Urban was lights out as Bones, and the rest of the cast was perfect. After watching Star Trek at least 5 times, I was so excited about the sequel, I couldn’t wait. I even…*gasp*…looked into seeing it in the theatres. This Sherlock Holmes guy looked like a bad ass in the previews and the Enterprise was spiraling out of orbit? OH MY GOD! I HAVE TO SEE THIS MOVIE!
The house of cards that was my excitement fell apart when the sequel’s big secret leaked out. Benjamin Cumberbatch was playing KHAN! I jumped the gun and assumed I knew what they were trying to do. This wasn't going to be the Star Trek I fell in love with. The story was going to be secondary to the special effects. Now, this is not uncommon in the movie industry. It’s the reason why every television show and movie, even the modestly popular ones from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s get a remake. It’s easier to sell tickets if people already know what to expect to see. New creative ideas don’t guarantee enough of a turn out, so Hollywood rarely takes a chance on them. Out of anger that they would waste one of the best villains in the Star Trek universe, I boycotted the movie. My overwhelming love of Star Trek won out, more than a year after the movie was released. I watched it on Netflix a few days ago. I’m not saying that I wish I hadn’t watched it, because there were some redeeming factors, but it was a disappointment. Let’s take a look, shall we?
The movie had a solid start. James T Kirk is the same, whether in the prime universe or this alternate reality. He has no qualms about violating orders if they don't jive with his moral code. Our man Spock is the same walking-rule-book he’s always been and the two keep each other in balance. The original series was chock full of social commentary and this Star Trek follows suit. Instead of Nazis, Communism, and racism being the hot topics of the day, we now face a constant threat of terrorism. It inundates our lives. We question if violating the principles of democracy to protect the public against said terrorists is justifiable.
This movie shows that it is in tune with today's fears. John Harrison, a Federation scientist, executed a terrorist bombing. That attack was a feint to gather all the high ranking commanders of Starfleet in one place. This attack kills Kirk's mentor, Admiral Pike. Rear Admiral "Robocop" Marcus, acts the part of George W. Bush and wants Harrison killed without facing trial. This was reminiscent of the early days of the Patriot Act. The Starfleet traitor was hiding on Kronos, the Klingon homeworld. This was an obvious parallel of Osama Bin Laden taking refuge in Afghanistan. Alright JJ, I’m on board for this so far. Kirk disobeys orders and decide to bring John Harrison to justice. Maybe my prejudice of this movie was unfounded, especially when I saw John Harrison kick some Klingon ass; that was sweet. Then, it started to unravel.
“My name isn’t John Harrison. My……name……is…..(stops and grabs a drink, wipes off mouth, exhales in enjoyment of his drink)…KHAN!”
And? Is that name supposed to mean anything to these fresh-out-of-the-academy Starfleet Officers? No! This was meant for the audience. They would gasp in horror as they know what Khan did in the prime universe, now ruined when it was leaked that Cumberbatch was Khan. Well done JJ, you run a tight ship. Now I see why you are freaking out about Star Wars news getting out.
The first half of the movie was exciting and innovative but now it becomes a derivative mess. The fight scene with the U.S.S. “Bigger than your ship” was a rip-off of Star Trek: Nemesis, which was not good enough to rip from in the first place. At one point, Spock calls Spock Prime and asks him “hey…is Khan a bad guy?” Really, dude? You have to ask if the guy who has already killed thousands of people is your enemy? This was just a horrible excuse to remind people that this movie is about to rip-off Wrath of Khan. And that’s exactly what the rest of the movie is.
Something bad happens and the Enterprise and all her crew are doomed if someone doesn’t risk their life to fix it. They must have drawn straws because it’s Kirk’s turn to save the ship and her crew, taking a lethal dose of radiation in the process. As Kirk lies there dying, he and Spock have a tender moment. The dialog is almost word for word the same as what Kirk and Spock exchanged in Wrath of Khan when the situation was reversed. In Wrath of Khan, Spock sacrificed his life in the exact same way, saving the ship and everyone on board at the expense of his life. When Kirk finds out what his First Officer, and friend, of twenty odd years has done to save them all, he is devastated. Our alternate universe counterparts have served together for a year, maybe two tops. This just doesn’t have the same impact. It’s very touching but it is painfully forced and obvious that they wrote this scene to try and make the audience cry. You can’t force people to care about characters they’ve known for one movie prior to this one. Star Trek fans had known of Kirk and Spock for 20 years. This was such a lazy move on the part of the writers.
Captain Kirk is dead…or is he? It turns out that Khan’s blood (which Bones took a sample of earlier) has the ability to resurrect Kirk. When Spock died in Wrath of Khan, he was dead for a whole movie and was resurrected, plausibly I might add, within the confines of the story. It was not by some ridiculous Maguffin like Super Khan and his Amazing Technicolor Blood. While we’re on that subject, Uhura and Spock had to rush to get Khan so they could get more of his blood to save Kirk. Wait a second: Aren't Khan’s friends, who are also genetically altered supermen, in cryo-sleep just hanging out, full of magic blood, in a cargo hold on the Enterprise? They're conveniently NOT awake and NOT trying to kill as many people as possible. Why was it so important to get Khan? I mean, other than closing the plot hole.
This movie disappointed me and this might be more on me. My biggest gripe about this and most other recent movies is that they expect the special effects to fix the crappy writing. It had such a great start and ended up being a lazy effort. It took the best parts of the source material and shoe-horned it into this film and didn't have a creative take on it. You could have made John Harrison… just John Harrison and not make him Khan. The story was good enough that you didn’t need to make him Khan. I was hoping that maybe John Harrison was going to be based on Gary Mitchell…but that would go over most people’s heads. Fans of Star Trek don’t need the lip service. They’ll appreciate a well written story much more than nods to the past. Trust me.
But that’s the point isn’t it? You have to get non-Trekies to see this movie with flashy explosions and scantily clad science officers. Everyone loves boobs and explosions. Hell, I love boobs and explosions, but make them work within a good story! Don’t Batman & Robin us and cram characters into a shoddy script. That being said, I am still hopeful of a 3rd installment from this crew and I think it can be great. The more I think of it, the intent of this movie wasn't to keep the fans happy. I’m starting to think that this movie wasn’t for me at all.