In my review of Star Trek Into Darkness I ended up in a weird place. I think the film has some pretty amazing action sequences but that it’s not a very good movie. Which is to say, it’s just not a very good movie.
Since some of you have asked why I had the reaction I did I am going to explain it. I would have done in the review but I didn’t want to spoil anything. That will not be the case here; in order to fully explain my problems I am going to have to fully explain them. So if you haven’t seen Star Trek Into Darkness yet you may want to give this article a pass. Otherwise his the jump and let’s get going.
The Shuttle of Convenience
I mentioned this in my spoiler free review but there is a moment when they have to go to Kronos, the Klingon homeworld, and they can’t take the Enterprise because it’s been sabotaged. It’s revealed during a PA announcement from Sulu that they have a non Starfleet ship they confiscated “during the Mud incident” before the events of the film (more on that reference in a moment).
This could be so easily fixed it’s not even funny. Have the “Mudd incident” replace the opening action sequence, or better yet ditch the reference all together and just have them load a non Starfleet shuttle onto the ship because they are headed for enemy territory on a covert mission.
Also, once they find out they’ve been sabotaged they never both trying to investigate who might have sabotaged them. They just fix the problem and carry on with the saboteur on board and it’s never mentioned again.
Khan and Carol Marcus Don’t Need To Be Khan or Carol Marcus
Yeah, he’s Khan, get over it. It’s been the worst kept secret of the last few months. Going into the movie I was actually hoping that he wouldn’t be Khan because on the one hand it seems silly to invite comparisons to Wrath of Khan (being the likely most loved Star Trek film to date) and because he was way more interesting as John Harrison, the ex-section 31 agent with an axe to grind.
The problem is that the film doesn’t explain why we should be afraid of Khan. When he’s in the Enterprise brig and turns around to say “My name is Khan” he doesn’t even say his full name. There’s no mention of the Eugenics wars or that he ruled the fucking planet in the Star Trek universe version of the 1990s. Seriously, it’s never mentioned. Thus the character has no real weight, he’s just a walking reference. When the film does decide that we should know just how dangerous Khan can be they don’t look up historical documents or have someone say “wait, I studied history, did you say Khan??”, instead they literally call up Spock Prime and ask “who is this Khan guy anyway?”.
Yes, the reboot universe literally makes a phone call to the prime universe to establish that Khan is indeed a very bad man. In the end if they hadn’t called Spock Prime the only reason we would know that Khan was an important villain is because of The Wrath of Khan. Since I was sitting beside a younger friend who hadn’t even seen Wrath of Khan, he only knew from the title.
Think about that for a second. There’s probably a lot more people seeing this movie who are in my friends situation rather than mine. That means the movie does a shitty job of explaining it’s villain to the majority of it’s viewers and that’s a disservice to us all.
Carol Marcus serves even less of a point; her primary function in the movie is to be seen in her underwear and be a reference to Wrath of Khan. Literally everything else she does could have been accomplished by one of the primary crew, probably Checkov.
To be fair, towards the end of the movie the idea of having one character make the ultimate sacrifice but reversing the places of Spock and Kirk was kind of good, however since neither of them had really gone through anything other than exactly the same character arc as the last movie it didn’t really work. When Kirk dies and highly emotive Spock does the Khan scream I literally started laughing. It doesn’t work, it is just silly.
It’s ridiculous in The Wrath of Khan too, but it works because we’re already used to Shatner’s strange delivery and it works because Kirk is deliberately trying to make Khan think he’s won. Here it’s meant to be indicative of Spock giving into his emotions but something about it just doesn’t work. Maybe it’s because he’s screaming to no one in particular, or maybe it’s because it’s just another piece of needless fan service the movie relies on so heavily, but it didn’t work for me.
The Death of Death
So Kirk dies sacrificing himself to fix the engines, literally the same thing that Spock did in Wrath of Khan (well, not exactly, but more on that in a moment). It turns out though that Khan’s super human blood can heal the dead. Bones notices this as the dead tribble he previously injected with Khan’s blood –clearly telegraphing what is to come– comes back to life.
Khan is on the run and Spock is chasing, fully intending to kill him. Bones then tells everyone to make sure Khan comes back alive because his blood can save Kirk.
Ok, that’s all well and good except two things. First off there are 72 other super soldiers with the same genetic modifications sitting in cryo tubes 20 feet from where Bones is. He even has one of them thawed out so that he can freeze Kirk! There’s literally no reason that Khan’s blood is needed at this point other than to give Spock a reason to hold back. This is also stupid since it would do more for Spock’s story arc if he just held back of his own accord once he had Khan overpowered.
Second, Bones then “synthesizes a syrum from Khan’s blood” to bring Kirk back from the dead. So basically McCoy just cured death, removing any peril from any future outing. Plus, the reason Spock’s death had such weight was that it seemed permanent. Spock’s death in Wrath of Khan forced Kirk to face death, something he’d never had to do at that point, and grow as a character. Kirk’s death in Into Darkness serves no purpose other than to reenforce that he and Spock and best bros now.
Fixing the Engines vs. Fixing the Engines
One of the reasons that –despite equal access to both Star Trek and Star Wars growing up– I believe that I became a Star Trek fan was that in Trek there has always been at least a basic adherence to science as we currently understand it, as well as as-close-to-realistic-as-possible depictions of Star Ship operations.
This movie has the Enterprise, a space going vessel, parked in the ocean in the opening shots. Now that’s a cool shot and the Enterprise rising out of the water is a pretty cool thing to behold, but it’s science fantasty. Every other Star Trek has a moment where they fly into an atmosphere and it’s a major problem. This one has half of a major ship to ship action scene take place in Earth’s atmosphere.
Let’s not even talk about the reboot universe approach to who gets promoted to what job and when, either.
In the big climax of Star Trek Into Darkness I already mentioned that Kirk runs into the irradiated engine room to fix them as Spock did in Wrath of Khan. In Wrath of Khan Spock had to put on gloves, open a conduit and reach in and fix things. In Star Trek Into Darkness Kirk has to climb an apparatus and kick a bent part back into place.
I think this is pretty indicative of Abrams version of Star Trek. He’s been saying he wanted to make Star Trek for people who aren’t fans of Star Trek. He’s succeeded in a manner of speaking: he’s just dumbed it down to the point where Star Trek is just another silly action film set in space.
The movie plays like a fan film with a huge budget made by people who have just been told, not actually seen, what the cool bits of Star Trek are. Every time there’s a reference to previous Trek it feels forced, and since the film is littered with them it starts to become distracting.
Add to this the fact that none of the characters have real character arcs –Kirk goes through “am I ready for this” and Spock goes through “do I feel or don’t I”, literally the same arcs they had in the last movie– and you end up with a movie that’s hollow.
What’s infuriating to me is that all of this is avoidable. If they’d just focused on writing a good story and not shoehorning all the callbacks to previous Trek in there (they even call back 2009s Star Trek with a shot of the Enterprise rising out of clouds) there’s room for a seriously good movie in there somewhere.
JJ Abrams has said that his commitment to Star Wars will likely keep him from doing Star Trek 3. Good. Hopefully they ditch Kurtzman, Orci and Lindelof from the writers job too.
Star Trek Into Darkness is infuriating. It’s not as upsetting that they don’t seem to respect or understand Star Trek as it is that they seem to think they do respect and understand Star Trek. But take it from me, they do not. If they did they’d pay more attention to crafting a good story, with actual character arcs and stakes rather than just 2 hours of idiotic pandering fan service.