Saw Star Trek: Into Darkness (Huge Spoilers Throughout)

Or however it’s supposed to be punctuated.  (I don’t care that it’s unpunctuated officially.  They are wrong.)

Like friend L warned me I would have, I had issues with it.  My issues had issues with it.  It’s not actually a good Star Trek movie.  And unfortunately, I’m enough of a Trek fan that I can’t look past that to enjoy what my non-Trek friends said was an okay film.

I think in technical terms, my traditional lens flare and cutting issues with JJ Abrams’s directing notwithstanding, it’s okay.

In artistic terms though, it’s all over the place.

I think, above and beyond the Khan problem (discussed below), the major, non-morality based issue (see a different later section) with the film was that it didn’t seem to know what it wanted to be.  It was constantly teetering between action-comedy and action-drama and ended up with this really messy dramedy effect.  Dramedy is one of those things that has to be excellent to work at all, otherwise you end up with a really messy soup of thing.  ST: ID was a messy soup.

The other problem is that Wrath of Khan is iconic, and while I am all for iconoclasm, I like it to be intelligent.  And this wasn’t.  This was the shitty dubstep remix of Wrath of Khan*.

If you’ve seen Wrath of Khan, you can guess what bits they’re going to include.  And no, giving the bits to different characters is not changing them.  You give no new import, you do not play with them.  You just have them plain with a different voice.  Also, given the stick that Shatner gets for his acting, when William “I am ACT …. ing” Shatner is able to deliver more of an emotional wallop, your script and your set up has issues.  But then again, he was working with better background conditions.  We cared about him and Spock, because we’d known Kirk and Spock for 25 years by that point.  And they loved each other.  The film kept telling not showing that nu-Kirk and nu-Spock loved each other, and I’m sorry, it just wasn’t obvious by their actions so the telling didn’t work.  From their actions, it’s quite clear that McCoy loves Kirk, Uhura loves Spock, and that Chekov adores his Keptin – but the Kirk <3s Spock and Spock <3s Kirk thing not so much.

The same applies for Khan vs Kirk.  We knew Khan.  We knew the wife that died.  We were attached to his character whether we liked or feared him.  We do not know this evil Brit**.  I think Cumberbundle does a fine job, but that’s not the point.

When Inception came out and I made a post about why some people didn’t like it.  My friend T made a very insightful comment about it being because of absent or misplaced catharsis.  I felt that way about this.  I don’t know if it’s because I needed the scene where Khan is put on trial or because I wanted the debate about whether someone can be obliged to give up bits of their body for donation or because I wanted the scene where Khan barters his blood for Kirk’s life and asks to be frozen in exchange.  Basically, I wanted all the Trek-y scenes Abrams didn’t want to include.

The Khan Problem

I’m a Cumberbundle fan.  Of a pre-Sherlock vintage.  I think he does a good job in this.  But there’s something fucked about Hollyweird casting a white guy to play an Indian Übermensch.

And if evil has to be British-accented, it’s not like there aren’t any Anglo-Indian actors.  Hell, JJ, you worked with Naveen Andrews.

The other problem, nowhere near as serious as the above, is there is no reason for this to be Khan at all.  There is nothing about the story that shouts “yes, Khan must be our villain”.  Abrams could have avoided that whole problem by running an Earth based version of this TNG episode – http://en.memory-alpha.org/wiki/The_Hunted_(episode).  It’s not like he’s averse to re-using things (to paraphrase Patton – “JJ, you bastard, I’ve seen the same films as you.”).  You get an evil Section 31.  You get a reason for Harrison to be rogue.  You get an excuse for super-soldiery nonsense.  It means you don’t end up whitewashing an Indian character who has previously been played by a Latino actor.  It’s better all-round.

The moral problem.  Or what the hell have you done to my Starfleet and my Captain.

I get the joke that in Trek, if an Admiral turns up, expect him (or her) to have gone rogue and be plotting to turn Starfleet into a para-military organisation.  It suggests mostly that Admirals need to be better observed.

And while I dislike Section 31 as an idea (sorry, I’m an idealist, Starfleet is supposed to be a paragon with the occasional rogue), it’s done well in DS9.  Because it’s DS9, and there is time to explore exactly what having that kind of subdivision means for Starfleet.  ST: ID does not have the time.

So I will put up with this.

And I was thrilled by Pike’s first scene because someone (anyone) calling nu-Kirk out on his bullshit will always gain my approval.  But, of course, he immediately goes back on that but at least someone tried and I do think that Pike’s plan is a good one (also, my own, absolutely against canon head-canon is that Pike was on-board the Kelvin and Kirk sr saved his life and so he can’t help it).

Of course then stuff gets blown to hell, and Kirk decides to go on a rampage.  Which I object to for the following reason:

“Also, no, Reboot Kirk, Starfleet should not be about vengeance. See “Day of the Dove”, see “Let This Be Your Last Battlefield”, see most of Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country, see, oddly enough, chunks of Wrath of Khan. To paraphrase buff mousey-brown haired Übermensch number 2 (sorry, I’m sure the character has a real name but) Kahn and his men could have taken the Reliant anywhere and lived long lives on a planet less terrible than Ceti Alpha V. But Kahn was too blinded by vengeance to see that so they all died horribly.”

which is how I felt about it when I saw that scene in the trailer.  It gets no better in the film.  And I find myself hating Admiral Marcus possibly before the film wants me to.  Or possibly the film wants me to be suspicious of him and just to forgive Kirk for being vengeful because his mentor just died.  Which I could live with, if he doesn’t go ahead anyway over the protests of his three next highest ranking crewmen (his second in command, his head of medicine and his head of engineering).

Especially when one of the three who is making a moral argument, re: trials important, Starfleet rules important etc, has known Pike for longer and was literally with him as he died.

I acknowledge that Kirk eventually agrees with Spock, but, you know what, he’s a ship’s captain, he shouldn’t still be needing moral learning moments.  Especially when, in the same scene near enough, his teenage prodigy engineer/helmsman, who is 20 at the most, shows a greater understanding of what responsibility is than he does.  I’m wondering if they were aiming for some sort of captain learns from crew learns from captain, all grow together thing.

And I totally get that Kirk is willing to sacrifice himself for the safety of everyone else.  Except he got them into that position.  And everyone else on that ship is willing to make the same sacrifice.  Hell, everyone else we’ve seen in Starfleet is willing to make the same sacrifice (Captains Robau, Kirk the first, Pike for example.)  Even bigger hell, I’m sure this Khan would do that for his crew, judging from what we see.

To counteract that, Kirk:

Breaks the Prime Directive.  Twice.

Lies in an official report. (edit to add.  I don’t blame him for breaking the Prime Directive for the general good.  In fact I applaud it.  It’s the lying I object to.)

Shouts at his First Officer for not lying in his report.

Disregards the advice of his Chief Engineer on a matter vital to the well-being of the ship

Disregards the advice of his Chief Medical Officer and his Second In Command on matters vital to the well-being of the Federation

Allows himself to be distracted by a domestic matter during a mission in enemy territory.  (For crying out loud, it’s an un-cloaked Warbird.  They’re not quiet, small or subtle.)

Beats a suspect in custody

I’m not saying Kirk ain’t brave.  I’m saying he’s not captaincy material.

Other characters are infected by this as well, Spock and Uhura behave in a manner unbecoming officers on an away mission and Bones breaks the Hippocratic Oath (given he didn’t know how to safely get the popsicle humans out of their cans and at no point do we see him learn, and suddenly it’s all remove a popsicle and replace with Kirk).

And we’re just supposed to gloss over all of that.

Scotty, Sulu, Chekov and the unnamed bridge crew seem to be the only functional Starfleet personnel.  Possibly that’s because the writers only gave them a minimum of attention.

It also raises a problem.  When nu-Scotty, a man who prefers starships to people, is the moral centre of your movie, you’ve got issues.

Other stuff I didn’t like

Insert obligatory lens flare comment here.  The thing that really got me is that there didn’t seem to be much at the start and then the end is lens flare central.  It’s like he’s doing this to me deliberately.

Killing off Pike.  Because I like him.  I think he’s a good restraining influence on Kirk.

Carol Marcus randomly in her underwear.  Because it can’t have been because the mission had to be done pronto otherwise she would have got her other team-mate at the same time.  And it can’t have been because we have to see underwear because otherwise we would have seen half-naked men too.  Then again, this is a film that wants nudity but doesn’t want to get the raised rating.  See also caitians who sleep in their bras.

The lack of blood and gore and general unpleasant biological things.  Wrath of Khan, which is also a 12, has blood.  People do not die easy.  There is screaming and fire and Ensign Preston’s death remains ookily horrible even all these years later.  Where is that in this film?

The film doesn’t seem to want to admit that Khan won.  He got his crew back without losses.  Okay, so they’re back to being frozen popsicles but they’re not in any danger of being killed any time soon.  Compare this to Starfleet and Earth-Gov who have two major cities carrying a lot of damage, lots of dead admirals, and yet more dead Starfleet officers.  Oh and war with the Klingons brewing if they ever find out about parts of this.

The Things I Liked

The film where Scotty (and Keenser), Sulu, Chekov and unnamed bridge crew are awesome with assists from Uhura, Bones and Carol Marcus.  I liked that film a lot.  Shame it was so short.

Scotty in general.  This is a man who has already been exiled to space Siberia, and he’d still rather resign than risk his ship.

Chekov.  Never have I been so worried about a character throughout a film.  It was a combination of the bad luck colour and proximity to the evil bad radiation of death.

Wrath of Uhura > wrath of 20 Klingons.  You know, I think he’s right.

The fight scenes.  Seriously, the fight choreographer and his stunt crew deserve many props.  As does whoever was stunting for Cumberbundle.  Kicks of Gods I tell you.

The music.  The music was good.

~~~~

I feel I am being mean.  Because it wasn’t terrible in filmic terms, just in Trek terms.  And it wasn’t the fault of the actors, who did their best.  But there’s a limit to what acting can make up for.

~~~~

* My friend the dubstep fan who liked the film has no issue with this description.

** if nothing else, Hollywood will keep British actors afloat because apparently evil sounds British.

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