in Movies, Science Fiction, Uncategorized, William Shatner

Retrek

All right, at the outset, know that there will be spoilers. Not little spoilers, mind you, but big, freakin’ Luke-I-am-your-father-Rosebud-was-a-sled-it-was-Earth-all-along-damn-you-all-to-hell spoilers. In fact, I’m going to post a spoiler picture, so watch out for that, too. The point is that if you haven’t seen “Star Trek Into Darkness” and you want to see it without knowing what happens, you’ve probably read too much already. Look away! Be gone with you! Abandon all hope, or whatever. Seriously, why are you still reading this?

All right. So. “Star Trek Into Darkness.”

On Facebook, I posted the following mini-review: “Star Trek. Kids loved it. It made me mad.”

I received several replies, including one very common-sense question: “Did you go actually believing you would like it?”

That’s a hard question to answer. Yes, I’m something of a Trek purist, but I thoroughly enjoyed the 2009 reboot, although My Esteemed Colleague, the purest of purists, did not. (More on him later.) I even wrote a column for the Deseret News scolding purists for their unwillingness to embrace the new Trek incarnation, thereby preemptively defending a movie I hadn’t seen. I had also wrote multiple posts outlining the reasons that Cumberbatch was going to be Gary Mitchell, not Kahn. Allow me to quote me:

Again, Khan makes no sense. Not an inside Starfleet guy; no reason for vengeance on Kirk in this continuity, and repeated, emphatic denials from everyone involved with the movie that Cumberbatch isn’t Khan.
– Stallion Cornell, “It’s Gary Mitchell,” December 6, 2012

Those emphatic denials left no wriggle room or gray areas. “It’s not Khan,” insisted Simon “Scotty” Pegg. “That’s a myth. Everyone’s saying it is, but it’s not.”

Oh, wait. Yes, it is. We lied.

See? Spoiler pic there.

I don’t like being lied to, but all’s fair in love and movie promotion, I guess. And the fact that they chose Khan as the baddie isn’t, on its face, a crime against nature. To borrow from Nicholas Meyer, who directed Khan’s last big screen outing, it’s not whether or not you use him; it’s whether you use him well.

Khan is utterly wasted in this movie.

That’s true whatever else you may think about the film. Khan isn’t really the bad guy; Admiral Marcus is – although we’ve seen his type before, too. He’s a Federation version of Christopher Plummer’s Klingon warmonger in “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.” Khan’s beef with Marcus is justified, and he ends up joining forces with Kirk, which, given the plot, makes all the sense in the world.

Then something stupid happens. It’s not the first time something stupid happens in this movie, and it’s certainly not the last.

When NuSpock phones up Leonard Nimoy for no particular reason, that sent up a red flag that the movie was about to go off the rails. He skypes old Spock in the middle of the confrontation with Marcus to ask about… Khan. Khan, who is currently on their side; Khan, who is ancillary to the dilemma they now face; Khan, who wants to bump off Admiral Marcus even more than they do. How about “Did you know an Admiral Marcus? Was he a power-mad loon?” No, the script has to feature Khan, because, well, he’s Khan, and we’ve wasted him up until now.

And what does Nimoy say? “Oh, Khan! He’s bad! Very, very bad! The baddest guy we ever faced.” (Which is not true, by the way, but I’ll let it slide. I can only get overheated over one thing at a time.)

So then the movie proceeds to fulfill its own lame prophecy, and Khan, who gets possession of the most powerful starship ever built, proceeds to blow the Enterprise out of the water because… well, he’s Khan! KHAAAAN! EEEEEEEEvil Khan! Remember what Grandpa Spock just said? Khan’s just so enormously bad, with a deep streak of incurable badness! He doesn’t want to escape in his trans-warp supership and go wreak havoc somewhere, no! He just wants to beat up on Kirk, because, well, that’s what Khans do.

And therein is the problem. This Khan should have absolutely no beef with Kirk. Which is why this movie falls woefully short of the film it’s so desperately trying to emulate. “The Wrath of Khan” was a masterpiece largely because it drew on fifteen years of history, on relationships between characters and fans that spanned two decades, and a long-simmering grudge ripe for an epic revenge.

This movie has none of those things. So what does it do? It tries to borrow “Wrath of Khan’s” gravitas and pass it off as its own.

Which brings us to… the scene. You know the one I’m talking about.

Up until Kirk’s “death,” I was having a rather pleasant night at the movies. There’s no denying that this was a well-constructed piece of entertainment, and I confess that I very much enjoy the cast, who have made these roles their own. Chris Pine is a bonafide movie star, and he carries the film effortlessly. Scotty had more to do, which was a welcome addition. I was disappointed that Bones was sidelined for much of the action, as he was the best thing about the first movie. But now, I even like Zachary Quinto, who bothered me in the first film, primarily because he was a tenor and Nimoy is a baritone, and I didn’t buy that he could be a younger version of the old Spock. But there was less older Spock to compare him to, which allowed me to accept him on his own terms. I thought he acquitted himself well, even as he was repeatedly forced to erode the integrity of the character of Spock. (More on that later, too.)

But once they got to Kirk taking the Spock side of the glass door in an overdramatic death scene, I got bugged. Then I got angry. And the movie lost me completely, never to get me back again.

Here’s the problem. Thematically, “The Wrath of Khan” is, above all else, a thoughtful meditation on aging and death. Kirk has made it to middle age without ever face his own mortality, and he’s prided himself on his ability to cheat the Grim Reaper at every turn. When Spock dies, Kirk is forced to confront death in the most unsettling and disturbing way possible, watching his longtime friend expire right in front of him. The scene works on its own merits, but it has tremendous power born from the characters’ relationships with both the audience and each other.

By way of contrast, “ST Into Darkness” is thematically barren. It’s not a meditation on anything; it’s a loud, brash popcorn flick. Don’t get me wrong; there’s nothing wrong with loud, brash popcorn flicks. “Iron Man 3” was awesome. (More on that in another post.) In addition, the characters don’t have Shatner and Nimoy’s decades of association to draw upon, and the audience isn’t nearly as invested in them as they were in the old guys. So when they decide to drop a lead weight of bathos into what has, up until then, been a fluffy piece of cinema cotton candy, it’s clumsy and labored.

And then the stupidest thing possible happens: Spock, who has just bawled his eyes out and demonstrated no ability to contain his emotions, yells “KHAAAAAAAAAN!”

It made me laugh. Even worse, it was designed to make me laugh. How could it not be? Shatner’s “KHAAAAAAAAAAAAN” shout is now an iconic element of almost every Kirk parody ever performed. This was a callback to something that’s become a joke. Who undercuts the dramatic tension of its most “poignant” moment with a punchline? Someone who sorely misjudged the nature of these characters, that’s who.

It reminded me of the terrible moment (amid a sea of terrible moments) in Shatner’s execrable “Star Trek V” where they come face to face with God Himself, who then asks to borrow the Enterprise, to which Kirk then asks, “What need does God have of a starship?” And the audience laughs, because they recognize the fundamental absurdity of everything they’ve watched until now. Seeing Spock’s Khan shoutout was the last straw. After that, the movie had abandoned all pretense to integrity. There was no longer anything worth caring about.

Once the roof caved in, I found myself questioning all the moments I had previously enjoyed. Yes, it’s exciting and fun, but think about how absurd the opening of the movie is. They don’t want to lift the Enterprise out of the water because the locals will see it, right? Well, wouldn’t they have seen it when it went under the water in the first place? Kind of a big ship, isn’t it? And why did it have to go under water? We can beam things to any spot on the surface from orbit, can’t we? They may have made up some hooey about the volcano offering interference or something, but they undermined that when they beamed Spock out of harm’s way. And, really, why did Spock have to be down there at all? Why not just drop the cold fusion bomb and let it blow up on its own?

Hey, if you really do need a guy there for some reason, why not use Harrison Khan’s ridiculously powerful portable “trans-warp” device which can zip you from downtown London to downtown Kronos in the blink of an eye? And when they discover that device, why not trans-warp beam a handful of Starfleet SEALS to Khan’s location, slit his throat, and then beam them back?

Why is Khan on Kronos, anyway? Sure, it’s convenient for Marcus, who wants to start a war, but isn’t Marcus Khan’s sworn enemy? Why would he accommodate him with a hideout that plays directly into his agenda, other than, you know, lazy writing?

And then there’s Kirk’s resurrection via Khan blood. McCoy even removes one of Khan’s crew to put Kirk in a cryotube. Doesn’t that guy from the tube have genetically enhanced superblood, too? Yes. Don’t they know that? Yes. Do they ignore it for no logical reason and go after Khan in an overwrought chase sequence instead? Why, yes, they do, in fact!

To be fair, these plot holes are much smaller than the first film’s were. But I don’t mind plot holes as long as the thing can still hang together as a cohesive whole. This movie couldn’t accomplish that. It tries to be all things to all people, and it hurled me out of the moment with its clumsy callback to a film it admires but doesn’t understand. It’s sad, really – we only get new Star Trek every few years, and it seems such a waste to use one of those outings to retread what has gone before.

My Esteemed Colleague refuses to see it, and he insists that it will ruin Trek for generations. He may be right; my kids loved the thing, and they think I’m just a geek with no life for feeling differently. But I don’t think this is the Trek death blow. As I said, the cast works, and, given a decent story, they can get this franchise back on track. The movie ends precisely where the series begins, with the onset of their five year exploration mission. Maybe next time they’ll get it right.

Because they didn’t get it right this time.

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18 Comments

  1. I submit the following:

    1. This film is more enjoyable than every other Star Trek movie except perhaps 2 and 4, and the reboot. That’s pretty fun.
    2. The 12-34 crop are experiencing this newly, unless like me, they saw the originals. I appreciated the parrallelism, in spite of the plot holes.
    3. Benedict Cumberbatch > Ricardo Montelban.
    4. Khan doesn’t mind playing directly into Marcus’ hands. He’s out for revenge against Starfleet and Marcus, and doesn’t much mind if that leads to the war Marcus wants anyway by hiding on Kronos.
    And finally, 5. If JJ Abrams does as much to revive Star Wars as he has Trek, I will be forever grateful.

    • I submit the following:

      1. 6 and First Contact were also better than this.
      2. The 12-34 crop are getting a watered-down version of a great scene.
      3. As Khan, Ricardo Montelban’s hemorrhoids>Benedict Cumberbatch. Montelban IS Khan. Cumberbatch is a great actor but woefully miscast here. He would make a terrific evil Jean-Luc Picard.
      4. Khan “doesn’t mind” helping Marcus? That still makes no sense to me.

      5. Agreed.

  2. Meh. 6 I think definitely not. You could argue first contact.

    Cumberbatch did a great job making the character his own.

    The “help” I’m referring to is with starting a war. Since Khan wants Starfleet decimated, he doesn’t mind that this assists Marcus’ plan. I admit, the Kronos thing bugged me though, quite a bit.

    • 6 is my second favorite after 2. For me, the ranking is 2, 6, First Contact, 4, 3, 1, Insurrection, Generations, Nemesis, 5. I don’t rank these two new ones in the pecking order, as they’re kind of their own beast. I’d probably put the 2009 Trek right after 6, and this one after 3.

  3. Hi, Stallion,
    Some of the elements you mentioned are kind of what irked me a bit with this film. I’m not woefully bothered about it though, as it did not take away from my overall enjoyment of the film, but I do agree with several of your points.

    Was Leonard Nimoy really…really necessary in this latest outing? He was meant to pass on the torch, so to speak, in the previous film. That’s all well and good, and I appreciated his presence in that film. In this one, it was kinda “jump the shark” for me. Good to see him again in another Trek movie, but highly unnecessary. Definitely going to the well one too many times…and that was just one case in a movie that tended to go to the well more than a desperate Fremen.

    As for Quinto’s Spock failing to control his emotions, well, I still look back on “Where No Man Has Gone Before” and even “The Cage” where we see Spock smiling a few times…even during the line “Irritating…ah yes, one of your Earth emotions.” (I think it was “irritating”…might have been “annoying”….I’m suffering from encephalo-gastronomic flatulence right now, so forgive me if I misquoted. πŸ˜€ )

    I found Quinto-Spock’s scream of “KHAAAAANNNNNN!!” admirable, but as with the Nimoy revisit, highly unnecessary.

    I thought Cumberbatch made a very menacing Khan, but I too was a bit thrown with his whole “bad guy/good guy/bad guy again” trip. It wasn’t his fault he was written that way…as with any good actor, they make the best of what they’re told to perform, and he did it well. I won’t compare Cumberbatch to Montalban any more than I’d compare Heath Ledger’s “Joker” to Jack Nicholson’s. Both did their roles their way, and did them justice, in my very humble opinion. (To be honest, Jack Nicholson’s Joker had more in common with Caesar Romero’s Joker, and Nicholson delivered the hilarity with great gusto.)

    Making the “Space..the Final Frontier..” speech a “Captain’s Oath”? Hmm…I suppose I could buy it, but, that was kinda like when Kevin Costner’s “Postman” swore in Ford Lincoln Mercury as a “deputy postmaster”. (I mean, I could see it now…do we “swear in” captains of StarFleet by making them recite the “Captain’s Oath”? πŸ™‚

    Long and short of it, this movie retreading on elements of Star Treks II and III kinda threw it for me a wee bit. I even considered that some of this revisiting was ridiculous in the spirit of the word….not ha ha ridiculous, but ridiculous as in “worthy of ridicule”.

    One thing I did like (and I say this because it seemed like a nice nod to all the Trekkies/Trekkers out there that could do nothing but bitch and moan about the reboot): Scotty’s question to Kirk when he was ordered to sign for the “advanced torpedoes”. “Oh, are we ‘military’ now? Ah thought we were explorers!”

    Overall though, I still enjoyed this movie, and might even go back to see it a second time. (The reboot I saw 5 times on the big screen). This second outing, I saw in IMAX 3D, and the effects were WOW worthy. I also heavily followed the story, but this time, should I go and see the movie again, I want to see it on just a regular screen…take away the WOW factor, and see if I still enjoy it as much as I did.

    Dat’s my personal take on it anyway. Thanks for indulging it, Stallion.

    Respectfully,
    Martok2112 (Steve)

  4. “Into Darkness” is just short of being a disaster. It’s entertaining until the end when it becomes tedious — way too much barroom fist fighting by supposedly advanced humans and even Vulcans. Well, semi-Vulcans anyway.

    But overnight the bad science of it bugged me. I love science fiction — but not “skiffy” and this barely qualifies as skiffy.

    The only thing Scotty worried about with the whole entire Enterprise under water is “salt corrosion”. How about imploding a vessel designed to keep air in, not water out? There’s no way the Enterprise would ever have been designed to withstand water pressure. They COULD have used “shields” to keep the water out, but Scotty’s comment means they weren’t doing that — water was in direct contact with the hull.

    The other obvious problem is buoyancy. There’s no way they could have kept the starship under water without exerting a LOT of force to keep it down. It would have floated like a cork.

    The other problem is the absurdity that a mere volcano, not very large at that, could destroy an entire planet. Maybe just this one village. The movie opens with Kirk, I think, having stolen a scroll of some sort being chased by natives. He abandons the scroll. What was that all about?

    I served a military career. It is *impossible* to imagine a disobedient, arrogant, inexperienced youth being given captaincy of, say, the USS Enterprise aircraft carrier when 5,000 men (and now women) on board have more experience, more discipline, and know when to be covered (wear their hats, which you’ll notice Kirk alone refuses through most of the movie).

    It is impossible to imagine that the entire leadership of Starfleet could possibly fit in a small room for Khan to “shoot em up” leaving Kirk alone to captain the Enterprise.

    The big battleship was the most sensible thing about the movie but they sure did waste it.

    They wasted a grand opportunity to do something interesting with Klingons. Where’s Worf when you need a Klingon?

    Why are there only two cities on Earth? It’s always San Francisco getting bombarded in some way (this time a big black Enterprise looking thing crashes into it) but at least London is featured, sort of.

    People don’t stay dead. It was just barely believable when RealSpock was resurrected by the Genesis Machine as that is sort of almost what it was supposed to do and RealSpock had anticipated that possibility and given Bones his personality and memories.

    The whole entire Star Wars Death Star lookalike energy thing that only needs to be kicked back into place was HOKEY.

    Nobody is true to character. Just after RealSpock explains he is not going to explain, he does just that. NuSpock has emotions and likes to beat up his enemies. It’s not clear whether he lies or exaggerates.

    Still, watching Enterprise rise up out of the sea was impressive. Best scene in the movie.

  5. Ok, I’m going to start out with a justification for one things with which you took issue, and then move onto my problems with this film (although I agree with about 80% of what you said):

    -They didn’t know how to properly unthaw Khan’s crewmates. Furthermore, according to tvtropes, the novelization of the film explained that not all genetically enhanced humans had the same enhancements, and using the wrong type of blood could just as easily kill Kirk as save him.

    Now, onto my issues:

    -The scene where Khan attacks the Federation officers didn’t work for me. The ship he stole seemed to have weapons no more powerful than a hand phaser. They should have had Kirk realize he was going to attack a few minutes earlier, and just barely have time to evacuate the building before the whole place was leveled (with some excuse for Pike getting distracted, and thus dying). They just HAD to have a direct confrontation in that scene, even though there was no reason for it.

    -The scene where Old Spock refuses to tell New Spock about Khan was just lame…he wouldn’t give him details of Khan’s plan from an alternate universe, but he would describe how dangerous Khan was? (just say “He’s bad, but you’re in the middle of a battle, so I won’t burden you with further details”)…and by the way, weren’t their communications cut off? If not, why didn’t they just call Starfleet command and say “by the way, Admiral Marcus has gone nuts and is trying to kill us!” Might not save them, but at least he’d probably be courtmarshaled and removed from command.

    -There weren’t enough character moments. You mentioned Bones being sidelined, but I felt this was even more true with Chekhov and Sulu. I did, however, like the new portrayal of Khan, because I felt that this represented a divergent timeline of Khan, who had gone through different character development. He was neither the newly awakened Khan, nor the weathered villain we saw in Wrath of Khan. Rather, he was a Khan who had been awakened by the Federation, had his crew threatened, been forced to work for them, quite possibly been tortured…I think its fully justified to suspect that these experiences would have made him less stable (to me, that’s what his actions towards the end were about. Not revenge on Kirk, just Khan being crazy).

    -No decent use for Klingons. Either give them a major role in the film, or leave them offscreen.

    -Writers didn’t know what they were doing. Either build-up to the 5 Year Mission (given one mention early on, but then not mentioned again until the end when it starts), or build up to a war with the Klingons and go on the mission in a later film. Is the war going to start while they’re away? Are they going to rush back from deep space to take part?

    -Stakes never very high (the worst the situation ever gets is that the Enterprise is in danger, and Khan and his crew might theoretically pose a danger to someone else at some point in the future, because they have a big ship, but as yet have no specific plans for attacking anyone else).

    -The shout-outs to Wrath of Khan got really lame (we agree on this). One key rule of writing movies is to never remind your audience of a better movie, causing them to ask why they aren’t watching that.

  6. The fact that we as a society are still reheating this dessicated corpse of a premise for entertainment speaks volumes about where we’re headed.

  7. The only part I’m still struggling with is why did Admiral Marcus want to start a war? Because it was inevitable? Because he wanted to test his new super toy? Because Klingons look like they have skid marks on their faces? Just tell me why!!!

    And why doesn’t Captain Kirk get to speak to william shatner? now that would be a good convo haha.

  8. 1. Kirk is a “stack of books with legs” in whose class you either “think or sink”. No evidence of this whatsoever.

    2. Kirk’s flings with women in TOS had to do with the radical aloneness of his position, and the romance thereof, not because he was some fratboy stud. A miss is as good as a mile.

    3. If you recreate one of the best scenes in movie history (but in a completely emotionally flat way), don’t indicate it to us by having Kirk say , “I only did what you would have done in my position.” Dumbass, we saw WOK.

    4. Don’t take your lameass masks off the Klingons if they’re going to look even more lame than the masks. Don’t mess with birds of prey unless you’re going to improve how they look, not make them look like bad transformers. As a rule, only change things to improve them, not just because. And btw, absolutely unbelievable that any uncloaked ship would get that close to the Klingon home world uninvited without being blown out of the sky.

    5. Spock’s character is destroyed. Absolutely nowhere to go with him. He’s got a girlfriend, he cries, he beats people up, he confesses his feelings and fear. This is not the same as a quick grin in The Cage. Why continue the romance with Uhura? No doubt because “audiences loved it”. Way to go : let marketing considerations rather than story and character rule.

    6. I don’t know who this super villain is, but he’s not Khan. You see, people get all mixed up over this reboot. They think a demand for standards is being rigid and fundamentalist. No, you don’t have to be Ricardo Montalban. But you’d damn well better bring those qualities to the role that Montalban brought, or it’s not the same character. Same with Kirk, etc. Khan is bold and proud and noble. This guy wasn’t.

    7. We do not return to what happened to the natives who had the prime directive broken on them. Why? They were just a plot device. Abrams doesn’t write stories. He plots where he wants to go and invents plot

    • Invents plot devices to get there. That’s lame. It’s bad storytelling.

      The only character who stood out as awesome in this film ?

      Scotty. He was the only one with integrity, who defended exploration over militarism, the only one with good comedic sense (Quinto & Pine have no rapport of comedic timing. The only one who does is Urban. But it’s wasted on those other actors. Shatner & Nimoy were superb in this regard.)

      Chekhov is not bad, Sulu’s a waste of time, Carol Marcus is pointless.

      This was Mission Impossible In Space.

      It was not Star Trek. Not in any way.

      I was really really embarassed throughout. Not mad, not mainly incensed, though certainly that — embarassed. For them.

      • And Harry Mudd’s ship passing sideways through Klingon obstacles was nothing but a blatant Easter egg to the Millenium Falcon passing through Death Star obstacles in ROTJ. Does Abrams have to be this obvious?

          • It made me mad. I didn’t like it as Star Trek, but as a sort of mindless, explosion-filled action flick, I was reasonably entertained for the first two acts.

  9. I’ll probably see it eventually, but I wanted to leave some pre-viewing thoughts here first.

    I saw the ST 2009 film, and thought it was serviceable, but ultimately dull, since it was really a collection of ST references that everyone was already aware of. It felt like an old rerun.

    Everything I’m reading about Into Darkness seems to point in the same direction, and seems to confirm my assertion that while ST II was the best ST film, it also killed the ST film franchise, because so many ST films thereafter seemed to be little more than a futile exercise in trying to out-Kahn Kahn. Nemesis was pretty much just a carbon copy of ST II. From what I understand, this new film has Kahn, tribbles, and a phone call to Old Spock. So this isn’t a new story really. It’s more like old friends getting together and talking about “old times.” Hey, remember the tribbles? It’s like really bad fanfic.

    That’s one of the primary problems for me here, and where the studios failed in this reboot endeavor. Star Trek was never about looking back or nostalgia, at its best it was about exploration, discovery, and looking forward. While these kinds of nostalgic retreads may have been okay for the initial reboot film, if they think they’re going to revitalize a franchise by continuing to use decades old story elements, they’ve got another thing coming.

    This is probably the primary thing preventing me from running to the theater. Kahn? I’ve already seen Kahn. And I can watch a better original version of it at home for free.

    That brings us to this article from i09 which asks what the future of Trek will be

    http://io9.com/whats-the-future-of-star-trek-after-into-darkness-510291083

    One of the things that I think made Trek grow and become a franchise juggernaut, was the progression of the story. The Next Generation. When they move forward, they tend to be more successful whereas when they go the prequel route; not so much.

    So I’d really like to see Third Generation television show, with a new Enterprise and crew. Just like with the Next Generation, I think this would bring the old fans on board, and create new ones too.