I can't be the only one who feels a little split about the new Star Trek movie right?
WARNING: THIS CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE MOVIE STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS IF YOU DO NOT WANT TO READ THEM DO NOT CONTINUE ANY FURTHER. YOU'VE BEEN WARNED.
Alright. So, in my review I didn't comment on a lot of what made the movie tick. Mostly because I didn't want to spoil it for anyone who hadn't seen it yet.
Enough of that. So, I want to talk about two major things that stuck with me long after the movie was finished that really served to diminish the entire experience of the film for me. That said this was still a really fun summer blockbuster that not only LOOKED phenomenal but showcased a great young cast that served up outstanding performances. BUT, and there's always a but, there was a single character that really was the crux of all the problems the film suffered from.
Benedict Cumberbatch's casting lead most in the media and most fans to believe that there was no way Abrams and co. were going to rehash Khan. A British actor, a white one, playing Khan Noonien Singh (The Sikh Madman?!), seemed as though we'd get yet another original plot as we did with the introduction to the new franchise in 2009. Abrams even insisted time and time again that it was not Khan. The entire affair was very hush-hush up until a week or so before release when finally the name John Harrison slipped out. Fair enough! It won't be Khan! Sweet!
Oh. Wait. It was Khan? Son of a..
It wasn't that I felt only Ricardo Montalban could have played Khan. Nothing like that. Cumberbatch is a marvelous actor and showed, quite capably, he can take on the role. Well, part of it anyway, but more on that in a second. I'm not going to shun the idea of rehashing Khan if it is done right. That's the kicker. IF it is done right. It wasn't.
So, we have a, frankly, amazing action sequence involving the rogue John Harrison on the moon of Kronos. Klingon patrol ships have just spotted the lone shuttle the Enterprise away team (Kirk, Spock and Uhura and a few red shirts) as they're zooming down to attempt to apprehend the terrorist.
Harrison single-handedly, with two guns and his savagery, takes out an entire squadron of Klingon warriors and most of their ships. He learns of the crew's identity then willingly turns himself over. He's put in a holding cell to which leads us to a great bit of back and forth between Pine's mostly understated Kirk and Cumberbatch's Harrison. An eloquent monologe referring to the price a Captain is willing to pay for his crew, is offered up by Harrison and the scene plays out wonderfully leading to the reveal of who he really is. He is Khan. A genetically engineered superior warrior/tactician and overall badass that was awoken from his cryogenic stasis by GASP Admiral Marcus.
The threads from earlier in the story pertaining to Starfleet's role as a burgeoning entity of being explorers and scientists versus establishing a new Earth empire get tied in loosely here. Perhaps if he had just stayed John Harrison, rogue agent of Sector 31, then we could have continued on with a story that not only was FAR better than what we got but could have continued in the same vein of TAKING RISK.
You can say whatever the hell you want about the older Trek movies but, holy crap, did they take risk. The original Wrath of Khan was a ballsy movie. You KILL fan favorite Spock off. He is fucking DEAD at the end of the movie and gives us that phenomenal line from Shatner, hamming it up as always, "of all the souls I have encountered in my travels, his was the most: human." That moment is profound and has IMPACT.
Yes they undo that work in the next movie but even with Undiscovered Country you've got the crew willingly going back to Earth, ready to face court marshals because, god damn it, it'd be better to save the planet and get humpback whales than not! There was a lot of risk taken in those original Enterprise crew films honestly and I love them for it. Are they perfect? Not at all. Khan comes closest in my opinion to being the absolute best Star Trek can be. Honest opinion here. So, if you're going to offer up a homage to something I guess Wrath is a good choice. AGAIN. IF YOU DO IT RIGHT IT'D BE WONDERFUL. BUT YOU DIDN'T DO THAT, WRITERS.
Roberto Orci, Andrew Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof are very talented guys. The first two helped deliver us what we got in the 2009 reboot of the franchise. That movie is superior to this one in a lot of ways but it also isn't a god damned retread. Here's the thing about this just being a rehash of the second Star Trek film. It DIRECTLY lifts from certain pages of the script and maybes offer some inversion. Here's a great example.
The moment in which Spock dies in the original is fucking poignant. There has been a shared journey of decades between these two friends. Everything leading up until that moment has proven that theirs is a bromance that is worth seeing. Their friendship is the stuff of legend. They are brothers and in losing Spock we can see that Kirk lost a member of his family. He lost a part of himself. It's powerful.
Into Darkness takes this moment and flips it around. I'll go ahead and admit that it actually works for the most part. I know I've read reviews of this feeling hollow to some but, to me, I've become invested in the Pine and Quinto's portrayal of these familiar characters. Quinto is giving us the reserved Vulcan while really bringing the seething conflict between his emotions and logic to the forefront. Pine underplays Kirk, for the most part, while still imbuing him with the dumb cornfed swagger that we know and love. Kirk's sacrifice, helping to restart the warp core, is a big one. It relates to one of the absolute BEST choices the writers made throughout the entire movie.
Kirk is brash and shoots from the hip. He's a cowboy and acts accordingly. He's gotten by mostly on blind luck at this point and the opening sequence is proof of such. Nobody died, sure, but he shits all over the Prime Directive in doing so. Admiral Pike dresses him Lethal Weapon style in his office and we see that this kid still has a lot to learn. He even readily admits the Captain's chair is better suited for someone else besides him at this point. It's an interesting nuance to his character that I found absolutely fascinating. He knows he is, ultimately, an expendable piece of the crew thus he knows what he must do when the Enterprise is plummeting to certain destruction.
The exchange between Kirk and Spock in those final moments is painful. This leads to Spock giving the now infamous "KKKKHHHHAAAAAAANNN!!!" scream. He is no longer the logical Vulcan but a man who is furious and he will have his vengeance upon the, by this point, rampaging Khan.
So, wait, I liked that then why do I mention it? It all relates back to Khan. I'm getting to it. Calm down, bro.
So, I mentioned earlier that I feel the screwed up Khan. It starts with the fact that none of the humor and the energy that Montalban injected the original character with really comes through her. We get the cold fury of Khan from Cumberbatch and it is frightening at times but son of a bitch there's more to the personality of him. I honestly wanted to see more about John Harrison instead of getting a rather one-dimensional version of a much BETTER villain that what we got here.
So, strike one with Khan, writers.
Alright. So this leads me back to Kirk's death. It should have been a momentous milestone in this new franchise and for a moment I let myself believe that maybe they'd really taken a huge risk in killing off Kirk. Holy shit! This is some bold ground to tread on even though they'd done in the original Wrath. Ten minutes later we're reminded that, duh, these movies make lots of money and they need their established stars in their established roles. So, basically, any real stakes are erased in an instant with a vial of Khan's blood and a formerly dead tribble. Awesome. You erased any of the impact not with another film but within the same movie. Why? Why not just go for the ballsy move and just kill him off. You could have always resurrected the Genesis plot later and been done with it! BUT NO. Kirk is alive ten minutes later and Khan ends up getting pummeled, near to death, by a raging Spock. He's pushed back into his cryo tube and, as others have pointed out, might be brought back out for subsequent sequels? Strike two.
Maybe then you'll actually make Khan into the interesting and explosive character he is supposed to be? Not just one facet of a much larger construct as we got here? Maybe? Or maybe we'll get a director who actually LIKES Star Trek.
Abrams, in an interview before the release, on The Daily Show was asked by Jon Stewart which he liked better as a kid. Abrams responded with "Trek was too philosophical for me." Excuse me? Too philosophical..? Okay. I get you liked Star Wars better but that one statement alone shows you don't fucking get it.
Trek isn't about ships buffeting enemies with proton torpedoes, going to war with the aliens next door or anything like that. It is about exploration. It is about scientific discovery and branching out into the universe as a fledgling race. Humans are young in comparison to whatever else is out there and Gene Rodenberry imbued that spirit into the core of Star Trek. It's a humanist message that is optimistic and powerful. Somewhere along the way with all the highly choreographed action sequences, green screen and effects that feeling got lost along the way. Strike 3.
The original reboot from 2009 gave us what we knew, the original Enterprise crew, and turned on it's head and gave us an entirely new story to begin. The beginning was fantastic but this middle act? Murky at best. Between the CLEAR political allegory being drawn from these characters that doesn't resolve itself to the misuse of one of the series' most memorable villains this was a mess of a movie at times. A fun really good looking mess that had memorable performances (especially from Karl Urban, Simon Pegg and Cumberbatch) but still something is missing. My review spoke highly of it but ultimately only touched on that briefly. I wanted to explain myself a little further.
So, yeah, Into Darkness makes me feel like a damned schizophrenic. I enjoyed the movie because, well, my fanboy side is always clamoring for a new piece of genre film. The acting was superb at times and the film was gorgeous yet something kept gnawing at me. A second viewing only bolstered that feeling. If this had stuck with John Harrison as the villain there was a story that really had some legs to it. You continue with the terrorism angle and show John Harrison as wanting to make Starfleet pay for their sabre rattling and overt warmongering. It would have been sublime and Benedict would have given us a stellar performance. I have no doubt of that. What we got instead was part of a pretty good movie that then slowly crumbled under the weight of trying to live up to the original thing it so "lovingly" paid tribute to. I made me feel like I had split personalities because, well you can hear it in the podcast actually, I literally lost my mind at one point and was nerd raging HARD over it. That is funny and all but an actual discussion of the good and the bad of such a movie is important. If we, are enthusiasts, as nerds, want to be taken seriously we have to also look critically at our "stuff". We can't just love it wholesale because it is something we know. That's a discussion for another time though.