Tag Archives: Star Trek II

Geek Squirrel’s Nutty Review: Star Trek: Into Darkness.

In a previous blog I posted my concerns about J. J. Abrams’ seeming lack of comprehension regarding the original spirit of Star Trek. Some readers considered it an indictment of the rebooted franchise, and in a sense it was. That said, Abrams did deliver a fresh take on the series that was enjoyable and modern, despite its flaws. In Star Trek: Into Darkness, Abrams and his writing staff appear to go overboard in their attempts to please old school Star Trek fans, and while I applaud their efforts, their failure to really understand the philosophy of the series leads to some serious problems in the third act. That said, Into Darkness is still a very enjoyable movie and almost everything that a good summer blockbuster should be. It succeeds as solid entertainment but fails to reconcile itself to the original source material.

The movie itself is not short on action. Most of the sequences are well-choreographed and exciting, but some of them, particularly a shuttle chase midway through the second act, are borderline gratuitous and could easily have been removed. The actors are all given something interesting to do, and each deals with it with varying degrees of success. The principles all turn in well-crafted performances, and Benedict Cumberbatch finally gives the world at large a taste of his acting abilities. The film also attempts to deal with some post-9/11 issues in a somewhat limited fashion. There are attempts at the higher sense of morality that the original series was famous for, but the third act backslides into simple good vs. evil sensibilities.

Some of the movie’s stumbles lie in the common blockbuster errors of excesses at the expense of logic. Many situations are set up based on the flimsiest of notions, like the opening where the Enterprise is hiding underwater in order to avoid detection from a primitive alien race. Why it was necessary to hide the immense ship in the ocean when she would be perfectly safe and secure in orbit is never explained, nor does it serve any obvious purpose other than to set up a ‘money shot’ of her rising from the depths. Similarly, newcomer Alice Eve is exposed in a ridiculously juvenile T and A scene. Abrams piles on the explosions in the third act, setting up action sequence after action sequence like Michael Bay on a weekend bender. Again, these sequences are wonderful as individual set pieces, but they tend to overrun the movie like an endless parade of shiny red fire trucks.

Much of the film’s major narrative flaws have to deal with Benedict Cumberbatch’s character, and in deference to those who have not seen the movie, I will refrain from spoilers until further down in this review. Suffice it to say that Cumberbatch begins as an intriguing, mysterious villain, but devolves into a common bad guy that needs to be punched out as brutally as possible. Again, part of this lies in attempts to cater to fans of the original series, which some viewers might find pleasing but others may find highly contrived. I will allow you to form your own opinion on the issue, but I personally fall into the later camp. If you wish to read a more detailed analysis, feel free to stick around after the final rating, otherwise, this is your spoiler warning.

Star Trek: Into Darkness gets Three Acorns out of Five!
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The Final Frontier…..

Still with me? All right then.
Abrams has admitted that he was not a fan of the original Star Trek, nor did he appreciate the type of idealistic moralizing the show indulged in. This is eminently clear in his writing staff’s treatment of the latter half of Into Darkness, which is essentially a reboot of Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan. In re-visiting the classic film, Abrams effectively shoe-horns large chunks of dialogue from the original film into the climax of his own, instead switching the roles of Kirk and Spock so that the good Captain is the one who makes the sacrifice. Abrams and writer Robert Orci wisely back off from a verbatim re-shoot of the emotional death scene, but enough of the dialogue is in place to make some viewers visibly cringe upon witnessing what seems to be a near-parody of a classic sci-fi moment.

In rebooting the original story, however, Abrams and Orci back away from exploring a potentially deeper moral in favor of returning to simple good guy versus bad guy mentalities. Throughout the first act, Kirk is portrayed as a person hell-bent upon revenge against Khan, and it is only Spock’s calming influence that prevents him from simply killing Khan outright. This is reinforced when the crew discovers that Khan was merely a pawn in a conspiracy engineered by their superior officer at Starfleet. Khan’s terrorist actions were in effect an attempt to stop a renegade Admiral who was holding his people hostage. At this point, the morality of Kirk and company is evident. Kirk realizes that his desire for revenge may be at least somewhat misplaced, and he brokers a truce with Khan in order to defeat the Admiral. This creates an interesting commentary on the post-9/11 world. The idea that the pursuit of revenge has corrupted the United States has been a facet of other post-9/11 fiction, most notably the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica. But no sooner has the Admiral been defeated then Khan reverts to his evil ways, setting up the reboot of the original film’s ending. This completely undermines the potential for a morality play on the level of classic Star Trek, for in the end, the crew decides to “get the bastard” in order to avenge Kirk, and Spock is only prevented from killing Khan due to a contrived need for a deus ex machina to revive his Captain.

In attempting to re-imagine Wrath of Khan, Abrams and his writers back away from the kind of philosophical and moral stance that was a hallmark of the original series; a moral stance that Abrams confessed he did not enjoy or appreciate when he first watched the show. The creators’ lack of understanding of the source material is equally evident in their treatment of Khan himself, for the potential of redemption existed within the character when he was first introduced in the episode “Space Seed”.

KIRK: Name, Khan, as we know him today. (Spock changes the picture) Name, Khan Noonien Singh.
SPOCK: From 1992 through 1996, absolute ruler of more than a quarter of your world. From Asia through the Middle East.
MCCOY: The last of the tyrants to be overthrown.
SCOTT: I must confess, gentlemen. I’ve always held a sneaking admiration for this one.
KIRK: He was the best of the tyrants and the most dangerous. They were supermen, in a sense. Stronger, braver, certainly more ambitious, more daring.
SPOCK: Gentlemen, this romanticism about a ruthless dictator is
KIRK: Mister Spock, we humans have a streak of barbarism in us. Appalling, but there, nevertheless.
SCOTT: There were no massacres under his rule.
SPOCK: And as little freedom.
MCCOY: No wars until he was attacked.
SPOCK: Gentlemen.
KIRK: Mister Spock, you misunderstand us. We can be against him and admire him all at the same time.

Khan was presented as more Napoleonic that Nazi, and while his attempt to take over the ship was ruthless, he expressed frustration at what he saw as being forced to kill in order to achieve his ends. It is Khan’s admirable qualities that eventually persuade Kirk to give him a chance to start his own civilization by marooning him with his people on a habitable planet. (The fact that it tragically did not work out was the setup for Wrath.) As such, the potential for creating a more layered villain existed in this story, and had Abrams and Orci taken notice of this, they might have broken new ground with the character. Had they chosen to keep Khan on the path to redemption, or at least made him somewhat redeemable, they would have kept to the spirit of the original series while creating a more original and creative story. At the very least, they could have stuck more to the spirit of the original episode by exiling Khan rather than beating him down and shoving him into a cryo tube. By choosing to re-create Wrath of Khan, however, they created a contrived, forced conclusion that trampled on the morals espoused by the original series. Adhering to the philosophy of original Trek would arguably have delivered a film more satisfying to old school fans, while at the same time escaping the sense of re-treading (harsher critics might say ‘stomping on the hallowed memory of’) Wrath of Khan

It is a shame that Abrams and Orci seem to be unable to reconcile the flashy effects, superb acting and spot-on characterizations with a story that explores deeper issues and breaks new ground. If a third installment is created, I am hoping that they will end these rather weak attempts to pander to old school fans with mishandled plot reboots, and instead focus on what new Trek does best: present a newer, hipper and more action-oriented film that respects the original material rather than pays lip-service to it.

P. S. Am I the only one who thought the “old Spock” cameo was also a waste of time?