Star Trek. Well, where to start.
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It had a really terrific cast. Chris Pine has definitely grown into the role of Kirk. Quinto is amazing as Spock. Benedict Cumberbatch has become one of my favorite actors working. Unlike many I like the Spock/Uhura pairing. There’s something enough off kilter about it that just works for me.
This might just be childhood fondness for original Trek, but I think it was a slightly better movie than Iron Man 3, but both films suffer from the “missed opportunities” syndrome. Just as there was a powerful film lurking in Iron Man 3 there was a genuinely interesting movie lurking in Star Trek: Into Darkness. Unfortunately it got lost. The decision to use Khan and make a pale imitation of the original film seemed like a decision borne more out of laziness then calculation.
I really enjoyed the first half of the film. I had avoided any information so at first I thought this really was a movie about a disgruntled Star Fleet officer who becomes a terrorist and I was interested. What had happened to this guy? Why is he so angry? But then it turned out he was Khan, and my enjoyment and interest slipped significantly. They gave themselves elbow room by creating a new time line. Why not use that? And there were way too many nods to the old show that felt more like pandering and less like an homage.
Watching Kirk be unready for command was a lovely theme, and the interactions with Pike were excelleint. His critique of Kirk was powerful and spot on. “You don’t respect the chair.” What a great sentiment. I could have done with more of that.
I liked the subplot with Scotty, and Simon Pegg did a great job with that character and his moments. But again confusion reigned. There were all these shuttles going into the hanger of the dreadnaught, I guess. Scott slips in with them, and then there are like 7 people on the ship? Who was piloting those shuttles? And about that giant dreadnaught…. How did this get financed? If it was done in secret then somebody should have checked out Marcus’s petty cash requests, and how would you have silenced the construction crew building the behemoth. Finally, if it was authorized by Star Fleet then that sort of blows holes in the whole “we’re not a military organization” thing.
Then we had the villain problem. Who really was the problem in this movie? Marcus? Or Khan? The result was that neither one ended up seeming very threatening and Marcus’s motivation seemed moronic. I’m going to force a war with the Klingons because there’s going to be a war with the Klingons. Yeah, because you caused it.
Khan’s motivation seemed to be that he wanted his people back, but then he devolved into a mustache twirling bad guy. The original Khan was a complex, interesting man. This guy was just either robotically evil or scenery chewing evil, but he wasn’t very interesting. Cumberbatch is a superb actor — check out his understated performance in Tinker Tailor Soldier, Spy — but he was wasted in this film.
And they made our people stupid. When Perky Blonde turns up nobody reacts. And once Spock finds out who she is why wasn’t thrown in the brig until they were absolutely certain she wasn’t a threat? And the underwear scene? Really? What was that about? I had thought she was going to be the crew member who becomes fascinated by Khan as was the case in the original episode Space Seed, but instead she had very little reason to be there at all.
I know what they were trying to do by having a mirror image of the scene from Wrath of Khan only having Kirk dying rather than Spock. A sort of space/time entanglement, but it didn’t work because there was no emotional impact. In the 1982 film we had watched these men interact for years on television and in two movies. We had witnessed the growing friendship. I believed that Spock’s death was emotional agony for Kirk. In this new film they have known each other only a brief time, and part of it was spent with Kirk as a student and Spock as a professor. They have only served together for a year or so. And when Spock does the “Khaaaaaaaaan” bellow — I confess it, I giggled.
Kirk’s death also had no impact because I knew he was going to be resurrected. I had known it from the third scene of the movie because they telegraphed the twist, cheat — whatever you want to call it — of Khan’s blood in a fashion that was way too on the nose. Contrast that with the lack of foreshadowing about Marcus to make his motivations believable.
Final note. A problem that I see consistently with Orci/Kurtzman films is that the Big Problem would be solved if anybody ever talked to anybody, or took a really simple action. This goes back to the first Transformers where the Transformers desperately need these glasses, but Sam has put them up for sale on Ebay. Optimus Prime couldn’t scrape up a few bucks to just buy them?
In the first Trek film the pissed off Romulans chase after Old Spock and blow up Vulcan. Why didn’t they just go home and warn their planet? “Hey, ya’ll the sun’s going to blow up in 17 years. Maybe we ought to move.”
And then we come to this current film. All “Jon Harrison” had to do was blow the whistle on Admiral Marcus and the story is over. Clearly Khan has escaped from Marcus — how we do not know — but he could easily have given the story to the New York Times that there was this crazy, militaristic admiral who was holding Khan’s crew hostage to force Khan to help Marcus build a giant dreadnaught so the admiral could provoke a war with the Klingons. I’d call that a scoop. Granted Khan and his folks were viewed as dangerous 300 years ago, but dude, hire a good lawyer. Instead he blows up a library then shoots the shit out of the assembled admirals. If Khan had managed to kill Marcus how would that have helped him get his people back? And somehow putting people in torpedoes strikes me as a very bad idea. Even if they don’t have explodie stuff inside it won’t do the corpsicles much good to get smashed onto a planet.
There was one more thing that I liked that grew out of the whole terrorism, 9/11 call backs that littered the film. The final scene of Khan and his 72 people in cold storage was an interesting analogy to Guantanamo. Without trial or hearing they have been condemned to cold sleep indefinitely. That’s, if you’ll forgive me, rather chilling.
Bottom line. It’s not a bad movie. It just could have been a really good movie. And that disappoints me because I love original Trek.