Friday, May 17, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness (advance screening)


I'm afraid the only way I can talk about Star Trek Into Darkness properly is if I go into full detail about the movie. Sorry about that. If you don't wanna be spoiled, turn back now.

Quinto and Pine have made Spock and Kirk their own without imitating their predecessors.
Quinto in particular makes for a very tenacious Spock.

The AMC Loews East 19th Street theater in Manhattan was the site for this advance screening. My email said to arrive no later than eight. I got there at about 7:15. 7:20 or so. I didn't get inside until about a quarter to nine. Why? I couldn't give you a definitive answer, but according to one girl behind me on line who scouted out the head of the line for her friends, there were a number of people jumping the line, or at least attempting to. One of them may or may not have been some reality TV personality. She, along with several other people, were allegedly complaining to the event hosts that they were waiting for their friends, who had the passes, to arrive, or something like that. I was near to the front of the line when I began, but by about 8:30, you wouldn't know it from the cluster of people bellying up to the box office. At least it wasn't raining.

That was the extent of the craziness, though. Once I got inside, checked in with the event hosts, and went into the auditorium, everything else went relatively okay. Everyone was given a Twitter hashtag to use to express their opinion on the movie, though it wasn't clear whether or not they expected it to be used afterwards or during the movie. I was afraid that some people would do the latter, but except for one cell phone intermittently being used about five or six rows in front of me, it wasn't a problem.

The 19th Street doesn't have stadium seating - at least the auditorium I was in didn't - and as a result, every time someone in the row in front of me sat down and leaned back, they'd bump against my legs, and I didn't have much in the way of legroom to begin with. I was able to adjust, but it was a reminder of how spoiled I had gotten with stadium seating.

I'm still not sold on the Spock/Uhura ship, but I do like how Uhura has become
a bigger part of the action - not to mention the marketing.

I have learned to accept that rebooting the franchise was the only way to make it truly popular again, and not just for the diehards like me who will see anything with the Trek name. I have learned to accept that an infusion of fresh blood was necessary to achieve this goal. And I have even learned to accept that this may mean not returning to the Next Generation-era of the 24th century (though not necessarily the Next Generation cast) for a long time. It hasn't been easy... but I've managed to make my peace with this.

I've no doubt that Darkness will make a ton of money - and since it's in 3D, I'd say it has a good chance at becoming the highest-grossing Trek movie of all time, if you care about such things - but I'm convinced that the franchise has lost its soul in the bargain. Darkness may have the Star Trek name in its title, but it is not my Star Trek and it never will be.

I've never had much interest in JJ Abrams' TV shows or most of his other movies (I didn't like Super 8 either), yet he and his braintrust were sold to us as the ones who could bring new life and new ideas to the franchise. And yet the best they could do is remake The Wrath of Khan? I had heard bits and pieces of this news, trying as hard as I could to avoid spoilers in advance, but even until I saw the revelation during the movie itself I still couldn't believe it. Abrams and crew put a few spins on the story, but it's clear that Darkness is meant to invoke Wrath, the most popular and iconic Trek movie of all time.

Why can't Abrams make a good villain? Nu-Khan is as paper-thin and shallow
as Nero in the previous film.

Benedict Cumberbatch's version is a pale shadow of Ricardo Montalban's original, however. (Brief aside: Khan Noonien Singh is an Indian-sounding name, but his nationality has never been definitively pinned down. Personally, I always viewed him as an ethnic hodgepodge of some sort. Montalban, of course, was Latino. So getting a white guy to play nu-Khan, while far from the worst of Darkness' crimes, is a bit disappointing. Allegedly, Benicio del Toro turned down the part!) Abrams doesn't know how to make a compelling villain. Cumberbatch, like Eric Bana's Nero in the previous film, is all angry growls and sneers with almost no dimension to him. Oh wait - he sheds a manly tear at one point.

The real Khan, however, had style. He had charisma. Much more important than his genetically- enhances strength, speed and resiliency, he was a natural leader, possessive of the kind of personality that, as we saw in his first appearance from the original series, could make people go against their better instincts and follow him. That's a major part of what made him so great an adversary, someone worth watching, and nu-Khan has absolutely none of that.

Then there's the twist in which Spock has to watch Kirk "die" saving the ship instead of vice versa. I might be more impressed with this if Abrams had the guts to make Kirk's death last until the next movie, the way Spock's death in Wrath did. Abrams tries to set this up in the opening scene, in which Kirk saves Spock from certain death even though it means defying the Prime Directive, and when Spock asks why, Kirk says it's because they're friends.

The shiny happy Enterprise still has too many lens flares, but the shots
of it flying in space have a greater depth and dimension in 3D.

You know why Spock's epitaph "I have been, and always shall be, your friend" to Kirk in Wrath is such a big deal? Because we've seen that friendship grow and develop over the course of many years and many adventures together, to the point where they were like brothers - an advantage of having older actors in the roles. I have no doubt that nu-Spock would feel sadness and regret at nu-Kirk's death, but I don't buy that he would go off into a killing rage against nu-Khan as a result, because he and nu-Kirk haven't been together long enough. Their relationship doesn't have the same level of depth yet, but we're supposed to believe it does. And nu-Spock yelling "KHAAAAAAAAAAAAAN" does not help at all.

Wrath homages aside, what about the rest of the movie? I found it fitting that nu-Kirk gets demoted for being a screw-up, which proves exactly what a stupid decision it was to make him a captain fresh out of the Academy at the end of the last movie. For a moment, I thought Abrams was gonna correct this egregious mistake, but of course, once nu-Khan's on the loose and Captain Pike buys the farm, ONLY NU-KIRK can go after him. No one else in all of Starfleet can do the job, even though it's been established that nu-Kirk is in the doghouse with the admiralty. We've already seen him go through the learning curve of being a proper Starfleet officer in the previous film, so this kinda stank of a retread. I'd rather have seen him begin the film not as the perfect captain, but at least further along in his development and closer to the James T. Kirk we all know and love.

I still like Urban as Bones, though he didn't get as much to do here. Would've
liked to have seen him bickering more with Spock.
And speaking of Kirk... this is relatively minor, but the more I think about it, the more it bugs me too: there's a throwaway scene where we see nu-Kirk in bed with two alien chicks. Because we never see those chicks again, and because he leaves them so abruptly, it had the feel of a one-night stand. I have no doubt that the real Kirk could lay more than one chick at the same time, however, he has never struck me as the type who would settle for one-night stands. This may be the result of reading many of the novels, but I believe Kirk always looked for a little more than a simple one-night stand when it came to women, even when it was obvious that their time together would be limited. I had hoped nu-Kirk would get together with nu-Carol Marcus, since we never saw how they met in Wrath or any other canon Trek source, but that didn't happen either. This is a minor point, though.

I realize nu-Chekov needed something to do, but are you seriously telling me that no one else in engineering could fill in for nu-Scotty after he quits in protest after arguing with nu-Kirk? Where was Lieutenant Kyle? For that matter, where were the secondary characters, like Chapel and Rand and M'Benga? (Yes, I know they explained where Chapel was. I didn't buy it.) There were some interesting-looking alien crewmen who got speaking lines here, but as long as we're throwing in some background characters, why not include the ones the fans already know?

'Darkness' showed off a variety of uniforms and clothing, which I'm sure
will make for cooler action figures.

Is Spock-Prime (I hate having to refer to him that way) gonna pop up every time nu-Spock, and for that matter nu-Kirk too, comes across a situation that looks like a repeat of history? I admit, seeing Leonard Nimoy again was a genuine surprise, one I did not expect, but when I saw that he was only there to remind us of how this story played out the first time, I was bummed out. He didn't even seem that necessary - and it kills me to know that Spock-Prime is stuck in this alternate reality and will probably die there.

Also, consider the Darkness plot on a basic level: in a future utopian society, a powerful and influential authority figure revives from cryogenic storage a violent and highly dangerous criminal from the past for purposes of his own, but of course, he can't control him as well as he had hoped, and the only one who can stop this criminal is a peacekeeping officer with a reputation for brash and wildly unpredictable behavior. Does this sound familiar? It should!

It's the plot of DEMOLITION MAN! (Without the three seashells.) Abrams has ripped off Sly Stallone!

The new Big Three of the Trek canon? It would seem so.

Darkness is deeply disappointing to me as a Trekkie because I feel like the franchise has traded the wonder of exploration, depth of character and the wisdom that comes with age and experience for gratuitous fanboy pandering (we just hadda see Alice Eve in her underwear, right?), recycled stories, and wall-to-wall action action ACTION. One could say this kind of stuff preceded the Abrams era - the seeds were certainly planted in Voyager and Enterprise - but the big screen takes this stuff and magnifies it in wide-screen, computer-generated 3D IMAX for all to see.

Abrams can handle emotional depth when the story calls for it, and he doesn't forget to include genuinely funny moments. Believe it or not, I don't hate him as a director. Still, most of the time he has all the subtlety of a sledgehammer and he makes baffling plot decisions. Why was it necessary for the Enterprise to hide in that planet's ocean instead of orbiting it, which would've made the Prime Directive issue irrelevant? What made Admiral Marcus think he could even control nu-Khan, much less compel him to his bidding? Why does everyone in the future run like hell? I'm no longer so sure I want to see Abrams' take on Star Wars now.

Many fans and critics have already praised Darkness to the high heavens. Let them. If this is the Trek they want for the 21st century, fine. It's not for me, though. As far as I'm concerned, the Trek I knew and loved is dead.

Star Trek (2009)
Star Trek: The Motion Picture
Star Trek TNG: The Best of Both Worlds
The Captains
Mixtape movies: The Trek captains volume


  1. I wholly agree with you on your assessment of this retread. For what it's worth though, the rumor of J.J. Abrams being at the helm of "Star Wars Episode VII" is - as Lucas' man crush Joseph Campbell would put it - the stuff of myth.

    1. Maybe he'll remake EMPIRE and Luke'll get frozen in carbonite instead of Han.

  2. Rich, I haven't seen STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS yet (been busy), but for what it's worth, my husband Vinnie saw it at a matinee today, and he enjoyed it.

  3. Well, what else can I say except that that's good.


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