Movie Review – Star Trek: Into Darkness
I know next-to-nothing about the Star Trek universe. When my friend and fellow tv buff Jonathan was talking about the merits and pitfalls of the latest movie, it interested me so much I asked him to share. This is his blog post. Always-welcome comments will likely be handled by him. SPOILERS AHEAD
While I have yet to fire up my Rosetta Stone: Klingon, I certainly know the difference between a Romulan and a Vulcan. I had never really noticed that I was a Trekkie until my wife pointed it out to me as we exited the theatre Saturday night having just finished Into Darkness. J.J. Abrams was different. He was never a Star Trek guy, always a Star Wars guy. Even during pre-production, he would ask his fellow crew members to relate things to him in Star Wars terms. I was unaware of this until Melanie pointed it out to me, I did some basic Google-ing and watched the special features on my Star Trek DVD.
Abrams stated goal with the Star Trek franchise was to broaden the audience. This reboot would be less for people like me and more for people like my mom. To his credit, he was wildly successful in this endeavor. The 2009 release grossed over $385 million dollars, and audiences loved it. I’d even be willing to argue it was the best non-Iron Man summer blockbuster released in the last decade.
The biggest reason it worked was because Abrams fused his normal traits on projects (fast pacing, quick dialogue, lots of action, etc.) while paying proper homage to the original Star Trek series. Abrams even encouraged his actors to reach out to the original crew in order to better understand and relate to the characters they would play.
He had also created an origin storyline that used some time travel. He had created a new Star Trek universe where things were similar but where the stories would be different. We would be boldly going where no one has gone before (for the most part).
For whatever reason, despite showing that he was fully capable of creating new and interesting storylines, Abrams decided to rehash the most famous Star Trek movie. The differences between Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Into Darkness are minimal.
While there are several problems with Into Darkness, I’m going to limit myself to these three key issues. First, is the criminal underuse of Benedict Cumberbatch. While he has shown great range in his acting ability, Cumberbatch is probably most well known for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes in the modernized BBC miniseries Sherlock. It was nice to see him in a very different role, not only as a villain, but to see him where he uses other weapons than just his mind.
The Khan character was not given a lot of depth in this movie. Aside from a brief monologue while imprisoned aboard the Enterprise, we don’t really know or understand what makes Khan tick. As my wife astutely pointed out, this movie used dialogue to advance plot rather than action. While a lot of action takes place, none of it moves the story along. Instead of allowing Cumberbatch to use his facial cues and familiar voice to explain to us what is about to happen, we are forced to settle into watching him take out an entire Starfleet crew.
His glances to Kirk at several different points may actually be the highlight of the movie. Those looks that say, “I know what is about to happen, and you aren’t going to see it coming,” give us a tiny glimpse into the cunningness of Khan. Even in his teary-eyed monologue, you end up saying to yourself, “I’m not down with terrorism, but I can understand why he is upset.”
One of the reasons Wrath of Khan is beloved is because of its villain. His singular focus, like that of Cpt. Ahab, keeps you riveted and on the edge of your seat. Cumberbatch is more than capable of a performance like that. Unfortunately, Abrams seemed to want a villain more interested in wreaking havoc than actually having a purpose for doing so.
A second problem I had with this movie is the lack of usefulness of female characters. Uhura is a culturally significant character. She was involved with one of the first interracial kisses on television. Actress Nichelle Nichols was going to return to her musical theatre career after the first season of the television show when Dr. Martin Luther King talked her into returning. He encouraged her to stay because she didn’t have “a black role; but an equal role.”
While on the television series, Uhura did not always have speaking lines every episode; Zoe Saldana has taken the character to further heights. She is a strong, empowered woman who is capable of taking care of herself. She is quick tonged, demanding, and unafraid to speak her mind. She confronts Spock about a rough patch in their relationship and implores Kirk to “let [her] do her job” when speaking to the Klingons. Yet, outside of her being mad at Spock, Uhura is more or less relegated to regular crew duty for the entirety of the movie.
The other “main” female character was completely and utterly disposable. In Wrath of Khan, Dr. Carroll Marcus plays a former lover of Kirk’s from a time long since passed. If there was a set up for Dr. Marcus and Cpt. Kirk to have a romantic future together, there was no hint of it whatsoever. Unless we were supposed to gather that from the gratuitous scene where she changes clothes while Kirk turns around, but for not quite long enough. You could easily go through and delete her from all the scenes in the entire movie and nothing would be missed. Dr. Marcus serves no purpose in this movie whatsoever. Sydney Bristow she is not.
Perhaps my biggest gripe with this movie (and more so as a Trekkie) was the flipping the script on the most iconic scene in the franchise. In Wrath of Khan, it is Spock who goes into the reactor and is killed by radiation, sacrificing himself for the rest of the Enterprise. Abrams felt as though he could switch the characters having Kirk be the one who lays down his life. This doesn’t work on several levels.
We spent the majority of the movie sacrificing Spock and Uhura storylines so that we could build up the galactic buddy cop bromance that Abrams dreamed up between Kirk and Spock. The reason it worked in Wrath of Khan was because there was no need to build up the relationship; we already knew it. Spock had to be the one to valiantly give his life so that Kirk could continue to lead the rest of the crew home.
Kirk may be the protagonist, but everyone’s favorite character has always been Spock. To switch the characters roles affects these two characters. While I understand the need for Kirk to be reborn in this universe, it also affects Spock. Instead of being the cool, calculating, by-the-book person we know him to be, we now have seen him as an overly emotional officer bent on revenge. That is simply not who Spock is in any universe.
The other problem with the scene is the fact that Zachary Quinto is a far superior actor to Chris Pine. I know I’m supposed to say more to support my argument here, but really, what else is there to say?
The future for Star Trek is cloudy. While the cast is signed on for third movie, who will lead the crew is up for debate. Abrams is fully invested in the Star Wars sequels, and his first lieutenant Damon Lindolf is committed to projects into 2014. Will Paramount be willing to sit around another four years for the final installment? Only time will tell.
But if Abrams thinks he can pull this type of mismanagement on the Star Wars project, he is badly mistaken. They are a more rabid fan base who nearly overthrew George Lucas for the mishandling of the Episode I-III prequels. There will be an Empire Strikes Back level of anticipation. Let’s hope he delivers more than he did with a Wrath of Khan lookalike.