Into Darkness

I finally watched Star Trek Into Darkness last night, something that would have happened sooner but for a really stupid mishap where I bought tickets to see it in the theaters and then didn’t show up at the right time… yeah. Just as well. The venomous hatred that has built up around the movie in the time since has had a chance to soak in and lead me to expect one of the worst cinematic disasters in the history of film, when in fact the real thing is merely a decent, if typical, contemporary action film that happens to dangle a lot of Star Trek references in front of audiences. I think they were meant to entice audiences, but mostly they seem to have enraged them, like a flag before a bull. So thank you, frothing overreacting manchildren of the Internet, for helping to set my expectations so low that the reality greatly surpassed my desperate hope to eke out even a feeble hint of entertainment.

That being said, let’s roll out some danged spoilers.


“This is why I’m glad we’re moving.”

“Ugh, are they destroying San Francisco again?”

“Yep. Thank God no one ever trashes Raleigh.”

So, hey, Paramount, question for you. Now that two of the last three Trek films have regurgitated the entirety of Wrath of Khan, can we go back to telling original stories with this franchise? In fairness, Into Darkness‘  Wrath elements were somewhat justified, and its cringeworthy parallels to certain classic scenes could even be justified with some sort of hand-waving about the timeline trying to repair itself or whatever. But seriously. Wonderful movie, back in 1982. Still a great. But Trek used to be about exploring new frontiers and telling new stories — or even old stories in interesting new trappings — and it would be OK if you stopped clinging so desperately to a moment of former greatness and dared to strike out and do something original in the here and now.

Did you realize, Paramount, that it’s been 30 years since The Wrath of Khan; and “Space Seed” (the episode The Wrath of Khan was riffing on — the one whose distance in the past at that time gave Khan the narrative weight and personal meaning Into Darkness lacked) was only 15 years old in 1982? Stop and really think about that. I know the big-budget Hollywood machine is terrified of doing anything that isn’t a proven success, but I can’t think of a better example of just how craven the film industry has become. You guys are like AAA game publishers or something.

That being said, I do think the movie has been treated unfairly. I had something like half a dozen nerds crawl out of the social media woodwork last night when I mentioned Into Darkness‘ unexpected commentary on the modern American drone- and remote-warfare state, all of whom wanted to rage about the fact that the script apparently was the work of a 9/11 Truther and that broken, paranoid mindset is all over the script. I’m not really sure about that. It’s not like Truthers invented the concept of false-flag justifications for war — heck, it’s not like Admiral Marcus is even the first shady Starfleet commander to have tried to pull that kind of stunt. I just figured this was more plot recycling, this time from the second-best Trek movie (Star Trek VI). Heck, they even recycled actors — Peter Weller played basically the civilian equivalent of Marcus in one of the final episodes of Enterprise. So, let’s not make hasty conclusions here lest we become as paranoid as those we revile, OK? Frankly, the naked political allegory of its initial plot setup was the one element of the movie that felt genuinely faithful to the original Trek spirit. (Spoilers: The Negrons are white!)

Speaking of which, there were only two parts of the story I found genuinely off-putting. They actually managed to justify the inclusion of Khan as an outcome of the previous film, which I didn’t expect them to pull off… although using Pike’s death as a shortcut to lending the Kirk/Khan rivalry a personal angle felt cheap. But when did Khan bleach his skin? Didn’t he used to be from the Indian subcontinent (by way of Mexico)? Surely it’s OK for an ubermensch to be dark-skinned, especially in this day and age, when it’s not only OK for interracial couples to kiss on TV, but even interracial same-sex couples. Secondly, the use of Leonard Nimoy as a get-out-of-jail-free plot device simply ensures this new Trek franchise will continue to dwell in the shadow of the old.

But on the whole, as big flashy action movies constructed from little pieces of a classic franchise go, this one wasn’t so bad. Contrived in places, sure. Coasting on Trek‘s legacy, definitely… though in fairness, Trek was coasting on its own legacy for quite a while there already. Anyway, J.J. Abrams is moving along to Star Wars where he belongs, so maybe the next Trek movie can consist of something more than little snippets of older movies’ scripts pasted together in slightly interesting new ways. (Though I’ll admit I did smile when Pike echoed “They gave her back to me, Scotty.”)

Just kidding. Trek III will involve a three-way battle between Enterprise, the Klingons, and a Borg-controlled V’ger. Oh well.

18 thoughts on “Into Darkness

  1. Good points all. What pissed me off about Darkness is that it COULD have been a good movie! I think if they had left Kirk in a coma or something, his revival came too quickly…

    • As soon as he went into the warp core, I realized, “Oh, so that’s what the tribble experiment was about.” Too pat, too obvious, too flimsy.

  2. Yeah, Into Darkness is a stilted mess and “not really Star Trek”, though you could say the same for the vast majority of Star Trek movies. Most of them are wannabe-action flicks hobbled by the fact that they’re a clumsy extension of a talky/humanist television show, and at least Abrams’ work functions correctly as action films.

    I think there’s a pretty great movie buried in Into Darkness if someone were to just cut out the self-defeating magic blood/Kirk resurrection at the end, most of the unnecessary “John Harrison/not Khan” misdirection fluff and streamline the business with Khan’s 72 cryo-torpedoes.

    • Yeah, the Khan reveal was pretty bad. I went into it having had that spoiled, so the long pause with his smirking face held in frame for a few seconds too long made me groan. You could tell they were super proud of themselves for that one.

  3. I suppose I’ll have to see this eventually to pass judgement. I passed when it was in theaters after one too many fan reviews saying it more or less completely lost the nebulous feel/ideals of Star Trek in favor of summertime bombast and audience pandering. (Not to mention being full of plot holes, but I can forgive that in a film that feels right.)

    I do think Abrams’ style will be a better fit for the Star Wars universe, which was never an aspirational future the way Star Trek originally intended to be. We’ll see, I guess.

  4. The only thing that super bothered me was the Spock get out of jail free card (as you labeled it). Just lazy, and doesn’t bode well for this series.

  5. My mom really likes Star Trek: Into Darkness (It’s her B35T M0V13 3V3R of the moment), but from what bits I’ve seen I merely think it’s alright. I do know I was rolling my eyes when I saw the inverted version of Wrath of Kahn’s radiation scene. Really? REALLY?

    I haven’t really watched enough of the two new movies, but I have seen the Future Spock time travel shenanigans in the first one, and using deus ex machina like that to get Kirk and Spock to eventually be BFFs really cheapens things.

  6. I also just saw it recently, and I had similarly low expectations. And I was pleasantly surprised! I enjoyed it immensely. Nothing had been spoiled for me, so I was surprised when the villain revealed his name.

    There are problems with the movie, and Jeremy listed them. But I just find it so enjoyable to watch the actors play their parts, and Benedict Cumberbatch was phenomenal. That may in fact be the past part of the movie: it introduced me to Benedict Cumberbatch, and now I’m enjoying the recent British show, Sherlock.

  7. “Competent action film with Star Trek trappings” might have been an acceptable description of the first one, but I found this one to be pretty terrible any way you cut it (speaking as someone wholly new to the franchise). Oddly structured with no clear threat, and some of the most contrived dialogue (and hammy acting – looking at you, Karl Urban) I’ve seen in such a big blockbuster in recent time.

    The worst offense, though, was that the only reason I bothered with it was moot. I’m a big fan of Benedict Cumberbatch (the idea of him playing a major villain sounded great; he can be quite nasty), but he was totally wasted in the film.

    (And now I see that this film was voted the worst ST film by fans – so I suppose I’m not really saying anything new here.)

  8. The problem with Lindelof is that he has a story to tell, and if things have to happen that break internal logic, has people act out of character or just do stupid stuff, or make the next movies incredibly hard to write, they will happen.

    So now nobody will die in the next movies because they’ll just have Khan strapped to a cross and extract his extracts his magic blood for everyone to use.

    With the “teleport across the galaxy” personal transporter, they no longer need starships for anything but exploration into uncharted territory (so at least Enterprise will be useful?) And how does this teleportation tech allow people to move faster than light anyway?

    Oh you can teleport solid things now? Then why does Colonel Marcus need a warship? He could just teleport bombs onto Kronos. Why didn’t Khan teleport bombs into the war room instead of attacking it with an armed vehicle? And how did he know he would not kill Marcus? And why would Marcus want a warship made with 300 year old weapons tech?

    And the opening with the cold fusion bomb (cold fusion isn’t COLD) and the Enterprise hiding underwater where 1. they can’t use the teleporter instead of in orbit and 2. would probably be crushed by the pressure. … gah!

  9. Yeah, that’s about how I felt — on down to complaining about the Anglo Khan. (We had a discussion over at Brontoforumus about it; some of the guys there made the clever suggestion that they would have deliberately altered Khan’s appearance since he was an infamous war criminal. I think that’s a quite good explanation, but (1) it is nowhere in the script and is a clear example of the writers relying on fandom to fix their plotholes, and (2) would work better if anybody at all seemed to have any idea who Khan Noonien Singh WAS. Sharkey pointed out that it would have worked better to have the characters recognize his name from history class than to work Nimoy into it.) Keep in mind that Benicio del Toro was originally cast; I think that would have worked a lot better.

    (On the other hand, I DO kind of love how they replaced him with a guy whose name is the English equivalent of “Benicio”.)

  10. Star Trek keeps blowing up San Francisco because it’s jealous that Lucasfilm is squatting on Starfleet Headquarters. Abrams wanted to change that part of the script because he’ll be happily working there soon but the rest of Paramount insisted on it.

    Just so you know, I totally made that up.

  11. I enjoyed the movie (even with the groan inducing Khan reveal) because it kept movie too fast for me to think about it. Until of course they had Kirk go into the warp core, at which point you realize, yep, this is the completely tone deaf writing team who wrote the Transformers movies.

    Are the nerds possibly referring to this badass digest article?
    It is actually not that crazy.

    • I’m not convinced. That article is basically saying, “Conspiracy theorists are nuts. Also, check out this conspiracy theory.”

  12. I think ultimately I was just disappointed that they used Khan again. It felt really unoriginal (and like you said, they JUST ripped off Wrath of Khan two movies ago). I basically agree though – the movie was decent overall, they just need to stop clinging so much to old “proven” stories and write something new. Or at least, if you are going to rip off old Star Trek, stop going to the Khan well, it’s all dried up :P Why not rip off Star Trek 4 instead? :P

  13. I went into Into Darkness the day it came out expecting to hate the film, because I really was not on board with the first reboot film. But I walked away pleasantly surprised, even if the plot stole every beat from other Trek films and was way too easy to telegraph. I felt like this film, even though it’s severely flawed, made an honest attempt to placate fans of the first movie like myself who railed at Trek ’09 for abandoning the spirit of the franchise. And for the most part, Into Darkness did a pretty decent job of integrating moral dilemmas and having the plot be in service to an underlying message that isn’t bullshit (unlike the ‘destiny’ crap from ’09).

    And I thought we got some really good character development and story focus on Kirk. At the end of the film, I felt he deserved his Captaincy and grew into responsible leader versus ’09 where the movie ended by rewarding Kirk for being a bad officer and a bad person.

    I think my biggest critique of the film (besides the lack of originality) was when the film ends with them getting ready to set off on their five year mission, I got really excited and then immediately depressed. Because we spent the entire film (except the beginning mission which was excellent) essentially grounded to Earth yet again, instead of out exploring the unknown and the stars. And I miss that about Star Trek. And the ending, when the crew is getting ready to go finally do what they’ve been waiting to do, and what we’ve been waiting to see them do, it’s a painful reminder that this was not the film I would have liked. So Into Darkness might have recaptured some of the show’s spirit, but not all of it.

  14. Now I’m more excited to watch the movie, I just recently watched the Wratch of Khan and when I saw the image you posted for your review, it really became clear what to expect. Cool.

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