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“Star Trek Into Darkness” – The Worst Star Trek Movie Yet!

When I went to see “Star Trek Into Darkness”, I absolutely hated it, right from the opening scenes. What J.J. Abrams and his cronies have done to Star Trek is a travesty. Abrams has said before that he is not a fan of Star Trek but is a fan of Star Wars. That shines through in spades in “Into Darkness”. The movie was more Star Wars than Star Trek, showing J.J.'s love of the Star Wars universe and his utter disdain for the Star Trek one. It's pretty obvious that Abrams doesn't “get” Star Trek and the sooner he moves on to directing Star Wars movies (and stays there) the better for the Trek franchise.

  • This review will contain spoilers so if you haven't seen the movie yet and intend to, don't read any further as it will definitely impact on your enjoyment of the movie.

The review is solely based on how good a Star Trek movie this is and not whether or not it's a decent space-based action movie. Non Star Trek fans will most likely enjoy it as a popcorn action flick. Star Trek fans, especially those who are fans of The Original Series, may see the movie in a different light. I certainly did…

Ok, let's be clear: I am a Star Trek fan and have been since seeing it on the TV when it first aired in the early 1970s on the BBC. Those who know me will remember I was one of the four who founded Starbase Ireland and co-edited The Federation Times back in the '90s. StarBase Ireland organized many fan days where we'd show Original Series episodes along with the newest Deep Space 9, Next Generation and Voyager episodes imported from the USA from contacts over there along with other Trek-based doings. So I wasn't just a couch-potato fan.

Onto the Movie

“Into Darkness” takes place some time after the events in the previous Star Trek movie. The recent Star Trek game (which wouldn't even install on my PC, so another ill though out disaster) contained a story that bridged the two movies, filling in the time gap.

The new movie opens on the planet Nibiru. Now maybe that's an in-joke as it was the name of the planet that was supposed to come close to Earth on Dec. 21st, 2012 causing the end of the world. To me, including such a named planet associates Trek in a back-handed fashion with general nonsense (my take: Abrams is saying Trek is a load of tosh - but not in a good way).

Now Nibiru is going to be destroyed by a single erupting volcano. It's not even a super volcano like the one under Yellowstone National Park. It's just some piddling run-of-the-mill volcano that magically can destroy the planet. There's a whole action sequence with Kirk and McCoy running from the natives (though why they're doing so isn't explained). They leap off a tall cliff into the sea and swim to a submerged Enterprise. The Enterprise is a starship, not a submarine, in case you didn't know. The starships, at least according to canon, are purely space-based vessels. Abrams seems to think that any idea he and his lousy writers comes up with instantly becomes canon, and therefore acceptable.

Meanwhile, Spock tries to deploy a cold-fusion device to render the volcano inert by hanging from a tether dropped from a shuttlecraft flying above the volcano. He's is a super-duper spacesuit though, so while the shuttlecraft starts to fall apart from the heat and the tether snaps, Spock survives a fall onto a rock floating in the lava without the suit being compromised. He then stays there for a considerable period, trying to activate the device as the volcano gets ever more violent. Again, his super-duper spacesuit prevents him from being fricasseed.

There's a badly judged, ham-fisted “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one” moment and just as he's about to die, the Enterprise shoots up from the sea, flies over the volcano and beams him aboard. No one in the transporter room seems to be bothered by the heat that would be radiating from his suit which should be red-hot.

Later, there's a throw-away line about Kirk having slept with Christine Chapel and that after being with him, Chapel left for a distant station to become a nurse. One can only wonder what he did to make her run so far. Maybe he suggested she get it on with Spock! The line is said by Carol Marcus (who wangles her way onto the Enterprise under a false identity), and if you're familiar with The Wrath of Khan, you'll know just who she is! I don't why, but I always thought of Chapel as being older than Kirk and that she wouldn't be interested in him. In the Abrams parallel universe, Kirk appears to bonk anything that seems remotely female.

Then there's a scene where Scotty is aboard the new Dreadnaught ship, which looks suspiciously like an armoured Next Gen Enterprise. As he's trying to open the airlock to allow Kirk and Khan to enter, he gets accosted by a guard. His communicator falls to the floor and the guard keeps asking him what's that on the floor, why's it making noise? Hasn't he ever seen a communicator or a mobile phone for that matter?

Simple ideas just go over Abrams/Lindelhof/Orci/Kurtzman's heads. For example, that Spock/Uhura romance. It just doesn't work for a species (Vulcan) that comes on heat once every seven years. The appeal of Spock's character, especially for women, was his unavailability - they could imagine themselves as being the one who could reach him. That's completely escaped Abrams & co. and they've ruined that idea by having Spock in a relationship with Uhura. Spock spoken for - period.

Stupidly thought out set pieces and idiotic characterizations like these abound in the movie.

Nimoy even makes a short appearance at one point. Still can't let the reins go. But why he's ok with this re-imagining of Star Trek I'll never know. Shatner was interviewed not that long ago and asked what he thought of Abrams version of Star Trek. While he said he liked Abrams as a person, he felt that Star Trek had descended into simple gun-play and shootouts and that the new version had no “soul”. I'd have to concur with that. You could argue that it's just sour grapes on his part in not having a role in the movie, but his Kirk died long before Spock came back in time, pursued by Nero. So I don't think that argument holds water.

My Take On The Movie

I've already mentioned that Abrams doesn't “get” Star Trek. Both his Trek movie efforts have been action movies with big action sequences. Trek, at its best, examined social issues and held a mirror up to injustices and moral dilemmas that faced our society, through the medium of Science Fiction. There is nothing cerebral about Abrams' Star Trek, no social commentary, no moral dilemmas.

“Into Darkness” is a bastardization of The Wrath of Khan. If you're not familiar with Original Series Star Trek, the episode “Space Seed” introduced the Khan character and his background. Kirk came to an accommodation with him and relocated Khan and his followers to Ceti Alpha V where they could build a life for themselves. The Wrath of Khan is set 15 years after Space Seed (both in real time and in Trek time) and we learn what happened to Khan and why he wasn't happy about how things went.

For me, Wrath of Khan is the best of the old series movies. It's essentially Moby Dick, played out on a cosmic tableau. Kirk is at his best when up against a larger-than-life adversary, and this trope worked well again in The Undiscovered Country when he was up against General Chang.

The Wrath of Khan ended with a poignant scene where Spock dies, with Kirk by his side but separated from him by a glass radiation door. When that movie played in the cinema, Nimoy had suggested he'd finished playing Spock for good and there was a very real sense that this was the demise of Spock. So when we left the cinema back then, we had every reason to believe Spock had been killed off.

“Into Darkness” mangles the whole Khan story. In the movie, Kirk learns of Khan's existence even before the 5-year mission starts and deals with him in this context. In this parallel universe, events play out differently. It seems that the head of Starfleet, Admiral Marcus, somehow knew about Khan's existence (though how is never explained, rather than the Original Series Enterprise happening upon Khan's ship in deep space). Marcus took him out of cryo-suspension so that he could use Khan's intellect to devise new weapons to use against the Klingons in what the Admiral saw as an inevitable war arising between the Federation and the Klingon Empire. Khan wasn't happy that his followers, who were all still in cryo-suspension, were being used as bargaining chips, so took reprisals against Starfleet.

He blows up a Starfleet Archive on the pretext of Starfleet gathering all high-ranking officers in one place to discuss the attack. Khan then attacks the meeting, killing several there, including Captain Pike. Kirk, naturally, stops Khan, but Khan escapes by beaming out from his attack ship. But no, he doesn't just beam to somewhere else on Earth, or even to a ship in orbit. He uses a transwarp transporter to beam directly to Cronos, the Klingon homeworld.

Scotty (still played by a woefully miscast Simon Pegg) who invented the transwarp transporter, doesn't have access to one (Starfleet has confiscated the transwarp transporter equation!) so the Enterprise has to fly to Cronos to capture Khan.

There's an action set-piece where a non-standard shuttle containing Kirk and other Away Team members is spotted by the Klingons who give chase. Cue lots of whizzing under bridges and through cracks and gaps in rocks and buildings - it's a scene straight out of Star Wars (think Death Star) and not something you'd see in regular Star Trek.

The fight sequence, later in the movie, between Spock and Khan on garbage scows or whatever those ships were supposed to be, also smacked of Star Wars.

I like Benedict Cumberbatch (who plays khan) as an actor. However, he's a somewhat unusual looking Caucasian male who's appearance doesn't really convey any racial attributes that a name like Khan Noonian Singh would suggest. At least Ricardo Montalban, who played Khan in Space Seed and Wrath of Khan wasn't Caucasian. So maybe Cumberbatch wasn't the best choice for the role.

Anyway, this time round, it's Kirk who has to save the Enterprise, rather than Spock. This time, Kirk gets irradiated and dies with Spock on the other side of the glass door. These guys haven't really liked each other for all that long yet we're supposed to believe that Spock is so broken up over Kirk's death that he cries - so much for Vulcan stoicism. Kirk's death scene doesn't hit you in the gut the way Spock's did in Wrath of Khan and so an enormously emotional and moving moment in Original Trek is conveyed in a trite fashion in Abrams new vision. Waste of a potentially great death scene. In fact, Abrams wastes pretty much every so-called nod to the Original Series (and at this stage I'm inclined to think it's done on purpose).

Characters

Kirk: Chris Pine did a pretty good job of capturing Kirk's essence in the first Star Trek movie. He was less Kirk in “Star Trek Into Darkness” and more an “insert standard action hero type here” type of character. Maybe that was down to the writing more than his performance. After all, he can only work with what the writers give him.

Spock: Zachary Quinto still hasn't nailed down the Spock character. Actually, I didn't see any progression from his portrayal in the first movie. There's a stillness he's lacking. He's far too emotional for a Vulcan, even a half-Vulcan but again, that might be down to the writers not fully getting the Spock character in the first place. Whatever - the overuse of emotional outbursts devalues them as they should only occur in extreme situations. Spock is pretty much a human with pointy ears here.

Sulu: John Cho had very little to do in the movie which is a shame because his character is one of the ones I like most.

Chekov: Again, Anton Yeltsin had little to do in the movie, but the Chekov character is still too much of a Wesley for my taste (Wesley = smart-ass teenager who single-handedly saves the ship all too frequently).

Uhura: At least Uhura doesn't just get to say “All hailing frequencies open, Captain”. Again, Zoe Saldana didn't have a lot to do in the movie.

Scotty: As I keep saying, Simon Pegg is woefully miscast. Scotty is also portrayed as something of a buffoon. In the Original Series, he was a genius who wasn't played for laughs. There were times, when he got drunk, that funny things happened, but he wasn't treated as the butt of a joke they way he is in Abrams version.

McCoy: McCoy was the heart and conscience of Original Trek while Spock was the logical and analytical counterpart. These were, essentially, Kirk's inner voices externalized and so Kirk would weigh what each had to say before deciding on a course of action. And no, Kirk didn't just react to a situation, and shoot his way out of it, the way he does in Abrams re-imagining. The McCoy character still isn't right in the new movie. Karl Urban's delivery of his lines is too forced; he utters his lines with too much earnestness and intent rather than a measure of exasperation. And there are too many of the “Jim, I'm a doctor not a ….” lines. Maybe Urban is just trying too hard. He has the mannerisms down and I saw the real McCoy for the first time in the movie in the hospital scene during Kirk's recovery. No forced delivery. If only he'd said his lines this way throughout the rest of the movie.

Pike: Another of my favorite characters in this movie. Sadly he gets killed off before he can do much of anything.

Conclusion

J.J. Abrams delivers yet another shoot 'em up, pretty thoughtless, popcorn actioner that plays on the Star Trek ethos without actually capturing the essence and soul of Star Trek. That could only be achieved by an avowed Star Wars fan. The characterizations are worse than in the first movie. There are ludicrous set pieces that are so badly written they should have been excised from the movie. The writers (and presumably the director) treat genuine Trekkers and Trekkies with disdain and contempt.

I can only hope that once Abrams moves on to directing the next Star Wars movie that he'll stay there and someone else can come in and direct the next Star Trek movie (if there is one). He's probably the most overrated director in Hollywoood today. And Paramount made a serious mis-step in hiring him to reboot the Star Trek franchise.

Imagine what Star Trek would have been like if Joss Whedon (Buffy, Firefly, Avengers Assemble) had been hired to direct or write? Or J. Michael Straczynski (Babylon 5) was the writer? Or both of them worked on the movies together?

“Star Trek Into Darkness” left such a bad taste in my mouth that when I got home, I put on two episodes of Original Trek (and I actually haven't watched Original Star Trek in a few years) - Amok Time and Mirror, Mirror. Amok Time is the quintessential episode about Vulcans. Arlene Martel, who plays Spock's wife T'Pring, plays a Vulcan excellently, as does Celia Lovsky as T-Pau. Quinto could learn something by watching this episode, or Mark Lenard as Sarek, Spock's father, in Journey To Babel.

Mirror, Mirror is set in an alternate universe where the Federation is an all-conquering Empire that doesn't take “no” for an answer. It turned out to be a far more interesting parallel universe than the one dreamt up by Abrams and co.

I watched the remastered editions of the episodes which replace the old wobbly effects with new CGI ones. Rather than jarring you out of an episode, they fit seamlessly within them and only add to the atmosphere of the morality plays that were at the heart of the series. Now that's Star Trek. And not a lens flare in sight!

And then there are those fake lens flares that Abrams shoves into every movie he makes. Every time I see one, I'm pulled out of a movie as I think “there's J.J. putting his 'signature' on a movie again”. If an effect is so bad that it takes you out of a movie (and Abrams must know it does because enough people have complained about it) and the director does nothing to rectify that in future movies, then you know he treats his audience with disdain. He expects you to just love his wunderkind movies.

Remember I said that people actually believed Spock was dead when Wrath of Khan was originally shown in 1982? No danger of believing that Kirk was really dead in “Into Darkness”. A ham-fisted scene where McCoy takes a blood sample from Khan and uses it on a dead tribble to see what will happen flags that the blood will be used to revive someone later in the movie.

But what can you expect from the guys who gave us the last episode of Lost??


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