Monday, June 17, 2013

Review: Star Trek Into Darkness

So here we are, slumming it to the Star Trek Into Darkness review. It only took me, what, seventeen years (I’m not good with time). I’ve been having a lot of personal issues in real life and my desire to do any writing has been pretty damn low. But it’s been way too long so let’s get back into it.

So Star Trek Into Darkness is, of course, the sequel to the 2009 Star Trek reboot. The first one was controversial in the pre-production stage but this one was less so since pretty much everyone agreed J. J. Abrams first foray into the franchise was “pretty good”. There was a lot of speculation about who the villain was (oh, we’ll get to that). So you’d think the buzz about this movie would have been a little stronger than it was. It wasn’t and, despite the fact that it did well, it didn’t do as good as one would have guessed.

I attribute this to two main factors: 1) the fact that somehow it took four goddamn years for this movie to come out. Now the reason might be really good (Abrams is a busy guy and several of the cast are A-list actors who sadly can’t be forced to just do Star Trek movies and nothing else) but regardless the fact is that four years in this day and age is probably a year too long to wait for an addition to a movie franchise. All the excitement I had coming out from the first flick was absent in the months leading up to release. 2) A few months ago it was announced that Abrams had been hired by Disney to direct the forthcoming Star Wars movie and considering how very much Star Wars-like the first film was (and how Abrams repeatedly told anyone who would listen that he was a far bigger fan of Star Wars than Star Trek) to seems like a pretty good fit. America has been pretty nutty with anticipation for that film, so much so that every interview I saw of Abrams promoting Star Trek Into Darkness always, always turned into questions about Star Wars. It seems the general train of thought is “Oh Star Trek? That should be fine. But what I’m really all about is Episode VII! Can’t wait for that!” Even I was kind of like that, though in my defense I had waited four damn years for a new Star Trek movie; I was tired.

Also Stark trek Into Darkness is a really weird ass name that hits the wrong side of bad.

*Ahem*. Anyway let’s see if this movie was worth the wait.

Full review after the jump.

[WARNING: This review contains MASSIVE spoilers for this film and should only be read if you either saw the film, aren't planning to see the film or don't give a crap about spoilers because I apparently didn't give a crap about giving them out]





Kirk: This is a little awkward but what's your name again?
Kirk: I feel like it's..."Spork"?
It has been a short time since James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) was made captain of the USS Enterprise. After an adventure on an underdeveloped world where the crew saved the populace and blatantly broke the Prime Directive in the process Admiral Pike (Bruce Greenwood) informs Kirk that his command is being stripped due to his constant failings as a starship captain. Meanwhile a mysterious agent of Starfleet named John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) has just bombed London and is at large, causing a panic throughout Earth. His plans and motives are unknown but he seems to hold a grudge against Starfleet Command and is willing, and able, to move against them.

So let’s talk about what I liked about this movie with the least amount of spoilers possible before this review takes a turn for the worst and turns into a spoiler-filled rant. Easily my favorite part of this film was Zackary Quinto’s portrayal of Spock. Everything I liked about him in the last movie is here with the addition of the character being significantly less of a dick (which wasn’t a problem in the last film but it’s nice that Spock isn’t taking every opportunity to remind Kirk that he’s awful). Spock is also the only character who has anything close to an arc. You’d think Kirk would have, and indeed it seems like the film is setting up for one, but ultimately I’m not sure our cocky, asshole version of Kirk has done any changing. I also LOVED Benedict Cumberbatch as…the character he plays in this film. I will talk more about the character later but I want it known that Cumberbatch is simply fantastic in every aspect of this role. He was so brutal, he had such a presence, and his eyes were chilling. If nothing else the filmmakers hired a phenomenal actor to portray John Harrison and they can enjoy that credit.

I liked the special effects, I liked the music and I liked the story up until the third act (more on that later). I liked the look of most things in the film and I really liked that we got to see so much of Earth. Weirdly we don’t usually see much of the planet in Star Trek and when we do it tends to be mostly inside an office (there were exceptions, of course). I also really like the look and concept of the USS Vengeance and, as far as enemy ships go, it’s become possibly my favorite in Star Trek. The plot is not the best but I feel it's stronger than the previous effort...at least at first (See: Third Act, but again, we'll get to that). All the things I liked about this film made it more than watchable. I feel like I wasn’t as obsessed with this flick as I was with the first one but I still walked away thinking “Yeah, I liked it”. I’ve seen a lot of people say that it was awful but I absolutely don’t agree.

"Welp...we're boned."
But this is a very flawed film. The complaints about sexism are valid though the 2009 Star Trek was no better so I’m surprised people were complaining now and not then. Still superfluous shots of ladies in their underwear that have nothing to do with anything and the mini-skirt uniform that the women of Starfleet wear are questionable decisions and if you’re offended by these things I don’t blame you for it. Ignoring all that it’s hard to look pass the fact that Uhura does almost nothing in this film but be worried about her relationship with Spock, including bringing it up in the middle of a dangerous mission despite promising Kirk that she wouldn’t make things personal. Yay feminism?

The stuff with Kirk losing his command was stupid and really unnecessary. This feels especially true since he got it right back maybe ten or fifteen minutes later. Though I do find it amusing that the original threat was to send him back to the academy. It’s as if the ruling board of admirals finally remembered that Kirk hadn’t actually graduated before they made him captain of the flagship of the fleet and that’s probably why he’s awful at his job. Oops. The crew isn’t really utilized any better as whole than they were in the last film, so if your name isn’t Kirk or Spock or Scotty you probably didn’t do a whole lot in this film. They had their moments, sure, but they never feel like main characters.

Which is a shame because I'd watch the hell out of "Sulu Into Darkness"
For my money there are two major issues with this film and they are both huge spoilers so feel free to take this opportunity to skip to the Panda Score if you ignored the spoiler warning before the jump and don’t want me giving shit away.

Are they gone? Okay, let do this!

Okay, so first of I have a serious problem with Benedict Cumberbatch’s character. By now we all know that “John Harrison” is an alias and he is actually playing Khan Noonien Singh, as in the villain form Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan (and the episode “Space Seed” from the original series). So yeah, this is whitewashing. Look, I’ve heard all the rationalizations behind it and I agree that Cumberbatch is awesome in the role, but it doesn’t change the fact that the character and the actor weren’t white originally but were played by one of the whitest actors I’ve ever seen. I hear Benicio del Toro turned down this role, which is funny because it would have been a little closer than what they wen with. If nothing else a role made famous by Mexican actor Ricardo Montalban was rebooted as an English white dude decades later. That sucks and there’s no two ways about it. They could have explained things away with some bullshit science like “we surgically altered Khan so no one would recognize him” or “his DNA was damaged when we unfroze him somehow so now he looks white” but as it is we got nothing.

This seems to be a theme this summer, as The Mandarin was a white guy and Tonto from the upcoming Lone Ranger flick is also played by a white actor. I would love to talk about this more but this subject deserves its own blog.

But the thing about Khan isn’t just who played him, but that they used this character at all. I know a lot of Star Trek fans have been really interested in Khan being the villain of this film since the 2009 flick but those fans were not thinking straight, I suspect. Abrams and his team for years said they were hesitant to do anything with Khan because it would be difficult to top the character’s previous appearances. We now know they were probably purposely using misdirection with those statements but the fact is they were totally right. Aside from the race thing it’s kind of bothersome to have Khan appear as it just reminds us of how great Star Trek II was (and this film is no Star Trek II), not to mention that the character is portrayed so differently that Khan had been prior, as his charming traits that he had in both his previous appearances are completely missing, that he might have been better used as an original character. In fact that would have made a much better film. I mean, come one, we already know that Cumberbatch wasn’t exactly the best choice to play Khan anyway but if John Harrison was a different member of Khan’s crew, maybe even one pretending to be Khan only to turn out to be a fake later, there wouldn’t have been any problem and Abrams would have helped create one of the most memorable antagonists in Star Trek history. Instead we have a second-rate Khan who, while well-acted and has several badass moments, fails to live up to the past films. John Harrison should have been an original character, plain and simple, and it was a major misstep to reveal him as Khan.

JOOOHHNNNN!! JOOOHHNNNN!!
The other major problem was the whole third act, as I alluded to earlier. Things start getting really silly at this point and things stop making sense but with one outstanding aspect. Hey, did you watch the 2009 Stark Trek film and notice the strong influence from Star Trek II? Of course, it was pretty obvious. Afterwards did you say “That’s cool and all but what I really want is to uplift the entire Spock death scene frame for frame and recreate it in the sequel”? Oh, you didn’t? Well too goddamn bad because that’s what happened here. Kirk and Spock’s roles are reversed and it’s the captain who sacrifices himself to save the ship, but the sequences of a major character going into a radiation filled chamber to keep the ship form being destroyed and then having a touching final farewell with his best friend while being separated by glass IS A REALLY BIG F**KING CHEAT! Dude, if I wanted to watch Star Trek II I’d just go watch Star Trek II! I get that you must really like that flick, J.J., but recreating the scene kind of makes Star Trek Into Darkness feel less like it’s own story and more like really expensive fan fiction.

Also, and this is a relatively minor issue, I still don’t really like Kirk any better than in the last film. He was a dick then and he’s a dick here. If Abrams’ really wanted to shake things up (though I should point out he probably did want to shake things up and was likely blocked by the heads upstairs) they would have kept Kirk dead, leaving Spock as the main character of the franchise going forward. It would be an interesting change if nothing else. Additionally Old Spock’s cameo is really silly and it shouldn’t have been filmed. It breaks the flow of the film and really hurts its ability to stand on its own and not rely on the older material to stand on.

Star Trek Into Darkness, despite its flaws and dumb ass name, is a fun movie. I left the theater enjoying myself. I hated the problems I mentioned but it didn’t keep me from having a good time, which is way more than I can say about Iron Man 3. Yeah, the film is very flawed and there are some pretty terrible implications but I think there’s still a lot of popcorn fun to be had here. That said if you are offended by any of these issues then, well, you’d be justified. But, weirdly, for all its faults it feels more like a Star Trek film than the previous one. It still feels too far from what actually makes Star Trek Star Trek, but it’s getting better.

Accepts Dangerous Mission
Spends Most Of It Yelling At Boyfriend
I give Star Trek Into Darkness 4 out of 5 Adorable Pandas.

  
Pros

-Well acted 

-Great special effects 

-Good music 

Cons 

-Tries too hard to be Star Trek II, both literally and figuratively 

-The true identity of John Harrison sucks on several levels 

-Has some sexists implications 

-Most of the crew still feel like background characters rather than main characters


Now if you excuse me I'm going to play the heck out of Star Trek Online for a while. They have Romulans now, you know.

6 comments:

  1. I agree with this review 100%. I feel like the thing it's most missing is the philosophical bent that Star Trek always had. This movie, for example, doesn't examine Khan's genetic modifications and the effect it's had on his life at all. They're basically throw away lines to explain why he's so badass.

    Also your blog is awesome.

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    1. Thanks Ryan.

      The sad truth is that that J.J. Abrams doesn't "get" Star Trek so his Star Trek movies resemble Star Wars more than anything else (also he loves Star Wars). They're still fun but it is what it is.

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  2. From the sounds of things, I lucked out by having very little familiarity with the original Star Trek series and movies. Although I knew Khan wasn't an original character, I could watch Benedict Cumberbatch play him like he was one. He made a fabulous villain.

    I'm with you on Kirk - I could do without him. He might have had more scenes than most of the rest of the crew, but that didn't make me like him any better. Thank goodness he had to share a good chunk of his screen time with Spock, or I don't think this movie would have been as enjoyable as it was.

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    1. Non-old school Trek fans would certainly have an easier time with this flick than I did, but that's fine.

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  3. As Jozi will attest, I'm a massively huge Star Trek fan and my earlier life was sadly ruled by it as I very much resembled that kid that pretends to be Data in order to ignore reality. Nowadays I've really lost interest in most of it, except for New Frontier because Peter David is mindbogglingly funny.

    Points I totally agree with you on (most everything): Pine's Kirk is lame and it would have made for a more interesting story and really proved the whole alternate reality thing divergent if he was actually allowed to die in the second film. The fact that they bring him back in the very last moment with a silly handwave was offensive.

    Star Trek XII, The Wrath of Abrams - I was so confused by the lack of originality. Trek 2009 was actually a fun engaging story but this version fails to sell who Khan is beyond the fact that he's oddly comfortable with getting repeatedly pummeled. I feel like there's entire other film with exposition, etc. that's coherent and unfortunately was cut and is missing from the theatrical release?

    Khan is white... Wow, painful choice. Especially with keeping the same name and not explaining it. Seems like the new trend in Hollywood movie making is to avoid putting a non-white person in the role of the villain. The fact that his identity was kept secret instead of used as a selling point? That's so Abrams. There WAS another name credited for Producer, right?

    Sulu kicked some serious behind, again. Hands down the best character, although I really liked the new Sarek as well. For the love of Q give him more screen time.

    Uhura did feel like a stronger character in the first film, but obviously sex sells so... yeah, better make her more uke for the dollar signs. Her Klingon was bordering on unbelievable when you put it up against Nichelle's from Star Trek VI.

    Can you elaborate on why you love the current Spock? I love Zachary Quinto, but I've never understood his portrayal of Spock in these two movies as having his emotions constantly at saturation point just under the surface. It's made hysterically funny when they play him up against Leonard Nimoy using his classic Spock and make it out as if they're the same person. It doesn't make sense unless having a heartthrob be emotional (thankfully not emo) is more important to sales than having him actually portray a Vulcan. If it's really the actor's interpretation of who Spock is, then that's awesome and I would totally love it. Although you may dislike it, putting characters up against their mirror universe or younger selves has a lot of precedent in Star Trek and Nimoy is conveniently committed to acting until the day he dies.

    I agree the name Into Darkness is horrid and non-sequitur but you didn't mention the thing that bugged me the most from the production side: the credits were wholly identical to Star Trek 2009. He replaced the images of the planets, but... it looked like the exact same animation and font?! Ughh! Lazy.

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    1. I like New Spock because more so than anyone else in the film he feels different yet familiar to his prime counterpart. This Spock, who has had wildly different circumstances happen to him, feels skewed but he still feels like Spock to me (albeit a younger Spock as he's at least ten years younger than his counterpart was in TOS's second pilot). I think Quinto just plays it well. It's supposed to be an alternate universe so I like that he's not exactly the same as Old Spock.

      Compare that to New Kirk who feels like a completely different character. I just liked every scene Quinto was in(except where he asks Nimoy for cheat codes) and I like his interpretation of a younger Spock/a Spock who had his planet and explode and his mother murdered right in front of him.

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