Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness Review

I've been a Trekkie since I was a kid in Germany, and I can proudly say that I've seen every single episode of TNG, DS9, and the original series; plus most of Voyager. I thought of "Enterprise" as an unfortunate misstep for the franchise, although those Andorians grew on me; and hey, bad Trek is better than no Trek, right?
Then along came J.J. Abrams to helm the franchise. I was shocked. This is the same genius who created "Felicity", a show so deep and intelligent that when the star cut her hair, people stopped watching. He made "Lost", a series so convoluted and pointless that I'd rather watch paint dry. He was nominated for a Razzie in the "Worst Screenplay" category for "Armageddon",  created the silly "Alias", and was responsible for the last two "Tom Cruise in lots of random stunt sequence" movies, erm, i mean, "Mission Impossible." And this person was put in control of Star Trek? Who made that decision?
Well, 2009's "Star Trek", the first Trek film by Abrams, was a disappointment. The charm and the stories of old Trek were replaced by lens flare and a plot that made so little sense that it had to be explained away by saying that this new Trek now takes place in an alternate timeline. It was embarrassing. Sure, Trek movies have never been as good as the show (sorry, Wrath of Khan); after all, the studio needs to try and get mainstream audiences into theaters to recoup their money. But no Trek film was ever quite as bad as Abram's first outing.
Thus, I didn't have high hopes last night when i went to see Into Darkness; Abram's second (and hopefully last) Trek movie.

If you don't want spoilers, you should stop reading now.

The film opens with the crew of the Enterprise trying to save a species of aliens without announcing their presence to them, as that would violate the prime directive ("do not interfere with other civilizations"). But Kirk is soon forced to reveal his ship. It rises out of the ocean, a magnificent behemoth, stunning the natives with its sheer size. So how did they get it into the ocean without anyone noticing it? The movie is full of plot holes and logical errors like this one.
That is not its most egregious fault however. The real problem is, once again, that the film has no heart. Star Trek is about people and the way they deal with problems, and the spaceships are only there for decoration. Star Trek is about difficult questions and difficult decisions; it challenges us to ask ourselves what we would do if we had been placed in a similar situation. "Into Darkness" is merely about lens flare, explosions, and a nonsensical re-telling of the reawakening of Khan (from the original series). It is a story about revenge, plain and simple. This guy did something bad to me, so I am justified in doing something bad to him. The logic and motivations of an 8 year old who got into too many schoolyard fights. We see Kirk punching a man in the face, over and over again, we see Spock doing the same. Why? Revenge. Oh, and it allows the actors to portray how deep their emotions are, because apparently real men display loss and anger by punching someone in the face. And yes, Spock has emotions here, because you know, this is totally an alternate timeline where Vulcans aren't really Vulcans anymore.
There is no sense of right and wrong here, no morality. the bad guy -Khan- wasn't really all that bad; he was turned into a baddie by one of Kirk's superiors, who dies rather horribly, but is never really criticized for his actions. His warmongering was all in the name of the Federation, aka "us", and so it's all good.The secret "Section 31" organization is never questioned for its role, and after the bad guy dies, all is well. The crimes committed in our name are alright, while the bad guys are horrible people for doing the exact same things.
Henry Kissinger once said "The problem with Castro is not that he's an asshole, but that he's not our asshole." The movie seems to follow the same mantra.
Well, and in addition to all that, it's also pretty boring and derivative. You can see plot twists coming from a mile away, and some scenes are simple re-imaginings of scenes from much earlier Trek films. This time Kirk saves the Enterprise by going into the reactor core, poisoning himself fatally in the process. And Spock is left outside a transparent door to exclaim "Khaaaaaan!" Seen it before. So many scenes in this film borrow ideas from earlier, better movies that we are way past "homage" territory, and deep inside "we've run our of ideas" land.
So are there any good things I can say about this film? Well, Zachary Quinto's Spock is well-acted, even if he is much too emotional (the script's fault, not Quinto's). And Benedict Cumberbatch as Kahn was intriguing, although he lacked the charisma of Ricardo Montalban.
The most positive thing I can say is this: maybe this film will get a new generation interested in Star Trek. And maybe this generation will want to check out the show, and learn why Trek has been so popular all across the world for over 40 years now. They'll find out that there aren't millions of Trekkies on this Earth because of lens flare and CGI explosions. They'll discover the real Star Trek.

Here's a list of some episodes you might want to watch instead of Abrams's mindless explosions:
The Original Series
The City on the Edge of Forever (season 1, episode 28)
The Menagerie (two-parter; season 1, episodes 11&12)

The Next Generation 
- The Measure of a Man (season 2, episode 9)
- The Defector (season 3, episode 10)
- The Drumhead (season 4, episode 21)
- Chain of Command (two-parter; season 6, episodes 10&11)

Deep Space 9
Duet (season 1, episode 19)
Improbable Cause (season 3, episode 20)
The Dies Is Cast (season 3, episode 21)

In the Pale Moonlight (season 6, episode 19)
Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges (season 7, episode 16)

This list is by no means exhaustive, but it ought to get you started. :)
For those of you in the United States, you can watch teh entire original show on CBS for free:


  1. JJ needs to be thrown on an airless planet with 1000 hungry gorns, 1200 crazy targs, and 10 female klingons in heat.

  2. Hey, *I* want to be on a a planet with 10 Klingon chicks...