Star Trek: Into Safety

So turns out an article about the philosophical and political themes of Bioshock: Infinite is way more complex and involved than I originally anticipated. I did a ton of research and then wrote an article. And then I deleted it and wrote it again. And then I deleted that one. Now I’m about halfway through writing yet another one, and I think I just need to step back and take a break from it. Maybe a fresh perspective will help me get it organized so it doesn’t read like the gibberings of a mad man. So let’s talk about something a bit less complex: the newest Star Trek movie.

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know I’m a huge fan of Star Trek. I grew up watching the reruns of The Next Generation on TV and Voyager, disappointing though it was, got me through some very tough times during middle school (seriously, fuck middle school). When the Star Trek reboot came out in 2009, I was a bit wary of it myself because it looked really bad during the previews. It had a bunch of flashy action, a cast of nobodies taking on the beloved roles of the Enterprise crew, and let’s not forget the lens flares.

Seriously, more lens flares appear in JJ Abrams movies than actual solar flares come off our sun.
Coming Soon: Lens Flare the Movie

You know what though? I loved Star Trek ’09. The entire cast did an absolutely amazing job with their roles, the action scenes breathed a new life into the Star Trek aesthetic and even the lens flares managed to fit right in with the new look. Yes the plot wasn’t quite as cerebral as we’ve come to expect from Star Trek, and a bit flimsier than most movies, but in the end I still enjoyed it. Star Trek ’09 gave me hope that maybe Star Trek would be revitalized and we could look forward to new movies, and maybe even shows and games, based around this new reboot. Star Trek: Into Darkness, unfortunately, has demonstrated that perhaps the original ’09 movie may have been the peak of this new Star Trek.

The Star Trek reboot was a huge risk: by completely rewriting the canon and history of Star Trek the studio risked losing its fan base of Trekkies with no guarantee that anyone else would arrive to fill the gap. Star Trek ’09 had the potential to be a huge disaster that could have permanently sunk the Star Trek franchise, but what made the movie so great was the risks it took. Since they were already rewriting the canon and history of one of the most influential science fiction franchises in history, they went with a complete rework of the aesthetics and tone as well. They could easily have just used the exact same model of the USS Enterprise as from the original movies, just prettied up with CGI and flat out copied the same visual effects from Star Trek: Nemesis if they’d wanted to.

With the popularity of the ’09 movie, however, apparently the studio thought that a carbon copy of that movie was necessary and that’s my problem with Into Darkness: it played it safe. And I’m not joking about Into Darkness being a carbon copy of the last movie, I’m dead serious. Some of the scenes I thought I was suffering from Deja Vu.

The Enterprise rising out of Titan's dust cloud.
The Enterprise rising out of Titan’s dust cloud.
Enterprise rising out of water.
Enterprise rising out of water.

The Enterprise is helpless against a big powerful starship:

Hey look at me I'm evil!
Hey look at me I’m evil!
Hey me too! You can tell because we're painted black!
Hey me too! You can tell because we’re painted black!

And they both feature two incredibly attractive women in their underwear:

At least this one is actually in a bedroom and has a reason for being half naked.
What? Did you expect me to use a bathroom or something to change?
What? Did you expect me to use a bathroom to change clothes or something?”

That last part bothers me because at least in the ’09 version they used that scene to build up Kirk as a lady’s man and introduce a crucial plot element, the Romulan attack on the Klingon prison. All of that is stuff that I can ignore though, I’m all about the storytelling of a movie. They could use sock puppets for all I care as long as the story is good, and it is good, don’t get me wrong but there was several glaring flaws that I felt detracted from what could have been an outstanding story.

Read this article, where JJ Abrams explains the naked woman-in-the-shuttle-for-no-reason scene. I don’t care about the naked lady part actually, I want to talk about one specific thing he said:

 It was meant to provide a break “in the middle of all this action and adventure,” he said, and to reinforce the idea of Capt. Kirk as a ladies’ men.

JJ highlights the biggest flaw of the movie, there is no “break”. I hate to break it to you JJ, but a ten second shot of a woman in her underwear doesn’t count as a break from the action. Similarly, having Kirk stare at an attractive woman in her underwear doesn’t reinforce the idea of him as a ladies’ man, it reinforces the fact that he’s a heterosexual male. Kirk just gives her a bewildered and embarrassed look, so basically he reacted exactly like I would have and I’m no ladies’ man. If he’d tried coming onto her or made some flirtatious remarks, then you’d actually have some characterization to work with, as it is the scene is there for exactly the reason everyone thinks it was: because guys like to look at girls in bikinis and it looked good on the previews.

JJ Abram’s remark really highlights the two main issues the movie suffers from: a lack of “breaks” in the action and, playing into that, a lack of characterization.

Wait...who is she again?
Wait…who is she again?

In the ’09 movie there were several times between action scenes where the characters had a chance to take a break and absorb what had happened to them. After the destruction of Vulcan, Uhura tries to comfort Spock in the turbolift and the crew tries to formulate a plan on how to confront the Narada. After Kirk’s marooning and running from alien monstrosities, and after the Vulcan mind-meld helps clear up some plot confusion, Kirk and Spock (Nimoy version) share a few moments for character development. Kirk asks about his father, Spock talks about their friendship, etc. And finally when Kirk returns and breaks Spock’s mental discipline, we get a few moments in the transporter room to see how the tragedy of losing his homeworld and his mother have affected Spock. Those are breaks in the action.

During those scenes we had a chance to see the characters grow and react the situations they’d been thrust into, and that’s what’s missing in the latest movie. There are several tragedies and intense action scenes that occur in the movie, but the characters never get a chance to absorb the impact of those events. There are several specific examples of this I want to touch on:

At the very start of the film, Kirk breaks the Prime Directive by saving an alien race that would have otherwise died, and he’s stripped of his command as a result. Five minutes later Captain Pike is killed and Kirk regains his command. Obviously Kirk has to be captain of the Enterprise but by stripping him of his command only to then immediately hand it back to him makes the whole thing pointless. It creates a little friction between Kirk and Spock, but because the movie is so rushed, that friction never grows into anything that the characters can react to or grow from. You could remove that entire subplot from the movie and it wouldn’t change a thing.

And since he doesn’t have a chance to really absorb the loss of his command, his later crisis of faith feels hollow and forced. When he told Spock “I’m not supposed to be captain of the Enterprise, you are.” I responded with a hearty “what?” because he hadn’t done anything wrong. He’d listened to his command staff and sent a shuttle to apprehend Khan instead of blowing apart half the planet, and he’d done everything he could to preserve the lives of his ship and his crew. Beyond that, Into Darkness rolls from one life-threatening situation to another without any time for the characters to really absorb the journey. Which brings me to my #1 gripe. The sidelining of Benedict Cumberbatch as Khan.

Now Benedict Cumberbatch kicked ass as Khan, he blew Ricardo Montalban’s performance straight out of the water and into the depths of space. Yet for the first half of the movie we barely see him, and get to talk to him even less. Instead we’re battling with some crotchety old Admiral who we don’t know and don’t care about.

And frankly if you didn't expect this guy to betray you the moment he appeared on screen, you need to watch more movies.
And frankly if you didn’t expect this guy to betray you the moment he appeared on screen, you need to watch more movies.

Khan needed to be center stage here, not the evil admiral whose name I can’t even remember. Benedict Cumberbatch is who should have been taunting Kirk from the bridge of the Vengeance when they warped into Kronos, and if they wanted to have this Admiral hog the spotlight then they should have given us more dialogue between Khan and Kirk. As it is we get a single conversation from him when they originally bring him on board and that’s pretty much it. You don’t hire an actor like Benedict Cumberbatch and then have him remain mute the whole time, the guy has talent oozing out of every pore and we barely get to hear from him.

And then there’s the nearly naked blonde from earlier. She barely appears in the film and gets no characterization, it seems like she was introduced to become Kirk’s love interest but apparently they forgot about that when shooting the film because it never goes anywhere. I don’t even remember what her name was or why she was there. Why is she in this movie? It’s like her entire job in the movie was to give the audience a plausible reason for why the Vengeance didn’t just vaporize the Enterprise. And I think I just answered my own question.

What? Did you expect me to use a bathroom or something to change?
Prepare to raise Boobs!… I mean Shields! SHIELDS! Yeah, that’s what I meant.

Which brings me to the best scene in the movie: the death of Kirk. That was the best death scene in a movie I’ve seen in a long, long time, and many a manly tear was shed. So it’s a shame that the emotional weight of that scene is undermined by Bones finding the cure only seconds after Kirk’s “death.” Yes, obviously they couldn’t actually kill Kirk without sinking their own franchise, and I’m not asking them too. I’m just asking for a few minutes to suspend my disbelief and believe Kirk is dead, but the cure is found so fast that the emotional shock of Kirk’s death is completely nullified. Spock’s outraged scream was awesome, and a fine tribute to the old Trek movie Wrath of Khanbut what about the rest of the crew. I would have liked to have seen how they reacted to the death of their captain, and I mean beyond a couple of sad faces. It didn’t have to be anything elaborate like Spock’s funeral in the aforementioned Wrath of Khan but just something. Instead we get another final fist fight between Khan and Spock, which was awesome, but not what I was looking for at that moment.

I’m not asking for any high drama here, I’m just asking for a break. Some time to breathe and absorb what I’m seeing. Oh and I’d like to actually learn the character’s names next time you introduce them, if the Blonde woman returns I’d like to actually remember her name in the next movie. I’m hopeful that since they didn’t kill Khan in this film that Benedict Cumberbatch will be able to make a comeback and we’ll see more of him in a future film, because I think he was criminally underutilized.

Still, don’t let this review fool you, these are just my own personal nitpicks with the movie. I still greatly enjoyed it and it was a hell of a ride. I wrote this because I feel that had Into Darkness given us just a few breaks between the action scenes, and little more characterization, this could have been a truly epic movie. But the studio decided to play it safe, they threw as much action at the screen as they could and as fast as they could, and the result is a very enjoyable summer scifi blockbuster.

They missed out on the much greater story they could have told, about vengeance and the fear of death, because they decided to play it safe.


  1. The blonde is Dr. Marcus, like the Dr. Marcus from Wrath of Khan. She was the mother of Kirk’s son. It would seem that her appearance in this movie was an attempt to connect with trekkies, or worse, foreshadowing of potentially repetitive events. They are potentially heading down the Terminator predestination path despite the fact that they could do anything they want and make no excuses doing so. I hope JJ uses more sense than that but who can tell.

    1. Yeah that’s another reason I’m afraid the ’09 film might have been the peak of the new Trek films. If they get into the habit of doing a “greatest hits” movie, then it’s just going to turn into constant retreading of old ground with new faces. Nothing will kill my interest faster than if they just start remaking the old movies as a kind of homage. I really hope they don’t go that way.

      Well that’s good to know, at least I know her name now. Though I’ll probably forget it by the time the next movie rolls around though. 😉

  2. Interesting perspective. The moment I saw Admiral Marcus I knew he would mess with Kirk later on. I didn’t really like how the movie seems to introduce many themes and elements that are forgotten or cast aside later on, like the prime directive, the war with the Klingons, the relationship between Spock and Uhura, and was I the only one who was sure the Dr Marcus would betray the Enterprise as a spy or something or might mess with the friendship of Kirk and Spock in some way? Come on the first time we see her she literally get in-between the two of them as if foreshadowing a destructive influence later on.

  3. I still can’t comprehend why they had to fuck up the timeline with this so called “new” Star Trek – in my opinion the original was just fine, thank you. They could have come up with a story which creates a new fan base yet doesn’t disappoint the old trekkies – (Enterprise B/C and plenty other letters in the alphabet) – I seriously doubt the name of Kirk and Spock (especially the idiotic youngster version of them) would be so magnetic they couldn’t make a Star Trek movie without them – anyone who loved the original guys, not gonna really like the new ones as they quite different (and the change didn’t really benefit the characters, not by far).
    This new movie is a twisted, action packed 2013 version of the original Wrath of Khan, the only step forward was Cumberbatch indeed. One more comment on cast: I really like Simon Pegg and his art, but (due his previous movies) I don’t think he really fits in Star Trek, I just can’t take him seriously.
    I can’t digest the interior design either – the bridge of the Enterprise looks like as it should in 2013 indeed, but for some funny reasons the planted wast open spaces in the heart of the ship with huge fuel tanks and a complete oil refinery from the 1950’s – I wonder whether they run out of petrol in the next movie…
    For me this “new” Star Trek is a safe, money-making remake of the old movies without any original ideas – doesn’t really work for me…
    I really would like to watch a Star Trek movie with Cumberbatch as Kirk or as any other Starfleet captain, that would be awesome 😀

    1. Well I like the new Star Trek, but I can definitely understand why other people wouldn’t. Actually truth be told I’ve never watched the original series beyond catching a few reruns on TV, so they aren’t irreplacable icons in my mind. If they ever try to reboot The Next Generation than I’ll probably be way more critical, because that show was such a huge part of my life.

      I will say they gave canon fans a neat little way out in the original movie with Spock’s speech about an alternate reality. The new star treks don’t cancel out the original movies, the exist in a parallel universe of sorts. So you can totally ignore the new movies when it comes to Star Trek canon. 😉

  4. Dr Marcus from theis WAS Dr Marcus from Wrath of Khan (WoK) although the relationship in this timeline may differ. Note that her father being a militaristic admiral may be tied to why the WoK Marcus was very wary of star fleet militarizing her invention.

    Pike died way too soon and Kirk didn’t spend enough time out of the captain’s chair to feel the repercussions of his earlier actions. That could have been done differently with Pike killed early I the fight with Marcus.

    The twist on the radiation death vs WoK was cool but why does the heart of engineering need to be a freaking acrobats stage. WoK had A ROOM and it sufficed fine. Sometimes less is more. All I could think about in this seen was the Tim Allen movie Galaxy Quest where they had a section in the ship with huge choppers for no apparent reason.

    I am a huge fan of how the reboot was handled. At 43 years old my Trek watching goes way back and I have to tell you honestly, it had grown stale. It also had become as confusing for new watchers as comic book lore. The reboot was handled better than any I have ever seen. To the hard core fans the universe the loved is still out there unchanged. To the newcomers there is a convienent place to start. To those who liked the old but wanted something new they got both. The old format of Trek was doomed to a shrinking audience. Long Live New Trek!

    Finally, nobody smack talks Ricardo Montalban! I liked the way the new Khan practically oozed genius but the old Khan had more of the unhinged psychotic rage. Of course the WoK Khan also was trapped on a dying planet for 20 years watching his people die. This Khan was more like the original series Khan which was also more sauve and showed more genius than the movie WoK Khan.

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