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.
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 is helpless against a big powerful starship:
And they both feature two incredibly attractive women in their underwear:
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.
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.
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.
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 Khan, but 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.