Star Trek Into Darkness Angered Me

startrekintodarkness-enterprise-falling-tsrBy being in New Mexico, I missed the opening weekend for Star Trek Into Darkness and then had to complete my obligations to Balticon before I had the time to finally take it in. We’re two weeks from opening so I’m going to discuss it, spoilers be damned.

I09 has a brilliant deconstruction of the film’s major plot holes and my longtime pal Glenn Greenberg also nails the film’s flaws with his own analysis. As a result, I’ll address some of the issues I have seen far less written about.

Given what I do and who I do it with, there was little chance of my going into the theater without knowing the details and twists. I had heard the criticisms, seen the lukewarm reviews by the major media and the raves from friends. I had guessed that I would walk into the multiplex, buy my popcorn, settle in and enjoy the film until the lights went up. Only then would the sloppy plotting and bad writing irk me.

It took a lot less to piss me off and I stayed annoyed until it ended.

CaptuedScreenwriters Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci and Damon Lindelof appear to have taken the most obvious traits the mass audience knows about James T. Kirk and ignored the rest. This means Chris Pine gets to play a hotheaded jerk who is all instinct and no intellect. Let’s compare: the TOS Kirk knew his ship inside and out, and kept current with the tech, otherwise he never would have known what to do to the deflector dish in Star Trek Generations. Pine’s Kirk kicked the hardware into place. Gary Mitchell chided Kirk for studying too hard, striving too hard to be perfect and still, Kirk had enough outside-the-box thinking to outthink the Kobyashi Maru test. Pine’s Kirk is smug and seems to skate through without effort. The television Kirk loved books and was pensive, quoting the Constitution of the United Sates and John Masefield. Pine’s Kirk gives us no clue he has such depth and dimension.

The biggest issue is how the Kirks approached the Prime Directive. On television, every time Kirk skirted or violated the law, it was for the good of the people (see Vaal, Landru) or to undo the contamination from other Starfleet personnel (see John Gill, Ron Tracy). In this film, the story starts with Kirk breaking the laws to save Spock’s life, a selfish, thoughtless act that led to his omitting vital information from Starfleet.

It’s as if the production crew at Bad Robot loved Star Trek without understanding it. The sloppiness in the plotting, what I termed a Swiss cheese script, is a deep shame given they took four years to write this disappointment and then tell us they waited for the right story to present itself.

UhuraBy remaking Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, they demonstrated a complete misreading of why that film worked. We had invested sixteen years with these actors and characters so the themes of age and renewal, sacrifice and friendship worked. Here, we had to wait four years for a second installment and we’re still coming to terms with new actors in familiar roles so killing Kirk and making a big deal out of it fell flat.

Paramount hasn’t helped the franchise either. They allowed Bad Robot to find shiner projects ahead of a Star Trek sequel, spoiling the reboot’s momentum. Then, they continued to demonstrate they don’t understand their own property by stripping away the issue-oriented underpinnings to make the film more palatable to a global audience that has been hit or miss about Star Trek. There are some very strong ideas presented here and given a surface presentation, not allowing the characters to chew over what it means to violate the laws and their oath or to interfere with a civilization’s destiny.

I’m also really tried of military-minded rogue Starfleet officers, too easy a plot device. (I didn’t quite get how the detonation of Vulcan meant it was time to start a war with the Klingons.) Peter Weller is wasted as the bad guy and the movie’s closing scenes totally ignore the questions his crimes raised. Let’s see: how did the conspiracy work? Were there others involved and have they been arrested? Where’s the dreadnought’s construction crew? With Starfleet command compromised, who is vetting the new command structure? Are we that much closer to war with the Klingons after Weller’s unsanctioned visit to Qo’noS (the proper spelling damn it).

Okay, Benedict Cumberbatch is brilliant and mesmerizing to watch. But his Khan is cold and apparently an enigma to the historians since no one troubled to look him up in the databanks. Instead, Spock-2 calls Spock-1 for the most pointless cameo yet. While the film is chockfull of winks and nods to the TV series it is distancing itself from, it doesn’t mention the Eugenics Wars or properly explain Khan’s amazing intellect and physique (he appears as invulnerable as Superman and has genesis blood so no one will ever die again).


After he craftily lures Starfleet’s brain trust into one room, he casually flies to HQ and opens fire. Here’s where I lost it. It’s a heightened security situation so they sit in a room full of windows and the airspace around Starfleet Command apparently isn’t patrolled. Similarly, two Federation ships cross the Klingon border and are undetected, then orbit the homeworld and remain undetected for a while. Really? The warrior race just lets anyone come visit?

The script had some terrific ideas buried under pacing that called for a loud, messy, lens-flare filled action sequence to interrupt every few minutes. It began to feel like a script written with an egg timer. The new characters are introduced and left to be underdeveloped so Admiral Marcus and his daughter, the curvaceous Carol, are pretty much cyphers while the supporting cast gets a few token moments of screen time. (Chekov being a transporter genius sort of makes sense since it’s an extension of navigation but being an engineering whiz stretches the point.)

Michael Giacchino’s wonderful score and Cumberbatch salvage the film from being a complete misfire. We should be thankful that director J.J. Abrams will be a galaxy far, far away when the third film is prepped for the series’ golden anniversary in 2016. Maybe they can actually hire a script editor to smooth over the rough spots.


  • Tom Galloway

    I decided after the first reboot movie that the character called “Chekov” is actually Wesley Crusher with a Russian accent. Since they were determined to have the classic crew running the Enterprise while still at the Academy, if you keep Chekov as being young in comparison to the rest, you pretty much have to make him a child prodigy to justify his being there at all. This movie just reinforced that.

    On the other hand, they at least wrote Scotty as other than comic relief, so Simon Pegg showed he could actually play Scotty rather than a clown.

  • Marc Witz

    I do not think Abrams and his people love Star Trek. I will not see this movie, but did see and liked the first well enough. My impression is they read enough to get some ideas to use and that was it (Perhaps some of your books, Bob!). Abrams work is like cotton candy, it’s light and fluffy, no real substance and you forget about eating it a few hours later, unless it’s made you sick. Add to this mix the studies Paramount made to de-Star Trek, Star Trek — so it would do better at the box office (

    I am now waiting for Abrams to remake Star Wars episodes IV, V and VI into episode VII.

  • Great write-up Bob. Glenn turned me onto it via FB. Your criticisms of Kirk are spot on, the central failing of a terribly flawed film–as I stated in my own review ( ). Though I’m not as jazzed on Cumberbatch as you are. I thought he was terrible. Not just because of a bad script, but because he in no way captured the character. May the force be with Abrams, and may it keep him busy enough to stay away from the third installment!

  • Martin Pasko

    Thanks for this, Bob. I’d already decided, based on what other reviews I’ve read, that I’ll wait for this thing to be available as a rental from Netflix before bothering with it, if at all. But your analysis very cogently explains WHY it might be worth little more than a desultory perusal, and my ego thanks you for validating my instincts. :)

    Your conclusion that the current Paramount honchos have little understanding of the basis of TREK’s enduring appeal, never mind how to exploit it appropriately, is hardly news, though. That’s been readily apparent to me throughout the roughly 20 years since Roddenberry died. The way Paramount goes about dealing with the TREK brand strikes me as not dissimilar from the way Warner Bros. approaches the SUPERMAN brand:

    “This f****n’ thing is an enormous pain in the ass that we’d rather not have to f*** around with, but if we don’t, some asshole on The Street will be crying malfeasance and it’ll be our asses, so we gotta suck it up and do SOME goddamn thing with this shit or we’re history.”

    Which, of course, ALWAYS results in product that the hardcore fans of these brands are DYING to see.


  • Jen in Oz

    I haven’t read too much online about ST:ID (sounds a bit like a disease!) but had a thought the other day, comparing this movie to Wrath of Khan (which I haven’t re-watched, I think, since it came out, but it’s on my soon-to-be-watched list): The original crew must have been much cleverer than the new version of them, since they managed to figure out how to stop Khan in their movie. But the new crew needed hints and assistance from the original Spock.
    Kinda makes you realise the differences between the two crews?

  • DK

    Wow incredibly nit picky. Are internet reviewers even relevant any longer. Bunch of douches with not enough talent to have a real job.

    • Having edited the comic book for eight years and written numerous stories and novels featuring these characters, I would like to think I am more than “a bunch of douches”.

  • Martin Pasko

    I think we can safely assume that whatever this DK person’s “real job” is, it isn’t as an instructor at a charm school.

  • I totally agree with your sentiments, particularly regarding kicking the warp core. I *was* able to enjoy it–until the lights came up and I thought about it, but I don’t have the extensive background you go.
    And lovely to meet you at Balticon–you’re a great moderator on no notice at all.

  • Wrenn

    Martin, I think, also, that we can more than safely assume that DK hadn’t bothered to read either the ‘about’or the ‘bibliography’ sections linked above, in his/her haste to make their sad attempt to dis this review.

  • Jim

    “We should be thankful that director J.J. Abrams will be a galaxy far, far away when the third film is prepped for the series’ golden anniversary in 2016.”

    My thoughts exactly. Great review Bob.

  • Scavenger

    I will agree with “DK” that Bob is picking a bunch of nits, especially where there are so many bigger things to be annoyed by.

    “Pine’s Kirk kicked the hardware into place.”
    The two pieces of the plot device machine weren’t pointing at each other like they were supposed to. He couldn’t move them by hand or the computer, so percussive maintenance. I had no problem with this. He wasn’t just kicking things randomly, but specifically using stronger leg power to align the parts.

    “I didn’t quite get how the detonation of Vulcan meant it was time to start a war with the Klingons.”
    How did Afgani backed Saudis destroying the WTC mean it was time to start a war with the Iraqis? They weren’t exactly subtle here.

    I mean, why harp on those points when you can look at the fan film nature of the movie, what with “actors” doing impressions of the original cast, and every fan servie reference they could think of tossed in. (I’ll give Pine credit there, he isn’t doing a Shatner impression).

    Or the direction misfires…after several bits about THE CHAIR…Kirk not respecting it, Sulu never taking it and being awed by it….they forget to actually stress the moment when Sulu ACTUALLY TAKES THE CHAIR. (And I point to Cho as the best of cast, never once making me think he was impersonating Takei, and never once making me doubt he was playing Sulu.).

    And the Prime Directive stuff…original Kirk would certainly violate to save Spock. Sorry, I don’t buy that complaint. Now, if you want to talk about how everyone ignores that Spock, who in the movie is all YAY Prime Directive, apparently has no problem with violating it (and the laws of physics) by freezing the volcano in the first place, THAT’s a discussion worth having.

  • Although I enjoyed parts of the film, I think you nailed many of the problems it had. Excellent review, Bob. And don’t worry about clueless, anonymous jackasses like DK. He actually thinks implying you don’t have a real job is somehow an effective and original insult; that tells you all you need to know about this brain trust.

  • I have my disagreements with Bob about this movie, but (a) Bob’s opinions do come from an informed place and can still be argued with rationally and (b) “DK” has neither the metaphorical legs to stand on, nor the metaphorical wheelchair fit to sit in. He or she(?) never bothered to make those rational points.

    Scavenger, on the other hand, did. As has Robert J. Sawyer, for another example. The point he’s made about “manufactured threats” on multiple levels – both re: Adm. Marcus and “John Harrison” – sticks in my own mind.

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