By 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.
Screenwriters 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.
By 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.