Mr. Spock (Zachary Quinto) and Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) interrogate the Osama-bin-Laden-like antagonist (Benedict Cumberbatch) of “Star Trek Into Darkness.”
I wanted to like “Star Trek Into Darkness” much more than I actually did. I even saw it in 3D at my local IMAX (I got a good discount, but still…).
This contains ample spoilers, so, if you are intent on seeing “Into Darkness” without any surprises/“surprises” being ruined for you, don’t read this now. Come back after you’ve seen it if you remember to do so. Otherwise, read on:
I won’t rehash the plot of “Into Darkness.” You can get the plot points anywhere else. I’ll just delve right into what works and doesn’t work.
I’m fine with the band of new actors who now play the characters from the original “Trek” series. I’m not a “Trekkie,” so this isn’t something like blasphemy to me.
That said, while Zachary Quinto’s Mr. Spock is good — although one might argue that it doesn’t take a great actor to play a character who, for the most part, is not allowed to display human emotions — Chris Pine’s Captain Kirk is a bit flat and reduces the character to maybe one notch above a frat boy. I don’t remember the original Captain Kirk (William Shatner’s, I mean, of course) being this testosterone driven.
Indeed, the macho persona that is built around Chris Pine’s Kirk is driven into the ground. We get it already: He’s reckless. He’s a maverick. He loves a bar fight and he loves him some pussy — and it doesn’t even have to be human pussy. Please, give me Captain Picard over this shit.
The banter and bickering back and forth about Spock’s logic and reason and discipline and restraint and adherence to the rules and Kirk’s impulsiveness and maverickiness and his compulsive rule-breaking gets very tiresome, as we’ve seen this schtick countless times before in the original television series and in the films. “Into Darkness” doesn’t improve upon it — it only regurgitates it.
Yes, rebooting a franchise runs the risk of just repeating all of it because the film industry these days is all out of fucking ideas.
That’s the idea that you get when you discover that the super-human bad guy in “Into Darkness” (played by Benedict Cumberbatch as well as the character can be played) actually is Khan, the same genetically-engineered bad-guy character from “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.” Only you — or at least I — didn’t get this right off the bat, because the British-born Cumberbatch looks nothing like the Mexican-born Ricardo Montalban.
I’m fine with some of “Into Darkness'” use of references to earlier “Trek” episodes, such as the appearance of the tribble, which, sadly, I found to be more effective than the cameo of the ancient Leonard Nimoy, who, I’m thinking, might still appear in “Star Trek” films even after his death (Spock never dies, right?) — but I found important plot points of “Into Darkness” to be blatant rip-offs of earlier “Trek” films.
Kirk saving the ship even though to do this he must expose himself to a lethal level of radiation was ripped right out of “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan,” only this time it is savior Kirk instead of savior Spock who is exposed to the lethal radiation, and therefore the touching scene in “Star Trek II” where it’s a dying-of-radiation-exposure Spock inside of the Plexiglass enclosure and Kirk on the outside of it is just reversed in “Into Darkness.”
And Spock’s primal yelling of “Khaaaaaaan!” in “Into Darkness” is, of course, just a reversal of the moment in “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” where it’s Kirk who’s doing the yelling.
I guess that this paean to “Star Trek II” was supposed to thrill “Trek” fans, but it made me just feel ripped off. It looked like incredibly lazy and uncreative screenwriting to me. I could have stayed home and watched “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” if I’d wanted to. I don’t see why the second installment of the “Star Trek” movie reboot had to take so much from the original movie franchise’s second installment.
Maybe there is hope for the third installment of the reboot, though. Recall that the third original “Star Trek” movie, subtitled “The Search for Spock,” was all about reviving the Mr. Spock who had died at the end of “Star Trek II.”
At the end of “Into Darkness,” Kirk is brought back to life after his death from radiation exposure in a quick-and-dirty, very apparently scientifically unsound manner (ditto for the revived tribble), and all is well, even though we, the audience, if we have two brain cells to rub together, feel ripped off by this all-too-easy, convenient wrapping of everything up in the film’s final moments — even if we can breathe a sigh of relief that the next “Star Trek” movie apparently won’t be subtitled “The Search for Kirk.”
Anyway, you have to earn a sappy ending, and “Into Darkness” just thrusts one onto us, like the creature in “Prometheus” homoerotically (but very sadomasochistically) thrusts its huge penis-like appendage down that humanoid’s throat at the end of that film.
Speaking of which, I’d had high hopes for last summer movie season’s “Prometheus,” too, which is why I saw it also in 3D at my local IMAX theater (only I got no discount that time…).
But what “Prometheus” and “Star Trek Into Darkness” have in common is that they both take source sci-fi material that once was very popular and successful and remix it, but not in a way that improves upon the source material; as I indicated above, they do it in a way that suggests that Hollywoodland is just all out of fucking ideas.
And both films put flashiness above originality and better-thought-out plot points, apparently believing that if the special effects are good enough, the audience won’t notice anything else, or at least will forgive anything else.
That said, as pure summer-movie entertainment (which, I believe, is meant to be fairly mindless by definition), “Into Darkness” is watchable, more so than “Prometheus,” because “Prometheus” (as I noted in my review of it last year) has so many inconsistencies in it that it had you leaving the theater pondering all of the shit that didn’t make sense.
“Star Trek” always has asked us to suspend our disbelief, so we are willing to be more forgiving for lapses of logic and reason in “Star Trek” fare than Mr. Spock might ever be, but there’s no fucking excuse for “Star Trek Into Darkness” to have ripped off “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” (and even “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock”) so fucking much.
My grade: B-
P.S. I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about the political points and comparisons to recent history that “Into Darkness” very apparently is trying to make.
Apparently “Into Darkness'” Khan is supposed to be something like an Osama bin Laden — you know, Bad-Guy Terrorist No. 1 — and Khan’s destruction of a Starfleet military installation that is disguised as a peaceful archive apparently is supposed to be like the destruction of the World Trade Center.
So we have Kirk — your typical testosterone-fueled white guy — wanting to go after Khan and snuffing him, and you have Mr. Spock arguing that no, the law — and fairness and justice — require that Khan be captured alive and put on trial.
Khan is captured alive — although only because he allows himself to be — but after Kirk’s short-lived death that Khan at least indirectly is responsible for, a now-enraged-over-Kirk’s-death Spock goes after Khan with even more intensity and rage than Kirk initially had intended to go after Khan.
So what’s the message here? Are we to gather from Spock’s actions that it’s OK — indeed, that it’s probably preferable — to kill the “bad guy” out of a sense of outrage and revenge rather than to capture him and put him on trial? (I use quotation marks because at least in “Into Darkness” we learn that Khan has his own reasons for his “terrorist” actions, regardless of what we think of his actions and/or his reasoning behind them — much as with the case of Osama bin Laden.)
Are we to take from “Into Darkness” that Spock’s initial call for restraint is always, or at least usually, bullshit? That immediate militant retaliation is always, or at least usually, the best solution?
If so, what kind of message is this to pump out into the popular culture of a nation that, in no small part because of its popular culture, eschews intellectualism and restraint and prefers reckless violent retaliation (even if it’s “retaliation” against the wrong fucking party or nation) as it already fucking is?
And if you think that my comparison of “Star Trek Into Darkness” to current-day events and politics is a stretch, then why does director J.J. Abrams, at the end of the film, dedicate it to post-9/11 veterans?
Do Abrams and his three screenwriters view those who fought in Vietraq as heroes or as dupes? Or as duped heroes? I mean, since Iraq had had absofuckinglutely nothing to do with 9/11 or with Osama bin Laden, what can we say of those veterans? What can we say of veterans who were so incredibly misused, who essentially were used as stormtroopers for Dick Cheney’s Halliburton and for other subsidiaries of BushCheneyCorp (including, of course, Big Oil), whose intent was to gain no-bid federal government contracts for their war profiteering and, of course, to steal Iraq’s oil for the oil mega-corporations’ profits? Who are the good guys again?
I left “Star Trek Into Darkness” with the unpleasant feeling that perhaps J.J. Abrams meant it to be a statement of the moral superiority of the United States of America over other nations — a virtual recruiting ad for the U.S. military, even.
I mean, fuck, “Into Darkness” opens with officers of the Enterprise saving a planet of “savages” that don’t look different enough from the “savages” that the white man once “saved” here on Earth (these “Star Trek” “savages” even chuck spears at our so-called heroes, for fuck’s sake).
True, the character of the corrupt Admiral Marcus (played by former RoboCop Peter Weller) in “Into Darkness” demonstrates that not all of those in Starfleet are morally superior and advanced — indeed, the character of Admiral Marcus seems to be a stand-in for someone like Dick Cheney — but still, it seems to me, the take-home message from “Into Darkness” is that whatever the always-well-meaning U.S. military fucks up pales in comparison to all that it gets right, and “Star Trek Into Darkness” keeps alive the myth of the studly white man as the perma-hero to the extent that I have an idea for the title of the next “Star Trek” film: “Star Trek: The White Man’s Burden.”