Star Trek: Into Darkness

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

The problems with Star Trek Into Darkness are fairly evident in the pre-title sequence–an extended set-piece in which the crew of the Enterprise attempt to detonate a “cold fusion” bomb in order to freeze a volcano that is about to destroy a primitive world (“cold fusion”–I’m not making that up).

Kirk and McCoy are being chased by the natives–we don’t really know why. The Enterprise is on the bottom of an ocean–we don’t really know why (we’re led to believe they’re hiding there, so that the natives won’t look up to the sky and see the Enterprise in orbit…yet somehow they managed to land the damn thing just outside a major city without anybody noticing). Improbabilities continue to pile up, and I pretty quickly got the message J.J. Abrams seemed to be attempting to communicate: this movie will be entertaining but dumb.

That’s not a bad thing, necessarily, but this is Star Trek, and I guess I expect better. This was the dumbest entry in the movie franchise since Star Trek V, and that was a film that had the crew journey to the center of the galaxy to meet God–and no, I’m not making that up either.

The thing of it is that Abrams and crew made a lot of decisions in Star Trek Into Darkness that were for dramatic purposes and dramatic purposes only, but many of them just didn’t play very well to anybody who bothers to give them even a moment’s thought. The larger problems have been discussed elsewhere (like the fact that Star Fleet’s war room, apparently, has a full wall of windows), but here’s a smaller thing that I found unintentionally funny. Slight spoilers here.

There is a fight sequence between Spock and Khan toward the end of the film in which Khan is getting the upper hand. At this point, the Enterprise crew have the opportunity to beam down anybody to assist Spock, so who do they send? The ship’s communications officer, of course! They’ve got a boatfull of trained security personnel, but they send Uhura with a phaser and a mini-skirt. Of course it had to be Uhura, because there was a subplot involving a lover’s spat between Uhura and Spock, and saving Spock’s life was deemed essential to closing out that thread–showing that she has forgiven him. But man…it’s just dumb.

“But, Justin,” you may be saying. “Nobody wants to see Spock rescued by some random redshirt.” To which I say, “Exactly! Which is why a better idea would have been to not write that scene at all. Let Spock defeat Khan on his own.”

Oh, and they could beam somebody onto a moving vehicle , but they couldn’t just beam Khan and Spock off?! Hell–they can, apparently, teleport people from Earth to the Klingon homeworld (I’m not making that up either)!

These sound like nitpicks in the context of a brief review, but over the course of an entire film, they began to grate on me. Though to be sure, it was more than the accumulation of these logical problems and plot holes that offended my analytical brain: the characters were problematic for me, as well. Particularly Captain Kirk and Khan.

The former, because he just isn’t written as a very competent starship captain, and it seems wholly inconceivable to me that this character would have ever been given his own command. Compare to Shatner as Kirk in the original series, who was effortlessly charming, but also authoritative, wickedly smart, and wide open to the expert advice of his crew–that character is a natural leader, whereas Chris Pine really just feels to me like a kid playing dress up as Captain Kirk. I don’t blame Pine for that, necessarily. I blame the poor writing that mischaracterizes Captain Kirk, emphasizing Kirk as testosterone-soaked action hero rather than a savvy commander.

On a related matter, Star Trek Into Darkness trades too heavily on decades of camaraderie between Kirk and Spock. In this film, they barely even seem to like each other, yet the emotional climax of the film relies upon us believing they love each other. It didn’t work for me.

Star_Trek_Into_Darkness_Kirk_Spock_Cumberbatch-610x406[1]With regards to Khan–and yes, I’m going to just assume that everybody knows he’s the villain of this film–I just didn’t care for Benedict Cumberbatch’s portrayal. He had the evil part down, but none of the charm required for the character. It was a very one-dimensional interpretation. Perhaps that’s down to the writing, but Cumberbatch didn’t bring anything noteworthy to the role, and the character, himself, is just uninteresting, with a set of strangely muddy motivations.

In the original Star Trek, Khan is a man of vision–ableit a twisted, evil vision–as well as great passion and intellect. He is fascinating as a leader of men, which is why he counterbalances Kirk so well. For Into Darkness, the filmmakers have reduced him to something somehow petty. A solo operator who doesn’t seem to have any purpose beyond destroying Starfleet. Maybe that’s John Harrison (the pseudonym used by the character in order to attempt to deceive the audience–another contrived story device), but it’s not Khan.

So why should you see Star Trek Into Darkness? Well, primarily, it looks amazing. And on the whole, it is entertaining but for a lull somewhere in the middle. Action sequences are well-conceived and well-realized. The musical score by Michael Giacchino is fantastic. And I suppose there are other reasons.

But as a Trek fan reviewing for other Trek fans, I can’t say that I wholeheartedly recommend it–or even, necessarily, recommend it at all.

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