Sunday, May 19, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness (w/optional spoilery stuff)

This is the second time in as many weeks I've decided to go see a movie out in the suburbs, spent too long writing something for EFC and this blog, and was unable to catch the train fast enough to get me to Malden Station by the time the bus that would take me the final few miles arrived. Last week, it was not getting to Revere in time to see No One Lives, but at least I could fit Peeples in in between. This time, I found myself kind of gambling that the bus would be as late as usual, and of course it wasn't. The bummer is that I bought my ticket online rather than get to Jordan's Furniture in Reading and find them sold out, so I basically ate $14 once I saw that the bus had passed my stop. Got off the train, walked across a subway platform, and headed back to Boston.

I opted to see it on Boston Common's Imax-branded screen, which should amuse my brother Matt, as the same sort of thing happened four years ago. It wasn't horribly expensive, at least - I had $10 on my Stubs card, so even seeing an Imax-branded show, it was just another $6.75 out of pocket. Twenty bucks and more time on the train than I would have liked; could be worse.

Speaking of four years ago, when I saw Star Trek then, I mentioned that it had a lot of flaws that I might have had more of an issue with if the movie hadn't hit my personal sweet spots so well. This time around, well... I'll talk about the end and stuff after the EFC review link.

Star Trek Into Darkness

* * * (out of four)
Seen 18 May 2013 in AMC Boston Common #2 (first-run, Imax-branded digital 3D)

The opening of Star Trek Into Darkness is everything I want from this new incarnation of the franchise: An adventure on a faraway planet that could happily be dropped into the original series except for the big, movie-scale stunts and effects. And while the filmmakers eventually pile on too much of what the series doesn't need, it remains fairly exciting for a good while.

The way that opening plays out leaves Captain James Kirk (Chris Pine) in hot water with Starfleet Command, but an attack on a Starfleet facility in London has Kirk, Spock (Zachary Quinto), McCoy (Karl Urban), Uhura (Zoe Saldana) and the rest of the crew headed into Klingon space to track down John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), the man responsible for the attack. Well, most of the crew - Scotty (Simon Pegg) was relieved after refusing to sign off on the new-model torpedoes that came on board with the new science officer (Alice Eve), and he's not the only one worried about just how far the mission Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller) has sent them on appears to be from the Federation's principles.

An act of terrorism spurring a government into dangerous military action that may run counter to its laws and values, huh? Well, Star Trek did always pride itself on its stories holding a sci-fi mirror up to the real world back in the day, and it's nice to see Into Darkness giving some attention to that part of the legacy after its predecessor was so much about rebuilding the universe respectfully (important and fun in its way, but undeniably inward-looking). Into Darkness has a fair amount of that continuity maintenance stuff, but it's at least got a foundation of a story that could be interesting beyond what it says about the series itself.

Full review on eFilmCritic.


As I left the movie, a question crossed my mind: Does the highly-secretive J.J. Abrams realize that he's made a movie where thousands of people die because someone is worried about spoilers?

It's maybe not as direct a connection as I thought it was when old-Spock popped up and told new-Spock that he had avoided sharing details of the future because he didn't want to change the latter's destiny, only to soon see the ship Khan had stolen, the U.S.S. Vengeance (yeah, that's a little on-the-nose) plow through San Francisco, toppling buildings, crushing Alcatraz (a bit bitter about a certain show's failure, J.J.?), etc. I didn't like the latter part anyway - beyond seeming as crass and poorly-placed as the destruction of London in G.I. Joe 2, the big action scene continued with the city looking like this massive disaster wasn't taking place, with none of the CGI people and extras appearing to break stride despite the fact that a starship just fell out of the sky and wiped out a huge chunk of the city- but it's the other half that really bugged me.

It bugged me in part because I hate "destiny". Aside from how invoking it is a cheap way for writers to give something more import than it rightly deserves, it's un-American; we're supposed to earn our positions through the strength of our labor and the sweat on our brows, right? And if it's un-American, it's most certainly un-Vulcan; can't you practically hear Spock dismissing it as a romantic, illogical notion that prevents people from seeking real solutions because they are too focused on a silly superstition?

But in this more specific case, I wonder just what Spock has kept mum about. Is the Doomsday Machine going to consume entire Federation worlds because old-Spock is worried about "destiny", just to name one threat the Enterprise faced during the five-year mission? Is he not going to give Earth warning about V'ger, or let them know that finding some humpback whales might be a good idea? It appears Kronos's moon has already exploded in this timeline (perhaps as a result of the Klingons trying to reverse-engineer Nero's 24th-century Romulan mining ship), but there's still the Borg, the Cardassian Wars, and so much more he could prevent.

And by the movie's logic, he absolutely should be trying to. That is, after all, the theme of the entire movie: When you see a chance to do good, save lives, and help people, you take it. The movie starts with new-Spock lowering himself into an exploding volcano to save the residents of a planet they were surveying, and then Kirk ignoring the Prime Directive to save his friend. Scotty won't back down from his concerns about the torpedoes and later undertakes a clandestine mission off the books, Carol Marcus hacks her way into the Enterprise crew, and pretty much the entire bridge crew pressures Kirk into doing the right thing rather than blindly following orders. Old-Spock holding back is completely counter to its philosophy, and it's a shame he's not called on it.

Of course, he could have been sharing information with Starfleet and just not telling his younger self and friends about it; that would certainly explain why Starfleet had found the Botany Bay and had Khan defrosted long enough to work on stuff for them well before the time when the Enterprise discovered it in the original timeline's "Space Seed". Then, he could have presented that as a counter-argument in favor of the Prime Directive and the like, that by altering the natural order of events, he had helped precipitate this crisis. The movie doesn't get into this, though, even though it's potentially the most interesting question in the movie, science-fictionally.

And wondering how Khan Noonian Singh is running around sort of ignores the question of just how much he's Khan in name only. Overlook the lack of any sort of resemblance between Ricardo Montalban and Benedict Cumberbatch (although the guy the producers originally wanted, Benicio Del Toro, would have been much closer), this Khan is just kind of boring. He's intense and angry and not much else. Where's the charm of Montalban's Khan that seduced this ship's historian, and the grandiosity? He was brought back for the movies because he was fun to watch, which isn't really the case here. Now, sure, circumstances are different - this is a laser-focused Khan putting the fate of his genetically-engineered peers first, executing a plan that doesn't seem to make sense at all (he'd have to predict a lot to figure on Kirk bringing his people to him, and I don't think anyone's that smart) rather than using what resources he has to improvise, but even if that makes sense, it's still a mistake: The fun of both "Space Seed" and The Wrath of Khan is that both Khan and Kirk are smart, cunning warriors both on a battlefield and in sizing opponents up personally. Those things are what made him the closest thing James T. Kirk has to a nemesis, and they're sorely missing.

Instead - and this may be the film's biggest sin - Abrams and company just rely on name recognition. Khan is an alpha villain because we know Khan is an alpha villain. Similarly, two of the biggest moments in the finale - the admittedly clever role-reversal of Kirk being temporarily killed as he tries to stabilize the warp core (in a Kirkishly physical manner, as opposed to Spock's methodical work in Star Trek II) and Spock screaming Khan's name - rely on the audience knowing the previous material, and I kind of think they shouldn't. 2009's Star Trek took great pains to rebuild the franchise as something that could be approached fresh because the fifty years of accumulated history no longer mattered, and suddenly going back to the "prior experience required" mode is, I think, a real mistake.


Now, I admit, these are things that basically are only going to really jump out at someone who has followed the franchise for thirty years and also has a tendency to pull stories apart to see how they work - so, basically, me. But I do think that people notice these things, and that's why I hope that when the next Star Trek movie is done for the fiftieth anniversary, they take it as a chance to truly get back to basics: Adventure in deep space with great effects and a smile, no continuity necessary.

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