Then let’s talk about it. Please note: this is not a review, it’s an analysis. There will be spoilers (I’ll post a warning where they start)! And, er, it got a bit long. Apparently I have many thoughts….
Star Trek: The First Reboot
I had very mixed feelings about the first reboot film. I understand that the producers wanted to make Star Trek more appealing to a younger crowd, less bogged down in its own history. Having recently rewatched several of the older films, much as I love them, I can see why they felt it was necessary. If you weren’t already a fan, you’d be lost.
But they ended up making a film that, to me, felt like a generic science fiction flick. There was none of the “sense of wonder”, the delight in science, the “infinite diversity in infinite combination”, that was such a central part of the TV versions of Star Trek. The films were always more action-y than the episodes, but the best of them always had something science-y to make you feel awe – the Genesis project, the whales, saving humanity’s first contact with the Vulcans. The movie didn’t have any of that (Red Matter notwithstanding).
As well, I couldn’t get over seeing the new actors in the familiar parts. It felt like a tribute band. No matter how well they performed (and they did a good job, especially Spock), I couldn’t suspend my disbelief – I never forgot that I was watching actors. Funny, since I was perfectly happy to accept Red Matter and exploding planets and even time travel and universe rebooting, but there you have it.
So I approached the sequel with trepidation. But I went, because it was still Star Trek.
Star Trek Into Darkness: A Quick Review
In general, I was pleasantly surprised. The sequel felt more like a Star Trek movie to me than the first one did. I’m not sure exactly why, because “sense of wonder” was still pretty much absent. Maybe the actors were getting more comfortable in the roles; the character arcs were moving a little closer to the older versions we know so well (more about that later!); we didn’t have to spend half the movie getting all the crew members into place.
But. Most of the things I didn’t like about the first one cropped up again in the sequel, and that’s what I’m going to talk about next…
Having Your Cake and Eating It Too
A common problem I find with recent action movies is the tendency to pull their punches. Instead of making a decision and having to suffer because of the consequences, our hero makes a decision, we suffer emotionally along with him (it’s usually a him) for his sacrifice, and then he magically gets handed the other thing after all. If he works really really hard and manages to get both things, that’s okay. If the other thing falls into his lap, that’s not okay.
For example, certain superhero movies have featured a hero sacrificing himself to save a city…and then it turns out he’s not dead after all. We mourn along with the other characters, and then it turns out our mourning was all for nothing. We feel cheated.
Counter-example: the 2002 Spider-Man, where Peter Parker is constantly being made to choose between his real life and his superhero life, with sometimes dire consequences when he gets it wrong…and then he has to live with what he’s done.
Another counter-example: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Spock sacrifices himself to save the ship. Sure, he comes back to life, but it takes a whole ‘nother movie (two if you count the time it takes to settle back into his own brain properly) AND the Enterprise is destroyed and Kirk’s son is killed in the process. Now that is pulling no punches. Eventually Spock is revived and Kirk gets awarded a new Enterprise, but they have to go through a lot to get there.
(Big spoilers follow! I’m not kidding!)
In Star Trek Into Darkness, the roles are reversed, and it’s Kirk who goes into the radiation chamber to die in service to his crew. I didn’t mind that – it reflects his character growth nicely. It even makes Spock face up to his grief over the destruction of Vulcan (though I have quibbles about the way it was done…see below). But then they bring him back to life! In the same movie! Argh!
Here’s another example that bugged the heck out of me. Early in the movie, Kirk gets the Enterprise taken away from him because of his shenanigans. Good. Great! Make him suffer. (I’m not a sadist, just a writer, I swear.) But then he’s given the post of first officer…on the Enterprise. As soon as that happened, I knew Pike was toast, because who gets to take over if the captain dies? Yup – the first officer. Sigh.
Funny thing here. The writers had the perfect opportunity to do this in a better way. The baddie flees to Kronos, the Klingon homeworld – “the one place he knows we can’t follow him”. (And yet, they do. Another pulled punch.) This would have been the perfect time for Admiral Marcus to send a disgraced former captain on a clandestine mission not on the Enterprise (because the Klingons totally won’t notice a ship like that coming…). Admiral Marcus could have followed on the Enterprise and Kirk would have gotten his captain’s seat back after all in the ensuing fight. Or the admiral could even have sent him off on the Enterprise in a very unofficial capacity so he could be written off as a “renegade captain” in case of discovery. Either option would have made Kirk suffer for longer and have to really prove himself worthy of that chair. Sigh.
Kirk’s and Spock’s Character Arcs
I’ve already talked a little about Kirk’s character growth. In the opening sequence, he’s the same risk-taker and rule-breaker we saw in the first film. He’s behaving like a teenager.
Over the course of the movie, he grows up without completely losing his edge. The Enterprise gets taken away (and then given back), he loses his mentor/father figure, he has to learn to take responsibility for others’ lives and respect the position of captain, and lastly, he must sacrifice himself for his crew (temporarily). All of that is good stuff, aside from the pulled punches. It made me finally start to like the character.
Spock, on the other hand…oy. His relationship with Uhura is so unprofessional and unprofessionally handled, it drives me up the wall. I liked the idea of him walling off his emotions to cope with the loss of Vulcan and then being pushed to the breaking point and forced to “feel” again, but the way it was done is so unsubtle and, well overdone.
Kirk’s death is basically just there to give Spock his emotional catharsis (nobody else changes much due to the death – not even Kirk himself!). Even in the direst emotional straits, Leonard Nimoy’s Spock would never have yelled “KHAAAAAAN!” and then gotten into a fistfight with the baddie. That’s just not the Spock we know and love. Sigh.
I also had trouble buying their friendship. There’s a fine line between antagonism and emotional/verbal fencing, and to me, their relationship in this film tends to come down on the side of antagonism. They haven’t yet begun to truly rely on each other; they’re not in tune; they don’t seem to have fun with the fencing the way Spock and McCoy do in the original version.
So I had trouble believing it when Kirk says he thinks of Spock as a friend, and when Kirk’s death tips Spock over the edge. They’re getting there, but to me, they aren’t there yet.
Revisiting Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
(Really big spoilers!)
Thus far, I’ve avoided mentioning the identity of the bad guy. But we now know it’s Khan. The movie is too different to be called a retelling of Star Trek II, but it might qualify as a pastiche due to all the echoes.
So how well does it work?
Khan as a villain is a bit weaker than the original, simply because there’s no prior history. His actions in Star Trek II are all Kirk’s fault, however indirectly, which means that everything that follows – Spock’s and David’s deaths, the destruction of the Enterprise – is also arguably Kirk’s fault. Now that’s consequences. And of course the new Khan is played completely differently from the old Khan. But otherwise…he’s stronger, smarter, and more resourceful than our heroes, which makes for great conflict.
The other echoes worked less well for me, simply because of those pulled punches again. The Enterprise burns up in the atmosphere…almost. A beloved crew member dies…almost. Some of the dialogue from the radiation death scene in Star Trek II is repeated, which I did like for the resonance it held. (That’s one of my favourite scenes in all of Star Trek.)
What’s Next for Star Trek?
I noticed a couple of dangling plot threads, and couldn’t help but wonder if they were there as set-up for a third movie:
- Carol Marcus (or at least a completely unrelated female scientist with her name) is introduced but doesn’t play a very big role, even though there are hints that she could be a love interest for Kirk.
- The Klingons show up, but not for much more than a cameo.
- And of course, Khan isn’t actually killed.
Are these the seeds of Part 3? Only time will tell….
Your turn! What did you think of Star Trek Into Darkness? I’d love to hear from you, whether or not you agree with my opinion!
If you liked this post, you might also like my posts on re-watching the older Star Trek films. You can find them here.