Star Trek Into Darkness Analysis

Star Trek Into Darkness posterSo. Have you all seen Star Trek Into Darkness, the new Star Trek movie?

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.

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12 responses to “Star Trek Into Darkness Analysis

  1. Reblogged this on misentopop.

  2. I think you’re pretty much spot on. I read somewhere that there are 3 types of Star Trek fans. Die-hards of the original that hate the new movies, fans of the new movies that think the originals were boring, and fans of the original that are just happy that something Star Trek is still being made. I guess I’m the 3rd type. I was totally happy with (most) of the original stuff and the higher focus on the characters than on action. But I am glad I can still see Star Trek in a theater. I’ve seen them all on the big screen except the 1st one. I remember seeing Star Trek II at a drive in theater, when those where still around.

    I agree with your assessment of Spock and Kirk. They really haven’t been through much yet to have that strong of a bond, and the way Spock is always 2nd guessing him – I would not want him as my 1st officer.

    I do like the throw-backs-lines to the original series and some of the comedic aspects. My favorite original Star Trek film was probably the silliest, and the one without the Enterprise, number IV about the hump back wales. This was due to the comedy. Spock trying to use expletives, Checkov saying Nuclear wessel, Dr. McCoy curing that old lady, etc. etc.

    So I guess as a long term fan I’d be happy with more of a character story (than a shoot ’em up), I’m still happy that Star Trek is living long and once again prospering!

  3. I haven’t seen this film yet, but the relationship with Uhura is already a huge turn off. I had serious credibility problems with the first film because it was obvious no one bothered to understand the military ranks they were using. A captain, as it was used in the navy rank, is one step away from admiral — and a lieutenant, which is a fairly junior rank, jumps all that chain? Where were the rest of the officers that were in between? The Uhura romance violates military principles, too. Seriously, how many senior officers have been in the newspaper for doing this?!

    It would have helped if someone had taken the time to understand the military instead of just doing what they wanted.

  4. Brian, I admit I’m in the “die-hard fan” category, but I’ve talked to a lot of long-time fans who really liked the reboot. And you have a good point…at least Star Trek is still around!

    Linda, I don’t have the military ranks ingrained in my head like you do, but I agree that the Spock/Uhura relationship is problematic for that reason, and I can sure see how the treatment of the ranks in these movies would drive you up the wall!

  5. I didn’t think I was a die-hard fan till I saw these new movies. Now I suddenly understand the uproar about XMen First Class (which i loved, but my comic book reading friends hated) and the new Doctor Who series (which i love, but my old school DW friends say is nothing like the original).

    I found the Uhura/Spock thing to be distracting to the point of silly. I felt no sympathy for Kirk whatsoever, and i found Admiral Marcus to be completely over the top. How have these unprofessional people not been kicked out of Star Fleet for all these shenanigans? I’m completely blaming J J Abrams. His directing style does absolutely nothing for me.

  6. Redhead, I hear you on the die-hard fan thing. I’m not a comics reader, so when the latest Batman movie took some liberties with canon, I didn’t notice, and plenty of the foreshadowing went over my head. And I enjoyed the new Doctor Who and the new Battlestar Galactica without knowing much about the originals. Just…don’t mess with my Star Trek. 😉

    Kicking them all out of Starfleet (and JJ Abrams, while we’re at it)? Hear, hear. Sigh.

  7. I’m not a die-hard fan of the original series/movies – I got into Star Trek with TNG, DS9 and Voyager. I’ve seen the early movies, but can barely remember them. So… I’m really enjoying the reboots in general, although can identify with your issues. I think the Spock/Kirk relationship in Reboot#1 was built really well — although found it somewhat ridiculous for Kirk to end up as a captain for multiple reasons (teenage behaviour among them!). I agree with what’s been said here about their relationship in Into Darkness.

    I can’t help but wonder whether some of the pulled punches are due to these movies fitting into such an early timeline — one assumes before the original series. I mean, everyone KNOWS Kirk doesn’t die, so why try to fool the audience into thinking he does? I also took it that this movie pre-dates the original Khan episodes and movie.

    Bottom line: I enjoyed Into Darkness a lot, although didn’t think too much about it… I enjoyed your analysis.

  8. Ellen, I think you’re right, the development of their relationship was better in the first reboot. They went from being completely at odds to having at least the seeds of a friendship (and a working professional relationship). If they’d built on that and grown closer over the course of the sequel, I might have bought Spock’s reaction to Kirk’s death.

    As far as the timeline goes, it’s completely out the window thanks to all the setup with Nero. This is another universe now — anything can happen. The writers can bring in characters and events from the original canon (as indeed they did!) but they aren’t obligated to follow any of it.

    The one exception *could* be events that are independent of the whole Vulcan shebang. For example, Klingon politics should proceed as usual. Of course, the events of the last movie may have far-reaching and unexpected consequences — for example, the future tech may affect the speed of engineering developments in Starfleet. And the writers can make the same argument for anything they like (and I expect they probably will). But it’d be a nice nod to continuity if they let *some* things happen the same way as before.

    [/total Trek nerdery]

  9. I finally saw Star Trek yesterday. (I’d saved your blog because of the spoilers.)
    Brian – I agree with the 3 types of fans – I am in #3, happy they have brought back Star Trek.
    I like the reboot with the new time line where anything can happen. That is, after all, the only way they could have brought back the series.
    In the first movie, it was Unexpected seeing the Spock-Uhura relationship.
    I guess we have to assume they have different military standards of conduct in the future.
    Yes, it was a bit over the top with the “death of Kirk” sequence. And, yes, the Kirk-Spock relationship is not quite there yet. I don’t think it’s supposed to be. This is still all PRE the original series.
    Hmmm, it feels like I am defending this movie… I did enjoy it. But I would have preferred more character development scenes and less action scenes.

    Very thoughtful analysis, Siri, and I’ve enjoyed reading everyone’s comments.

  10. Suzanne, thanks so much for coming back and weighing in! (And thanks for the compliment!) Good point about Kirk and Spock — their relationship has to have somewhere to go from here in future movies, and they really haven’t known each other for very long yet, especially compared to the original versions of their characters. It’ll be fun watching their camaraderie develop.

  11. I feel like Uhura/Spock is ONLY because it was meant to be the first interracial kiss and interspecies kiss back in TOS, and Shatner threw a fit and made them change it to Uhura/Kirk.

    What I think about the reboot is that they chose a specific point at which this new timeline shot off. What no one considers is that therefore, every piece of history that the original series set up is technically canon for the reboot. Khan was said to be alive in 1990’s Eugenics Wars, as I recall… so whilst a reboot does not ever have to do anything with Khan, he still technically exists in the rebooted universe.

    I decide that in my novel, six hundred years ago, a woman went crazy and built herself into a temple, waiting for a god to release her. Instead, six hundred years later, my heroine releases her by accident.

    Two years later, I decide to write a story set in the same universe, but two hundred years earlier. And I don’t care if I invalidate the first novel, because this will go into a new ‘verse. That woman is still there in that temple. I don’t have to do anything with it. But she’s there. Unless I’m adjusting that specific piece of history–and I haven’t said I am–she exists, whether it’s mentioned or not.

    Additionally, Kirk should have stayed dead. I would have CHEERED.

  12. Yes. The writers should really be considering the things that *aren’t* affected by the reboot — including all the history between our time and theirs, and also including things that had nothing to do with the whole Romulan/Vulcan/Nero mess. For example, Cardassian history during this time period should proceed just the same way as it was presented as in TNG and DS9.

    OTOH, you can argue that small things may have unforeseen consequences (the butterfly effect) — maybe a key event in Cardassian history depends on something that DID get affected by Nero’s actions — which means the writers can do whatever the hell they want. But it’d be nice if they at least made a nod to the former theory.

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