Oh, Star Trek, I am disappoint.
Warning: spoilers forthcoming, because I do have to explain why I was disappointed with the film.
I watched Star Trek (2009) prior to seeing Star Trek Into Darkness (STID). It remains a fun and energetic movie, though the second half suffers from rather bad writing. Abrams was able to make it work by keeping things moving, and with the performances from everyone involved that refreshed the original Star Trek mythos.
STID… not so much. It’s a solid action movie with several great set pieces and a truly great performance from Benedict Cumberbatch, but the writing is pretty bad again, with Abrams unable to pull the film from the lack of originality it has.
Let’s start with the good though. Obviously Cumberbatch as Khan, he was masterful. He’s a terrific actor in general, having watched some Sherlock Holmes, but also random movies he’s appeared in that I didn’t even realize he was in (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy; Atonement). He plays Khan like a mad genius, or as mad a genius as you can get with how shaky he was written. He commands one of the film’s best scenes though, where he’s interrogated in the brig, and talking about his “family”. So much power and raw emotion there.
All of the returning stars get something to do as well, for the most part. Scotty (Simon Pegg) does a lot more this time around. Sulu (John Cho) starts demonstrating that he has captain chops. Chekov (Anton Yelchin) becomes chief engineer over a moral quandry. And Uhura (Zoe Saldana) speaks Klingon, or something. It took me a moment to remember that she did something worthwhile other than “stare at Spock [insert emotion adverb here]“. Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto, as Kick and Spock, both hit their roles again. Quinto is actually pretty good here, blending the logical Vulcan side of Spock with his emotional human side. The last half hour or so has him fighting that balance, with an event that sets him off and unleashes a new kind of fury within him (though that’s wasted completely, see further). Oh, and Bones (Karl Urban) helps save the day too.
The special effects are a definite improvement over the first film. The Enterprise looks sleek and impressive (though I still don’t know where anything is at inside that ship), the military ship the Vengeance looks appropriately intimidating, and several sequences involving those ships were well done. The warp trail was a neat touch too. The score was amazing as well.
This was a well directed film in general – no real incompetence about it – and if you’re able to ignore the glaring problems forthcoming, then you’ll probably enjoy it. It isn’t as fun as the previous film, but there are some fun sequences in it (the opening sequence on Niburu, the interaction between the crew of the Enterprise), and there are things to definitely enjoy in the film.
*spoilery bits probably start here* But then stupid things happen, and you almost want to get sucked out of a cargo bay door to get away from it.
The biggest thing: Khan. The promotion for this film, or at least his reveal, was handled poorly. Is it just some guy named John Harrison, or is he really Khan, and they’re going in that direction with the film (I had mentioned Schroedinger’s Khan to a friend, and that’s what it felt like)? He was Khan though, and when he said his name… nothing. I didn’t feel the shocking reveal or the clever twist as, say, Iron Man 3 with the Mandarin. Then again, I don’t think it was intended that way, since Khan continued to talk of his plight, but I didn’t feel any emotional resonance there. I just didn’t care, honestly.
And I think from there is when the film, running decently at this point, stumbles and falls apart, and just rehashes the better parts of Wrath of Khan, or at least what I can recall. There are tons of red herrings with the conspiracy theory plotting – is Khan the bad guy doing the good guys? is Admiral Marcus the good guy doing the bad guys work? (Does anyone really care?) The role reversal in the warp core would have worked better if Kirk stayed dead longer than ten minutes, but the emotional resonance from that scene (and it was probably the most heartfelt scene in the film, judging by the sizable amount of sobs heard in the theater) was undermined minutes later. At least Spock stayed dead between films!
Oh, and Spock yelling “Khan” made me cringe. I can’t remember if I wanted to laugh, but it just felt wrong.
The thing that took me out of the film completely happened a bit earlier, when future Spock showed up to discuss the plot. It was just frustrating, and instead of showing us how the crew of the Enterprise would discover Khan being a evil dude, they called future Spock to have him tell us.
And this, I think, reveals a problem with this alternate reality universe they made with these Star Trek films. They can, at any time, call future Spock to ask him about a big bad threat, listen to the same spiel of the temporal prime directive, and then say “fuck it, I’ll tell them anyway.” He’s their ultimate deus ex machina (Jean just quipped “Spock ex machina”, which nails it), and that will forever prevent this crew from doing anything original because of their connection to future Spock.
There were other stupid things as well, some examples include: a post-9/11/terrorism theme that would have worked if the film was better but just feels tossed into it to add some relevance; terrible macguffins scattered throughout (mobile transwrap teleportation device? Khan’s blood?); and the question of whether Alice Eve served any other function besides fan service. In the end, it’s the lack of original ideas and the constant recursion to the original Star Trek universe that killed this film for me. I blame the writers, or at least Orci and Kurtzman. I didn’t actually sense Lindelof’s hand here much: his Big Ideas were rather muted, and everything did more or less wrap up, unlike the mess he made with Prometheus. Orci and Kurtzman wrote the first film though, and while I gave them the benefit of the doubt there (between how rushed Star Trek felt and how much Michael Bay redid Transformers 2 to the disaster piece that became), I can’t this time. I doubt Abrams will be back for the third film, since he has Star Wars coming in two years, but if Orci and Kurtzman are back for the next film, consider me out. They’re just not good at all.
In summary, Star Trek Into Darkness is a well directed and nicely produced film, but bereft of any original ideas. I am truly disappoint.
She also stunned the shit out of Khan, so that was cool.
Gotta say, Peter Weller played the hell out of that role. He was a generic villain (“I want to start a war hurhurhur”), but a well played generic villain.
This sequence looked like it was filmed after the fact too, given how weirdly it looks compared to stuff that happens before and after. Or they probably just called Nimoy to deliver the monologue and have him on his way. Either way, it’s a dumb part of the film that just ruined it for me.
Jean and I both wondered whether Eve’s character (Dr Carol Marcus, the daughter of Admiral Marcus, one of the bad guys in the film) was in league with Khan or not. That stuck with me until she ran up to the bridge when the Enterprise was under attack and pleaded to speak with her father. So, yeah, fan service and nothing more.