So . . . in my initial reaction post, I expressed my disappointment with this movie. Walking out of the theatre, I thought it an “eh, enjoyable” action flick but a depressingly terrible Star Trek film. I ranted a bit about the sexism and the racism and Certain Writing Decisions, but I had liked enough elements to feel it was merely mediocre.
The more I think about it, the more I think that it might not even be a good movie, and as far as being a Trek movie goes, it’s rapidly devolving in my head to “practically a desecration.”
Here’s what I’ve been mulling about (with links!). Warning: If you liked the movie, you probably shouldn’t click. I have no wish to rain on anyone’s happiness.
More on the Infamous Reactor Scene
So, I already wrote about how much I hated the flipped Wrath of Khan scene. A huge number of the reviews I’ve read online have brought up the very good point that in the original movie, a large part of what made the scene so heartbreaking was that Kirk and Spock have a decades-long relationship. In New Trek, they’ve barely gotten to know each other. The scene had absolutely no storytelling foundation! Combined with the obviousness of Kirk only being mostly dead, even if the scene hadn’t been a horrible rehash, it just didn’t work as a scene, full stop.
Lettered on Dreamwidth wrote a review that I think articulates very well why the scene didn’t make sense (and also makes some other great points):
I mean, yes, both scenes have sadness and wistfulness, but the STID scene should be about a friendship that never really got started, about what could have been. In ST II it’s about what was; they’re not realizing anything new; they’re losing the most important things they have. They’re losing half of themselves. And to suggest that that is what is happening in STID is offensive to me, because you’re either suggesting that they’re soulmates in any universe, which is also offensive to me (and even if that’s what they’re trying to say, Kirk and Spock don’t know that), or you’re cashing in on another scene that earned its emotion, whereas this scene just has all the trappings of it.
Here’s another good encapsulation from Xanthe on Livejournal:
I also found the ‘echoes’ from other ST movies pure fan-service and rather manipulative. My main problem was that when Shatner’s Kirk loses Spock in the radiation chamber and when Shatner’s Kirk shouts out ‘KAHN’ he’s had thirty odd years of friendship with Spock and enmity with Kahn to draw on. You FEEL his pain, because you know much Spock means to him. In this movie, their relationship is still brand new, and without the history behind it, the pain feels manipulative rather than real, and cynical rather than heartfelt to me anyway. The echo of the other reality was faux because they haven’t EARNED it yet!
And many of the other reviews linked below touch on this same point.
You know, to go into my personal history for a moment—Wrath of Khan is supposed to be one of the best Trek movies. But it’s one of my least favorite. Not because it’s not a good movie, but because it’s too good a movie. Spock was my favorite character, and the end scene didn’t only break my heart, it practically traumatized me. The night I watched it (on a VHS borrowed from the local library, when I was just a kid getting into Trek for the first time) looms massive in my memory. I was horrified at the ending; I kept waiting for them to make it all okay AND THEN THEY DIDN‘T! The instant the movie ended I scrambled in devastation to look at the back of the other VHS the library had had, which was The Voyage Home, hoping hoping hoping . . . I’d been planning to wait for STIII to come in to watch them in order, but even though it was late at night I couldn’t help it—the minute I saw Spock was back, I had to watch IV right then, and see him alive again and know that it would all turn out okay. (To this day IV ties with First Contact as my favorite Trek movie.)
I mention all this because holy cow, the impact of that scene in the original Wrath of Khan. How could the reboot have hoped for a sliver of that, when Kirk and Spock had known each other for scant months? How could it hope to cheaply co-opt that emotion when the original meant so much? And how could it hope to have any sort of impact when we knew Kirk wasn’t going to die?
But the other reason I mention this is because, due to the remembered trauma of my original viewing of WoK, I’ve generally avoided re-watching it (unlike some other Trek movies that I may or may not be able to quote verbatim). So I didn’t realize just how much Into Darkness stole directly from Wrath of Khan, and how much it pales in comparison with the original STII. As I’ve read other people’s reviews, I’ve been reminded of more and more little details that Into Darkness misappropriated from its predecessor. And I just. Can’t. Seriously, how could they take one of Trek’s best movies, gut it, throw in lots of shiny things and some excess racism, and think it’s a good idea? It’s like the type of terribly-written fanfiction fandom would shun!
More on the Whitewashing and Other Racism, Oh and the Sexism Too
The longer I stew about this, the madder I get. Here, have some links.
Racebending makes a great point about the secrecy surrounding Khan’s appearance as a character:
Add to this the secrecy prior to release around Cumberbatch’s role in the film, and what seems like a casting move that would typically be defended by cries of ‘best actor for the job, not racism’ becomes something more cunning, more malicious. Yes, the obfuscation creates intrigue around and interest in the role, but it also prevents advocacy groups like Racebending.com from building campaigns to protest the whitewashing. [...] They don’t want their racist practices to be called out, pointed at, and exposed before their movies are released—Airbender proved that these protests create enough bad feeling to affect their bottom line. [...] This time, for Star Trek: Into Darkness, their hiding and opaque practices has managed to silence media watchdogs until the movie’s premiere.
Greywash on Dreamwidth goes even further in an excellent piece of fandom analysis:
And this is why I am so angry. The filmmakers, either deliberately or accidentally (SPOILER: I COMPLETELY 100% THINK IT WAS DELIBERATE) manipulated a social custom of their fanbase to limit the amount of potentially revenue-reducing communication that would occur between fans. They have put me in the revolting position of having to put something that I know that a nonzero number of people reading this would consider to merit boycotting this movie in its entirety behind a cut. The makers of Star Trek have not only done something tactless, insensitive, and racist, they have made it hard to talk about, they have made it hard for people to find out about, and they have made it easy for people who would not give them money for it to give them money for it, unknowingly, unwittingly, and unwillingly.
Xiphias makes a fantastic comparison to Iron Man 3 in a comment on Greywash’s review that I won’t quote because it contains IM3 spoilers, but I wish I could because it’s a brilliant point. If you’ve seen Iron Man 3, go read it.
And in the first comment on the Racebending article linked above, user KJKJ makes the following excellent point about the original Khan:
It is clearly stated that Khan and his crew were created by a misguided band of geneticist who cross bred and genetically modified their creations. Please pay attention because this is important! These scientists took all the DNA from the whole of Planet Earth and put it together to make the smartest, strongest, finest example of a human being that they could make.
Gene Roddenberry, with balls of brass, got up on national tv and said, “hey people, if a geneticist took all the best DNA from planet Earth and put it together to make the best human the world has ever seen – he wouldn’t be a white guy.”
Cupidsbow on Livejournal objects to a lot of the same things I did with regard to the lack of women, and makes the following excellent point about the “Khan should be a POC, but what about the problem of making the villain a foreign menace?” thing:
All of that said, the solution to this is not that hard — have lots of other diversity in your casting, so that Khan is not the only major character or colour. Duh! See that J.J. Abrams? Choosing a white person is the slacker’s way out of the dilemma; you fail the Kobayashi Maru.
Speaking of the women, Lizbee on Dreamwidth was just as mad as I was about what they did to Christine Chapel and made additional great points about the “anti-shout out” it is (and “anti-shout out,” what a great description! Dear JJ Abrams, taking a strong and independent character from TOS and making her the butt of a joke in a throwaway line about Kirk’s sexcapades is NOT A HOMAGE, okay?). Lizbee also points out how much they’ve flattened Khan’s character:
This Khan is a terrorist, and while, like Montalban!Khan, his primary motivation is revenge for his people, he has no code. Uhura tells the Klingons that he has no honour; shortly after, Khan describes himself as a barbarian and a savage. He’s so unstable, he winds up being emotionally manipulated by Spock.
In fact, I’ve seen a lot of reviewers complain about how they flattened Khan, a point with which I wholeheartedly agree. Wouldn’t he have been a far more interesting antagonist if they had kept him sympathetic? And it would have neatly allowed for the casting of a POC without falling into the “evil foreigner” trap. Daasgrrl on Livejournal makes this point excellently:
In a post 9/11 world, images of London blowing up coupled with an Indian villain is something that has potentially ugly racial undertones. This, however, could actually have worked out amazingly IF Khan had been a fully fleshed character. If he’d been painted as a desperate man pushed into a fight for the survival of his people against the Evil Starfleet Powers threatening his existence and that of his “family”, that could have generated some real depth of sympathy and understanding for him.
And wouldn’t that have made for a far, far better villain?
Also, in my first post I somehow forgot about the GRATUITOUSLY RACIST opening scene. Liviapenn on Dreamwidth articulates why this scene is so problematic, much better than I could. (Liviapenn’s whole review is so good it’s linked below.) It made me think about how much better this scene would’ve been if the technology level had been, oh, about twenty-first century Earth’s level. The “primitives” imagery wasn’t only racist, it was cheap storytelling.
On the Science (Or Lack Thereof)
Okay, after Star Trek 2009 and the red matter, I was firmly putting my palms over my ears and singing loudly when it came to Abrams’ regard for science. I purposely ignored the science!fail for most of the movie . . . but I can ignore it no longer, because I read this glorious takedown by Rhaegal on Dreamwidth, which starts out with:
First of all, cold fusion. Doesn’t mean what they seem to think it means. But, okay, let’s say it’s not cold fusion as we know it (or wish we did) and maybe the meaning of words has changed over the last couple of centuries. Let’s say it now means some sort of device that sets off a chain reaction that can freeze molten lava. Splendid. So you’ve frozen all this lava (and maybe magma too, who knows?). But you know why volcanoes erupt, right? All that pressure has to go somewhere. If it doesn’t have a nice easy hole to escape through, it’s just going to build up and explode catastrophically.
And just gets better!
Phil Plait also gets into the science errors, though he cuts the movie more slack than I would have expected him to:
For example, I don’t think solidifying the lava in a volcano will get it to stop erupting; in fact, it’ll make it explode like a bomb due to bottling up all the pressure inside (retcon: maybe the “cold fusion bomb” prevents that). At the climactic battle they say they’re 237,000 kilometers from Earth, but wind up near the Moon; I suspect someone mixed up kilometers and miles (the Moon is 238,000 miles from Earth, which is 380,000 kilometers or so). [...]
For the most part I didn’t have too big a problem with these booboos. But I did have a problem with some of the internal Trek science [...]
On the Ending
A large number of other reviewers commented, as I did, on how completely nonsensical it was to set up Khan as Kirk’s only chance when they had 72 other superhumans on board. But there are other implications! To quote Xanthe on Livejournal again:
No fanfic author would be allowed to get away with that! Also, they’ve now not only got a cure for death, but one that apparently they’ve known about for several hundred years already! So that’s good then. Nobody need ever die again.
Daasgrrl’s review, which I also linked above and which I really can’t recommend highly enough, includes this in a marvelous list of plotholes and strange implications the movie didn’t seem to think it was important to address:
So there we have it, folks. Instantaneous transport and immortality, coming to a Star Trek near you.
And Liviapenn on Dreamwidth also pointed this out about the ending (at the tail end of a hilarious sporking of the movie, which is worth reading):
And in conclusion let’s look at the end of the movie. It picks up a year later, as the Enterprise is being recommissioned. WAS THERE A WAR WITH THE KLINGONS? Like, was that or was that NOT the endgame of the bad guy’s plot, that the good guys were trying to thwart? Did we thwart it??? Or did this movie go super dark and end with us actually FAILING to stop the bad guy’s plan????? …. I guess NOBODY FUCKING CARES, since they don’t bother to tell us! Jim doesn’t even ask when he wakes up from his two week coma! “So, uh, are we at war with the Klingons or what? How’s that going?”
The storytelling here is so incompetent we literally don’t know if the good guys won or not at the end of the movie. WE DON’T KNOW.
To Sum Up
Phil Plait, also linked above, pinpoints a lot of the reasons for the movie’s ultimate mediocrity:
To quote the great story-teller Homer (Simpson, that is): It was just a bunch of stuff that happened. Fight scene, battle scene, people running, conversations, then more fighting. It had the elements of Trek, but that signal was shouted down by the noise.
Charlie Jane Anders, reviewing for io9, pretty much perfectly captures how I feel about this film. She calls it “aggressively, tragically stupid,” points out just how badly the narrative continually lowers the stakes instead of raising them and thus how it “falls short of [even] being a good action movie,” and compares it extremely unfavorably with Iron Man 3:
It doesn’t help that I saw Star Trek Into Darkness less than a day after watching Iron Man 3, which has a lot of the same themes, ideas and even story beats — but handles them infinitely better. Neither STID nor Iron Man 3 are perfect movies, but Iron Man 3 is a lot wittier, cleverer and more actually fun than STID. It’s like watching Fred Astaire and a drunken child do the same dance routine, back to back.
You know, it says something about how much I love Star Trek that I’m spending this much time teasing out all the ways this movie failed for me. I guess I’d better wrap it up for now, though. Comment if you have more good links! (I’m sure I’ve already forgotten some because I closed too many tabs before writing this.)