Monday, May 20, 2013

I saw "Star Trek: Into Darkness" and it Made Me Have Feelings

Image by Paige Carpenter

Here be Spoilers for Star Trek Into Darkness.

I love Star Trek. I love it so much that I do a podcast/live improv show about it. (Check it out at!) I love Captain Picard, and Spock, and Data, and Bones and the Borg, and Q, and Klingons, and Wormhole Aliens. Star Trek matters to me.

At the beginning of each episode of Star Trek the Original Series, and Star Trek: The Next Generation, the show sums up it's own mission statement:

"Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before."

And as much as I love all of those cool characters, and aliens? THAT is what I really love about Star Trek- a small handful of brave, charismatic individuals venture into space on a mission of discovery, and hope. In the process, they, and we (the audience) learn something about what makes this venture called humanity worthwhile.

When JJ Abrams'f first Star Trek film came out, I went and saw it, and I really liked it. I thought it was fun. I liked the new actors, I liked the look of the movie, I liked that the film had some real stakes (they blew up Vulcan!) I thought it was neat that they showed how the band got together. While what I really wanted was a new TV series with new characters (Star Trek the Generation After Next), I was just happy to get some more Star Trek. There were some plot holes that annoyed me a little (Kirk lands on a frozen planet and just happens to be in walking distance of where old Spock is on the same planet), but only a little. I did think this at the end of the movie "Man that was fun! And I can't wait till the next one when they make a REAL Star Trek movie."

What did I mean by that? Well, I wanted a movie where they did the things they say they're going to do at the top of the theme song. Explore strange new worlds, seek out new life and new civilizations, etc. etc. I wanted to see a movie that explored space, and explored philosophy at the same time. I mean, explosions and spaceship fights, and big dumb, fun action sequences are great, and a Star Trek movie can have those things, but the whole point of Star Trek is that humanity is better than big dumb action sequences. We aspire to be more than that. Star Trek needs the brainy stuff, and the explore-y stuff, or it isn't Star Trek- it's Star Wars.

Unfortunately, Star Trek Into Darkness is just a big mindless blockbuster. It's really pretty. The special effects are awesome, the action sequences are great, the actors are mostly great, the movie is funny at points, Captain Kirk and Spock and Smauglock are all great at acting. Shaun of the Dead is very funny in the film (if there's one actor in the new cast who is a HUGE upgrade over his counterpart from the original cast, it's Shaun of the Dead as Scotty). If you're not a Star Trek fan, I'm sure you will love this film, and I recommend it to you wholeheartedly. But it's really only superficially a Star Trek movie, and if you really love Star Trek it might break your heart a little. It broke mine.

Now that I have that all out of the way, here are the things that bothered me about this film:

1. First and foremost, for the second straight movie, the crew of the USS Enterprise boldly goes to....Earth. Like, 90 percent of the movie is set on Earth. There's a cool sequence at the beginning of the film where Kirk and friends violate the Prime Directive on an alien planet, but it's just one short scene.

2. It fails the Bechdel test. There are two female characters in the film- Uhura and Carol Marcus. Uhura's main role in the movie is that she is angry at her boyfriend Spock. Carol Marcus's main role in the film consists of stripping down to her underwear in one scene for....reasons. So one female character is there to be a girlfriend, and the other is there to be naked. Neither character is fleshed out, or particularly important to what happens in the movie. Oh, it's 2013 and we've still never had a gay recurring character on Star Trek. The movie is a Kirk/Spock bromance, and only the bros, and Smauglock are really all that important. This leads me to my next point....

3. You know who's fun? Sulu. Also Chekov. And Uhura! And Scotty. And Bones. They are all just barely in the movie. Each character is alotted one cool moment and all of the other cool moments are given to Spock, Kirk, and Smauglock.

4. They just re-made Wrath of Khan. You know how after the last movie, JJ Abrams, and Damon Lindelof and co. were like "Now that we've introduced these characters, we have free reign to do cool new things with them!" and you remember how you were like "Well they blew up Vulcan and that was pretty crazy and different. What crazy different things will they do next!" Apparently, no crazy different things. They just re-made Wrath of Khan but with sexier, younger actors.

5. The people who make these movies think the superficial Star Trek things are more important than the bigger things like theme and philosophy. So if you asked someone to make a Star Trek checklist, a list of things that are in Star Trek, it might include: Klingons, the Enterprise, photon torpedoes, Khan, Spock, Kirk, bad guy Admirals (never trust Star Fleet Admirals. They are always secretly bad guys) and tribbles. And you know what? ALL of those things are in Star Trek Into Darkness! Yay! But as I said earlier, they get the superficial stuff right while getting the deeper things totally wrong.

6. Old Spock shows up for absolutely no reason. There's a scene where Quinto Spock calls Spock Prime to ask for advice about fighting Smauglock. Spock Prime basically tells Quinto Spock that Smauglock is a bad motherhugger and he should be wary of him. That's it.

7. There is an evil Starfleet ship called the Vengeance. It is giant, and all black. The Starfleet officers who man it have their own EVIL starfleet uniforms. I was legitimately surprised that the Vengeance didn't have a goatee.

8. They skirt around the edges of a really interesting idea. Basically, after the first movie, Starfleet freaks out and starts building crazy weapons because they don't want anymore planets being blown up. But Starfleet, while it has military functions, is primarily a benevolent peacekeeping and exploring force. So, theoretically, this movie is a conflict between the idealistic explorers who man the Enterprise, and the evil shoot first ask questions later fellows like Smauglock and Evil Admiral Marcus. Except the movie is really a conflict between the violent warmongers, the superviolent Khan, and the slightly less violent Captain Kirk. Khan gets the shit kicked out of him. Admiral Marcus gets his skull crushed. A whole bunch of Klingons get shot to death. You know how in Doctor Who, the Doctor always finds non-violent solutions to dealing with uberviolent villains? Yeah, they don't do that here. And I mean, Star Trek has lots of punch fights and space ship fights, but how interesting would it have been to see the crew of the Enterprise reject those methods to prove their point.

9. And here's my biggest gripe. Every time I read an interview with Damon Lindelof or JJ Abrams they say something like "I was never a Trekkie, and we made a Star Trek movie for people like me! People who don't like Star Trek will LOVE Star Trek Into Darkness. We took all of the Trekkie stuff out." And I get it. Treknobabble is tough to market. Sentient crystalline intelligences are tough to sell. Not everyone wants to watch a movie or a TV show where the humanity of an android is argued for 43 minutes. Explosions sell. Exposition? Not so much. So they made a Star Trek for everyone. But you know what? Screw everyone. You guys get ALL OF THE OTHER MOVIES. You get Transformers, and Twilight, and Lincoln, and Forrest Gump and Fast and the Furious 42 and all of those movies. We get Star Trek. I don't want all of the Trekkie stuff taken out. I want it left in and enhanced. The thing is, I actually think they could make a commercially viable Star Trek movie that still has "all of that Trekkie Stuff" in it. I mean, if they can make the Avengers, or Lord of the Rings, and keep those properties true to their source material, and still make billions of dollars, they can make a Star Trek movie that does the same frakking thing. But they didn't do that. They made another dumb action movie.

So in conclusion? I saw Star Trek into Darkness, guys, and it kind of made me sad.

But you know what makes me feel better? Star Trek:

1 comment:

  1. Great post. I haven't yet seen this movie, but I've spoilered the heck out of it for myself. Such that I could probably describe the movie to someone who hadn't seen it and be pretty accurate. But as a long-time Star Trek fan, I'm going through life shocking people as I tell people I'm not interested in this movie. "WHAT?! I thought you liked Star Trek?!"

    Yes I do. But I carry a whole lot of Star Trek "baggage" with me. Baggage that Abrams and Lindeloff stripped away. I get it. Paramount doesn't want that baggage. They don't want fans. They want masses. Butts in seats. That means turning "Star Trek" into something else.

    One one level, I really can't complain. Star Trek already has 28 seasons of television (not counting the cartoon), ten movies, and a crap-ton of novels and comics (take 'em or leave 'em). That said, I do understand the sadness and frustration you expressed. I'm sad that Paramount doesn't have the decency to respect the franchise to keep it true to what it is, but even more sad that I seem to have to explain why Abrams' Trek isn't Trek to everyone and am labeled a "hater" because I don't like it.

    The first one is a fine movie. I'm sure the second one is enjoyable on some level. It's just. not. Star Trek.

    Glad to see someone else gets it.