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Monday, June 3, 2013

J.J. Abrams' 'Into Darkness' is a Black Hole for 'Star Trek' Fans

I don't want to be too negative, but I want to be clear: Star Trek Into Darkness is, in my view, easily the worst Star Trek movie I've ever seen.

Worse than The Motion Picture, with its half-hour panorama homage to the Enterprise.

Worse than Nemesis with its supposed clone of Picard who doesn't look a thing like Picard.

Worse than The Final Frontier with its self-important theistic speculation.

I had my doubts about the movie going in, based on the Matrix-like imagery of the movie posters and trailers, but this film looks nothing like The Matrix. In some places, it looks more like an SNL parody of the original (most specifically, The Wrath of Khan). In others, it's wholly inconsistent with scientific reality - even the reality of the universe in which it's supposedly set.

Warning: spoilers ahead.

Oh, sure. Cap a volcano and you can keep it from obliterating a culture. That's like placing a bandage on a cancerous sore. Just ignore the science of plate tectonics and pretend that everything's as good as new. And while you're at it, design space suits with glass visors that crack when they're hit by debris. Just brilliant. By the way, a blood transfusion can now cure radiation poisoning in a person who's been dead (and presumably without any oxygen to the brain) for several minutes, if not, as it appears in the movie, longer.

We're also supposed to believe that all the top military brass in Starfleet convene - in a publicly known meeting - for a war council in a glass-paneled room on some upper floor of a skyscraper. Then, when some rogue helicopter pilot decides to open fire on them, the government doesn't immediately scramble some futuristic version of F-22 Raptor to blow him out of the sky. Instead, Kirk makes an improbable horseshoe toss of a fire hose into the copter's intake engine in order to bring it down. Here's what it amounts to: Calling in Roy Rogers because you didn't think to call in Tom Cruise from Top Gun. And these folks are supposed to be the guardians of the free universe?

If anything, the Klingons' security is even more lax. This is a culture that supposedly honors great battles and feats of bravery during wartime above all else.Yet somehow, inexplicably, no scout ships or battle cruisers are stationed at the edge of the neutral zone, and a rogue ship - without any weapons! - is able to make it all the way to the Klingon homeworld without so much as a tap on the shoulder. "Hey, guys, you might want to stay away from our planet, or we'll kick the crap out of you." Nope. Nothing of the kind.

When it does come time for a confrontation, it's the Klingons who get the crap kicked out of them by one guy with a gun. Granted, he's a pretty tough customer, but it's hard to imagine him getting the best of several dozen Klingons while wearing nothing more than civilian clothes and a cape (no body armor in evidence) and standing fully exposed on high ground. It's one thing to ask the audience to suspend disbelief; it's quite another to ask us to obliterate it.

Then there's a scene near the end of the movie where the Enterprise is orbiting the moon one moment, then suddenly finds itself caught in Earth's gravitational pull. Huh? Explain that to me. But first, you might want to warn the crew of the International Space Station, who are a heck of a lot closer to Earth than the Enterprise was in this film, and might be in some real danger. Yet, no, they somehow manage to ride along contentedly in orbit without the least little worry about being pulled down to their doom by Earth's gravity.

I realize this is an alternate universe, but that doesn't mean you get to just throw everything out and start from scratch. You shouldn't stick a 24th century institution (the Daystrom Institute) in the 23rd century, when it hadn't even been founded. Presumably, alternate timelines run parallel and don't include major advances in one universe that aren't yet discovered in another. Not here. There's no precedent for a Spock-Uhura relationship. In fact, the only precedent for any human relationship (one that was never consummated) involved Spock and Christine Chapel - who in this movie, is conveniently shipped off to some hinterland and nowhere in evidence.

At one point, Original Universe Spock (Nimoy) appears, Yoda-like, on the Enterprise viewscreen without any explanation of how he got there, to provide some timely insight for Alternate Universe Spock. He duly pronounces Kahn the most formidable foe Starfleet has ever faced, conveniently forgetting the Borg (yes, Spock was still alive during this time period in the original chronology).

The acting is hit-and-miss, but to be fair, the script is largely at fault. William Shatner set the standard for James T. Kirk by playing him with a self-confident over-the-top sort of bravado that somehow worked. That's because Shatner knew when to rein himself in and get serious. He - and the writers of the original series - had a strong sense of timing that this script sorely lacks. Here, the jokes seem forced most of the time, and poor Chris Pine (as Kirk) masters neither Shatner's sense of humor nor his heroic emotions. Pine tries to play it straight and winds up looking, for the most part, like little more than a cardboard cutout who likes to leer at women.

Zachary Quinto is better as Spock, but he's given the impossible task of transforming an almost entirely stoic character into one who regularly shows emotion. That's the fault of the script more than Quinto. Leonard Nimoy was a master at showing that Spock had emotions without actually displaying those emotions. Quinto is forced to be more explicit in his emotional displays and, because of this, loses some of the dramatic tension Nimoy employed to such great effect.

Benedict Cumberbatch is a solid villain, though it's never explained why an Englishman is playing a character who was previously played by a Mexican actor of Spanish ancestry - both with thick accents that are nothing like each other. Imagine Chekov suddenly speaking with a Scottish brogue and Scotty with a Russian accent. More alternate universe shenanigans, I suppose.

Karl Urban does a decent job as Dr. McCoy but isn't given much to do, while Simon Pegg is a decent but not exceptional Montgomery Scott.

When it comes right down to it, this is an absolutely horrible film. It is, quite simply, the worst I've seen this year. Maybe it won't seem as bad to the uninitiated who walk in with little or no knowledge of the Star Trek universe. The guy behind this film, J.J. Abrams, has been chosen to helm the next Star Wars installment, as well.

Wait a minute. Does J.J. stand for Jar-Jar?


  1. There is no reason why Cumberbatch's villain would have a British accent. And you make many valid points.

    But, for whatever reason, these things didn't bother me. I was more bothered by Zefram Cochrane's portrayal in the only good TNG movie, "First Contact" or the "Klingon" assassin in "The Undiscovered Country" theatrical version having red blood. I went into "Darkness" expecting a thrilling roller coaster and that's just what I got. But I really think that if we want good Star Trek, we're gonna need a TV series to make it so.

    1. The funny thing is, we went to "Fast and Furious 6" expecting a roller-coaster summer film and came away having enjoyed it. I just can't go into a "Star Trek" film expecting that. If I want that, I'll see a Jason Statham or 007 movie. Those films know stay within the parameters of their genre and succeed on their own terms. If Star Trek tries to ply that territory, it just seems unnecessary and awkward. I wouldn't agree with you that "First Contact" was the only good Star Trek film, but I will agree that it was among the best.

  2. Cumberbatch was used to avoid racism towards non-White people