J.J. Abrams tried to pull a Wrath of Khan and failed

011 October 6, 2013 -- (video)

The Star Trek series have been a milking cow for almost half a century now, which if we rest on the thought for a moment, is a pretty amazing thing. And all the credit for that goes to the fans, many of them maybe in their sixties or more now; none due for producers, writers, or whatever, with the notable exception of the late Gene Roddenberry.

As you probably already know, earlier this year Paramount launched the motion picture called Star Trek: Into Darkness, directed and produced by the same guy who directed and produced the prequel Star Trek, namely J.J. Abrams, who, by the way, will also produce Star Wars films soon, further adding to the confusion of the science-fiction illiterates. The actors from the previous movie are also back, so the viewer is expected to be familiar with the characters, setting and whatnot. Basically, Into Darkness is a movie for the fans, new or old.

I'll be blunt and state that Into Darkness is in my humble opinion mostly a piece of crap, which was to be expected after seeing the 2009 Star Trek, also bad, which I saw immediately after Star Trek Enterprise, which well, let's just not get into any more details. I will, for the record, share with you the reasons behind my firm belief.

The Federation-USA analogy

The tale starts with an obvious TOS copycat scenario as an exposition. Then, as the plot unfolds, Abrams starts pissing on basically everything that Star Trek was in Roddenberry's vision. Strong, proud, Federation, principled from admiral to simple citizen? To hell with that. Trying to reason with the enemy? Fuck that, kill the bastard. Cultural diversity? Humans are zee best, who cares about the rest1.

What especially bothers me is that today's mainstream political bullshit is brought knee-deep into the story: a significant part of the movie is about terrorism and the American hypocrisy2, something which one might think the human race would have surpassed until 2200. The only reason, I suppose, for making this the basis for a story is the topic's rising popularity in the United States, something the rest of the world doesn't really give a damn about. In fact, the more "terrorism" becomes a part of American (pop) culture, the more uninteresting and irrelevant said culture becomes. Well, that's their problem.

Another purely American trait is the sheer antagonism concerning the enemy, "John Harrison", turning the whole terrorism thing into a personal vendetta. Again, Abrams tries to illustrate how Starfleet/USA heads will simply disregard every rule, regulation and principle to catch a guy they won't like, that immediately after lecturing poor young Jim Kirk on the importance of such rules, regulations and principles. At the same time Kirk, who's once again portrayed as a brilliant guy, pisses once again on regulations by pursuing the vendetta despite his health (at least that's what Bones says), a fact motivated by the death of his mentor. I don't know, if I were his superior, I would have suggested him a week of vacation or something.

Finally, Abrams jumps the shark one more time by hitting a ship into Starfleet headquarters (I think). Basically, what he means to say is that at least two hundred years from 9/113, bad people will enjoy crashing stuff into important American buildings. Looks like simple-minded paranoia to me, and what's worse is that many US citizens are buying it.

Plot devices

Abrams attempted, as I was saying, to pull a Wrath of Khan. I'm not saying that he tried to make a movie as successful as Star Trek II; well, he did try, but that's not the point. He wanted to make a movie that is also very similar to the old one, and the first and most obvious sign of that is the movie's main antagonist, John Harrison, also known as Khan.

Other copied characteristics are more subtle. For example, in many Star Trek episodes, regardless of the serie, one of the characters breaks or bends some rule or another, because well, rules are not perfect and sometimes the greater good is above them. Sure, unlike Into Darkness, classical Star Trek has no "good guys" and "bad guys", and unlike Into Darkness, the "greater good" is some obvious moral and ethical virtue, not mindless reciprocation or sheer stupidity. But Into Darkness writers integrated the small-but-not-so-small mistakes into their characters anyway, maybe in the hope that they'll bring some of the humanity of the original Star Trek shows and films into this one.

The rest of the plot devices are more or less stupid, or just not thought out very well. For example, Kirk, among all the Starfleet's big guys, figures out that someone's going for Starfleet people, and by some weird coincidence he does that too late and almost everyone else dies. After killing almost everyone, bad guy Khan teleports to Qo'noS, but there's no explanation given as to how he pulls out that rabbit out of the hat, since long-range teleportation wasn't possible in Star Trek settings as far as I can remember4 5.

Then Kirk is sent to find the bad guy, who, by the way, saves them, because he actually wanted to save his genetically-enhanced buddies. All's nice and good, but all this charade was meant to start a war with the Klingons, and from that point to the end of the film (and after it), I didn't understand the point behind all this. Ok, so what was Marcus trying to achieve there? Except killing Khan, I mean.

So then it becomes apparent that one of the good guys, Marcus, is actually a bad guy. The problem with this is, the viewer is never given a clear reason why; all we know is he comes in a big bad ship (USS Vengeance), and then when the Enterprise enters warp, manages to follow it and magically pull it out of warp. Seems legit.

At some point in the movie, after sending Kirk to certain death, Spock decides that it would be a good idea to have a discussion with himself (his alternate-universe self, that is) about this Khan guy, which is, you know, fairly stupid and definitely illogical, as he could have done that way earlier. And then he finds out that Khan is indeed the bad guy and that he must kill him or something, only near the final he finds out from Uhura that he mustn't.

Finally, Kirk dies. Really. The way of dying and the actual death scene are copied piece by piece from Wrath of Khan, only the roles are reversed, which was somehow supposed to create a parallel between this movie and that one. Only I'm not sure it did; I don't feel like it did. Do you?

Jim grows up, and maybe J.J. will too

At the end, James Kirk is another man. Which means that Into Darkness was not only a tale of swashbuckling adventures in space, but also Kirk's Bildungsmovie. And that's pretty sweet, I'm not kidding.

The actors are pretty damn good, with the exception of Yelchin (Chekov) and Pegg (Scotty), who are mostly there for comic relief. I still can't figure out why they chose Yelchin, since he speaks an impecable US English; Pegg's got a pretty good personality, but he overdoes it. Pine is good, although he's no Shatner, while Cho and Saldana are from the small number of actors who seem to make absolutely no effort to immitate the ones from the original series.

I was pleasantly impressed by Quinto's Spock; he seems to get into it better than in the previous movie. My favourite was however Benedict Cumberbatch, who does a mean Khan, one that, in my opinion, at times manages to get at the same level with Montalban's.

Hollywood and The Problem™

Despite it being mostly a piece of crap, I enjoyed Into Darkness. What I mean is, I enjoyed the action, the 3D stuff. I also enjoyed the comic relief, some of the witty replies coming from the more or less stereotypical portrayal of some characters (Bones, for example).

However, while the funny moments were welcome, I wasn't there for the action, and while viewers don't really express it, I'm fairly sure many of them weren't there for that either; and no, I am not speaking solely of die hard Star Trek fans. This, I think, manages to expose the underlying problem of the American film industry.

If you ask me, this movie isn't worth buying, despite it being Star Trek and despite the millions of dollars spent to make it happen. If you ask me again, I think that Hollywood should be grateful of the fact that people are even pirating the movie and watching it. It's not good, even by Star Trek movie standards6, which makes Abrams' effort almost useless.

  1. Seriously, as far as I could tell all the leading positions in Starfleet are occupied by humans, like the ethically-superior Vulcans never existed. Which reminds me: only one Vulcan appears in the movie; Spock, obviously. It might have something to do with the destruction of Vulcan in the previous movie, I'm not quite sure.

  2. At least they got one thing right. America trains guys, guys become enemies, hit America's ass; Starfleet trains guy, guy becomes enemy, kicks Starfleet's ass. Yep, there's your pattern.

  3. Americans refer so much to 9/11 simply because they haven't had that many important events in their history. I mean, Romans subdued the entire Europe, Germans under Hitler killed millions of people, Soviets under Stalin even more, and suddenly Americans come with this particular piece, which supposedly "rocked the western world". I'm not sure whether it's in reference to the event itself or the invasion of middle-eastern countries, or justifying it to impose absurd laws and spy on people. Only history will tell.

  4. Most of them? All of them? I don't remember, but I do remember that this transportation thing was furiously debated by Star Trek nerds, so the show producers usually tried to make them seem at least remotely plausible. Well, not in this case, it seems.

  5. Memory Alpha says that it's a "Portable transwarp beaming device". This screams "bad plot device" all along, since there would have been much more advanced stuff that the Federation could have done with it. Rather than letting it slip in the hands of a criminal, I mean.

  6. The reader might probably feel inclined to argue this, but I don't think any of the Star Trek movies were particularly good, mostly due to them being Hollywoodized versions of the series. Integration with "action" and harsh plots never went well for a story so... settled, as Star Trek's is.