My review of Star Trek Into Darkness

I don’t go to the movies very often. I think the last time I went to a theatre on purpose was to see the first of the current Star Trek movies, and then I only went because it was a private screening and I could reasonably expect the audience to shut the fuck up, turn off their damn phones, and pay attention to the film.

I planned to write a paragraph here detailing why I hate going to the movies, but I think I just covered it, so let me write a different paragraph instead, about how I finally found a movie theatre that I will go to as long as it exists: the iPic theatre in Pasadena (also called Gold Class, I understand) is the only way I will ever watch a movie again for the rest of my life if I can help it. It costs much more than a typical multiplex, but it is entirely worth it, and this theatre has replaced the Arclight (which makes me sad, but sometime in the last couple of years, Arclight stopped enforcing the shut the fuck up and turn you goddamn phone off policy that had made it such an attractive destination for me for so long).

I’ve really wanted to see Star Trek Into Darkness, but I had resigned myself to not seeing it until it was available to watch in the comfort of my own home … until Stepto, e, and my friend Jen all told me about the existence of a theatre that was actually enjoyable, instead of wall-to-wall bullshit advertising and people who have such little respect for the movies and the rest of the people in the audience, they belong at the gathering of the Juggalos instead of in a movie house. When I saw that one of these theatres was not only nearby but was also showing Star Trek Into Darkness, I looked at my schedule, gave myself an afternoon off, and took my entire family to see it.

We just got home, and the rest of this post will be about my first impressions of the movie. If you haven’t seen it, do not read past the jump, or scroll past the giant picture of Bender B. Rodriguez I’ve placed for those of you who came here directly. I will discuss specific plot points and spoilers. You have been warned.

The short version is: I loved it. I think it’s my favorite Star Trek movie ever, and I can’t wait to see what this crew does next.

-SPOILERS BEYOND BENDER-

bender

Welcome to the rest of the post, person who has already seen Star Trek Into Darkness, or person who gives up his/her/its right to complain at me about spoilers because you were warned. Let’s talk about the movie, shall we?

I could have done without the whole beginning, which felt gratuitous and largely disconnected from the rest of the film to me, but I suppose they needed a way to set up Spock putting the needs of the many ahead of the needs of the one, or the few. I had a very hard time accepting that the Enterprise could sit underwater, but I’m willing to accept it and get over it. The makeup on those aliens was awesome, though.

I’ve read a lot of online criticism that Uhura didn’t do anything useful and was just there to weep and be weak around Spock. I honestly didn’t get that at all. She bravely faces down the fucking Klingons, knowing that she’s risking her life, and then is a badass during the climax when Spock and the ship need her the most. I suppose you can make an argument that she had no business bringing up relationship stuff with Spock in the middle of an important mission, but in a high stress situation maybe things bubbling beneath the surface just come up. It didn’t bother me, but I’m not a woman so I can’t speak to how women feel with the portrayal of 50% of the women in the movie. Yeah, there are two women of consequence in the film, and that is bullshit. So on the other end of the writing-for-women spectrum is the profound failure to do awesome stuff with Doctor Marcus. I was disappointed, and I imagine that there must be deleted scenes that make her much more interesting (I have no problem with Alice Eve’s performance. I thought she did a fine job with what they wrote for her). She’s so goddamn smart, and we know that she ends up inventing the goddamn Genesis device, so it’s a huge waste to make her little more than eye candy for Kirk. Putting her in her underwear was embarrassing to me as a member of the Star Trek Family, and served absolutely no purpose other than to make teenage boys feel weird, like when they climb the rope in gym class. I have no problem with Star Trek being sexy, but make it part of the story for a good reason, Damon Lindelof.

That said, not a single performance rang false to me, and I again wished I could watch this crew every week instead of once every few years.

I loved the pacing of the film. I loved how it looked and sounded, I loved the reveal of Khan, I loved the development of Kirk and Spock’s relationship. I loved the various nods to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and the original series. When Kirk and Spock traded places with their counterparts in The Wrath of Khan, it blew me away, and if the movie hadn’t worked so well up to that point, if they hadn’t developed Kirk and Spock’s relationship the way that they did, it would have been laughable. It speaks volumes about the writing and the film as a whole that they could take that risk and have it pay off.

Benedict Cumberbatch is one of my very favorite — excuse me, favourite — actors today, and he brought his brilliant mixture of confidence and strength to Khan in a way that, with all due respect, Montalban never did. Never once does Cumberbatch make the obvious choice, his performance is always subtle, always controlled, and when he finally goes full-Khan, scary as hell. Peter Weller’s Admiral Marcus reminded me of Nicholson in A Few Good Men, without the screaming and chewing of scenery, and his desire to provoke a war by any means necessary in contravention of his Starfleet oath was a fundamental part of what I viewed as the main message of the movie.

The entire film is about doing whatever it takes to protect and care for your family and those you love, and finding a balance between providing that protection in a way that cares for them without becoming the very thing you’re trying to protect them from. It’s a warning about the dangers inherent in letting vengeance eclipse justice, and reflexively choosing the military option at all times. It’s about everything America has done wrong in our post-9/11 world.

In fact, I was subconsciously thinking about life post-9/11 so much that when Khan crashes his ship into San Francisco — another commentary, I believe, on the dangers in creating a weapon only to have that weapon turned right back on yourself (see: The Taliban) — I flinched and my stomach clenched. It affected me in a visceral way that I was not expecting, especially in a Star Trek movie.

If the power of Science Fiction is to force us to confront subjects that are difficult or taboo, I will argue that Into Darkness does it as effectively as anything I’ve seen in years. And this leads me to answer another criticism I’ve heard frequently: Into Darkness doesn’t live up to the ideals Gene Roddenberry instilled in the Original Series and The Next Generation. Again, I can’t disagree with this more strongly. In the original series, against a backdrop of the Cold War, just a few years after the Cuban Missile Crisis, Star Trek did stories about the dangers of unchecked militarization, the dangers of seeing only black and white in a conflict, and the power of the human spirit to put aside petty differences to work together to save us all. Against the backdrop of the civil rights movement, Star Trek dared to show a multicultural crew of men and women working together as equals to bravely explore the unknown. This is the legacy we attempted to live up to in The Next Generation, and though we didn’t always succeed, we still told stories about finding peace in the midst of war, standing up for truth at all costs, and most of all the strength of the family. It is on our shoulders that DS9, Voyager, Enterprise, and the first Star Trek reboot all stood, and Into Darkness does a fine job of respecting this heritage. And even though it doesn’t give us the same moral punch as Tapestry or Darmok or The Doomsday Machine or A Taste of Armageddon, (which it can’t, due to blockbuster film economics among other things), it still addresses a subject that is very relevant to our lives today. It also does that in a way that isn’t preachy, and it does it in a damn entertaining film that may just provide an infection vector for a whole new audience — the next generation if you will — to explore the existing Star Trek world.

But, ultimately, a movie should entertain its audience. It should thrill and delight and surprise us so much we want the whole thing to start over again so we can take the ride one more time. By that measure, Star Trek Into Darkness succeed beyond my wildest dreams.

 

129 thoughts on “My review of Star Trek Into Darkness”

  1. Loved the review Wil. As I was reading some of the comments regarding the movie, they didn’t like this or that but really did they not enjoy the movie. I know I did. Abrams is following in the steps of a great man who saw a vision for the world. There will not be another Rodenberry. I loved that in the early sixties he showed us that all men and women are created equal. He gave me my ideals growing up. I wish now, people could see that it doesn’t matter what race or religion you are. It is the person you are. and where your heart lies. One could only hope for his vision.

    I love this crew of the enterprise, they have the cohesiveness of Star Trek is made of, maybe the relationships are a little different, but they will be together for a long time. The references to the Wrath of Khan and the twist Abrams did, I loved.

    Someone commented on having Orig. Spock in the film. I like that Spock is there, his guidance to the young Spock creates who he is as a person. The relationship with Uhura adds a new dimension to the Spock character, lets say his more human side comes out, it did not in the original series.

    As for the woman of Star Trek – Uhura was needy, she did not come off that way in the first film reboot. Dr Carol Marcus – strong brave woman. She is the one Kirk marries and has a son named David with and she creates the Genesis project. I would like to see the women of Star Trek a little stronger like the TNG women in particular like your TV mom Dr. Crusher.

    I have been a fan of the Star Trek universe for longer than you have been around. My Dad and I used to watch the original series growing up. Then TNG came along, it was my nemesis, could not miss an episode, I saw you grow up and become a young man in that series. DS9, Voyager and Enterprise. I am truly a Star Trek geek. Live Long and Prosper Wil

  2. I love the discussion here. It makes me long for the days of the SoapBox. Spoilers here… but then you have read this far…

    I loved this movie, but am still willing to dissect and criticize it. And I thought Wil’s review was dead on, especially the part… “The entire film is about doing whatever it takes to protect and care for your family and those you love, and finding a balance between providing that protection in a way that cares for them without becoming the very thing you’re trying to protect them from.” I hadn’t fully thought this through, but you’re right. From the man saving his child in the hospital and then destroying the building to Kahn trying to save his people… definitely a major theme and one that warrants a great deal of discussion.

    I loved the pacing, action and I thought the acting was amazing.

    My big nit-pick was Kirk’s death. I didn’t want him to stay dead forever, but at least until the next movie. The whole earlier focus on the tribble meant that was soon as Kirk was destined for death, I just kept thinking about how he wasn’t going to die and there was no real emotion for me in the scene. I would’ve made us go home with him dead and we’d have to wait for another movie to find out how we are going to get him back (it worked years ago with Spock, so why not?).

  3. I love Cumberbatch, he’s one of my favorite actors, but I would have loved to have seen him as the Romulan Kirk will inevitably to have to go up against in one of the future movies (seriously, we all know that’s going to happen at some point.) The ‘Batch was miscast for the role of Khan for several reasons: he’s a white guy and not an Indian, plus, though I love the guy and think that, in the right role he’s extremely attractive, he’s simply not a perfect physical specimen. In Space Seed, Lt. McGivers was so entranced, Kirk had to yell at her to get her attention — if the Enterprise landing party had come across the Botany Bay and found this version of Khan, I doubt she’d have been caught drooling on the job. She was impressed by the warrior type, and not necessarily the guy who looks like he can handily beat the pants off of everyone at chess.

    If they absolutely had to have a white guy play the role–and honestly, I don’t know why White Guy has to be Hollywood’s default setting all the time, but there you go–get an actor like Tom Welling for the role. The kind of guy who could conceivably make a girl behave in an unprofessional manner if she should happen to find him lying in a glass cryogenic tube like Snow White, looking like he needs a kiss to awaken. A man with an impressively built chest, which, having seen Sherlock, I know for a fact Cumberbatch does not have. He has style, bearing, the ability to project intelligence, charm… but, unlike Tom Welling, you would never believe that he was once a model.

    I do love the movie for the reasons you gave, but there’s nothing there for The Female Gaze. Gratuitous Victoria Secret-like underwear shots for The Male Gaze, but nothing there for us women. I’d like to point out that having Kirk walk around with no shirt on (or only part of a shirt on, having had it decoratively semi-ripped off in a fight) was not there for the young boys watching original Trek: that waxed chest was there for the edification of The Ladeez. And I thank Roddenberry for that tip of the hat to female sexuality.

    Ya know, if they absolutely couldn’t find just the right actor here in North America, surely there is some attractive, well-built, graceful Indian heartthrob in Bollywood with a proven track record as a chick magnet would have made a fabulous Khan?

    1. I’m sorry, but I disagree with your put-down of Cumberbatch; Abrams though that he was great as Harrison/Khan and so that’s why he cast him. I agree with that decision.

      As a person of color (Afro-Canadian) myself, I didn’t want to see a brown-skinned actor play the villain this time (there’s enough demonization of us due to OBL and 9/11 already) and I though that the reason why Khan was white and named John Harrison was a good one (and it’s pretty obvious that Starfleet and Section 31 didn’t want anybody-well, any historian-getting a glimpse of Khan’s face and blowing him being employed by them, so they gave him plastic surgery.) I only wish that Abrams had let Khan/Harrison be shown half naked in the shower just to balance out the scene of Marcus being shown in her undies (but they made it clear that Kirk’s wrong for doing that by having Marcus tell him to turn around while she’s changing, at least.)

      Next movie, I’d love to see an adaptation of a Star Trek novel (the ones dealing with exploration and not Federation politics) like the David Gerrold novel The Galactic Whirlpool instead of yet another action story, myself.

      1. While I completely respect this, especially from a fellow Canadian, it still felt like white-washing to me. Robert Orci has admitted that, “Basically, as we went through the casting process and we began honing in on the themes of the movie, it became uncomfortable for me to support demonizing anyone of color, particularly any one of Middle Eastern descent or anyone evoking that.” This is actually shockingly racist in itself; Khan isn’t even Middle Eastern! What’s Orci suggesting here? Besides Khan is what he is. Would anyone today consider casting a white actor as Othello? Of course not. There’s also a whole subtext about racial superiority; Khan is supposedly better at everything due to genetic modifications; apparently – according to this film – genetic superiority also now means WHITE. I loved the fact that the original Khan WAS superior and WASN’T white. SO the flip-side is equally disturbing. In the 60’s it was acceptable that a Mexican actor could play a Sikh Indian. These were the days when anyone with an accent that wasn’t white was a foreigner and TV and film didn’t trouble itself with distinguishing between them; that’s just not acceptable anymore. There are plenty of brilliant Indian actors out there. An Asian is playing Sulu; a Scot is playing Scotty; a black woman is playing Uhura. But a Sikh can’t play a Sikh? They didn’t cast the best actor for the role; they allowed political correctness and perceived notions of race to determine the casting. If it was really such a concern, they should have written a better script with a different villain. There, problem solved.

    2. I have no ideas as to who Tom Welling is and have to look him up, well, with all due respect to him and your taste in men, I have to say that he doesn’t slightly trump Cumberbatch in the appearance department for me and I don’t find Welling attractive at all by simply looking at his pics, and judging by how many guy friends and girl friends of mine started have asked me about Sherlock and have growing man/ girl crushes on Cumberbatch after watching this movie, I think he’s obviously doing pretty fine appearance-wise. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and the way you talk about Cumberbatch’s appearance is indeed a tremendous put-down of Cumberbatch and people who find him physically attractive no matter what. BTW, I always find it very “interesting” that some people seem t be so entitled to their own opinion and behave as if their own aesthetic taste is the only standard in the world, whilst it’s absolutely subjective.
      Same as Neville, I am a PoC as well, if the terrorist Khan in STID, a tenepole, which would be watched by millions of people worldwide, bears a skin tone that would easily remind people that he’s from a certain areas, I confess I would be very unsettling.

  4. I finally saw this movie two nights ago and absolutely loved it!! Your review is totally spot-on Wil. I have been a Star Trek fan all of my life (I’m 43) and agree that Gene would have approved of this reboot.

    Thankfully the other viewers in the theatre were so engrossed with the movie that they didn’t even think of being disrespectful by talking or playing with their phones :)

  5. Great review and I’m glad at least one Next Gen cast member “gets” why this film was in fact layered with Gene Roddenberry’s ideals for the original series and even Next Gen. The whole TMZ, Levar Burton moment where he mentioned it didn’t have enough of “Gene” in the core of the film threw me off. I couldn’t respectfully disagree more.

    This is a very relevant film. Heck, even now with the Syria crisis, looking at the US arming rebels almost looks spot on to what Admiral Marcus was doing waking up Khan and providing him access to Starfleet’s technology. So this movie couldn’t be a better allegory to the kind of conflicts the world powers find themselves in now.

    For what it’s worth, here’s my review on blogger: http://pgsrealmoviereviews.blogspot.com/2013/06/star-trek-into-darkness-one-hell-of.html

  6. Overall I liked the film. The only thing I didn’t like was Spock’s Khaaaan! yell. Granted he is a vulcan, but honestly for J.J. to say, yeah, thats it, moving on…I have to wonder, what horrifying things await us in Star Wars VII? I was happy with the movie up until that point, and it took me a few minutes after to recover from that horrible piece of acting that J.J. is responsible for. Zachary is brilliant, I don’t blame him for the directors choice, to keep a poorly delivered line in the movie. Or maybe I don’t understand, what Directing and Editing is all about.

    1. I had the EXACT same reaction. I was totally in the movie and in the moment until that one line. I was able to ignore other logistical and canonical glitches and just enjoy the movie until that moment. Totally threw me out of the suspension of disbelief. I facepalmed in the theater.

  7. This is a comment from an old guy kind of like you who grew up as a child loving Wesley, but never really appreciated your existence as a real guy until I saw you on The Big Bag Theory (geez I bet you hate that). I loved seeing such a thoughtful commentary from you. I’m curious about that typo in the last sentence. Was it was on purpose? Also, my roommate and I agree that you would have made a better Khan than Benedict, but hope that you get an even better role in a future series. Live long, prosper! And respect your fellow man, even if he’s not as awesome as you got to be.

  8. I liked the movie very much. It was by far superior (plot-wise) to Star Trek.
    Into Darkness will probably end up being the only film I see twice in the theater before I purchase it on Blu-Ray.
    I am both fascinated and frustrated by the need to cast Cumberbatch as the villain. Fascinated because he did such a fantastic job and saddened by the hand wringing of both Producers and Fans over casting him to “avoid demonizing” a particular race. Going out of their way to cast someone as Anglo as Cumberbatch to deflect any perception of Racism is ridiculous. The original Kahn Noonian Singh was played off as a man descended from the Khans of the past, specifically Genghis and his grandson Kublai and so what? They were worlds apart from the people of the middle east now and both of those guys ravaged enough of the world to make them awesome Villian fodder.
    Pretty soon, out of fear of offending someone the only bad guys will be white.
    Silly don’t you think?
    With regard to one of your female posters, I didn’t find Uhura to be “needy” at all. She has unfortunately fallen in love with a character who at his core strives to be emotionally controlled (and thus distant). Her character has her work cut out for her. Uhura going for a face to face détente with the Klingons was needy? Beaming down onto a speeding transport to duke it out with Kahn (with even Spock appearing to be outmatched) was needy? As an aside, I was delighted to see that even the supersmart and capable Commander Spock cannot figure out the woman in his life. In the immortal words of John Mclain “welcome to the party pal!”. I thought her character was quite heroic. I prefer Uhura from “Into Darkness” over Uhura from “Star Trek”.
    Busting Spock’s balls in order to get on the Enterprise in the first movie was insulting. It came off as “you’ll give me what I want ‘cause I’m your Girlfriend”. I’m pretty sure Star Fleet regs (even in Abrams world) frown on fraternizing between personnel (particularly a Superior and a Subordinate). Spock intentionally assigning her to the Farragut was a sane move to avoid problems with other members spotting preferential treatment. What was intended to come off as a strong Uhura came off as bitchy.
    It was poor writing.
    Into Darkness? Uhura shined.
    Even after finding out that he was Kahn, they managed to have me feeling sorry for the guy because he and his peeps were so screwed over by Peter Weller’s character. THAT was good writing.

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