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-
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.