Grace: I try not to remember a lot about my childhood—not for any emotionally crippling reasons, but because I had short hair and John Lennon glasses and small children would ask me if I was a boy or a girl—but there are a few things that stick out to me. A tree in my backyard. A pink-and-blue plastic play kitchen. Reading books by a nightlight long after I was supposed to be asleep. And just a ridiculous amount of Star Trek.
My stepfather was a big fan, my mother supported him, and my brother got into it with such enthusiasm that he had doodles of the Enterprise all over his school binders. All of this meant that I, the odd one out—my sister was too young to notice or care what we watched—had to sit through endless hours of Star Trek or spend the evening staring at the walls in my room. Which were white. And boring. So I picked the option that at least had colour.
As I grew older, I started to form opinions about the characters. Jonathan Frakes was my first celebrity crush, closely followed by Garrett Wang and Jeri Ryan (give me a break; have you seen that catsuit?). Jadzia Dax was calm and efficient, but warm and comforting at the same time, and I liked to imagine her as an aunt or one of my mother’s friends. Tasha Yar annoyed me, and I was glad when she died. I was scarred for life by Khan dropping those bug things into people’s ears in Wrath of Khan. I saw Insurrection and Nemesis in theatres. I… fell asleep during The Voyage Home, actually. Pretty much every time (whales are boring, okay?). And, of course, I had a strong opinion in the Kirk v. Picard issue (hint: it’s the one who drinks Earl Grey).
I guess what I’m trying to say is that, though it was against my will, I grew up as a Trekkie. And though I haven’t read the comicbooks or seen every episode of Enterprise, I still consider myself one to this day.
Needless to say, when I found out that Star Trek Into Darkness was in production, my nerdgasmic shrieks could be heard all the way in the Gamma Quadrant.
First off, how does 2009’s Star Trek stack up against Into Darkness? Thom’s review last week was pretty thorough, I think, though he neglected to mention that Chris Pine’s eyes looked like a tropical sea after a storm. But it’s fine. Whatever. The point is, Star Trek was so great that it’s one of the few movies I actually bought for my Apple TV (the other being Stardust, which I plan to review in the near future, and don’t groan because it’s rude). It was a stellar reboot of a somewhat tired franchise, loaded with actions, aliens, and enough sexy to bring around the skeptics. It had the crew of the original series (quite literally, when Leonard Nimoy showed up), along with a villain I’d never seen before (although I may have forgotten him, which I’m fine with because it meant I was seeing Nero with fresh eyes). I feel like Thom pretty much said it all, with the exception of the nasty things he heavily implied about Scotty, and I fully agree with his assessment (though I’d personally give the movie an A, not an A+, because Zoe Saldana, that’s why).
Now, Into Darkness… that’s something else altogether. You’ve read my Sherlock review, yes? If not, go read it now. Read it? Awesome. Now you know how incredible Benedict Cumberbatch is. Into Darkness gave us an iconic villain, a twisting and complex storyline—but not so complex that I couldn’t follow it—and, best of all, Klingons (even if they looked a bit odd). I’m going to explain all the things I loved about Into Darkness, but basically all you need to know right now is that I like it even more than Star Trek. And that surprised me.
One of the great things about Star Trek—and when I say that, I mean the entire franchise—is the eclectic blend of characters. The original series may have been a little bit vanilla in that the only black person was a lady who wore a short skirt (although hot damn, Nichelle Nichols), but it was still a great cast for a lot of reasons. I feel like the original cast—with the exception of the aforementioned Uhura—was carefully selected and perfectly matched, but each new actor brings something special that the original character didn’t have.
Except Bruce Greenwood, because I don’t really care about him.
Thom is going to flip out and call me all sorts of nasty things, probably in Klingon, but honestly, I didn’t care that much that Captain Pike died. For one thing, yes, he was Kirk’s mentor, but he needed to die for Kirk to be able to become the captain he was meant to be. For another, he was overly lenient when it came to punishment (“You put your entire crew in danger and violated the Prime Directive. You’re demoted to first officer, which means you’re still the highest-ranking officer on the ship when I’m not around, and since I get the Enterprise, you’re basically the boss of it whenever I want to take a nap”). And besides, the second my brother said “the hero’s journey,” I knew Pike was going to die. Gandalf. Dumbledore. Obi-Wan Kenobi. The mentor has to die so the hero finds the strength within himself to rise to the challenge. (I did take Screenwriting I, you know.) So yeah, while it was sad that Pike died—I’m not completely heartless—I was sad that Kirk lost his replacement father, not that a vital character was now dead.
Speaking of fathers, Noel Clarke, you guys. He played one of my least favourite characters in season 1 of Doctor Who but managed to redeem himself in season 2. And now he’s in Into Darkness. When I saw him, I was like, “Is that—? No… Am I racist? No…” But to be fair, IMAX made his face all squishy and I was wearing 3D glasses over my regular glasses and I’m not racist, I promise. Anyway. Noel Clarke played the father of a very sick girl who had space leprosy or something. He’s approached by Benedict Cumberbatch and told that his daughter can be cured. Noel’s desperate and you can tell he’ll try anything, so he agrees and Benedict sends him a sample of his blood. Weird, but okay. Noel puts the blood in his daughter’s IV bag and she immediately shows signs of improvement. Noel kisses her on the forehead, leaves his wife sleeping in the hospital room, and goes to work, where he drops a ring in a glass of water—which blows up the building and everyone in it. It wasn’t hard to believe that Noel would do anything for his daughter, even when we discovered that he didn’t work at an archive, but rather at a top-secret facility that was part of a little something called Section 31. (No big deal or anything.) He gave his life to save her, and that was utterly believable—though it strained the bounds of credulity that he would blow up dozens of other people, too. But then, I’m not a parent, so I don’t know.
All right. That’s it for background characters, I think, so let’s bring out the big guns. Captain James Tiberius Kirk. (Mmf.) I’d like to reiterate the thing about how he wasn’t properly punished and how that’s a big deal, and then move on. When I saw Star Trek, I couldn’t believe they cast Chris Pine. I’d only ever seen him in The Princess Diaries 2 and Just My Luck, so I can’t be faulted for thinking that it was like casting Tara Reid as the lead in a Princess Diana biopic. But he surprised me, and not just with his physical attractiveness. He had something that William Shatner didn’t, which is summed up in a single word: badass. Pine’s Kirk is cocky, just like his predecessor’s, but the cockiness wars with a vulnerability and an anger that comes with growing up without a father. I think Pine-Kirk knew intrinsically, before Old Spock even told him, that he was supposed to have a father and that someone robbed him, sending his life on a course it wasn’t supposed to take. And that brings a humanity that Shatner-Kirk only ever hinted at, particularly when Pine-Kirk’s desire for family and intimacy (no, not that kind, although I suspect that just a tiny bit a little of his “socialization” comes from a desire for it) lead him to give his life for his crew. Into Darkness was, in large part, about Kirk’s journey from the captain that Shatner was to the captain he needed to be. And I’ll explain why that’s necessary later on when I talk about Khan.
The film was also, in an equally large part, about the budding bromance between Kirk and Spock. That relationship works really well in contrast to Spock and Uhura’s, because even though romance in the Star Trek franchise is often thwarted, friendships feel strong and real, and they tend to be solid even after death (just look at Sisko and Dax). Spock and Uhura’s relationship, much like that of Miles and Keiko O’Brien, really annoys me (although I’m pretty sure that’s Zoe Saldana’s fault). In the case of Spock, though, I think the two relationships worked in contrast because we could see one of the most interesting things about Vulcans: though they don’t show emotions, it’s not because they don’t have any. Vulcans feel more deeply than humans do, but they’re better at controlling it, which is why I teared up when Spock did, when his hand pressed against the glass, forming a connection to Kirk as he died. I’ve always loved Spock, especially Quinto-Spock. He’s a little bit quirky but still the same cool, collected Vulcan the ladies love (look at those pointy ears. Nobody can resist those things). I loved that Into Darkness was able to give us even more insight into his character, which we thought we knew up ‘til now.
I know Thom doesn’t like Scotty, but Thom can shut up, because Scotty is awesome and that is the end of that. Simon Pegg characterized him in a way that’s both true to the warm, familiar character and yet a little bit cheeky and roguish at the same time. I don’t know what the deal was with his black-eyed buddy, but Pegg-Scotty has such a depth to him that the original Scotty didn’t have. When he faced off with Kirk and handed in his resignation rather than threaten the safety of everyone on board the Enterprise, I’m not ashamed to admit that I got a little choked up. But when I think of Scotty, it’s still nice to know that he’s got the same sense of humour about him, like when he’s huffing and puffing across a hangar. Oh, Scotty.
I don’t have a whole lot to say as far as John Cho’s Sulu goes. I mean, yes, Sulu is kind of a bigger deal now than he was when the original series was running, if only because George Takei is, quite possibly, the sassiest gay Asian man on the planet and everyone loves him. The only problem with that is, it’s taken away any seriousness that Sulu had about him. That’s not necessarily a bad thing—and don’t get me wrong, I like George Takei as well as anyone else does, and sometimes more when he posts pictures on Facebook that make me laugh—but it’s hard to make a serious movie when one of your characters no longer has any dramatic potential, and it’s a little bit sad that the only reason that’s the case if because the actor is too funny in real life. And I think Cho-Sulu salvaged that. He was way more awesome than in the last movie, when everyone was a little scrub, even though he was still pretty funny (parking brake. Classic). But that’s precisely it! He was a source of comedy, not of strength. And in Into Darkness, he really steps up his game, drama-wise. And when I say that, I’m thinking of his brief time spent as acting captain. He understands the importance of the captain’s chair, and he’s afraid of it. But he faces the challenge, sits in the chair, and delivers a speech that sent chills up and down my spine (and only partly because I have a weakness for dramatic speeches). So I’m very, very excited to see what happens to Sulu in the third film (because you know there will be a third one), because he’s headed somewhere very, very exciting.
Now, Chekhov… I think he, too, is a difficult character to work with, and I think Anton Yelchin does a wonderful job and is highly underrated. For one thing, Pavel Chekhov, I’m fairly certain, was included as an attempt at novelty during the Cold War (although apparently Roddenberry just wanted someone who looked like a Beatle, but whatever). Yelchin-Chekhov completely tramples over that by being the eager, fresh-faced addition to the crew (he was 17 when he joined the crew of the Enterprise. When I was 17, I was failing biology). But his genius, lovely though it is, makes me ask: is friggin’ everyone in Starfleet a genius? And if they are, doesn’t that, at the same time, make everyone in Starfleet equally stupid? (I don’t actually know the answer. It just bothers me a bit.) In addition, Thom and I couldn’t actually figure out what Chekhov’s role on the bridge is supposed to be, other than messing up the letter “v” and doing math all over the place. He doesn’t make practical sense as a character, but he’s sweet to watch and I loved seeing how hard he tried in Engineering while Scotty was gone, and when Kirk told him to put on a red shirt, I may or may not have said loudly in the middle of a crowded theatre, “No, don’t!”
I don’t have much to say about McCoy, and that’s because he’s a bit of a neglected character. We know he’s a hypochondriac with an ex-wife, that he hates flying, and that he gets a bit silly around attractive women. He also likes scanning Kirk whenever he gets the opportunity. I like him enormously, but that’s weird, because there’s not much to like about him in that there’s very little that we actually know about him. I think the big thing for me is that Dr. McCoy reminds me of my grandpa, particularly when played by DeForest Kelley. He’s old-school, he’s a bit stern at times, but he’s got a good sense of humour and more than a little wit. He’s a good man, and though he may not always be the centre of attention, it’s always comforting to know that he’s there, because he makes things better just by being there.
Okay. Uhura. Zoe Saldana. I do not like her one bit. Her grating voice has bothered me since Avatar, and I have absolutely no interest in her as Uhura. She is cold, uptight, and utterly intolerable, especially when she’s dragging her captain into her petty relationship disagreements. You have an issue? Keep it in your quarters, missy. Your captain is not your friend. He is your boss. He is not interested in your arguments, and he sure as hell shouldn’t be dragged into them. You think you’re mature enough to date one of your teachers? Be mature enough to keep that relationship to yourself. Uhura is supposed to be about female empowerment, which is always a sticky issue in sci-fi, but Saldana-Uhura just comes across as a b*tchy, whiny little girl who thinks she can do anything, even though I knew the second she stepped out of the puddlejumper—I know that’s Stargate, but I like that term better—to talk to the Klingons that the encounter would not end well. Because she walked like a girl, not like a warrior. Frankly, I think Saldana was a poor choice for Uhura and that Nichelle Nichols would be rolling in her grave if she weren’t awesome-ing all over the place at conventions. (Seriously, I turned around by a rack of t-shirts and was like, “Oh, hey, look, Nichelle Nichols is like fifteen feet away from me.”) I think Christine Adams (of Pushing Daisies and Doctor Who and probably a lot of other things fame) would have made a far better choice, but that’s just me.
Just wrapping up the good guys: Carol Marcus. One: Where did she get her British accent? Is that, like, a future-mutation or something? ‘cause her dad didn’t have one. Two: she is far less annoying than that scream shot made her look in the trailers (particularly when you discover why she was screaming, and frankly, seeing a man’s head crushed to a pulp between another man’s hands is worth a scream or two). And three: she’s actually kind of fun, even when she’s doing that awkward-looking pose in the puddlejumper.
Okay. You guys. Khan. Khan, you guys. From the moment I saw Benedict Cumberbatch in the trailers, I knew he couldn’t be just some random guy. I knew that this, despite what I remembered of Khan—because I didn’t see his original series appearance—was the villain that we were waiting for. (Plus, what the hell kind of villain is named John Harrison? It sounds like your next-door neighbour who accidentally gets your car wet when he waters his begonias, so he bakes you cookies to make up for it, except they have raisins instead of chocolate chips so you’re still suspicious of him.) The one thing about his appearance is that he said his name was Khan, which is a blatant shout-out to all the fans who were waiting on the edges of their seats (me) for him to announce himself. If it weren’t for us, he would have said Khan Noonien Singh. But he didn’t, because Khan was self-explanatory for everyone who knows anything about Star Trek.
Not that any of that matters, but it bothered me. Anyway, like I said, I don’t remember what Khan was like in the show, but apparently he’s a dead ringer for Benedict. All I remember is the vest and the crazy hair, which was savagery at its least subtle. I love Benedict’s way more, if only because it’s seething beneath the surface, just as strong as Spock’s emotions but far more lethal (did you see him crush the admiral’s skull like a watermelon? No, of course you didn’t, because it happened off-screen. But you heard it). The darkness within Khan was the darkness referred to in the film’s title, which I think is indicative of how important he’s going to be to the current film series. I do feel that he would have worked better as a third-film villain, though, because I have no idea how J. J. Abrams is going to top him unless Khan wakes up and assembles his own rogues gallery or something. Anyway, I’m super interested in how all of you think Benedict stacks up against the original Khan, so I’ll let Thom tackle that if he likes, and I’d love to hear what you think in the comments section.
There were a few things as far as plot went that bothered me. For one, the volcano scene at the beginning: why were they stealing a scroll from the natives and what the hell was it, besides a plot device to start a chase scene and abruptly end it? Also, why didn’t the Enterprise just beam Spock down into the volcano if they could beam him out of it in the first place? Do the transporters not work underwater? Or why couldn’t they toss a trampoline down there, chuck the briefcase down onto it so it wouldn’t break, and set off the device remotely so they’re not risking their first officer in an active volcano?
For another, the false climax (hey-o) where they send the torpedoes over Khan’s ship: that would have been the perfect climax. The Enterprise crew could have captured him without any trouble and saved Kirk, but no, Spock and f*cking Uhura need to save the day. The chase scene was fine, but there was no way it needed to be the climax of the film. It should have either been much, much shorter or appeared in the middle of the film, because after the excitement of torpedoes bombing the crap out of everything, running and jumping and punching is far less exciting. It’s a bit of a letdown, actually.
For a third thing… I totally saw the big twist with the admiral as a villain coming a lightyear away. Which is not to say that I’m smarter than you, but it does mean I watch a lot more TV and dramatic movies than you.
So what does all of this mean? Why is Into Darkness such an amazing movie? Is it the plot (which I really didn’t get into, because let’s face it, it’s all just a big excuse to pull out the massive gun labelled “Khan” and fire it all over the place)? Is it the characters? Is it Benedict Cumberbatch? (Probably.) No, Into Darkness shows something that the original series seriously lacked: danger. The original series, and even some of the series that followed, were more melodramatic. They tested the edges of science fiction, experimenting with technology and what alien life might look like. The shows advanced over the years, showing female captains, black captains, even one of TV’s first girl-on-girl kisses (Dax, FYI). The Star Trek franchise has been going strong for fifty years now, but even though everyone’s talking about how it’s Doctor Who’s 50th, I don’t remember seeing anything about Star Trek. Which is strange, because Star Trek, for all its silliness at times, shows us that there’s more than just the present and more than just ourselves. It’s about finding the humanity within the alien, using unreality to compare reality, starting with baby steps and now full-on running, showing us how the world is, how it can and should be, and how it must never, ever be.
Is Star Trek one of those things where you have to see every episode and film, own a bat’leth and functional phaser, and speak at least one fictional language to be a fan? That may have been the way of it in the past, but I don’t think it’s true anymore. Abrams’ films are for everyone, not just the diehards, and they may not be super-original, but he’s done well with them. The franchise hasn’t been changed; it’s just modernized. The original audience grew up. They shared their love of a beautiful franchise with their children, who grew up, too, and made movies out of it. I think, as long as you’re willing to suspend your hold on the present and look toward the future, anyone can be considered a Trekkie.
Grace’s Final Grade: A
First, Bruce Greenwood’s Captain Pike is, was, and, for as long as the term roughly translates to “awesomely outrageous”, will always be THE BALLS. It is weird that he keeps being so lenient on Kirk, it is weird that he ever promoted Kirk to first officer, it’s even kind of weird that he bothered to look up Kirk’s file in the first place, but, like everything else in the Abrams’ Trek timeline, you forget all of that weirdness because of how well done the movies are at every other level. When I saw how frail Pike had become during Khan’s attack on Starfleet, it reminded me even more of how strong a character he must have been — to have been tortured to the point of permanent disability that even 23rd-century medicine can’t fix and still be a dedicated Starfleet leader. What a baller. I’m just glad they didn’t put him in that one-blink-means-yes-two-blinks-means-no wheelchair and just let him die.
Second, I like Scotty, I like Simon Pegg, I just think, by the nature of the actor, he’s used too much for comic relief. Watching Scotty tire himself out running from one end of the Vengeance to the other is really a part only a comic actor plays; it’s hard to imagine Kirk or Spock or McCoy or anyone else in that scene. That’s not inherently bad, I just feel that Pegg’s exuberance in the first was just right, while this time some of his parts were played almost entirely for laughs. It sometimes made him look slightly pathetic, like he’s the loser of the group. On the other hand, everybody on the Enterprise would’ve been dead without him.
Third, I really don’t see why Zoe Saldana bothers Grace so much, and if I were a more crass person I would oversimplify it as just being the way we all know that all women hate each other. But I’m not. So I won’t.
Fourth, with all this talk of Alice Eve, it seems we’ve all missed sight of the most important blonde on the bridge, and that’s whoever the girl to the right is. If I could pull off a more convincing Asian accent, I’d be very comfortable with calling her “SUPA-CUTE!”
Considering how much I liked Into Darkness (and I liked it a lot) it’s odd that I have pretty much nothing but complaints to bring up. I thought Khan was undone entirely too easily. If Spock’s modifications were as obvious to Khan as they should have been to the audience, he would never have fallen for the ol’ explosive-material-instead-of-fellow-cryo-frozen-supersoldiers-in-the-torpedoes switcheroo. I don’t like that Kirk was revived so easily, and it would’ve been more interesting leaving him dead as a reversal on the Wrath of Khan/Search for Spock. I didn’t like that the dad (the aforementioned Noel Clarke) at the beginning betrayed Starfleet just to save his daughter; that shouldn’t be enough motivation to lose sight of your ideals and kill a bunch of people. I felt there were way too many different things — capturing Khan, figuring out his deal, discovering the conspiracy, overcoming the conspiracy, overcoming Khan, saving the Enterprise, chasing Khan, saving Kirk — for one movie.
The most interesting thing to me about Star Trek Into Darkness is what it means for the rest of the movies in this series. You’ve gotta figure with Hollywood actors’ contracts, we’ve got two, maybe three more movies at most with this cast. And if they follow the same patterns as the first two, then we’re in for a very action-heavy series, which is good, but potentially disappointing. Into Darkness, especially with the unnecessary fanwank future-Spock cameo, is a movie that obviously and overtly owes a lot to its predecessors, and a lot of it wouldn’t resonate without that foreknowledge. More than anything else while I was watching the film, I wanted Kirk and Khan to part each other’s company on cordial terms, with Chris Pine turning away with a classic Kirk smirk (“Kirk smirk”), quietly and happily muttering to himself, “Khan.” (no exclamation point). Sure, that would’ve been an entirely different movie, but it would’ve shown us that this new timeline can go any where and any way it wants.
Overall, I really did like Star Trek Into Darkness a lot. I love that we now get a real sense of the excitement and danger of a five year mission, I liked Cumberbatch as Khan and in general, there were a lot of great moments, and I liked the movie overall for no greater reason than Abrams and company again brought everything together so well that all of its faults don’t end up mattering. But I didn’t like it anywhere near as much as I liked the first. Giving Star Trek Into Darkness anything less than a 9 (on a 10-point scale) seems almost criminal, but doing so also means that the 10 I gave Star Trek (2009) is really more like a 14 (still on a 10-point scale).
Thom’s Star Trek Into Darkness final score: 9
Grace’s Final Thoughts
- What was with the time jumps at the end of the movie? Two weeks, then a year? The hell is up with that?
- Apparently the Bible’s been translated into Klingon. I don’t know how that’s possible, since the Klingon dictionary only contains about 3,000 words.
- Apparently lots of people complained about the lens flare in the last film, because it was massively scaled back. I really didn’t mind it, though.
- The music, though identical to that of the first film, felt comforting and familiar and dramatic in all the right places. So if Thom tries to tell you it’s boring, he’s wrong.
- The Leonard Nimoy cameo felt too convenient. It’s like, “We don’t have time to drag out this thing with Khan, so let’s dispose of him using the only person who has knowledge of him in this timeline.”
- The Section 31 installation was in London, you guys. And so was Benedict Cumberbatch. SHERLOCK REFERENCE. That is all.
Thom’s On the Edge
- I would’ve liked the opening scene a lot more if it hadn’t been used so extensively in all of the trailers and commercials.
- I liked Uhura confiding a little in Kirk about her relationship with Spock. It made the characters feel real, and besides that, he brought it up.
- The score is still amazing and not boring, it just feels… almost unearned compared to the perfection of the first film.
- Admiral Marcus was so obviously going to be the bad guy. I mean… Peter Weller.
- What is with all the different uniforms? Especially the Vengeance crews’. They looked like male nurses who all secretly wanted to be female nurses.
- These movies are great, but the better they are, the more it feels like they’re preventing a new Star Trek TV series. And that’s fine with me.
- Should we now be looking forward to Abrams’ Star Wars more or less?