Klingons, a tribble, the worst kept secret of the summer, and Alice Eve in her underwear for no real reason. There is all of that and more in J. J. Abrams’ Star Trek Into Darkness. I reviewed it and deemed it a perfectly enjoyable summer movie blockbuster. However, the internet appears to be rounding up its cyber mob to shame Abrams into submission. Has Abrams delivered us yet another Star Trek film destined to entertain the masses while angering the trekkers? If so, do we care?
We saw Star Trek Into Darkness together and recently found the time to sit down to debate all of the above questions and venture off into multiple other directions as part of We Minored in Film’s semi-regular feature called We Debate:
*SET YOUR PHASERS TO SPOILERS. TRANSLATION=BELOW THIS POINT BE LOTS OF SPOILERS.*
Before we begin proper, we must give this movie the appropriate William Shatner salute. Altogether now, raise your chin to the sky and shout with your mighty lungs (and those of you at home can feel free to join in): “KHAAAAAN!”
Kelly: That’s going to make more sense in a couple of minutes. Actually, if that didn’t make sense to you already have you even seen Star Trek Into Darkness or Wrath of Khan. If not, why on Earth are you reading this?
Julianne: Shame on you, reader!
Kelly: Let’s start by establishing our level of Trek fandom as that seems to have quite a huge influence on how people are reacting to this film.
Julianne: J.J. Abrams original Star Trek in 2009 kick-started my fandom. I did not grow up with Star Trek beyond seeing Wrath of Khan when I was a kid. However, in the 4 years since Abrams’ first Star Trek I have seen every episode of The Original Series, Next Generation, and Enterprise and every single film. My only blind spots are Deep Space Nine and Voyager, although with the latter I have seen all of the Doctor’s best episodes. I have now been to a Star Trek convention, and may or may not own a tribble.
Kelly: I grew up on the Original Series cast films and The Next Generation. I have seen every film, and almost every episode of every TV show (with my favorite show being Deep Space Nine). I prefer Picard to Kirk, but I got rather verklempt in 1994 when Kirk died in Generations. So, I have far more mileage on this than you, but I am something closer to a casual fan as I have never felt the urge to go to a convention or dress up in costume (it’s cool if you do; just not my thing).
Julianne: It would seem as if the only place to start is with addressing the Benedict Cumberbatch-shaped elephant in the room. The secret they really sucked at hiding is now out – he’s not a Klingon. He’s not Gary Mitchell. He’s not even John Harrison. He’s here, he’s out, he’s proud, he’s Khan.
Kelly: There’s two things here – there’s the part where we talk about whether or not we liked Khan in the film and the part where we talk about whether or not they should have done something new or different.
Julianne: I have no problem with Khan being in the movie. I think Benedict Cumberbatch is perfectly good in the movie. He is nowhere near as campy as Ricardo Montalban. He is a far icier and calculating villain with a seriously physically intimidating presence. Maybe it’s because I am new to the fandom, but I don’t have a problem with them using such an iconic villain and tweaking the story as they saw fit. After all, if Shakespeare can be adjusted to a contemporary audience, so can Star Trek.
Kelly: Not to go all Jeff Goldblum on you, but just because they can doesn’t mean they should. Why do Wrath of Khan if you can’t improve upon it and have years and years of other canonical material from which to choose? As for Cumberbatch, I am in the very small minority of people who did not 100% love Benedict Cumberbatch in this movie.
Julianne: And just as Jon Stewart demanded an apology from JJ Abrams for admitting on The Daily Show to his not caring for Star Trek, I feel as if I should now demand an apology from you.
Kelly: You’ll get nothing from me!
Julianne: How dare you quote Richard Benjamin from Love at First Bite at me to get out of this one!
Kelly: You caught on to that, did you? I didn’t dislike Cumberbatch. However, there were times where I found myself actively fighting the instinct to find fault in his performance, and the only reason I was resisting was because I so love him on Sherlock. At times, I thought some of his lines were so over-pronounced as to sound unintentionally comedic.
Juliannne: You bite your tongue. I thought Cumberbatch was flawless. I don’t think that everyone who is embracing him is doing so just out blind, slavish, Cumberbitchian loyalty to Sherlock. Also, you really want to talk about potential hammy acting for the guy playing the role originated by Ricardo Montalban?
Kelly: Well, you see…that’s where this all falls apart on me. I was intentionally avoiding comparing him to Montalban because as recent re-viewing of Wrath of Khan revealed his is a far more over-the-top performance than I ever realized.
Julianne: There is not a piece of scenery that does not have his teeth in it. Oh, were the prop men mad. That being said, I think Wrath of Khan is still the best of the Star Trek films. However, to say Montalban is not campy is kidding yourself.
Kelly: I, in no way, dispute anything you have said. I simply dared and instantly regretted to find even the slightest fault in Cumberbatch’s work as Khan. However, I would argue it’s not actually fair to compare Cumberbatch to Montalban from Wrath of Khan. Abrams and his screenwriters re-used Wrath of Khan’s evil villain hell bent upon revenge motif for 2009’s Star Trek with the villain played by Eric Bana. What we have with Into Darkness is new. This is different than even the Khan’s from the Star Trek original series episode “Space Seed.” This is not the “from hell’s heart I stab at thee” version of Khan we popularly think of.
Julianne: I agree.
Kelly: Instead, they make Khan sympathetic and try to trick us into believing for a while that the main villain is actually Robocop himself Peter Weller as Admiral Marcus. So, they gave us something a bit different until they got to the end and decided to lift a whole scene from Wrath of Khan, just with the Spoke-Kirk roles reversed. If you have no connection to Wrath of Khan, this sequence of the film with Kirk dying from radiation poisoning while Spock watches from the other side of protective glass is probably fairly effective, even if Quinto’s screaming of “Khaaaan!’ is a bit wobbly. However, because I’ve been living with that scene from Wrath of Khan for my entire life I couldn’t help but be taken out of the story.
Julianne: I understand the idea of it pulling you out of the story. I didn’t necessarily have a problem with it, because I thought it worked so well in the film. For me, it was an incredibly effective scene– one of my favorites in the movie. Zachary Quinto is the perfect Spock, and he’s brilliant here, absolutely brilliant.
Kelly: Oh yeah, I agree. He’s great. What definitely worked well in the film, for the most part, was the obvious effort to give every significant member of the Enterprise crew something to do dramatically. The original series and their films pretty much cared about Kirk, Spock, and McCoy and anything beyond those three was an afterthought. However, here McCoy ultimately gets downgraded a bit in exchange for the crew members like Sulu and Chekov getting screen time.
Julianne: Initially when it seemed like Scotty was going to be gone for the bulk of the film, I was about to mutiny., attacking the screen in a blind rage.
Kelly: Of course, it’s a big misdirection because, although Scotty is not on the Enterprise for most of the film, he ends up being one of the film’s main sources of humor and ultimately helps save the day. Plus, his mute R2D2-like alien friend was back, which I loved.
Julianne: I think you have to work hard to not find Simon Pegg funny.
Kelly: Speaking of funny, was I the only one who thought that perhaps Sulu was going to go mad with power during his brief stretch as acting captain of the Enterprise when Kirk and Spock were off to the Klingon planet. I half-expected Kirk to find Sulu had begun executing crew members who refused to acknowledge him as captain.
Julianne: As soon as the credits started rolling, he killed Kirk right then and there.
Kelly: Yeah, that “captain has a nice ring to it” line was a far deadlier foreshadowing than we would have predicted. Speaking of which, the death of Kirk aka “He’s dead? No worries. We have a tribble for that.” Did you in any way for one second think he was dead for good?
Julianne: Oh, no. However, I think that’s a pretty common reaction when watching a main character of any kind being killed off in a film or tv show. I would argue that even Wrath of Khan ends with a pretty obvious guarantee that Spock is coming back.
Kelly: That begs the question, though, of why kill Kirk in the first place. There’s no real suspense. They were just doing it to complete an emotional arc for Spock as well as re-create an inverted Wrath of Khan ending. However, ultimately it is an action which has no consequences. For Spock to come back in the original films, we first had to wait the requisite length between sequels and then an entire film – a very long and unfortunate film –
Julianne: So, you prefer this approach, because your tone would indicate otherwise.
Kelly: It’s not that I necessarily wanted to see Star Trek The Search for Kirk. It’s more that Into Darkness does the Wrath of Khan thing without any apparent consequences. Khan survives. Kirk dies. Comes back. Magic blood.
Julianne: As opposed to revival by magic planet in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock?
Kelly: But at least there for Spock to come back another character ultimately ended up dying. Granted, I in no way mourned for Kirk’s son and his not-quite-William-Katt hair.
Julianne: His death really seemed like an act of mercy for the audience.
Kelly: However, at least there was some sort of consequence there. It’s not that the death scene between Kirk and Spock is done poorly. It’s just that why go there if you’re not going to completely commit to it.
Julianne: I would argue the main reason is going there it gives Zachary Quinto something interesting to do. It drives home the nature of their relationship. Kirk’s death is almost the MaGuffin for Spock to reveal his human side. For me, that’s what really makes it work. An angy, emotional Spock is the best kind of Spock.
Kelly: I say this as someone who very much so appreciated Quinto’s acting during Kirk’s death scene, but is it bit odd that when Spock lost his entire planet and mother in 2009’s Star Trek he became emotionally compromised and lost his temper only after Kirk’s prodding, but here he completely loses it right away?
Julianne: I would actually argue “no”, and here’s why: Vulcan sucks and he was creeped out by his mother’s old age make-up.
In all seriousness, I would actually argue that most of that first film is setting up the idea he’s emotionally compromised and desperate not to show it, because his father’s there. However, from pretty much the moment he was emotionally compromised in Star Trek to the moment Kirk dies he has been suppressing his emotions, as he admits to Uhura and Kirk before they meet the Klingons. So, in a way Kirk’s death is the thing that finally pushes him over the edge, the provrebial straw if you will.
Kelly: I did enjoy his fight with Khan after Kirk’s “death,” and was particularly delighted when his much vaunted move – the universally renowned Vulcan death grip – was but a mere annoyance to Khan. Spock’s “I may not have thought this through” reaction was priceless.
Julianne: I imagine he must have thought, “Vulcan never told me that wouldn’t work. Curse you, Vulcan! You, too, New Vulcan, and your cryptic other Spock. You’re better off gone, after all.”
Kelly: Now, let’s talk about the true secret they actually managed to keep – they rolled Leonord Nimoy out of whatever hyperbolic chamber Walter Bishop put him in to show up for a cameo as the Spock from the original timeline. His scene was rather funny, with his “now, you know I can’t talk about this, but that Khan is just no good and never will be.” Which then segues into, “RUN! Get out now. Why are you all still standing there?” Although, I thought it might have somewhat undercut the action a little to have an old guard from the original films pop up to remind Quinto’s Spock and the audience to not trust Khan. Maybe old Spock would have had an opinion on the new look for the Klingons.
Julianne: Trekkers would say they were wasted in this film. I would say their helmets make them look like Shredder from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and that I was fine with them being there for only the briefest of scenes, but I speak as someone who has never particularly cared for the Klingons..
Kelly: They do feel underused here. They show up, their leader takes off his shiny helmet, he makes the not so nice-nice with Uhura, and then he , his men, and 3 or 4 ships get completely and utterly decimated by the one-man army that is Khan..
Julianne: Doesn’t that build up Khan, though? That’s kind of the point of that entire sequence – a race of warriors with the odds stacked against them, and Khan laughs at them as he crushes them beneath his boot.
Kelly: That’s absolutely the point. It’s just for those who don’t know the Klingons and are being introduced to them for the first time they must seem like real push-overs. The bigger problem is that the film is consistently building to a Starfleet-Klingon war, and seems set-up nicely for an ending which will hint at that in a sequel. Instead, that is a thread left dangling for whoever takes over the franchise from J. J. Abrams.
Julianne: Maybe they can join up with that primitive group from the beginning of the film who end up worshiping the Enterprise like it’s a god.
Kelly: Before Abrams, that primitive group would get an entire episode full of prime directive speeches.
Julianne: I don’t miss those.
Kelly: They do tend to run a bit tiresome.
Julianne: We still get those, but they are now interrupted by screams of “Ah!” and running, and flying spears ,and volcanoes, and basically a lot of background distractions.
Kelly: They can still philosophize, just in-between panting for air.
Julianne: Philosophy. You hear that a lot from classic Trek fans. To me, there are two things Trek fans who don’t like Abrams’ approach to the material argue: that Abrams actively rejects Gene Rodenberry’s rose-colored view of a utopian future celebrating human harmony, and that Abrams fails to offer any real subtext or commentary on contemporary society.
To that, I ask if these are bad things. Abrams’s view of the Star Trek world is a definitely more cynical in the same way that Doctor Who is both the most optimistic and cynical show of all time. Good wins, bad loses, faith in humanity remains, etc.. However, no matter what point you go to in human history or where you travel in the universe, the same basic character flaws (greed and anger, dozens others) drive the characters and make the world go ’round. Abrams operates in the same area with his films, which is a view to which I respond. I like a more cynical view of human interactions, be it past, present, or future.
Kelly: Abrams, even if he may not even know the name of the show or have ever seen a single episode, is doing the Deep Space Nine version of Star Trek.
Julianne: Which is the version which occurred after Gene was dead, dead, dead. Those social commentary episodes Trekkers love to talk about– hippies are strange, Native American rights are good, racism is bad episodes–yeah, those are crap.
Kelly: It is the aspect of classic Trek which has possibly aged worse than the special effects and costumes.
Julianne: Let’s not forget Next Gen’s attempt to comment on gay rights.
Kelly: The idea, then, is that one version of Star Trek had something to say, whereas Abrams version does not.
Julianne: However, when it had something to say, frequently it embarrassed itself.
Kelly: There is an undeniably regrettable quaintness to some of Star Trek’s vaunted bravery. However, I must admit that in some cases I find it admirable. Yes, looking for God in Star Trek V did not work out well for anyone, but there is still an interesting idea about the intersection of science and religion.
Julianne: What about saving the whales in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, which I like, by the way?
Kelly: The whale-sized maguffin.
Julianne: I always kind of wondered why the whales didn’t tell the aliens at the end, “They just brought us here. We’ve been extinct for centuries. Don’t buy their treachery, especially whatever the pointy-eared is selling. He tried to swim with us, the bastard. Take them down.” One could also wonder why the aliens didn’t ask, “Are there more than two of you? What happens if one of you coughs on the other, because then we’re back to where we started?”
Kelly: The point, however, is that I actually do somewhat admire the often failed attempts of the Star Trek films to provide some sort of commentary. To be fair, Into Darkness is trying to make a commentary about a post 9/11 mentality in which the true enemy comes from within. However, I think the film is too devoted to setting up action set pieces to delve into that.
Julianne: It’s most effective commentary is on that of the character of Captain Kirk. He ignores and disregards rules, and is told by Admiral Pike that he is simply coasting on dumb luck and behaves as if he’s a god-like captain. Then in the form of Admiral Marcus and Khan he is confronted by not one but two individuals who view themselves as either god-like or, at the very least, above the rules. Both represent extremes of what he could become. This is an interesting layer that Wrath of Khan doesn’t really have. This is a world in which the lesser of two evils must be chosen, and no answer seems right and noble. The Enterprise crew is a crew of noble ideals surrounded by corrupt mercenaries.
Kelly: Hey, do we remember when Kirk was demoted at the beginning of this movie? As in, losing the title of Captain and the Enterprise? Because that really didn’t last very long.
Julianne: Yeah, but a lot goes down pretty quickly. Plus, he’s the expendable pawn in Admiral Marcus’ plan. So, it makes sense to give back the Enterprise to him if your ultimate plan is to erase any trail of Khan and the crew you like least.
Kelly: Speaking of Robo Admiral, he was kind of awesome in this movie. Granted, it’s not really explained why his daughter has a British accent. However, do we really care when she’s in her underwear in a scene that even screenwriter Damn Lindelof admitted was completely gratuitous nudity. To be fair, it is an incredibly brief scene.
Julianne: People like to conveniently forget how incredibly sexualized women have been in the Star Trek universe.
Kelly: So, is this a good movie?
Julianne: It’s incredibly fun. I enjoyed pretty much every frame of it, lens flares and all. I don’t have a problem calling it good. It’s a great action movie. I think there is more to it than meets the eye. It’ll definitely hold up more than last summer’s The Avengers, which I think if you go back and watch, really has a pretty dull beginning, a fantastic middle, and a blah finale with a cop-out ending.
Kelly: You’ll have to give me a moment. I’m still adjusting my eyes to the memories of the lens flares, which are tolerable until you remember that by Abrams’ own admission they’re largely pointless.
Julianne: They make me think of old 70s sci-fi films.
Kelly: I wish I were similarly blessed because all it reminds me of is how pointless it is. But I asked if this was a good movie for a reason. Because this is undeniably a good action movie. Is it a good Star Trek movie, though? Well, to answer that you have to remember that not all Star Trek movies are actually good.
Julianne: Many of them are not. Let’s be honest, the ones that are really, really good – that list just includes Wrath of Khan, The Voyage Home, Undiscovered Country, and First Contact, right? I think Into Darkness is a good Star Trek film. It’s just different from the Star Trek films of our youths.
Kelly: I would add in Generations, and Insurrection is not bad.
Julianne: And everyone involved with Insurrection thanks you for your unwarranted kindness to them just now. On the other end, I think you have to actively work to dislike Into Darkness, and I know there are plenty of internet nit-pickers who live for that kind of thing. To me, though, this film’s qualities are so unassailably strong that if you dislike it ,the fault lies mostly in you and not in the film.
Kelly: I didn’t dislike it, I didn’t love it. I can objectively look at it and appreciate a well-made action film. However, I was never quite engaged with it emotionally. In fact, the emotions I felt during Kirk’s death scene had nothing to do with what was on-screen but of the memories it evoked of Spock’s death scene from Wrath of Khan, which is an unearned emotional response predicated upon mimicking that for which some are nostalgic. However, some of the action is undeniably astounding, and I didn’t really have a bad time with it. I just didn’t like it nearly as much as you.
What say all of you? Disappointed in us for not mentioning the Deep Space Nine “Section 31″ reference, or our failure to discuss the action scenes in any detail whatsoever? Fuming over our willingness to poke fun at the goofy Star Trek whale movie? Or wondering why we had no real response to the film’s incorrect implication that the Klingon planet Kronos is just a hop and a skip away from Earth? Or did you actually laugh at our jokes? Let us know in the comments.
Check Out Our Star Trek Into Darkness Coverage Elsewhere on The Site
- Review: Star Trek Into Darkness – Attempting to Appreciate The Darkness and Ignore the Star Trek
- Fans Wrongly Vote Star Trek Into Darkness the Worst Star Trek Film of All Time – Should Paramount Be Concerned?
- Declining to Boldly Go Into the Darkness: Making Sense of Star Trek’s Under-Performing Box Office
- Why Alice Even in Her Underwear is Nothing New for the Star Trek Franchise
Plus, Here are Some Other Stories From Different Sites:
- J.J. Abrams Created an Alternate Scene to Preserve the Secret of ‘Star Trek Into Darkness’ (slashfilm.com)
- Star Trek: Into Darkness (living24fps.wordpress.com)