Well, you see, there are these torpedoes…
(Warning: this article is very long! And also filled with SPOILERS!)
I basically loved the 2009 Star Trek movie. I don’t mean liked, I mean loved! It’s only a few years old and I’ve watched it close to twenty times. It holds the prize as the movie I have seen the most times in such a short span, and this makes it one of my favorite movies. Ever. It was a bitchin’ monster of a lens flare actioner filled with brilliantly cast characters that were complete revelations, both in themselves and in their interactions. It was true greatness.
I am also a big fan of pre-Abrams Star Trek (though mostly “The Next Generation”, which is what I grew up with and which is generally far more rational and conscientious than “TOS”). The 2009 movie did have some plot points that did not make a great deal of sense, such as what the exact background of Nero was, and what the hell “red matter” was, and a few other bits (I didn’t really care for the scene of 12-year-old Kirk driving an old sports car – not futuristic enough for me). Perhaps its worst shortcoming, in my view, was that the first movie made no statements whatsoever about the nature of the future society in the movie; it said nothing about Gene Roddenberry’s vision of a utopian future. Still, while it didn’t show it explicitly, it didn’t deny it, either. It could be taken as being implicitly there, which of course was the way I took it.
These various shortcomings, however, evaporated in the face of the amazing character interactions and the top-notch entertainment value. There was so much to like in the first Abrams movie; the pacing was masterful. Every scene led logically to the next; the action scenes were glorious, and the characters planned their actions on the fly, interacting like a perfectly oiled machine. Another favorite thing of mine was that, when they were at warp, they actually had the pilot count down to exiting from warp, rather than having the captain just wave his arm at some approximate time and say “take us out of warp” (which is completely scientifically implausible). I was able to forgive Star Trek (2009) for every one of its shortcomings and succumb to its full-throttle bombardment of effective sci-fi entertainment and fabulous character relationships. Damn good actors in all the key roles! A compulsively watchable movie. Highest marks.
So, as you can imagine, my expectations for Star Trek Into Darkness were as loaded as a slick new photon torpedo. I went in there hoping that lightning would strike twice.
Of course, it did not. When does it ever?
Coincidentally, the plot of Star Trek Into Darkness also turns out to revolve around slick new photon torpedoes. Sadly, however, the plot of this sequel makes no sense, there are only a very few good character moments (all involving Spock), the pacing is awful and the action sequences vastly and melodramatically over-wrought. The movie as a whole is that most disappointing of Hollywood beasts: a massively contrived mess of commercial exploitation.
Seriously, I have problems with almost the entire script. I hardly know where to begin. But let’s start with recapping the story. Following the destruction of Vulcan in the first movie, Starfleet wisely scanned known space for other threats, and discovered… Khan! Lying in suspended animation with 72 of his people – genetically enhanced superhumans from 300 years ago (i.e. from 1959 – this may be an intentional acknowledgement of Star Trek taking place in an alternate history).
The action starts with Khan having escaped from Starfleet custody and wanting revenge for the death of his people. Except they’re not dead, but Khan (being really, really smart, right?) assumes that they are. As the story progresses, we are told in extremely vague terms what happened earlier. Khan put his people (who were being held hostage to force Khan to create superior weaponry for Starfleet’s über-secret military intelligence agency, Section 31) into advanced torpedoes in order to try and smuggle them out, but he was discovered, and was only able to escape himself. In this breezed-over backstory, there are many things that are not explained and that do not make any sense. We’ll get to those presently. Khan was working for Starfleet’s supreme leader, admiral Marcus, who believed that a war with the Klingon Empire was inevitable. So the admiral – a militaristic purist in a society otherwise made up of humanitarian idealists (not that this is in fact specified, but it is clearly supposed to be implicit) – was hellbent on both preparing for that war and trying to ignite it.
This is where the plot stops making sense, because the sequence of events and the plan of admiral Marcus are obscure and nonsensical. The first big question is: WHY the bloody hell does the angry and newly-escaped (and supposedly highly intelligent) Khan go to the Klingon homeworld, of all places?! This only plays into Marcus’ plan to start a war with the Klingons, and sure enough, Marcus immediately dispatches the Enterprise to the Klingon homeworld of Kronos, with clearly immoral orders to fire super-torpedoes at the planet. So to me it seemed at first as if Khan and Marcus must be in cahoots with each other, working together to re-unite Khan with his people by delivering the torpedoes to him. And helping each other start the war with the Klingons. But, of course, none of this is the case. No, Khan just happened to pick the Klingon homeworld as a nice place to hide, and Marcus just happened to want to bomb Khan and the Klingons with those torpedoes, apparently figuring that it would be a nice way to get rid of Khan’s people at the same time (instead of, oh, I dunno, just taking them out and disposing of them). That’s crazy. Why O Why would Marcus use the torpedoes against Khan/the Klingons while Khan’s people were still in them?? If Marcus wanted to kill them, why didn’t he do that right after Khan escaped? It certainly wasn’t because he couldn’t open them. The logical thing would have been to take Khan’s people out and keep them as leverage, just in case. But no.
These central plot elements do not make a lick of sense. It seems like Marcus’ plan to bomb the Klingon homeworld was in place and in motion even before Khan conveniently went into hiding there, or, that Marcus at least knew before it happened that Khan would go to Kronos. These things suggest a backstory between Khan and Marcus which we are not made privy to. We are left wondering about many details that would have been salient to a coherent plot, such as how Khan got away with putting his people in the torpedoes? His people were being held hostage and must have been under constant hi-tech guard, so how could Khan (even if he knew where they were, and had the opportunity to snatch them) possibly hope – which he clearly did – to remove them without being instantly discovered? This doesn’t make Khan seem very smart. Again it smells of some kind of deal between Khan and Marcus that was later deleted from the script during some of its undoubtedly many revisions. There should have been something else going on. And another question: if Khan had the chance to procure his people and hide them for a while in the torpedoes, WHY didn’t he just wake them up when he had the opportunity? At least one of them? That would have given him real resources to control; that would have improved his position so much more.
So, this core story of what the frak happened between Khan and Marcus does not work, but that doesn’t stop it from dominating the movie to the extent that there is room for very little else. To this also belong the problems with admiral Marcus’ motivation. These problems go to the foundational heart of the Trek universe. Starfleet, according to the first Abrams movie, is a “peacekeeping armada” – when has “peacekeeping” ever meant anything other than sending in impartial soldiers to keep two sides from killing each other? That is surely a military function (though it may not be the only function). Starfleet’s ships are also armed with phasers and photon torpedoes; these weapons are consistently present in all incarnations of Star Trek. The command structure of Starfleet is extremely military-like, with uniforms, a strict hierarchy of officers and lots of giving, taking and following orders. When there is a war on, the average Starfleet starship is used as a warship. We see it in the Dominion War in “Deep Space 9” and we see it in the various major Borg encounters in “TNG” and First Contact, among other places. Starfleet may not be military per se, but it can fulfill that function when necessary. That is part of its utopian dynamism! What goes on in Into Darkness is that Abrams assumes, by way of admiral Marcus (and some imbecilic comments by Scotty), the existence of some deep actual rift between Starfleet being military and being peacekeeping explorers. Admiral Marcus wants to “militarize” Starfleet; he wants to turn the starships into warships so they can fight the Klingons and whomever. The assumption here is that the typical starship is intentionally “under-armed” and therefore unfit for military functions. But this is not the case. As a matter of logic the ships of Starfleet are of course outfitted with all the highest-tech gadgets and weapons possible, so that they can also, very intentionally, serve a military function if called upon to do so. Thus, without any elaboration about the exact deeper ideological nature of the existing Starfleet in this movie, admiral Marcus’ plans make no sense. We don’t even know if he is acting entirely alone and misusing his authority, or if he’s part of a political enclave in favor of militarization; on this, the movie is silent.
This same lack of elaboration about this version of the Star Trek universe gives rise to many questions: Do they have replicators? Do the starships use impulse power at all? Is every planet in the galaxy only a couple of minutes away at warp speed? We don’t know; we are never told; it is never established. Starfleet is mentioned a lot, but is the United Federation of Planets ever mentioned; is it even there? This makes a mess of the Trek universe and undermines plot coherence because the context is in flux and we don’t know what signifies what. To the mainstream audience, these things may be trivial, but to a sci-fi audience they are highly salient. In order to know that what goes on is at least a little bit scientific, we need some parameters laid down; some rules to be established, in order to know what the storytelling limitations are! Otherwise these movies are nothing but pure fantasy – and not even good fantasy, since even magic needs to take place via some kind of known rules. What this boils down to is that Abrams and company are very, very bad at a particular thing that is important in science fiction and franchise stories: world-building. More on this later.
Here’s another elephant in the room: Khan is from 300 years in the past. In the short time elapsed since the first movie (probably a lot less than the four years between 2009 and 2013), could he have both learned everything about the science and technology of the movie’s present (2259), and taken this knowledge further, and helped design highly advanced weaponry and a super-warship? Even if – and that’s a big “if” – we grant that he did not invent new technology, but just applied the designs of a master martial strategist to Starfleet’s existing technology, it’s still pushing credibility very, very far.
And what is much worse: there is NO THREAT in the movie of the magnitude intimated in the promotional material. Khan threatens Starfleet headquarters and chief personnel, but nothing else. At no point is the entire Earth in danger. Khan is just a slippery guy who doesn’t even act like much of a villain until he starts firing on the Enterprise at the end. Even the spectacular crash into San Francisco at the end, taking down many large buildings and no doubt causing thousands of casualties, isn’t anything Khan really plans; his only objective is to hit the actual Starfleet headquarters. The impending war with the Klingons (if it ever comes) was presumably about to happen anyway. In short, there is really only one reason that the “into darkness” of the title makes any sense at all: if it refers to Marcus’ attempt to drag Starfleet into war and if this movie is a set-up for a Klingon war in the next movie. I hope it is; it would make this 2013 disaster just a teensy bit more meaningful.
In most ways that matter, Into Darkness is a Khan/Marcus movie more than a Star Trek movie. Those two characters provide all the thrust of what is going on, while our beloved Trek cast is being sorely and fatally neglected. Add to that the felony of a cliché storyline where the bad guy turns out to be the heroes’ boss-guy – a plot type that is ridiculously overused (like in several of the Mission: Impossible movies) and only chosen by writers for how easy it is to do – and even so it was royally botched up here – and which I consequently hate with all my heart. And on top of that is the in-story uselessness of the “John Harrison” identity. It seems clear that the entire John Harrison idea is nothing but a marketing ploy to disguise the identity (and alleged ethnicity!) of Khan – in the story itself it has no real purpose other than having Khan himself rather than Marcus reveal who he is, and the Harrison identity is indeed dispensed with very quickly.
In general, the big problem is the plan and the background story of the villain. The one big shortcoming that the 2009 movie had was also the plan of the villain. But in 2009 the top-notch entertainment value of the overall movie made me forgive this faux-pas and just embrace it as thrilling sci-fi drama. Not so with the 2013 movie. The basic problem is once again the vast, inscrutable behind-the-scenes goings-on of the big villain, but this time there are tentacles from this problem reaching throughout the movie and infecting every aspect of it. I am referring to the infernally asinine torpedoes. There’s nothing about the torpedoes that makes sense. If you say any one thing, three problems with that proposition pop up. This ultimately boils down to one thing: Khan would never be associated with anything so imbecilic.
This is a fundamental problem with this movie: that Khan and the plot he’s a part of are stupid. The one thing you really don’t want to be thinking when you see a supposedly really smart character carrying out his master plan is: but that’s stupid!! And that, my friends, sums up the main problem with Into Darkness. A super-intelligent guy running about doing nonsensical things. It takes intelligence to write an intelligent character like Khan. Abrams, Orci, Kurtzman and Lindelof fell light-years short of this challenge, and as far as I am concerned they will never live it down. This script is quite simply monumentally awful. We are not even told what the hell Khan’s plan (going to Kronos and all) was before he knew that his people were alive. It doesn’t look like there were any.
We have established, then, that the basic plot of the new movie is a pile of nonsense, and certainly not put together by logic-worshipping Vulcans. Torpedoes with people in them will stand from now on and till the edge of doom as one of the worst and most contrived plot elements in motion picture history. Jeez.
Let us then turn to the way the story unfolds and its various details, and to which degree these may or may not have anything to do with logic.
The opening sequence. Modern movies have a tendency to skip more and more of the circumstantial situations in a story, and this is often a good idea; after all, we don’t want to waste time on things that don’t really matter to the story. But sometimes this tendency goes way too far, and cuts out things that actually do matter to the story. The opening sequence of Into Darkness is a good example. As it plays out, we’re not exactly sure what’s going on. To me, at first, it seemed like Kirk had been playing tourist, and like some naughty 12-year-old had stolen a holy relic from the locals – never minding that the Prime Directive expressly forbids any such action. We find out, of course, that Kirk’s actions are part of a bigger plan to save the native culture on this planet by leading them away from the volcano in case the Enterprise crew’s efforts to freeze it are unsuccessful – but I think this is a lot less clear than it should be. The full effect of this sequence would have been better achieved if we had actually seen Kirk inside the alien compound, snatching the scroll, and heard his reasoning. But no, that was not cool enough for Abrams and company, who preferred giving us what is effectively two thirds of a complete sequence.
The worst thing about the opening sequence, however, is that Spock’s life was put into danger that way. Even today, it is possible to remote control devices in ways that make it unnecessary for a human(/sentient) being to be thusly imperiled – by 2259 alternatives to this course of action should have been legion. And indeed, captain Pike also criticizes Kirk for this very thing, meaning that this is a deliberate plot contrivance that the writers recognize and acknowledge as such, which to my mind makes it worse. Many such elements are clearly put into this script for comedic value, but if there is too much silly comedy, the story suffers – and by golly how this one suffers!
And why hide the Enterprise at the bottom of an ocean? It should just be in orbit as usual. But this is the movie-makers’ idea of good fun – and to reply to Scotty’s inane comment (which reveals another deliberate plot contrivance), yes, I realize how ridiculous it is. One of the problems here is that the writers are trying to be funny. If it is really funny, a lot of lapses in plot and scene logic can in fact be forgiven (just look at the brilliant Galaxy Quest). But this is just not particularly funny.
Then comes the annoyingly slow and overlong scene after the opening sequence with a guy (Mickey from “Doctor Who”!) who seems to work at Section 31 having a dying daughter. In exchange for a vial of Khan’s all-curing blood (which works its magic in seconds!!), this guy agrees to kill himself and everyone else at his workplace. Well, this is 2259; medical science is damn advanced. What I would like to know is this: What disease did the daughter have?! I know it seems like nitpicking, but I think we need to know; we need a bit of technobabble about some sort of Denebian blood-bug or something – something that it would be believable that 23rd century medical science could not cure. Also, considering that this is a future based on and stuffed with lofty ideals, it would not be any kind of straightforward decision to sacrifice dozens of lives, even to save your daughter. That might be something some people would do today. In the Trek future: not so much! And this guy was probably a high-clearance Section 31 employee, which makes it even more unbelievable. So, no, for the life of me I don’t see much logic in this sequence.
Okay – obviously, it would take too long to analyze all of the movie in complete depth, so from here on, let me just mention a few handfuls of the plethora of nitty-gritty things that make this movie such an abysmal failure from where I’m squatting. When I’m done doing that, I will also get to a couple of things I actually liked – I promise!
Check this out: The transwarp equation has been confiscated by Starfleet? But surely Scotty can remember it? Or is it the case that Starfleet has forbidden him to use it? And is he obeying that order? These questions are not addressed! And what’s much worse: if transwarp can be handily used to beam between planets, won’t that quickly make all space-travel and spaceships obsolete? Not a great device to introduce in a space franchise! Another problem with this is that it highlights and emphasizes how this was actually also a lazy plot device in the 2009 movie; the whole transwarp equation is a cheap trick to make everything happen faster. I hear that in the novelization of the new movie, a few of these unexplained plot points are addressed; for instance it is stated that transwarp beaming is extremely hard on a human being, and that Khan can only do it with a good expectation of success because of his enhanced physiology. But that’s just an ad hoc explanation for the new movie; it doesn’t address how Kirk and Scotty could use transwarp beaming in the 2009 movie!
Speaking of the first movie: character-wise, our beloved Enterprise crew had so much to do – all of them! In this movie they are all shoved aside – shoved away – to make room for a plot so ridiculous that it’s to cry over. Scotty, Bones and Chekov are so under-used that they might as well not be in the movie. I had either zero or a negative emotional response to most of the characters in this movie. Simon Pegg over-acts, but that would not have been a problem if he wasn’t underwritten. “Get aff!” wasn’t even funny the first time, why the freak did they have to go and repeat that poor excuse for a gag? In this movie, both Scotty and Bones are nothing but tired parodies of themselves. Spock and Uhura’s relationship squabbles are used for comic relief, which also amount to under-using. Their lovers’ tiff in the shuttle was too unprofessional for these characters. Even the whole mind-meld thing was completely artificial, serving no purpose but to fuel Spock and Uhura’s shuttle argument. Not that you could detect how much time had actually passed between the mind-meld and that argument – it would have had to be enough time for their relationship to go through a change, but in the movie things happen so fast that there doesn’t seem to have been time for such change. And Kirk, he just goes “Hellooo girls!” again, repeating that beat from the first movie. Groan.
As for arriving near the Klingon homeworld; first they find a habitable but completely uninhabited planetoid in the Klingon home system (where they open the first torpedo). Think about it: if the Earth of 300 years hence had a planetoid with a breathable atmosphere inside a few million miles, it would be thoroughly colonized. The Klingons, apparently, despite being an interstellar empire that conquers other worlds, are not the least bit interested in their own backyard. Also, there were no space stations or planetary defenses surrounding Kronos, either. That’s consciously idiotic writing.
Then we have the wasted use of Klingons in a short scene where they are nothing but random, anonymous characters – it’s nothing more than a cameo walk-on; not even time enough to finish a conversation, and let Uhura actually finish something she started.
As for poor Benedict Cumberbatch, his talent is preposterously wasted; he hardly actually gets to act in the movie at all. He doesn’t say anything cool – nothing even remotely in the league of Montalban’s “From hell’s heart I stab at thee!” His background, as previously mentioned, is completely neglected; it would have been nice to have put one or two faces on his “people” and have demonstrated some kind of human reason for his devotion to them, rather than just mention the principle of it. But no. Despite a large role, he never properly rises above a cipher. A waste of a good actor.
Getting more “technical” (joke!), let’s look at the way the warp drive is portrayed in this movie, which is fraught with problems:
On their way to the Klingon homeworld of Kronos, the warp drive is sabotaged – but when they drop out of warp they are conveniently only 20 minutes from Kronos? That seems strange, but all right, I’ll grant that the purpose of the sabotage was to keep them from leaving Klingon space.
From the Klingon homeworld system, Kirk calls up Scotty on Earth in real-time, pretty as you please! I hear that this is explained in the novelization as taking place via a transwarp relay, but, again, the transwarp equation was confiscated by Starfleet, so they don’t have use of it! Nothing is mentioned that explains this. I guess in the Abrams Universe all communication is just instantaneous.
Returning to Earth, the Enterprise is pursued by the admiral’s warship, and fired upon with phasers – while both ships are at warp. Travelling faster than light, they essentially exchange laser fire? Does not compute! I could let this slide if the phaser fire came from an angle slightly in front of the Enterprise, with the admiral’s ship having overtaken the Enterprise, but this is not the case. The Enterprise is fired upon while being pursued, at FTL speed. Very bad form!
Also, the Enterprise sustains damage, and loses people out of the gaping holes in the hull, again while at warp. You’d think that warp speed could not be maintained with that kind of damage. But apparently Abrams and his writers are establishing a new kind of warp, in which a lot of things work as they do in normal space… Personally, I think that’s stupid. Particularly because they don’t address, much less explain, any of it.
As a result of the attack (which comes no later than a few minutes, at most, after they’ve departed!), the Enterprise accidentally drops out of warp, and accidentally finds itself in cislunar space! Within one light-second of Earth! That is extremely silly (because, for one thing, without the accident they would have whizzed past Earth in another few milliseconds, and, for another thing, they can’t possible have been at warp for long enough to get from Kronos to Earth in that span of time), and it would be absolutely impossible without precision navigation (some might argue that they meant to exit right there, but in that case, why would the captain shout “Where are we”?). The whole countdown-to-exiting-from-warp element introduced in the 2009 movie is destroyed in this movie. Thrown out. As a science fan as well as a sci-fi fan, I find that heart-breaking.
These shortcomings comprise still further plot elements that the writers/producers KNEW were unscientific, which they squeezed into the movie in order to get some action sequence they wanted. This is what “contrived” means, and it is a howler of a no-no by any criteria of good writing. I grant that much of it is done in the name of comic relief, but almost none of that was effective for me, and then there’s just nothing interesting or likable left to appreciate here.
And if you think it can’t get any worse, you are terribly, terribly wrong.
Let’s continue about the ludicrous end sequence. This climactic sequence, with the Enterprise battling the Vengeance, and subsequently falling towards Earth, is supposed to be very exciting and fast-paced, but it is in fact long long long! It lasts for almost the entire final 45 minutes of the movie! And it seems that more or less everything that happens in the movie is crammed into this part. There is far too much action that means nothing, and which simply retreads scenes from the previous movie. Here is a list of the ten most egregious and offensive errors and plot holes, besides everything mentioned above:
1. The end sequence takes place in Earth orbit – the stronghold of Starfleet. But there are no other Starfleet vessels in sight. It was the same when Nero attacked Earth in the 2009 movie; no resistance from other Starfleet vessels in Earth’s vicinity. Is the Enterprise the only starship that Starfleet has?? Admittedly, this logicless device with “no other ship in range”, even when it cannot possibly be the case, is a staple of the Trek universe which is as time-honored as it is toe-cringing, harking all the way back from “TOS”, and also appearing in Star Trek: Generations. But it doesn’t become funnier by being used over and over; it becomes stupider.
2. Admiral Marcus can beam his daughter aboard the Vengeance despite the Enterprise’s shields being up! A moment later, Khan can’t beam the torpedoes aboard unless Enterprise drops its shields!
3. Communications are down! Yet a moment later, Uhura has established real-time connection to New Vulcan, many solar systems away! Back in “TOS”, when they wanted to send a message to Starfleet, it would take weeks to arrive! But I guess they have use of transwarp communication capacity. Despite the transwarp equation having been confiscated.
4. Talking to Spock Prime is of no consequence! Spock Prime tells Young Spock about the Wrath of Khan encounter, but how does that contribute anything to the way they beat Khan in this movie? I don’t see any meaningful connection. Did Spock Prime explain that they defeated Khan by sending a torpedo to his ship? Gee, what luck that they just happened to already have 72 torpedoes handy here, then! Which they would no doubt have used in the same exact way without Spock Prime’s advice. So his appearance falls completely flat.
5. The space diving scene between the Enterprise and the Vengeance was just a regurgitation of the space jumping scene in the first movie. “That went down well the first time; let’s do another one of those!” That is commercial writing that panders to the audience; not passionate writing.
6. To get them to hand his crew over, Khan threatens to kill everyone on the Enterprise, while our Enterprise heroes have his crew in their power! The whole plot-defining situation in the beginning of the movie was about Khan being forced to work for Starfleet because his crew were in their power, but now he feels he can be a mighty overlord and make demands in a very similar situation? Sure, perhaps he understands that the Enterprise crew are such humanitarian do-gooders that they would never harm his crew (although this is not a terribly logical conclusion, based on Khan’s experience with Marcus), but they should still have leverage over him when they are the ones controlling his cryo-crew. Instead, Khan should have (deceptively) offered the already crippled Enterprise help and assistance in return for giving him his crew. Oh, and Khan also says that if the crew isn’t there, he will know. But he doesn’t. Not too bright, after all.
7. Gravity. Facepalm. The Enterprise starts falling towards the Earth from about 200,000 kilometers up (and the Enterprise’s own gravity systems are failing). Somebody tell these bozo writers that gravity decreases by the square of the distance, which means that this far above Earth, there is little more than weightlessness. As for the circumstances of the fall towards Earth, that all depends on what speed the ship has to begin with. It is possible the ship would indeed start falling if it were at rest, and such a fall would eventually reach terminal velocity. Now, from 200,000 kilometers up (i.e. no air resistance), terminal velocity is several thousand kilometers per hour, which will make the ship pick up significant speed – but traversing 200,000 kilometers at this speed will still take many hours, perhaps close to a day; certainly far longer than what we are shown here. And even when the ship strikes atmo, what about the heat of re-entry? There were no shields. There was a gaping hole in the side of the ship, and other damage. How did they maintain life support and stop the re-entry heat from damaging the ship much further? How? They couldn’t.
8. Kirk kicking a displaced warp core into place. WTF?! Holey rusted low-tech, Batman! That computes about as much as if they’d sent him outside to push the ship instead. Or called a tow-truck. I’m sure they did it to emphasize that this is early on in the Trek universe’s development; the warp drive is still crude, but, please, this is too silly. And then there is the tiny fact that in Classic Trek, they only need the warp core for actual warp speed; here they needed it to power all the ships’ systems. Apparently, impulse power does not exist in this timeline – which also sadly throws out well-known Classic Trek parlance like “one quarter impulse!” (as I once heard a Greyhound bus driver say to his colleague). And another thing: the warp core in this movie looks nothing like the ejectable warp core of the previous movie.
9. Spock’s “KHAAAAAAN!” (which might just a well have been “MAAAAAARCUS!”) doesn’t work at all, for several reasons: First and foremost, its effect is comical and doesn’t fit the serious situation it is uttered in. What’s more, Kirk’s death has no consequence, as he is revived (very spuriously!) in a matter of hours. So Spock’s anger dissipates immediately, which robs the outburst of lasting pain and significance. Further, at this point Kirk and Spock have only known each other relatively briefly, so their friendship is not very deep yet. Fifth, giving the outburst to Spock just underscores how Spock, not Kirk, is the real main character in the new franchise (a point which in itself I don’t have a problem with, by the way).
10. Kirk returns from the dead, since Khan’s blood is apparently a 300-year-old invention that cures everything, including death. That’s very out of sync with the technology we see in the rest of this movie. But then, so is the beefed-up beaming, communication and warp technologies.
And once we’re on the ground, the absurdities do not relent. The final chase scene has so many problems. Why only beam Spock and then Uhura down to fight Khan the superman? Why only be concerned with Khan when the crashing of his ship has just leveled multiple skyscrapers, killing thousands of people? Why are nobody on the ground distressed because of said crash and building collapses? It is, once again, ludicrous.
Do I have you convinced that this movie is largely a complete catastrophe? Because if not, there are still more things I could mention, such as the really annoying screams the trained Starfleet personnel let out as they’re being sucked into space. They understand the risks of working in space; even panic about impending death does not give rise to clearly artificial torture chamber sounds. It’s just another cheap and grating over-the-top effect to try and stir some extra emotional response, which would have worked far better if replaced by a close-up of a horrified face.
At this point I think that rational people have to acknowledge that almost all the scenes in this movie are full of unacceptable mistakes, and that, in light of all this, the entire script just falls apart.
So much simple and elementary sci-fi storytelling is done wrong in Into Darkness. There is neither much science nor any adequate technobabble – both of which are very important for sci-fi world-building. The movie suffers from typical ‘sequelitis’; it behaves like a far more incompetent rip-off of the first movie. The writers seem to think that they are paying tribute to the first movie by retreading it, and reasoning the same way money-men do: “Oh, they liked that? Then let’s give them a lot more of the exact same thing! They paid for it once, they’ll pay for it again! Oh, oh, and let us include a bunch of details the general public has heard of (Khan, tribbles, “KHAAAAAAN!!”)!” This really is the essence and the epitome of crappy Hollywood commercialism and aggressive incompetence.
I do not understand how something as entertaining and well put together as the 2009 Star Trek could have been made by the same people that made this absurd and execrable mess – it just beggars belief and exceeds understanding. I can only assume that it must be a hell of a lot of bad luck (or maybe just bad Lindelof?). The passion of the writers was so apparent in the first movie, while the second one just stinks to high heaven of commercialism, repitition, exploitation and immaculate non-attention to anything reminiscent of quality, barring the special effects.
It is unbearable to my sense of integrity that so many people seem to rate this vastly inferior sequel so highly. The pacing and the melodrama were completely ineffective for me; everything seemed artificial and devoid of genuine poignancy. All these sloppy things makes the story a farce with no hope of coherence or redemption. It is an insult to intelligent science fiction fans everywhere.
Okay, so this is a broken movie. But I also promised to mention a few things I liked about it, didn’t I? Well, I like the early scene where Spock is “expressing multiple attitudes simultaneously”. He keeps his cool while Kirk and Pike are emotionally worked up, and this is just the kind of thing Spock would say, even if it has the effect of insulting a superior officer. He is basically using logic to put a slightly irrationally behaving officer in his place. That’s cool. I also like it when, later in the movie, Spock objects strongly before Kirk has even said what he’s going to do; Spock has used logic to suss out what Kirk is planning, and he is completely accurate.
These comprise a couple of good scenes, but in the movie as a whole they are totally eclipsed by reams and swarms of hopelessly stupid ones. This movie, much like Man of Steel, is a prime example of how lack of intelligence will ruin a science fiction movie. In some cases, all that is needed is an injection of passable technobabble to make much of it work.
Not all of the multiple homages to The Wrath of Khan are awful. With this script most of them don’t work well, but they could have been all right if the rest of the movie had been any good. Sadly, they become all the more groan-inducing, the less the rest of the movie works. And since almost nothing in this movie works, the homages suffer from no support, and they cannot stand alone.
Abrams and company have done the nearly unthinkable: they have produced a movie which many fans consider one of the best Trek movies, and that other fans (though we may be a minority) consider one of the very worst. I rate Into Darkness 3 stars out of 10; same rating as I applied to the so-far second-worst Trek movie ever, Star Trek: Nemesis, the very worst one remaining Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, which is at 2 stars in my book. So Into Darkness, as far as I am concerned, now shares the second-worst place with Nemesis.
With this new movie, Abrams and his cohorts have basically destroyed much of what they built up in the 2009 movie. Into Darkness certainly is another monster of a lens flare actioner, but unlike the coolness of the first one, this is a shambolic menace to the health of plot and quality conscious sci-fi fans everywhere. Anyone who believes that a super-mind like Khan’s could possibly think that the nonsensical actions he takes in this story were smart things to do, well, you’re a few isolinear chips short of a full holodeck.
Discerning media personalities have already redubbed Into Darkness as Into Crapness, which has to be declared an appropriate moniker. Or we could just call it Bad Torpedo. Or, we could resign completely and call it Into Sadness.
Director: Jar Jar Abrams
Cast: Zachary Quinto, Chris Pine, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, Karl Urban, Benedict Cumberbatch, Alice Eve, Anton Yelchin, Peter Weller, and others.
Runtime: 122 min.
Article artwork by Matthew Harrower