Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Star Trek: Into Darkness

I've seen the movie now, but I still don't understand what "Into Darkness" is supposed to mean.

The story takes the characters into no particular darkness, externally or internally, that isn't experienced by every character in every space opera that has ever been written.

There are laser battles -- I won't dignify the weapons involved with the name phasers -- there are spaceship chases, there are hostile aliens and even more hostile Starfleet admirals bent on cartoonishly diabolical schemes.

But darkness?

Where, exactly?

I begin to suspect the title was chosen simply because it sounds cool; not because there is any meaning behind it.

And that, friends, is the perfect parable for Star Trek: Into Darkness.

In a complete thematic retread of the previous movie, Chris Pine's Captain Kirk has the Enterprise taken away because of reckless behavior. But the Enterprise is restored, again by Kirk's mentor, Captain Christopher Pike, again by the end of the first act.

And it's none too soon.

A terrorist by the name of John Harrison, played by the reigning Sherlock Holmes, Benedict Cumberbatch, has ruthlessly bombed a Starfleet administration building on Earth. Kirk and Spock figure out Harrison has escaped to, ahem, the Klingon homeworld, and thus are sent there to bring him to justice.

Everything that follows comes off like the plotting of a five year-old. Random, nonsensical things are forced to happen so that later events, already outlined, can work.

Example: a Starfleet admiral orders the Enterprise to take on 72 experimental, long-range photon torpedoes because they will be the best weapons for taking out Harrison. Scotty objects because the torpedoes are impervious to scans, so it's impossible to say exactly what's inside them. Scotty objects so much, in fact, that he quits. He quits the Enterprise, he quits Starfleet, he quits a twenty-year career in space.

Because he can't scan some torpedoes the admiral ordered him to accept without scanning.

This makes no sense until Scotty later gets a call from Kirk, who has grown suspicious of Peter Weller's scowling admiral, and asks Scotty to sneak aboard said admiral's ship and do some investigating.

Aha! So that's why Scotty quit! Because the writers needed him back on Earth halfway through the story when the Enterprise would be deep in Klingon space.

That's crap writing.

And it's marbled through Into Darkness.

Almost all my criticisms of the previous Star Trek movie are equally valid here: the dialogue is on-the-nose; the relationship between Kirk and Spock doesn't work; the larger universe is almost completely ignored to the extent that it feels like nothing exists beyond the boundaries of the movie screen. Battles take place in orbit around both the Klingon homeworld and the human one, yet no other ships ever arrive to help one side or the other.

A lot of this is craft-related. Basic storytelling stuff.

But underneath it all is a contempt for the source material. JJ Abrams, a confessed non-Trekkie, is doing everything he can to drive the box office numbers as high as possible. The execrable Paramount Pictures is doing the same. They have talked over and over about how they need to expand Trek's international audience.

Which is true, as far as it goes.

But their method of reaching that audience involves dumbing down the story to pre-teen, virtually illiterate levels -- just how poorly do we think of these foreign audiences, anyway? -- ramping up the action until it leaves the realm of Newtonian physics altogether, and replacing tension with constant, kinetic activity.

These Star Trek movies bear the same relation to the original Trek that the Transformers movies do to the eighties cartoon.

And that's a great analogy, because Abrams is doing his best Michael Bay impression with his directing, right down to the inane ploy of throwing in a sexy actress -- in this case, Alice Eve, playing the Badmiral's daughter -- who serves no purpose except to wear outfits that are ten percent tighter than anyone else's.

Or not to wear them at all.

The whole thing is very sad and dispiriting -- oh, by the way, Harrison turns out to be Khan, and Kirk dies saving the ship from radiation the same way Spock did in Wrath of Khan, except he gets revived when McCoy injects him with some of Khan's blood -- but if there's one piece of good news, it's that the movie is not doing well at the box office.

It's on pace to fall short of the original's numbers, which is the opposite direction these franchises are supposed to go.

The numbers are so weak, in fact, it calls into question the financial wisdom of making a third movie.

Which means maybe, if we're lucky, this will be the last Star Trek reboot we have to endure. At least for six or seven years, till Paramount reboots again with another cast and crew.

In the meantime, though, we'll have JJ Abrams' Star Wars VII to drive us crazy.


How Accomplished: 14/100

How Much I Enjoyed: 3/100

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