***WARNING--INTO DARKNESS FULLY SPOILED***
It's been a week since I begrudgingly gave JJ Abrams 10 hard earned dollars to see Star Trek: Into Darkness. My initial thought upon exiting the theater was "well, that went off the rails into hopeless dumb-fuckery at the end there, but I found it less enraging than the first one." Then I remembered that I wasn't immediately enraged by the first one. I had to reflect on it a bit. The longer I thought about '09 Trek, the more it poked the angry nerd in me with a sharp stick, but it took at least a year for that to build to a genuine loathing. Into Darkness, on the other hand, became the focal point of full blown nerd rage in the time it took to drive home from the theater.
You have to understand, my mother watched Trek reruns regularly while pregnant with me, and I started watching the original series in reruns before I was old enough to form memories, so I don't remember the first time I saw Star Trek. It's something that has simply always been, as far as my own personal reality is concerned. I also watched every single episode of every new series as it aired. Yes, even Enterprise, ye of little faith, and saw every movie since Voyage Home in the theater. Suffice to say, Star Trek is important to me. Important enough that this is the 3rd time I've started writing this. The first two quickly devolved into petty, vitriolic nerd rants. The first actually included this line: "FUCK YOU, JJ ABRAMS, YOU BESPECTACLED CUNT" pretty early on.
It's worth pointing out that I was 100% on board with this whole reboot idea. Star Trek had been overexposed and overworked for well over a decade by the time Enterprise finally got itself cancelled and Nemesis left even the most die hard fans groaning as they left the theater. The franchise needed a long hiatus that it may or may not have ever come back from, or it needed to be thoroughly shaken up. I was happy to take my chances with the latter. Sure, it was clearly going to be more slick looking and action oriented, but that's just the world we live in. Much as I personally would appreciate another film along the lines of The Motion Picture, that would be box office death. It's never going to happen. Get over it.
I loved that they tied the whole thing together with a time traveling Spock and that they clearly established, with the destruction of Vulcan more than anything else, that everything has changed and no one is safe. Prequels are dumb, but they actually figured out a way to do it where the stakes aren't always transparently bogus because you know these characters all survive to do all the things you've already seen them do. Also, the cast is brilliant. Top to bottom, I love every choice they made.
The point is that I didn't go into Nu Trek wanting to hate it. I went in wanting to love it, but those bastards just wouldn't let me.
CANON IS FOR MAKE 'SPLOSION, RIGHT?
One of the great things about Star Trek is that no other franchise has had so much official material created for it. (Official as in movies and TV series, not expanded universe. I saw you Star Wars nerds getting antsy over there.) Over close to fifty years, there have been 5 series (not counting the animated version) and 10 movies. Some have been... less than spectacular, but they all, for the most part, carefully followed established rules and canon, even going so far as to explain why the low budget original series Klingons looked so different. Regardless of your feelings about their solution to that problem, the fact that they even acknowledged it denotes a high level of care and respect for the franchise from the people running it.
It's also always been the smart SciFi franchise for smart fans. Trek has always been the show that had some sort of scientific explanation for everything, at least as best as our present day knowledge could allow. They actually went to the trouble of finding out how a warp drive might work and how you might generate the monstrous power necessary to run it. They went to the trouble of making blueprints for the ship, and then having the trip from one section of the ship to another by turbolift take the appropriate amount of time. When there was some bit of science we did have current understanding of, they made every effort to get it right. Here are a few things, off the top of my head, that would NEVER happen in the worst movie or episode of old Star Trek:
- Supernovae that threaten to destroy the entire galaxy
- Starship construction on Earth or any other planet
- Cadets getting promoted to Captain, let alone Captain of the Federation flagship
- A "cold fusion" bomb that freezes things
- Magic blood that cures death with absolutely no explanation
- Doctor McCoy not figuring out he could use the magic blood from one of the 72 other supermen he's got RIGHT NEXT TO HIM
- A transporter the size of a suitcase that beams you across the galaxy, thus making starships obsolete and turning Star Trek into Stargate
- A huge area of Qo'noS that is conveniently uninhabited
- Qo'noS being spelled Kronos
- Qo'noS being traveled to in a few minutes (it's 4 days away at warp 5)
- 72 antimatter torpedoes going off inside a starship and not completely vaporizing it
This list is by no means fully inclusive. These may seem like minor quibbles, but every one of these points contradicts or disregards established rules of the universe, basic science, or common sense. What's worse, most of them could easily be corrected without having much impact on the story at all. The writers just can't be bothered to respect the work of all the people who carefully kept the franchise coherent for 50 years, but what they can do is try to placate me with...
I know a lot of people like the little nods to the original series. I would appreciate a couple of them if they were cleverly worked into the story, but when you jam that round tribble into that square plot hole, I just get the impression you think I'm stupid, and I'll be so excited by your little easter egg that I won't notice all the dumb shit that's going on. Speaking of tribbles, no one knew what a tribble was until Cyrano Jones sold them to Uhura years after this movie takes place. And why in the world does McCoy just happen to have a dead one lying around sick bay? And why is injecting Khan's blood into it going to help him understand why his cells regenerate so fast? And why... Oh never mind. Where was I?
There's no REASON for McCoy to have a dead tribble. There's no REASON for someone to announce over the intercom that they'll be using the ship confiscated in "the Mudd incident". There's no REASON for Carol Marcus to drop Nurse Chapel's name (or for Carol Marcus to be Carol Marcus, for that matter). Some people find this shit charming. I find it completely out of place and awkward. You want to do some good fanwank? Have Harry Mudd actually show up and play some small but crucial role in the story. Bonus points for an awesome actor cameo. Bill Murray?
And these are the most innocuous bits of fanwank. Little easter eggs are one thing, but recreating big chunks of Wrath Of Khan is just gross, and a little pathetic. You know what they were trying desperately to do in Generations, Insurrection, and Nemesis that fell flat and just ended up looking sad every single time? Trying to recapture Wrath Of Khan's magic. So, now that you have a beautifully rebooted franchise where anything can happen and the sky's the limit, what should you do? Recapture Wrath Of Khan's magic! Of course! It's so idiotic, it will seem brilliant! We'll do the whole "someone has to get irradiated to save the ship" thing again, but we'll make it new and exciting by having it be Kirk this time! And Spock will be outside the glass! And then he'll scream Khan's name, just like Kirk did before! Ok, ok, so without Kirk and Spock spending decades becoming best friends, and in fact, not even seeming to like each other very much, this scene will have none of the weight of the original, and it's impact will be lessened even further by the fact that everyone knows there's a vial of magic, death curing blood waiting for the star of the franchise who we're absolutely not going to kill off, and it doesn't even really make sense that Spock is screaming "Khan", since Admiral Robocop is really responsible for all of this, but hey, the audience is full of idiots. They'll just be happy to see a thing from that movie that they liked 30 years ago.
What really gets me about all of this is that the broader audience they're trying to appeal to won't get any of these references, and the die hard fans that will get them will almost certainly find the blatant pandering offensive. Anyway lets get to the real elephant in the room, namely
I don't even know where to start. How about here: These dickholes had the script more or less done, then decided after the fact to change the villain to Khan. That explains a lot. I hate every single thing about Khan's inclusion in this movie, other than Benedict Cumberbatch, who manages to still be awesome, despite having little to work with.
First off, Khan is a Sikh from northern India. I know Ricardo Montalban is Mexican, but I don't imagine there were a lot of imposing Indian actors to choose from at the time, and Mexican is a lot closer than British.
Second, Khan was a notorious figure in history, having ruled tyrannically over a quarter of the Earth's population along with other genetically engineered supermen who had to be overthrown in a horribly bloody world war. Having John Harrison turn out to be Khan Noonien Singh is tantamount to finding out you've got Adolph Hitler in the brig, but no one bats an eye. Remember those fans you guys were trying to placate by saying the name "Mudd"? We notice shit like this, stupid.
And the secrecy. Oh, the secrecy. So, you didn't change the villain to Khan after the fact to make it more marketable, because you did your damndest to keep it a secret. So you did it to give the fans a pleasant surprise? I guess? The fans who were all immediately pissing and moaning all over the internet about what a terrible idea it would be to have the sequel to your bold reimagining be a rehash of the movie they've been trying to ape for twenty years? Those fans? Yeesh.
Meanwhile, Old Spock told New Spock that he'd never give him any more information about his past/future so he can live his own life, so of course, the first sticky situation he gets into, he engages in
HOT SPOCK ON SPOCK ACTION
Spock is somewhat suspicious of the uneasy alliance they have with this superhuman former brutal dictator, so he calls Old Spock and asks him how they defeated him before. We don't get to see his answer, but I imagine it went something like this:
"Well, we defeated him twice. The first time, Kirk got into a fist fight with him. He more or less held his own until he could pull a plastic tube out of a console and hit him in the stomach with it, so you could try that.
The second time, he attacked us in a stolen starship and kicked the shit out of us until we lured him into a nebula. He was intelligent, but inexperienced, and his pattern suggested two dimensional thinking, so we attacked him from above. Then, all I had to do was sacrifice myself by twisting some knob or something in a glowy radiation tube so we could go to warp before he set off the Genesis device which would turn the nebula into an entire solar system, even though I'm pretty sure it wasn't supposed to be able to do that. So yeah, he probably doesn't even have a Genesis device, so if the fist fight/plastic tube thing doesn't work, let him steal the Starship Revenge and then lure him into a nebula."
I know, now I'm picking on the Star Trek II that's actually good. The point is Old Spock can't have much to offer here. It's just an opportunity to stuff Nimoy into this film. Ok, ok, so I was happy to see the guy. Visually, Nimoy dressed up as Spock was substantially more entertaining to me than all the lens flarey 'splosions. Doesn't mean it's not dumb.
ASSORTED NERD GRIPES
- Never have I heard anything about photon torpedo launches having any potential impact on the warp core. It's a stupid thing for Scotty to resign over, but not as stupid as
- Kirk accepting Scotty's resignation over the torpedoes, then immediately deciding they're not going to use them
- You know what would have been a good fanwank? Having Khan's attack leave Pike in his beep-once-for-yes wheel chair, except
- Khan's magic blood would have just fixed him up anyway, and by the way
- I'm terrible at seeing plot twists coming, and I saw Kirk getting resurrected with that stupid blood coming the second Kirk started thinking about going into the warp core
- I know Khan's a genius and all, but having him design your state of the art Starship is sort of like getting Genghis Khan to design your new fighter jet
- The Klingons looked weird, largely because they had no beards. Another piece of good fanwank? Smooth headed Klingons, or maybe just one or two of them mixed in to acknowledge the established canon that at least some of them looked like that at the time.
- All you have to do to sneak into the super secret Starship MurderKill is hang out and wait for someone else to come and open the door, just like when your friend doesn't know the code to his apartment's stupid, pointless gate.
- I already covered this, but when Spock screamed "KHHAAAAANNNN", I got legitimately angry. Everyone saw it coming, and everyone was hoping they were wrong. Everyone who hadn't seen Wrath Of Khan probably found it a little odd, everyone who had seen it thought it was completely ridiculous
- I assume that in the next movie, every ship will be stocked with superman blood so that no one ever has to die again
- I still think Spock dating Uhura is weird
- I still think about that goddamn Kobayashi Maru test sequence and want to shit in the hat of whoever thought that was a good idea
- Some people like to make themselves feel better by arguing that Spock's time travel created a new timeline, and this is all basically a parallel universe. Wrong. This may be more in line with the latest theoretical physics, but it's firmly established in Trek lore that there is one time line, and if you alter it, you alter it. Otherwise, the Borg could go back and prevent first contact with no repercussions, and going back in time to get 2 humpback whales wouldn't do any good unless you could not only travel forward in time, but cross back into your original universe. It's all the same universe, and yes, Nu Trek has erased every story you love from every movie and show but Enterprise.
I have to say, these sorts of things matter less with Star Wars than with Star Trek, so I'm still optimistic that Abrams can do something great with Episode VII. At the very least, I'm happy that he'll probably be too busy with that to do the next Trek movie. I'm glad it's more or less popular again, now let's get someone who's actually a fan of the show to make the next one. Please?