Into Darkness? Methinks it was an apt title

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I’m not being literal with that observation. There was plenty of lens flare.

Overall I found the latest NewTrek film disappointing. For various reasons. What follows is an elaboration and refinement of my original, raw review, posted to Google+ soon after seeing the film.

MAJOR SPOILERS ahead for Star Trek: Into Darkness. I’ll put them after the “Read more” jump so you can easily avoid them.

Nate took me to see Star Trek: Into Darkness Monday night. (We also saw Iron Man 3. It was a Double Feature Date Night; something that’s always a lot of fun because we can only afford it something like once a year.)

Star Trek and Philosophy

I am a huge Star Trek fan. I’ve not seen every episode of every series or every movie, but I grew up on The Next Generation as and when I was allowed or able to watch TV. I have yet to finish my complete viewing of TNG. I’ve seen almost all of Voyager (my favourite series, so far; there were a few episodes I had to skip because they were awful). DS9 and TOS are still on my to-watch list in their entirety, but I’ve seen enough episodes (or movies) of either to consider myself a fan of both. Enterprise I will likely never watch unless I get really, really bored. Or drunk.

I’m also a fan of philosophical science-fiction in general. Growing up on Star Trek likely awakened that love in me. Not every episode nor every movie succeeds in really tackling the hard questions, but I would definitely say Star Trek as a whole is philosophical. I don’t think that every episode or every movie should strive to tackle those questions — philosophy needs to be balanced with mindless entertainment, I think, especially for those of us who like to marathon episodes. Furthermore, the first goal of a movie will generally be bums in seats. Philosophical sci-fi is a gamble in that respect. It could work really well, or it could bomb. What does consistently work well is the promise of a lot of action and high-stakes, tension-filled scenes.

Often this is why filmmakers will do those sorts of blockbuster hits in great numbers — to make enough money to fund artsier, more philosophical, and less commercially viable projects. Banking on a sure thing in order to make sure the other thing that may or may not make a lot of money actually gets to production stage.

(Writers often do this too, for what it’s worth. I’m not knocking the practice at all. It works.)

To that end, it’s a bit easier to get philosophy into long-running TV shows. So long as the action and tension are still tight, the characters well developed, the world engaging, and the plot convincing and well-moving, you can afford to tackle philosophical issues in an episodic plot structure.

Of course, too much philosophy — too many questions about life and the nature of humanity and the morality of law and not enough explosions, kidnapping, or other high-tension situations — and you run the risk of being canceled. (See: Caprica.)

My point is, while I think philosophy is important to the sci-fi medium (it’s not really sci-fi if you’re not asking questions about the nature of humanity), I don’t think there’s going to be a lot of philosophy in the new Star Trek films and that’s okay with me. There’s plenty to be had in the extant films and series, and newly-made fans who go back to watch those things will either love said philosophy, or they won’t.

I do think the two new Star Trek films did have some philosophy in them. Not a lot, but enough to satisfy me, at least. Into Darkness definitely brought up questions of becoming the very evil we fear when we try to stop that evil, which I think is always a worthy thing to think about. I don’t think they explored it as much as they could have, however, which is unfortunate.

The reason I bring up the philosophy aspect at all is because there has been some…internet bruhaha going on about JJ Abrams being quoted as saying something about NewTrek not being as philosophical as OlderTrek and Wil Wheaton taking umbrage with it, which has effectively drawn battle lines down the fandom. (sigh) I’m not trying to say either person’s POV is wrong. I’m just giving my own view on philosophy and Trek and where I think the NewTrek films stand on that bit.

Into Confusion

When I first watched the film, I came away with the feeling that I’d enjoyed it but it’d left me feeling rather confused.

The first feeling has faded somewhat. The second feeling remains.

Despite my years of fannishness for Trek, I’ve never seen The Wrath of Khan. I’ve seen the two majorly iconic scenes from it, but never the whole movie. Nor have I ever read the Wiki article, or any plot summary. I am effectively Khanless in my Trek-fan mental archive.

Into Darkness features Khan as the villain. I can’t say if the movie was anywhere similar to TWoK; I haven’t seen TWoK. I can say, however, I found myself questioning Khan’s motivations during the movie (I also was a bit lost as to the motivations of Admiral Marcus). I found myself wondering if this Khan was perhaps different from the old Khan, because of the alternate timeline scenario. I didn’t know how to feel, listening to Khan’s story. What was truth, what was a lie? I had no idea.

I ended up feeling like I’d missed some crucial, pertinent info that I would have gleaned had I watched TWoK first. I felt as if Into Darkness was incomplete without having viewed TWoK first.

This is ultimate failure on the part of the filmmakers. NewTrek is about revitalizing the series to draw in new fans. You shouldn’t feel like you’ve arrived in class without doing your homework or studying, and there’s a pop quiz (which is equivalent to how I felt).

I’m still wondering what the hell I missed by not seeing TWoK first, and now I think I’ll have to sit down and watch it to see if it clears up any confusion for me.

Into Predictability

And yet, even though I’d never seen TWoK, I saw two scenes in Into Darkness coming from miles away. About halfway through the film I was able to predict the rest of the movie without many errors.

By reaching back and grabbing an old villain from TOS, they effectively hindered any original storytelling they may have done and did a movie that felt like bad fanfic.

Look, these actors are great. Quinto’s shout of “KHAAAAAANN!” was definitely much better than Shatner’s. Nate and I still laughed. Because it was so obvious.

We also saw Kirk’s resurrection coming from a mile away. The second Bones mentioned using Khan’s blood on a dead Tribble it became very clear how they would save the life of the dead crewmember at the end — we just didn’t know, at that point, that it would be Kirk and not Spock.

2009’s Star Trek was not predictable to me. I did not see everything coming. I didn’t really see anything coming. That made the movie end up on my top 10 list of favourite films.

After the first half of the film being relentlessly confusing, the last half of the film was transparent in its journey. This is not how you do it, guys. You’re supposed to blend those two characteristics evenly over the course of the film, not split them down the middle and call it good. 

Into Whitewashing

Khan is supposed to be Indian, canonically speaking, and they did set it up that the Khan in this film was the same Khan from TWoK. So they cast Benedict Cumberbatch. Pasty white of the pasty whites.

I think Cumberbatch would make an awesome Star Trek villain. But not Khan. They could have made the movie much, much better if they’d chosen either a different actor to play Khan or a different villain for Cumberbatch. Instead, they fell into the great hollywood tradition of whitewashing a role.

At least in TWoK they got a POC actor to play Khan. And that was the 70s.

On the subject of racism, Into Darkness went backwards on the progressive scale. Which is sad, considering Trek was created to be progressive.

Into Reducing Female Characters to Their Relationships with Male Characters, and Also Fuck You for Thinking We’d Pass the Bechdel Test Ever

Into Darkness basically reduced Uhura to “Spock’s moody girlfriend”. They introduced a new female character, Carol, whose character was…basically defined as relating to her father, Admiral Marcus (the secondary villain). There were two female characters with names and lines, and both of them were entirely defined by their relationships to main male characters: Uhura as Spock’s girlfriend and Kirk’s friend, and Carol as Admiral Marcus’ daughter, Bones’ potential love interest, and another woman for Kirk to objectify.

I honestly felt that Navigation Officer Darwin, played by Aisha Hinds (who I recognized from True Blood), was a better female character than either Uhura or Carol. Darwin didn’t need any relationship with a man to define her. She was concerned with doing her job, and she did it damn well.

If not for her I bet the Enterprise would have crashed way sooner.

If not for her I bet the Enterprise would have crashed way sooner.

I was hoping, after the first new Star Trek, which I loved quite a bit, that they’d take a chance in the later films to develop Uhura more as a character. She was great in the first film. Yes, emotionally attached to Spock, but not defined by said attachment. In this film she was literally nothing more than Spock’s SO. Spock’s moody SO, at that, and that was played up as if it were a negative thing (women and their emotions grossssss).

Carol was a better developed character, but even then she fell far short of what she could have been. They didn’t even use her introduction as a chance for the film to pass the Bechdel test. She and Uhura had pretty much zero interaction.

That’s damn disappointing. I found myself hoping, when I saw the trailer, that the new female crewmember would get a non-man-related conversation with Uhura.

(No, her conversation with Gaila in the first film does not count because it is not an actual conversation about something else; it is Uhura talking about her work in the lab while Gaila says “uh-huh!” a lot in an attempt to get Uhura out of the room so she doesn’t discover the half-naked Kirk under the bed. Definitely still a conversation about a man.)

Into Darkness: the darkness of we shit the fucking bed on this one

This is a movie that’s like one of those pastries that tastes awesome while you’re eating it, but afterwards the taste it leaves in your mouth gets worse and worse, until you’re grasping for anything else as a palate cleanser. I enjoyed the film while I saw it. I got caught up in the emotions, the tensions, I loved the acting.

The more time passes from when I saw it, the more I dislike it. It was equal parts confusing and predictable, it whitewashed, and it was downright sexist in its portrayal of women (except, possibly, Nav Off. Darwin). Some of those blows may have been softened if they’d upped the philosophy quotient, but they didn’t. And I’m not entirely sure it would have helped at all.

Overall, extremely disappointed, and hope to gods that future NewTrek films actually try to move forward, instead of backwards.

On the plus side, I guess, there was less lens flare this time.

-Kat

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2 thoughts on “Into Darkness? Methinks it was an apt title

  1. Stephy

    I did wonder if the choice of a white actor to play Khan was intentional, a deliberate choice to not make the brown guy the bad guy.

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    • I heard that originally Benicio Del Toro had been asked to play the part, but he dropped out *right before* filming and they had to scramble to find a replacement. Perhaps Cumberbatch was on the list of runners up. Likely it wasn’t intentional, though not necessarily unintentional. If that makes sense outside my brain.

      Abrams really should have gone for an Indian actor in the first place. It’s not as if there’s a lack of Indian actors these days; Bollywood is fucking booming.

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