Review – Star Trek: Into Darkness

Star Trek: Into Darkness poster, featuring Uhura looking badass

I wish I’d seen THIS movie.

It’s hard to write a serious review for what was not even remotely a serious movie, so I’m not even gonna try. Benedict Cumberbund* was excellent, and whilst it’s hard to talk about the deeply problematic elements of white-washing represented in his taking the role without giving spoilers… I can see why he was chosen even if I also feel considerable disquiet about it **(spoilers in the footnote). Nevertheless, this film was beyond sloppy, and if you want to enjoy it in any sense, just find a YouTube clip of all the Cumberbatch bits and sit and watch that. It’ll be cheaper and less disappointing.

So, this is my half-arsed, bullet-point list of everything that was wrong with Star Trek: Into Darkness:

  1. Tribbles. It’s WAY too early for Bones to even know what a tribble is, let alone for it to be a standard lab animal – and WHY WOULD YOU HAVE A TRIBBLE AS A LAB ANIMAL, ARE YOU INSANE? DO YOU EVEN WANT TO HAVE A SPACESHIP LATER? Although both Vulcans and Klingons have a history with tribbles, in ‘The Trouble with Tribbles’ it’s made reasonably clear that humans haven’t encountered them before, as evidenced by the fact that they have no idea how dangerous they are.
  2. Androids on the bridge. I like androids about ten times more than the next person, but whilst I was uneasy about their role in the previous movie, I am NOT HAPPY about seeing an android officer on the bridge of the Enterprise in Kirk’s time. You don’t mess with Data. You just don’t. Stop it.
  3. Intertextuality without text. This movie was all over the place riffing off things both explicitly and implicitly. It’s not just other Star Trek movies and the way that every character is constantly saying favourite quotes with no sense of timing or style, its visual references to Star Wars and spaceships that look like Terminator hunter-killers and the inside of a Klingon death… planet… thing… that just really strongly reminded me of the spaceship interior at the end of Independence Day. But it was all just… thrown in there. There was no meaning to it, and, out of context, it doesn’t even really work as a hit for geeks. Geeks like consistency, and this film had none of that.
  4. Spock is Kirk is Bones is Scotty and Uhura is Deanna. Everyone (except Khan) is in slip-stream between a caricature of who they’re meant to be, spouting catch-phrases, and completely the opposite of both their character in canon and as set up in the 2009 movie. The Kirk-Spock-Bones Freudian triad is gone. Spock has emotions up the wazoo and Bones… Bones is an empty puppet, whose lack-luster lines are wasted on Judge Dredd Karl Urban. I mean, I get why you want to make Spock the main character: Zachary Quinto is much more charismatic and modern a front-man than Chris Pine, and the 2009 movie added real nuance and interest, but the nuance is gone. Spock is interesting as a man drawn in two directions, and the Vulcan no-emotions side to Spock has become a thin gauze, stripping any sense of emotions roiling under the surface of their power and tension. As for Uhura…
  5. That’s not Uhura. The kickass, take-no-shit, in-love-with-a-vulcan-because-she-can-respect-his-reserve-and-keep-that-shit-PRIVATE woman is GONE. This is a needy stereotype of a woman who gets pissed at her man at the drop of a hat. And whilst, yeah, she might be upset that he put his life in danger, the Uhura of the last movie would have understood his motivation, and if she had any problems with it she would have worked them out in PRIVATE, and not in front of the captain, a man she knows to be a womaniser who has always been needling at the edges of their relationship, waiting for it to fray.
  6. And whilst I wanted to be generous when I read quotes of Abrams saying that Star Trek was always sexy and that’s what they fans want, I had to admit that the shots of the saucy-shiny-suits at the beginning which offered a bit of equal-op sexiness were pretty brief. And all Uhura does in those scenes is emote whilst the men around her – who all like Spock, too, take action. She gets a tiny bit of come-back towards the end, but it’s like the way Brenda finally stops screaming to step up to the plate in Highlander as… a distraction so that her man can properly dispatch the bad guy. Between those two points we see an AWFUL lot of men, both extras and main cast, and two VERY sexualised women in the main cast and a negligible scattering of female extras. All of whom are in the ‘retro’ mini-dresses. Alas, the TNG move to have that be a uniform that men wear too seems to have been swept under the rug.
  7. LIGHTS. OH GOD. THE LIGHTS. I thought Texts from Superheroes were exaggeratingTextsfromsuperheroes mocks J J Abrams' obsession with lens flare.

I mean, I’ll be honest, I thought I knew and understood that J J Abrams has a lens flare problem, but someone close to him needs to stage an intervention. This is NOT healthy.

He even had the gall to put his flashy little lights in the beam-up effect, which my Geek-Film-Buddy Lee actually liked, but I… was rather less impressed by.

Going into this movie I thought J J Abrams’ had been his own worst enemy leading up to the release. He overhyped the ‘WHO IS BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH PLAYING?!1!’ card and he said really dumb things in interviews, like that he never actually liked Star Trek and thought it was too ‘philosophical’. I thought he couldn’t really mean it, because the 2009 movie had been so good. But this movie felt like the lazy work of someone who’s a bit too full of their success and whose careful attention to detail when he was trying to win over the fans went out the window when he felt he had them bought and paid for.

I don’t like to write negative reviews in general, but this was one of the Big Damn Films of the year, and I’d been really looking forward to it, and I thought if you’re the sort of person who’s interested in my reviews in the first place you’d probably want to know what I thought. So, here it is: it was a white-washed movie with a pinch of sexism, a couple of nice cameos from Hollywood sci-fi old guard and one up-and-coming charismatic actor making a role his own who you can’t fault for stepping up to the plate even if it really ought to have gone to a person of colour. It was poorly paced, poorly plotted, and contradictory, but the production values were very high. If you don’t mind these issues then you may enjoy it as sci-fi fluff.

*Yeah, yeah, I’m not really into making fun of people’s names, but he’s a rich, successful, white man who doesn’t seem to mind and generally seems to be having the time of his life. He’s also about the only thing I’m going to speak positively about in this review. He can take it.

**SPOILERS IN THIS FOOTNOTE: if you’re luckier than me and avoided more than hints about WHO BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH IS PLAYING, I didn’t want to give the game away, but yeah, it’s Khan. Although the big reveal is somewhat marred by Cumberbatch pronouncing ‘Khan’ differently to every person ever, including everyone else in the film. If you don’t know why this is problematic: Khan was a NON-WHITE superhuman. He was from INDIA. And whilst his portrayal by Mexican Ricardo Montalbán in The Wrath of Khan has some clumsy race implications, he was at least played by someone other than a white guy. Yeah, Khan is a character with tremendous charisma, and you need a really phenomenal actor to pull off the role, in part because Ricardo Montalbán’s performance was so iconic, but if you don’t see how having a white guy play a genetically-engineered-to-be-perfect human being FULL STOP is a problem, you got some alone time you need to spend thinking about that, anyway. Add to this that the role was specifically conceived of as for a person of colour in a ground-breakingly progressive series… yeah, it’s really problematic. THEN, they take a really, really pale white guy – a BRITISH white guy (because everyone knows charismatic villains are only PROPERLY charismatic and villainous if they’re British) and PALE HIM UP SOME MORE with make-up that makes him look ill (why? this guy is a superhuman! He’s not ill. It’s almost impossible for him to BE ill) and dye his red hair black BECAUSE HE’S AN EVIL BRITISH GUY, GUYS, THAT’S WHAT THEY LOOK LIKE! LIKE DRACULA, RIGHT? I’M PRETTY SURE HE WAS BRITISH. And yeah… my cans ain’t happening because I’ve lost my evens.

12 thoughts on “Review – Star Trek: Into Darkness

  1. I concur heartily with many of your opinions. (Personally I have no idea why people who like the original series can stomach this new “franchise”, let alone fans of the first reboot film). So glad we share the same opinion about Tribbles. I love Tribbles, who doesn’t? But they don’t belong in that film, they wouldn’t BE in that film, timeline, or used as a lab rat. Also, you agree with me about McCoy! Finally! Everyone seems to have some sort of anti-criticism filter regarding this. I think Karl Urban is great, he’s one of those actors who I enjoy watching pretty much regardless of the role. As Bones? He’s a mannequin, speaking and emphasizing lines that have no worth to his screen-time. Also, I noticed, that he exists only to react to Kirk. He is never busy treating people, being interrupted by Kirk, he is simply fiddling around waiting to be interrupted by Kirk.

    And those are just two opinions of many. I won’t bore you with them, since we seem to share similar opinions regarding this film.

    Also, please could J.J. Abrams stop being allowed to make films. Cheers!

    • Thanks for your comment. I’m not sure we agree entirely. Whilst I didn’t enjoy this film I ADORED the 2009 Star Trek, which I thought was very respectful to the OS, and Karl Urban’s McCoy was one of my favourite parts. However, he was given some truly awful lines in the current movie and very little to work with.

      I’ve enjoyed J J Abrams’ work here and there – I wouldn’t want to ban him from films – but he is spotty, and this was not one of his best.

      • I try not to tell people my opinions about the 2009 reboot, mostly because they look at me with horror (like when I try and tell anyone I despise Jackson’s LotR films), but it was not the characters that let me down there (apart from Scotty). I thought Kirk was more ‘Kirk’ in the new film, but I thought Bones was very much less Bones. I was meaning my opinion of Urban-as-Bones in the new film, he has his own character substance in the 2009 film, rather than this one where he exists only to react to Kirk. Whether or not it was Urban or the script, but it felt like he was actually a little uncomfortable playing Bones this time around?

        Maybe I just don’t want him to take on projects where he isn’t actually passionate about the subject matter. (Because I am a big fat nerdy Star Trek fan). I don’t think I’ve really, genuinely, enjoyed a film he has directed. Saying that, I did enjoy the first season of Lost, and most of Fringe… maybe his strengths lie in TV? (and keyboard solos).

  2. Your review has convinced me that I’ll just wait until this movie comes out on DVD to see it. So disappointed in everything I’ve heard about it!

  3. To me the biggest thing was I felt like I was being beaten over the head with the references. “LOOK TRIBBLES! YOU GEEKS LIKE THEM, RIGHT??” “Hey, someone dying of radiation to save the crew, with hand-touch through glass! REMIND YOU OF ANYTHING PEOPLE?? BUT LOOK, IT’S KIRK! SEE WHAT WE DID THERE???” I actually groaned when the “KHAAAAN!” cry went up.

    That and the problematic casting, of course. Wasn’t Khan’s crew multi-ethnic? Could he not have been another member of the crew that was unfrozen, with Khan himself being referenced but unseen?

    • Interesting point, I hadn’t thought of that… but I can see why they wanted it to be Khan. And why they wanted BC, I guess, just… I’m SURE there are asian excellent actors out there champing at the bit for a chance. And yeah, BC is hot right now, so there’s that kudos… but there’s always an excuse for white-washing, no?

      And that ‘KHAAAAAN’ moment – words cannot express how bad that was.

  4. Hello, this is slightly off topic- but reguarding the tribbles…i was wondering if any of you know at what point humans stopped using lab animals in the Star Trek world.
    It was irrittaing to see- but seemed to able to fit the time in Enterprise that Dr Phlox was able to keep a large number of lab animals. (especially when one of their first missions Arhcer states how humans “used” to keep bears for bile- in the same way the aliens they encountered were being pumped for their useful juices- as if it was no longer a practice to keep animals for their uselful fluids and that it was disgusting to do so with the aliens the same way)
    But in TNG Picard states that humans no longer keep animals for use (which to me contradicts the fish in his ready room but i just chalked that up to bad set design)
    I have found that the treatment of animals is one of the most contradicted details of the entire Starfleet history. In TNG you here it mentioned several times that humans have a higher reguard and respect for animal life- Picard even implies that humans are all vegetarian in that time and only eat replicated meat.
    Its just one of those inconsistancies sthat always bothered me everytime id see it come up.
    I realize we are dealing with many writers and interpretations of things- but i find this one extra aggravating for personal reasons.
    Does anyone have any light to shed on this confusion for me? If its mentioned anywherr else i missed?

    • Interesting! I just watched the TNG episode where they first make it clear that humans only eat synthetic meat.

      I don’t think keeping fish is the same as experimenting on them or eating them. If that’s your personal philosophy, fair enough, but I don’t think it makes an inconsistency in Star Trek.

      As for experimenting on animals… I hadn’t thought about it, but you’re right. I don’t remember the episode you’re referencing with the lab animals, but it would be inconsistent with the repugnance for eating meat to use them. At a guess, the shift to vegetarianism comes around the same time as the ability to sythesize meat. According to memory Alpha, there were protein resequencers, then food synthesizers, then full blown replicators. It sounds as though protein resequencers were a bit shit, and people were still eating animal meat at the time of Enterprise (I didn’t watch much of that, and it suffered badly from inconsistencies with the rest of Star Trek timelines, but we can go with that for now) but food synthesizers were in full use by TOS.

      However, stopping animal experimentation might depend on other technological developments and might not go hand in hand with the vegetarianism. It’s true that by TNG there is a clear, developed, and wide-spread philosophical repugnance to eating meat or experimenting on animals, which suggests an established POV that wouldn’t have come about over night. You’d therefore expect TOS to have the same ethos, or at least to be in the process of developing it.

      It’s possibly worth nothing that McCoy is using a dead tribble, rather than a live one, and so that poses less in the way of ethical problems, but having dead tribbles on hand to experiment on is a bit weird anyway. The whole tribble thing was just an incredibly bad fudge.

  5. I disagree entirely. But I won’t get into that, instead, I do just have a few amends to make about…well, a few of your ‘points’.

    Officer 0718 is not an android. He is fully human with cybernetic implants. His role is to augment the work of Uhura and Spock together more effectively (the cybernetic implant on the back of his head is actually a miniature version of the ship’s main computer so he’s always telepathically connected to it and therefore it’s systems), and was in no way some weird rip off of Data just because he ‘looks’ like an android.

    As for Uhura being a stereotypical woman. She walked out to greet a patrol of Klingons by herself, kicked her fair share of asses without needing assistance from Kirk or Spock, and she still doesn’t take shit from Kirk. As for her relationship with Spock, I’d like to go ahead and remind you that Uhura is human and Spock is Vulcan. She is not always going to able to fully understand the Vulcan side of him and it’s going to cause friction in their relationship. That’s what makes a plausible relationship. If she was happy go lucky with him all the time and never had any problems about his Vulcan side and inability to show emotion then it would be a boring ass relationship.

    Nobody but Benedict Cumberbatch could have played Khan. He was phenomenal as Khan and did a fantastic job. However, Benedict IS British, which can’t be changed. The color of Khan’s skin doesn’t make his character, so it really doesn’t matter what color he is, so long as the role was brought out in the best way possible, which I think Benedict did rather well in a way that I don’t think anyone else could have done. So the original Khan was Indian and he was a kick ass villain. This Khan was British and he was a kick ass villain. The savagery of Khan was brought out in both versions. At this point, because the acting is so phenomenal on both parts, nobody gives a damn what color he is. He could have been purple or orange and it wouldn’t have changed the character.

    Anyways, as I said, I pretty much disagree with your review as a whole. However, I’m not particularly interested in debates. I just wanted to give my own opinion on things as you gave your opinions, which are no less validated than mine just because I don’t agree with them, but are different nonetheless and I wanted to express them.

    Happy watching.

  6. Pingback: The Third Annual Serene Wombles | In Search of the Happiness Max

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