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.