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.

Torchwood: Miracle Day, Episode 8

(Index to all Torchwood posts here.)

Talk about pay off!


Torchwood are taken by Kira Nerys Angelo’s granddaughter, Olivia Colasanto, to his swanky mansion. Angelo’s managed to extend his life by eating right and ‘keeping his temperature down’ or something, but he couldn’t halt aging. He’s an old, old man, and not even conscious. Apparently he has nothing to do with Miracle Day, but he does know the people who are involved. Three families – those of the three men we saw ‘buying’ Jack in the meat locker: Ablemarch, Costerdane, and Frines. As I speculated, they didn’t have Jack, but they did collect his blood (although Jack is convinced his blood is normal). Angelo’s been watching Jack for years – apparently Olivia didn’t get Gwen to kidnap Jack to kill him, but to keep him safe (Gwen and me both think this is a bloody crazy way to go about it). With the names, Torchwood hopes to find the Families, but there’s no trace of those names anywhere (incidentally, I looked, this is not true of our world).

As this is resolved, the CIA arrives – Rex has engineered to make a ‘slip-up’, letting them know where Torchwood is. Brian Friedkin (Wayne Knight) charges in and Rex catches him admitting he’s working for the Families on the lens cam. Allen Shapiro (John De Lancie) is the man in charge, he arrests Friedkin and ships both him and Olivia off to the ‘safe house’… or he would have done, if Friedkin hadn’t triggered a bomb once he was in the car (apparently the Families have his family). Much verbal sparring occurs between Shapiro and Torchwood -i t was a thing of beauty to watch! But alas, Gwen loses this round and winds up getting packed off to the UK.

While Jack is paying his respects to Angelo, though, Angelo unexpectedly dies. It turns out that Angelo has obtained a ‘null field’, which can cancel out the morphic field that caused Miracle Day, and placed it under his bed. Naturally, the CIA are very interested in this thing, but Jack refuses to tell them what it is, knowing its potential uses. He persuades Rex and Esther to help him escape with the ‘Alpha’ panel. (There’s some hint that the null field requires both this panel and Jack’s DNA to make it work, but it’s not clear.)

Meanwhile, things aren’t going so well for Oswald Danes. Oswald requests a prostitute: an adult one. He wants to change. But she freaks out when he wants to talk rather than just engage in something more mechanical. She reveals that there has been talk of classifying Oswald ‘category 0’ – i.e. a bad enough criminal to burn alive with the category 1s. Oswald confronts Jilly about this and she admits it, revealing her personal disgust with him. He hits her and she responds in kind, fighting him off. She chases him from her room, promising revenge. A man from the Families then shows up to praise her and shoot her assistant, who was a CIA spy.

Back with the CIA, we learn that Charlotte Wills, Esther’s friend, is a Family spy, although Torchwood doesn’t know it yet. Jack et al make their move, but Jack is shot and Esther is seen helping him escape. She has to go with him, and the episode closes with her driving through the desert, not knowing what to do next, as Jack lies dying in the seat behind her.

So how was it?

Stonking. Let’s start with the awesome SF alumni that has passed through Torchwood: Miracle Day. In order:

Wayne Knight – Brian Friedkin (Torchwood)/Denis Nerdy (Jurassic Park)

Brian Friedkin Dennis Nerdy

Dichen Lachman – Lyn Peterfield (Torchwood)/Sierra (Dollhouse)

Lyn Peterfield Sierra

Nana Visitor – Olivia Colasanto (Torchwood) Kira Nerys (Star Trek)

Olivia Colasanto Kira Nerys

John De Lancie – Allen Shapiro (Torchwood) Q (Star Trek)

Allen Shapiro Q

And I gotta say: John De Lancie was the icing on the cake. Him and Nana Visitor facing off against each other was electrifying. I am in full geeksquee mode, my friends.

Apart from that, though, I have to say that the episode generally held together exceptionally well. Good dramatic tension throughout. I even enjoyed the Oswald/Jilly plot. The moment with the prostitute was very nicely handled. Bill Pullman is still struggling a bit not to make Oswald a caricature, but the script is doing very nicely in handling something extremely complicated and controversial. The category ‘0’ element could feel gimmicky or obvious, but the way it’s introduced, presaged by an under-breath comment by Jilly about not having to deal with Oswald much longer, worked for it. It’s melding in with carefully developed layering of character. Jilly is so much about image and polishedness, the hints to the under-surface and what she really feels, yet is prepared to ignore to get the job done, have always been so fleetingly handled that they did not impair her immaculate veneer. But there’s always the hanging question: ‘If she really feels that way, why is she doing this? What’s under that surface that makes this possible?’ And here we get another hint – she does have her limits, she’s clearly disgusted at the thought of getting Oswald a child, but prepared to do it – unprompted, she asks ‘how old?’, and clearly doesn’t believe him when he says he wants a woman. But when we find out that she knows there’s only so much longer she has to do this we see just a crack further into her psyche. Somehow the timeframe allows her to excuse it to herself… yet that’s not much of an excuse. She genuinely seems prepared to procure an under-age girl for him.

Oswald is also proving interesting. We see that he unquestionably does have a violent rage – in particular, that he expects women to be cowed by it, as though he has a right to expect them to bend to his will, and any knock to that sense of entitlement nearly drives him over the edge. Yet he, too, has been restraining himself. He does not attack the prostitute. That the anger and entitlement is there is evident, and, however much he may want to change, those attitudes emerge in his inability to refrain from the body-language and tone of intimidation. But Jilly, he cannot restrain himself from. Her calm assumption of safety in his presence has been impressive throughout. Despite being beautiful and coiffed within an inch of her life, Jilly walks at all times in Oswald’s presence as though it is simply taken for granted that her beauty is not for him. In every moment where she refuses to behave in a way that acknowledges his threat she robs him of power. It’s quietly awe-inspiring, especially when contrasted with the behaviour of the prostitute, who is firm in her client-boundaries, but cannot conceal how uncomfortable and afraid interacting with him as a human being makes her feel. Where at first Jilly felt like a cookie-cutter evil corporate redhead, I now think she’s a bit of a feminist icon – not least because her moral ambiguity as a character is not compromised for the sake of showing her strength as a woman. She manages to control and display her beauty without, at any time, using it to manipulate her charge with sexual power.

Not that this doesn’t have an effect. Jilly’s attitude has clearly created an interest and frustration in Oswald, as evidenced in his preference for a red-headed prostitute as well as the way he cracks and responds violently when he learns that she has known he was to be categorised ‘0’ – a sort of betrayal, although she’s correct that he should have seen it coming. The thing is, Jilly has in no way provoked him with her sexuality – she has never used it to try and control him, she has not ‘led him on’. Even when he breaks and attacks her she responds not by cowering, but with rage. She fights back – first physically, and then with words, as he flees both her and his own aggression. Her veneer is bloodied, but it does not break her – she is not cowed, she reveals the strength that accompanies the emotion she usually keeps so carefully contained.

In other words, she responds in the way a male character would, without ever once having to present as ‘unfemale’. Reread as male actions: the aggressor attacks and he responds with violence, giving as good as he gets; having fought the monster off he voices his rage at his foe’s fleeing back, promising revenge. Even the fight is good: it is neither a hand-bags-at-dawn cat-fight, nor a super-polished when-exactly-did-she-learn-a-martial-art stunt-artist showdown. She neither has to be Harmony flailing comically at an equally skill-less Xander, nor a Buffy empowered with physical abilities beyond the ken of normal women. Don’t get me wrong – she doesn’t have the physical strength or skill to hold off a sustained attack from a man the size of Oswald, but she doesn’t have to. The mere fact of her unrestrained resistance is enough – as the prostitute says: he’s not used to women who fight back.

So anyway – you remember when I said I didn’t think I could ever be interested in these two? Well, yeah.

The rest of the plot is also well-handled. I love the contest of force-of-personality. I love that Angelo has not stayed young, and Jack doesn’t care. I love Jack using the null-field to have a private conversation with Esther and Rex, thrumming with tension because we know that at any moment someone could notice that their mouths are moving and there’s no noise coming out. I love that Jack could say ‘You have to get me out of here’ without losing his machismo. Very rare that a male character gets to say that without seeming impossibly weak, but in this situation it’s a must not only because Jack is mortal, but also because his being there is a danger to others as well, because he can be exploited. He is both expressing his vulnerability and his wish to protect. Nicely done.

And in the background the world is in an economic melt-down that’s eerily familiar.

People often tell me that they find immortal characters boring – that they would neither want to read, nor write about them, nor would they want to play them in an RPG. I love that Torchwood: Miracle Day has taken this much maligned trope and proved that it is anything but dull. Just takes a bit of imagination, that’s all, and these writers certainly have that.


This episode was also great for the hints and speculations. Couldn’t miss hearing the Master’s drums in the beeps of the machines registering Angelo’s death. But, of course, they’re not really the Master’s drums, they’re the sound he heard in the time vortex. Then there’s the fact that the badies are called the ‘Families’. ‘Family of Blood’, anyone? They were looking for immortality, also. And we saw in the trailer for next week further talk about feeling like something there but being unable to see it, which makes me think ‘Silence’ again, but it’s not really their MO. I dunno if the writers are just playing with us or if any of this connects. I’m sure we’d have heard about it if the Master were coming back, but the sound of those drums is certainly a very Time Lordish thing.

Guess we’ll have to wait and see!