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Old May 9 2013, 10:54 AM   #1229
Eddie Roth
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Re: STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS - Grading & Discussion [SPOILERS]

I should've known that coming here after seeing the film would mean reading comment upon comment of some canon-whore bemoaning how the film "tramples all over established Trek", respectively those who feel that "oh, it's not Star Trek at all". Hogwash, both of them.

To those who haven't seen it (and you really shouldn't be in a spoiler thread at this point!): It rocks! Every bit as great as ST09, if for different reasons. Here they are (and they feature spoilers of course):

1. The one small complaint I had about ST09, which I otherwise felt was an immense ride much like the Indiana Jones films, was that it evaded several of the elements which set ST apart from other sci-fi franchises, i.e. the focus on questions of morality and the commentary on current social issues. That is fully back in STID: The topic, obviously, is terrorism, but the film doesn't take the easy route by saying "Look, here's a fanatic who wants to destroy our way of life, and we must stop him", but complicates the matter by introducing another villain, one Admiral Marcus, who is a Cheney/Rumsfeld kind of hawk looking to turn the cold war with the Klingons hot and thus uses Harrison/Khan to achieve that. If you want to read Khan as an Osama bin Laden type, then this film clearly outlines the genesis of such types. After all, bin Laden was originally a CIA asset in Afghanistan being used in the fight against the opposing party in the Cold War, the invading Soviet Union. The lesson outlined here is that you cannot and should not ally yourself with an enemy just because he so happens to also be the enemy of your enemy. He might turn on YOU after he's done with the common enemy. (Kirk and Spock even have a nice bit of dialogue about this particular problem.) With this single plot choice, the relevance of ST as commentary on history has been restored, if of course it cannot explore the issue as deeply as a TV episode would've done - but then again, this is not really what one could ever expect from a summer blockbuster. And frankly, few if any of the previous Trek films ever did "message" as well as any of the episodes.

2. On a related note, the Kirk-Spock dynamic is now played out to maximum effect with regard to the questions of morality ST is so famous for. Whereas ST09 portrayed their rivalry as petty in certain places (they seemed to be fighting because they annoy each other in their differences of character, much like high school kids would), now, when they're fighting, they do so because they have different approaches to the problem at hand. This means that the conflict between them comes not from the script, but rather from the characters' essences. Particularly in the early part of the film this is evident (a good old Prime Directive discussion) where both are equally right, they just need to learn that the other one's perspective is just as valid as their own and that they can be reconciled. The rest of the film is then precisely about that. This character relationship was probably my favorite part about STID.

3. In my stream of conciousness review here, this would be the place to mention, as some have before me, that there comes a scene late in the film where the writers go a little on the nose with their nostalgic celebration of that classic character relationship. In a remake of sorts of Spock's TWOK death, Kirk is now the one to sacrifice himself for the ship and he and Spock share a goodbye through a plate of glass. It's a scene that works, ultimately, but yes, the word-by-word homage goes just one step too far in its self-referentiality. Much like Spock Prime's line to young Kirk in ST09 "I have been and always shall be...", an iconic line in a different context just doesn't quite have the same impact it used to have.

4. If, however, you feel that as a Star Trek fan, you just can't cope with the new creatives using the franchise as a toy box from which they pull whatever they feel serves their goal best to present an entertaining (and in this case thoughtful) adventure best, you just shouldn't watch the film and content yourself with reruns. The adage is tired, but what Abrams does is truly not your father's (that being "your") Star Trek anymore. In the theater last night, the little self-conscious reactions of some of the Trekkies in the moments mentioned before really got on my nerves.

5. Bad Robot really did a great job of keeping the surprises secret, big or small as they were. While I had been accidentally spoiled as to the villain's identity, I had no idea Leonard Nimoy would be in this. Aces! Or that Pike would die. As for the "big" secret, ultimately, knowing it beforehand didn't change my appreciation in any way. So I wonder if the secrecy was really just a strategy to keep internet geekdom's negativity at bay. We saw four years ago already how militant some people got at barely the idea that the new villain might be Khan. Turns out there was no reason to be so hostile to the idea, the character works perfectly fine and it's an interesting "what if" take on his story. Khan, having been co-opted by the secret service as a super-weapon and his friends being held hostage, has become much more dangerous than his old self was. In fact I would say that the character's motivation is a lot more convincing here than it was in either Space Seed or TWOK. In a very biodeterminist notion in the old stories, he became the villain only because he was created to be ambitious and power-hungry (and later because he wanted the old and tired revenge). Here, he's actually fighting for something. The film convincingly creates a situation halfway through where you could imagine that Khan might actually turn out to be an unlikely hero of the story. It never fully goes there, but the implications are a great bonus for the suspense of the story.

6. Finally, especially the very beginning and the ending once again underscored that Abrams and the writers do unterstand what ST is all about. The film is indeed not about "Darkness", but the pioneer spirit and optimism that sets ST apart and it knows that the crew of the Enterprise are explorers, not warriors (something that cannot be said for all of the first ten films!). Here's hoping that the next film can find a way of bringing more fun and action-packed blockbuster stuff without relying only on fistfights and space battles. I take the Nibiru opening as a tantalizing hint as to what is still possible in this renewed franchise.

Don't let anyone dissuade you. Star Trek Into Darkness is a great film, and a great Star Trek film as well.
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"If your level of [...] fandom is such that it doesn't allow you to enjoy this film, then your level of fandom isn't doing you or "Star Trek" any good."
- Steve Penhollow, The Journal Gazette
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