16 May 2013

Star Trek - Into Darkness ****SPOILERS******

Alright , just in case anyones still reading this, I'm giving an even heavier spoiler warning than my normal blog contains. I just saw Star Trek Into Darkness (Because JJ Abrams hates numbers). If you haven't seen it yet and want to see it unspoiled and unbiased, turn away now. No seriously. I will give away the entire plot.

So, lets get this out of the way first. Despite every denial by cast members and crew, yes, Benedict Cumberbatch is portraying Khan Noonien Singh. John Harrison is merely a smokescreen. Khan is also the only name Cumberbatch gives, we only get the full name later, when...you know what, we'll get to that later.

So that noone can say I'm unfairly bashing this movie, let me begin by talking about the things this movie did right. Timewise, about 60% of the movie was good. However, the 40% that was bad was the far more important and powerful 40%.

Things that were good:
1) The cast: The cast was (mostly) excellent. I'm not entirely qualified to judge acting skills, so I'm basing this on how much they feel, to me, as if they get the spirit of their character. Zachary Quinto and Karl Urban stand above the others, though Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, Anton Yelchin, and John Cho were all also quite good. Benedict Cumberbatch played Khan admirably, despite the shortcomings of the character's writing and the fact that he looks nothing like Khan is supposed to. I truly felt that Quinto and Urban had their characters down perfectly, and at times would have sworn I was looking at a young Nimoy instead of Zack Quinto on screen. I didn't always buy Chris Pine as Kirk, but thats because noone can ever be Shatner.

2)The Opening: The beginning of the movie was a lot of fun. Primitive people drawing an image of the Enterprise to worship is basically what I always figured Starfleet was worried about when the Prime Directive was violated on such a young species. Honestly, it was a great movie right up until Harrison turned to the camera and said "My name is Khan."

3) The Visuals: I thought the visual element was good, and even liked the look of the Klingons as sort of an intermediary between the original series and the first movies. Their ships also maintained a Klingon feel, while matching the "industrialized" feeling Abrams put into the movie, which I have no issue with. The battle scenes felt a bit rushed, but still looked excellent. I could have done without the cheesy "spear thrown right at the audience cause this is in 3d" moment, but then again, I could do without 3d in movies, period.

4)The Music: Excellent score, some nice musical nods to the Original Series and movies, as well as some consistent themes from last movie.

5)The Fanservice: This is extra impressive considering Abrams hates Star Trek, but there were plenty of great nods to the original series. One of my personal favorites was Dr Marcus asking Kirk if he remembered her friend Christine Chapel, the Nurse. Sulu was also sure to let us know that the ship used by Kirk to sneak onto Quonos was supposedly confiscated in the "Mud" incident. (For those unfamiliar, Harry Mud was a recurring "villain" in the original series) I also enjoyed that the events of the previous movie sparked the early creation of Starfleet's Section 31, which you may recall as the ultra-secret arm of Starfleet that attempted to recruit Julian Bashir on DS9.

6)Seatbelts: I've been asking this question since the first time I saw an original Star Trek show. Everytime any version of the Enterprise takes a hit from enemy weapons, consoles explode (because in the future they have terrible electrical surges apparently), the ship tilts, and people fall over, often right out of their chairs. This movie inserts over-the-shoulder harnesses for the bridge crew, which quite frankly makes you wonder, why the hell didn't anyone think of this before.

7)Being Suprised: I spoilered this movie for myself in advance. That did not affect my viewing. Honestly, one of the things I most thought I'd hate in advance was the use of Khan's "super-blood" to revive Kirk. The way it was played out led to a pretty epic fight scene. And you know what, the Original Series used some pretty hoakie plot devices itself at times. Plus, its better that Kirk is revived now. Otherwise, we would have had to endure JJ Abrams horrendous remake of Star Trek 3: The Search for Spock, which he probably would have called "Star Trek: Into Lightness" or some ridiculousness, because he hates numbers.

The Bad:
So now lets take a look at the bad. Here's my personal theory. JJ Abrams started writing this movie with good intent. Then he found out that he was going to be heading Disney's new Star Wars trilogy, which is what he always wanted to do anyhow, so he got lazy and just shoved a bunch of stolen bits from Star Trek II into the plot and called it done. Then, when someone pointed out to him that people would expect the ending, he just took two characters, lets call them Irk and Pock, and switched their roles. Right down to the iconic ending and Irk's trademark scream heard across space. He probably then had a nice laugh to himself, thinking he was so clever (spoiler alert, he's not) and called it a day.

So, after an intense firefight in an oddly uninhabited yet strangely well constructed area of Quonos (The Klingon Homeworld) Khan surrenders to Kirk and company. He surrenders willingly after literally destroying three Klingon atmospheric patrol ships and about 30 Klingons with what appears to be a minigun. Kirk accepts the surrender, then proceeds to administers a little justice of his own, fisticuff style, but Khan is completely unphased. This is the first of several moments showing that this Khan is apparently nigh-invulnerable, which original Khan was not. Its worth noting in the penultimate fight of Space Seed, Shatner-Kirk not only hurt Khan with his double-fist punch, but was able to knock him out with a pipe. Khan then proceeds to do his best Loki impersonation and allows himself to be jailed when he clearly had the upper hand. Well, as Carol Marcus and Dr McCoy soon find out, turns out that all 72 surviving members of Khan's original crew are implanted in the new high-tech super secret "Long Range photon torpedoes" Section 31 cooked up. The same 72 torpedoes that Sulu has aimed at their location in case Khan will not come willingly. . Turns out that after the destruction of Vulcan, Section 31 (led in this version of the 'verse by Admiral Marcus) found the Botany Bay, awoke Khan, and held the rest of his people hostage to his good behavior. Good behavior in this case meaning designing weapons for Starfleet. Marcus also, apparently wants to start a war with the Klingons. Why? We dont know, but in movies the military people always want to start wars. In his cell, Khan explains this to Kirk, along with the caveat that Kirk was sent to eliminate Khan on Quonos in such a way that would inevitably begin said war. Know, Khan, he of the superior intellect, knows all this, but chooses to go to Quonos anyway....he literally could have gone anywhere, he had Scotty's trans-warp beaming equation and a nifty personal transporter device. Yet he chose to play along with Marcus' plans. Why? We may never know. In the meantime, Kirk has McCoy examine Khan in the med-lab. For some inexplicable, absolutely a plot-device for later, reason, McCoy injects a sample of Khan's blood into a dead tribble, that he just happened to keep for some reason we'll never know.

While McCoy experiments on dead space-rodents,  The Enterprise is stranded due to warp failure, which Khan explains is intention, on Marcus' behalf. And new Chief Engineer Chekov (cause wtf why?) is unable to solve the issue. Scotty, meanwhile, is drunk in a bar in San Fran. He wouldn't sign to take the Torpedoes on board, and instead of just overriding him and signing for them, Kirk told him to accept the torpedoes or resign. He resigned. Because JJ needed a plot device later. Because we can't have an entire movie with Scotty as the chief engineer of the Enterprise. He was basically a cheap plot device last movie as well. So, after a a few moments and a largely off-screen discovery by said former Chief Engineer Scott, Admiral Marcus shows up in his new, bad-ass Federation warship. Dreadnought class. Real original naming. This ship, which appears to be a combination of the Excelsior class and the Constitution class on 'roids, is the pinnacle of Section 31's new plan. Advanced weapons/warp/transporters, all designed by Khan. Marcus shows up and after a bit of classic Kirk dialouge, gives up his pretense with the horrendous line 'well shit' and reveals that unsuprisingly, Khan was right, he really is a war-mongering asshole.Kirk tries to run but of course the Dreadnought overtakes them in warp, and shoots them so hard it actually knocks the Enterprise off course and out of warp. This is admittedly a pretty cool visual. Dr. Marcus convinces Kirk to let her speak to her father, hoping he won't blow up the ship with his daughter on board, because even terribly written cliche villains love their kids, and she's actually right. Did we mention the Dreadnough has transporters that ignore shields? Because it does. Which actually makes their attack unneccesary because they could have just scanned for Khan (the original series shows that his life sign is very different from a normal human) found him, and beamed him off with said transporters. But hey, its a new ship, they might have forgotten they had them. So at this point, Carol is taken off the bridge, and the Dreadnought attempts to resume fire, after accusing Kirk of consipiring with the enemy and going rogue, or as other people might put it, following Marcus' orders perfectly. However, Admiral Marcus forgot about the hidden plot device. Scotty stowed away on the ship, disables it, and locks out the computer, leaving them both dead in the water, right near Earth's moon. But of course without communications, so they cannot raise Starfleet for help. How starfleet doesnt notice two ships fighting that close to earth is mind-boggling. So, with his ship all but dead (no teleporters, communications, warp, or weapons) Kirk turns to the only person he can for help, which apparently is Khan. They excecute a ridiculous space-jump across the debris field between ships, and Scotty pulls of a miracle to get them in. Because the space-jump scene in the last movie wasn't enough.

Conveniently enough, this super-advance ship can be run with a minimal crew, possibly only one, Khan tells us. And Marcus didn't see that as something the genetically engineered mad man might possibly exploit? If he wasn't going to drag the rest of the galaxy down with him, I'd say the man deserved what he got. So Kirk, Khan, and Scotty storm the bridge, stun the crew, and, on Kirk's orders, Scotty drops Khan with a single stun shot. Ordered to keep him down, Scotty decides for some reason (again, plot device) to do so standing directly over Khan's legs. Cause phasers don't work at range apparently. Kirk confronts Marcus, Marcus continues to be a giant douche, and Khan, unsuprisingly, is stunned for about ten seconds. This is sign #2 of his improved physical capabilities. He kicks Scotty in the face, kick's Carol Marcus' leg out and breaks it, and throws Kirk across the bridge before grabbing Admiral Marcus by the head, and either crushing his skull or ripping it off, we're not really sure because the camera cuts to Carol Marcus' pale-face scream, the one from the trailer, which I thought was more "terrified of a ghost" than "oh shit he murdered my father", but hey, thats nitpicking.

Meanwhile, back on the Enterprise, Spock has had a brilliant idea. A terribly, awful, meta-gaming idea. "I know," said the Vulcan, "I'll call future me. Obviously, these screenwriters are such awful hacks, they couldn't invent another new villain, so old-me must certainly have faced this Khan. And even though the timeline only changed over a hundred years after Khan's launch, its totally understandable that Khan is no longer of Sikh origin, and has gotten taller, paler, thinner, way less muscular (but somehow stronger) and more British." So Spock calls Spock on the main bridge, neglecting that only Kirk knew of the double-Spock existence. Old-Spock (I hate the 'Spock-prime' nomenclature) tells young-spock that he swore never to help him meta-game, but Khan Noonien Singh (and this is the first/last/only time we hear his full name) is such a bad-ass, he'll make an exception. Nimoy-Spock doesn't tell Quinto-Spock that fighting Khan led to his death, but his face is terrible when Quinto-Spock asks him 'at what cost' they defeated Khan. Don't worry, Quinto-Spock, you'll soon learn. Oh yes, you will, for this movie is dark and full of rehashed plot. So they finish their conversation off-screen, and predictably, as soon as their done, Khan calls, because 1990's dicators were always polite and never interrupted conversations with your future self. (Side-bar, for all he was right about, how terribly wrong about the 90's was Gene Roddenberry?) Khan tells Spock he'll trade his crew for theirs, because Kirk, Scotty, and a new character that noone cares about, who lied and forged and used a false identity to get aboard the Enterprise so she could spy on her daddy, who always told her about everything except these new super torpedoes and his secret warship (Carol Marcus) are totally a fair trade for 72 genetically engineered super beings. Spock delays slightly, then allows Khan to beam the torpedoes containing his people onto the Dreadnaught, then Khan kicks Kirk once more for good measure, and teleports the Enterprise crew members into the brig he had been contained in, and gets off a pretty good one-liner. Turns out Nimoy-Spock gave Quinto-Spock a pretty good idea (because why would we want Quinto-Spock to develop his own ideas, lets just have the 200 year old guy who knows everything give him answers. Because character development doesn't happen without that. Fuck you JJ Abrams) because Spock had Dr. McCoy extricate the cryo-sleeping supermen from the torpedoes before beaming them across to Khan. On cue they explode, crippling the ship for the plot-appropriate length, and allowing us to focus on action the Enterprise.

Which we do, of course. McCoy fills Kirk in on their plot, then Kirk rallies Scotty and Chekov to try and restore the Enterprises badly damaged warp core (filled, I admit, with excellent Scotty lines). Chekov is sent off to hit an emergency reset of some sort, leaving Kirk and Scotty to fix the rest of the core, which is contained in, oh, really, you're actually going to do that eh JJ? If you've never seen Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan, turn away now cause apparently we're going to spoil the ending of that too. So, you guessed it, the part that needs to be fixed is in an area filled with radiation that has to be fixed, and since this is the future, radiation suits are nowhere to be found when you need them, apparently. Kirk and Scotty argue over going in there, and as arguements on set often went between James Doohan and Shatner, Kirk punches Scotty, knocks him out, and seat belts him in to the engineering console. (Thats right, a seatbelt in engineering. the Enterprise D didnt even have those on the bridge) Kirk then climbs into the jeffries tube, finds the warp core, and fixes it the only way Captain Kirk knows how to fix something, by hitting it till it cooperates. Of course, the radiation is too much for a mere human, and with Spock seperated by only a sheet of glass, and their hands touching (through the glass), Kirk dies after avowing their friendship though thankfully not with the same words as last time. There is a pause, during which i have a terrible forethought, say to myself, no, he wouldn't, and of course, he does. With a face that can only be described as "painful constipation" or "i don't want to do this anymore than you want me to" Spock releases the line that William Shatner will forever be known for, the Khan scream.
Speaking of, you guys remember Khan right? Violent, genius, sociopath with his own super-advanced warship? Well, as soon as Spock finishes screaming, the dreadnought races by the Enterprise, intent on crashing into San Francisco, home to Starfleet HQ. Luckily, Khan is a few dilithium crystals short of a warp core, and crash lands his ship first into alcatraz, then san francisco bay, then the city itself. He then leaps off the ship, and attempts to run on foot. Uhura urges a visibly angry Spock (who is showing emotions, despite earlier claims he did not) to go after him. He beams down, and begins the chase scene, which I have to admit was pretty cool. Spock catches Khan, and the fist fight begins. Vulcans have above-human average strength, but Spock is half-Vulcan. Apparently that half was all Kirk was lacking as Spock is able to land several blows that hurt Khan. Which is lucky for him, because not only did Khan withstand the Vulcan Neck-pinch (it just hurt him? I don't even know) but he took six or seven point blank stun shots from Spock's phaser, and just shrugged them off. What the absolute fuck? Apparently genetically superior also means non-conductive nerves.

At the same time, McCoy is cursing Kirk over his dead body. He sits down at his desk in grief, only to notice that the dead tribble he left on his desk after injecting it with Khan's blood is SUDDENLY ALIVE!!!  (But seriously, its just laying there. Not contained in a cage, med-bay, or anything. Imagine if that now super-tribble got loose?) Unfortunately, during his bizarre medical experiment (Where is the PETA of the star trek universe? Who will speak for the tribbles? Sorry, couldn't resist) McCoy used up all the blood he had taken from Khan. So he needs more to save Kirk. In the meantime, they throw their captain into the 20th century sleeper tube Khan had formerly occupied. Of course, the comm-badge hasnt' been invented yet, so Spock really can't answer his flip-phone while slugging it out with Khan. Uhura beams down, tries the stun thing again, it still doesnt work, but does distract Khan long enough for Spock to break a piece off of the ship-thing they're fighting on and absolutely wail Khan in the face with it. (Remember earlier, when I said Shatner knocked him out with a piece of the engineering console? Same concept) The calm-emotionless Vulcan then proceeds to kneel atop Khan's chest and deliver an absolutely savage series of blows to Khan's head, only pausing when Uhura finally remembers to deliver the message she came down here to deliver. So Spock delivers one final uppercut, which we see from Khan's point of view (I did admit the visuals were good), and they take him prisoner.

We are then treated to Kirk's revival, some classic banter with the big three, and the movies ending. The Enterprise is re-christened, Kirk gives a big memorial speech at the newly repaired San Francisco headquarters, and Carol Marcus officially joins the crew of the Enterprise long enough let us know that yes, they will be sleeping together as soon as we go to credits, if they havent already. After all, they do have a son to concieve. We see Khan and his crew in their cryo-tubes being stored somewhere, presumably by top men. Top. Men. James T Kirk takes his chair on the repaired (but not hyphen-lettered) Enterprise, gathers his crew, and for a moment, I thought he was going to give the navigation order from Star Trek VI (Second star to the right, straight on till morning). Luckily, he did not, and as he recites the famous opening monologue, and a variant of the original series music plays, we fade to credits.

So lets recap, shall we?
1)Khan was not the primary villain in all this. Starfleet, or more specifically, Section 31 and Admiral Marcus was. We're seemingly meant to sympathize with Khan, since Starfleet is holding his people hostage to his work.
2) JJ Abrams took the ending plot of Star Trek II, reversed the roles of Kirk and Spock, and thought that this would make for good theater. I disagree.
3)For the first half of the movie, it is beaten into us that Spock will not show emotion, even in a fight with Uhura over their relationship.  As soon as Kirk is killed, saving the ship, Spock shows emotion, blaming Khan, even though he did not (directly) kill Kirk, and Kirk had done the same thing Spock would have done (And, btw, did do) in that situation. Kirk does what Spock would have done (And in the original timeline did do), so Spock then goes off and does what Kirk would have done, ending the threat with his fists.
4) Being taller, whiter, and thinner makes Khan stronger, more resilient, and gives him Wolverine-like regeneration techniques.These changes to Khan exist even though the timeline in Abrams universe shifted well after Khan's launch from Earth.
5) Because of the destruction of Vulcan by future Romulans, the Federation is somehow on the brink of war with the Klingons. Go figure. To be fair, in the original series the Federation was often on the brink of war with the Klingons, but they give the impression in this movie that it is only so because of the time-line altering events.
6) Need answers? Just call your future self for help! Don't bother trying to develop your self into the obvious hero you became in that timeline, just take the shortcut.

Like I said above, I spoiled this movie for myself in advance. I went to go see it despite that, hoping I would enjoy it anyway. I've been wrong about movies before. And honestly, I really enjoyed the movie, up until the reveal. And even parts after. Seeing how things were done I believe it is possible that they could have made a movie, used Khan as the villain (though i wish they hadn't) and done it well. But they didnt. I know it was bandied about as a distraction during the lead-up, so I'll mention it here, Benedict Cumberbatch would have made a great Gary Mitchell. He honestly was not a terrible Khan. I don't blame him for the characters issues. But in the end, he's no Ricardo Montalban. There was a rumor that Benicio Del Toro was initialy considered for the role, and visually that would probably have fit the mold better. But why do you need to rehash an old villain? Wrath of Khan was great because it was a recurring foe, an remnant of the original five year mission coming back to haunt Admiral Kirk. It is a testament to how great that movie was that when I just typed "Admiral Kirk" nearly all of you read it in Khans voice, probably the way he says it when he first learns of Kirk's promotion. Not to mention, when a villain is so iconic that they've reached the status of Khan, they should never be recast. No one but James Earl Jones should ever voice Darth Vader (Take notice JJ). There can be no other (Marvel Comics) Loki but Tom Hiddleston. And after Heath Ledger, it will take alot for me to buy into anyone else as The Joker on the big screen.
But seriously, how hard would it have been to WRITE AN ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY. Use the Klingons, the Gorn, the Breen, or the Tholians. Hell, you changed the timeline, so you don't even have to wait for first contact with Next generation era species. Lets see what happens if Kirk met the Cardassians. Or, heres a novel idea, how about a movie where the Romulans are villains, but aren't portrayed terribly! (I'm also looking at you Nemesis. I love the Romulans, but they get so screwed over in the movies) Seriously, any enemy race with the exceptions of the Borg and the Dominion would have worked. You wanted your own seperate  timeline to tell your own stories, so for the love of Gene, tell your own damn stories! 

In closing, I still reccommend you go see this movie. Form your own opinion. Tell me if you agree/disagree with my assessments. Till next time, Live long, and Prosper
- The Penguin

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