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Star Trek Heads into Darkness and Familiar Territory

Throwing canon to the wind in the follow-up to the 2009 reboot.

'Who are you?" pleads a doomed man as Benedict Cumberbatch looms into his first close-up in Star Trek Into Darkness. The answer is Khan. And that's not a spoiler — it's a selling point. A less secretive director (i.e., all save the ghost of Stanley Kubrick) would trumpet that his $185 million movie stars Star Trek's greatest villain, but J.J. Abrams has so suppressed this fact that I suspect if you rearrange the letters in Khan Noonien Singh, you'll find the location of the Lost island.

Abrams's mystery-box marketing gave a boost to weaker, cheaper films like Cloverfield and Super 8, but if Star Trek Into Darkness bombs, the trick is on him. Cumberbatch, a tweedy Brit with an M.A. in Classical Acting and a face like a monstrous Timothy Dalton, has beefed up to become a convincing killer. He's brutal and bold, and the film around him isn't bad either. In the opening minutes, Khan terrorizes London, then makes like Osama and flees to the mountains of an enemy planet, causing Starfleet Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller — welcome back, RoboCop!) to make like Dubya and order his assassination, sans trial. Picture Zero Dark Thirty with bright pullovers and laser guns and you'll have Darkness, whose heavy-handed political parallels just might feel smart in a summer of Vin Diesel crashing cars.

Instead of Jessica Chastain's overrated ice queen, vengeance here will be served by the blubbering James T. Kirk (Chris Pine), who so bleeds his humanity across the Enterprise's deck that it's a wonder Chekhov (Anton Yelchin) doesn't slip. Again, the central conflict is between the captain's swaggering impetuousness and the cold-blooded logic of First Mate Spock (Zachary Quinto). Even more than in the first film, Quinto's Spock is emotionally disjointed — even dangerous. In his first scene, Spock sacrifices himself to preserve Starfleet's Prime Directive. Kirk breaks the rules to save his life, and Spock is furious, which is to say he pens a memo of complaint. Demoted, Kirk struggles to reconcile his feelings for his friend. "He'd let you die," cautions Dr. McCoy (Karl Urban), while Spock's girlfriend, Uhura (Zoe Saldana), is so enraged by her boyfriend's death wish that she threatens to "tear the bangs off his head."

Spock (Zachary Quinto) turns in Kirk (Chris Pine) after the captain breaks rules to save his first officer's life.
Paramount Pictures and Skydance Productions
Spock (Zachary Quinto) turns in Kirk (Chris Pine) after the captain breaks rules to save his first officer's life.

After setting up its War on Terror allusions, Star Trek Into Darkness becomes Paradise Lost in Space: It's a battle for the good captain's soul. Dispatched to Khan's hideout, Kirk is torn between Spock's wisdom and Admiral Marcus's warmongering. Will he let his crew quit or die in his quest for justice? Can Khan destroy him simply by smashing his moral code? In Darkness's darkest scene, our hero beats a prisoner who's already surrendered. It's shocking stuff, but Abrams's screenwriters don't trust the popcorn audience to get their psychological implications. Instead, they externalize Kirk's turmoil by making him spend every second scene suffering unsolicited advice about what to do. That even his subordinates treat him like a passive sap neuters the character, despite an early romp where he beds twin hotties with tails. His only real love is for the Enterprise, that hermaphroditic ship shaped like three phalluses and a flattened boob.

To validate his 2009 reboot, Abrams worked in a space-time splice so Leonard Nimoy could cameo as old Spock, or "Spock Prime," as though he specializes in overnight shipping. Ironically, in 1982, Nimoy (who had already penned the bristling memoir I Am Not Spock) was so desperate to abandon starship that he only agreed to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan when promised his character would die. Spock croaked, but Nimoy's Vulcan heart was so warmed by the fan agony that the actor returned to direct Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and, post-resurrection, has clung to the franchise, even titling his follow-up memoir I Am Spock. Today, while William Shatner is sealed in his pop-culture terrarium chanting lounge covers of "Space Oddity," Nimoy returns again so that old Spock can advise young Spock on how to defeat Khan decades before the original Khan defeats the original Spock, causing such a doubled-back crimp in the chronology that in our universe, Wrath of Khan may now no longer exist. Thus freed, Abrams lifts Khan's climax, thievery that will enrage the devout as it suggests the Star Trek saga is merely a game of Mad Libs into which he plugs characters and catastrophes.

Hey, why not? Trek diehards have long since proven they're impossible to satisfy. Instead, Abrams's glossy relaunch is tailored to fans who don't care for canon but know enough to grin when Dr. McCoy pokes a Tribble. Darkness is a cheery combo of classic catchphrases and young Hollywood heat, like blond babe Alice Eve as a weapons expert who can examine torpedoes only in her underwear.

Having crumpled up the franchise for kicks — not that I'm complaining — Abrams won't have the chore of smoothing out the Enterprise's future. Pine, who may yet prove to be a leading man in the model of Harrison Ford, will be pressed to return in sequels, as will Saldana, Quinto and Simon Pegg's Scotty. (If the openly gay Quinto hasn't had the same big screen success as his co-stars, I hope it's because he sincerely prefers the theater.) But their intergalactic overlord will be in another universe entirely. Hey, Luke — who was your father again?

 
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9 comments
MadMac
MadMac topcommenter

I liked the review, especially the analogy of the Enterprise. And, fan folk aside, 90% of the kids going to this thing would no more know who Khan is than they will care that it's a white Brit playing a character that was originally North Indian. The opporative phrase in this review is "Zero Dark Thirty with bright pullovers and laser guns." That's money right there.  

Cogniczares
Cogniczares

"And that's not a spoiler — it's a selling point."

Ummm...yes, yes it is a spoiler. He's being billed as John Harrison. 

Just making a statement that it isn't a spoiler does not make it so.

I can't figure out if the Prime comment was a joke or simple ignorance of what the word actually means, which hampers the joke if it indeed was one.


" while William Shatner is sealed in his pop-culture terrarium chanting lounge covers of "Space Oddity," 

So sealed he's bagged two Emmys and a Golden Globe or two. And no, this isn't a Trekkie defending Shatner...I didn't really enjoy him until Denny Crane. Well, and when he made fun of himself in Free Enterprise.


"causing such a doubled-back crimp in the chronology that in our universe, Wrath of Khan may now no longer exist" Not even sure where to start on this one. I think it was at this point my wife told me she'd never seen me facepalm so many times while reading a single movie review.

mtrr9669
mtrr9669

First of all...this isn't a very good review.  I'm so glad I saw the movie prior to reading this what with all the spoilers in it!  Also...it was Kirk who wanted to "tear the bangs off Spock", not Uhura.  Plus..."a flattened boob" as a description of the Enterprise?  How do they let you write, let alone review?  I'm not a "geek Trek fan" or even a "superfan", just a regular fan, but never would I have even thought of a description of the Enterprise as you have written it here.  In addition...if you don't get that Kirk's first love...probably his biggest love (aside from Dr. Marcus), is the Enterprise, then you really shouldn't be watching and reviewing Star Trek films.  Lastly...what was the need to insert "the openly gay Quinto" into your review?  Is it relevant to the review?  If so, I don't see it (and no, I'm not gay).  <--see? Saying that is relevant for me to include as it follows up the question I asked you.  Oh well...I'm sure you'll read this and probably laugh.  I mean, you will always have some that agree, and some that don't.  I just wanted to let you know my thoughts on this review.  Personally, I enjoyed the movie.  I'm good with (the openly heterosexual) Pine as Kirk, along with the rest of the cast, as well as Abrams.  They have BIG shoes to fill stepping into their roles in this franchise, and so far, they've gone where "not many" have gone before.  Live long and prosper.

realwriter
realwriter

If you cannot write a movie review without spoiling it, you should look for another line of work.

kmaher23
kmaher23

Most reviewers are still refraining from revealing THE SPOILER before people have had a chance to see the film.  I'd spoiled myself internationally but some viewers might be miffed. Tacky, tacky....

Oh, well.  I long ago realized that I read the Press for local stories: news, food, music & the other arts.  Your film criticism comes from the Voice syndicate & just isn't that good. So I mostly go elsewhere....






mickeyfinn
mickeyfinn

@MadMac The original actor was just about as far as you can get from North Indian as well. 

Cogniczares
Cogniczares

@mtrr9669 It was actually Uhura that made the bangs comment, but I fully agree on the boob comment. If you have to work 3 male sexual organs and a a single flatted female secondary sexual organ (out of a normal set of 2) into something to make a Freudian reference, you're stretching.

MadMac
MadMac topcommenter

Oh, I beg to differ. Ricardo Montalban was at least a non-Anglo and a groundbreaking decision in casting for the day. While a brilliant actor, Mr. Cumberbatch is far from an inspired choice.

mickeyfinn
mickeyfinn

@MadMac Ah, sorry. I didn't realize the argument was that they cast an anglo in the part, and not that they didn't cast someone of Indian descent. (I'm not being snarky here.)

 

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