Genre – A Different Slant On Star Trek Into Darkness

A former weekly staple of Hope Lies, GENRE makes a welcome return for one night only, as lifelong Trekkie Rob Girvan felt the need to comment on this week’s Star Trek Into Darkness. For an alternative viewpoint check out the official Hope Lies review here. Be warned, there are MAJOR SPOILERS ahead.  

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Let me begin by laying my cards on the table. I am a lifelong Star Trek fan. I am also acutely aware that the majority of it isn’t very good. Roughly speaking, season 3 of the 60s series, most of the Next Generation, Voyager and Enterprise are by and large, not good. That isn’t to say there aren’t moments in any of these shows which are worth watching. But taken as a whole, if someone came up to me and asked if I felt it would be worthwhile for them to sit and watch seven seasons of Voyager, I cannot say that I would advise them to do so.

But when Trek is good, it is great. It combines fantastic ideas, with epic visions and great character work. At times it is ambitious but flawed (the original Motion Picture), other times misguided to say the least (The Final Frontier) but when it hits all the right targets, it soars. I am thinking Undiscovered Country, First Contact and yes, The Wrath of Khan. Khan really is the breaking point between one generation of Trek and the next. Before that Trek was constantly in a conflict between wanting to deliver a message of peace and hope, while also letting Kirk punch an alien or two.

The Motion Picture brought with it an end to the idea that Star Trek was truly concerned about peace. Bland, beige and too in love with its own effects work, it essentially killed off Roddenberry’s claims that Trek should be about utopia (something I feel he only bought into after The Original Series went off the air). The Wrath of Khan was a game changer – there was conflict, there was a cool bit of science-fiction, there were stakes, there was adventure and yes, some actual heart. Kirk and crew were allowed to get old, and they were allowed to be less than perfect and finally a balance was created. It is no coincidence that the Next Generation found its feet with the two part episode ‘The Best of Both Worlds’, which was essentially The Wrath of Khan on the small screen.

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And so it is no surprise that subsequent films have knelt at the throne of Khan. However the movie series has become increasingly reliant on this template. Star Trek 8: First Contact – Picard quotes Moby Dick and is on a quest for vengeance. Star Trek 9: Insurrection – the outcast from Brazil wants revenge on his family. Star Trek 10: Nemesis – Ton Hardy wants revenge on mankind and Picard for some reason the script writers never explain. And then Star Trek 09’ – Eric Bana is on a quest of vengeance against Spock.

You would think that after all these efforts, the team behind Star Trek Into Darkness might have decided to go another direction, perhaps remembering that The One with the Whales was the most successful Star Trek movie of its time. But nope. Not a chance. Star Trek Into Darkness feels like it is this crew’s version of The Undiscovered Country. A final movie before the team disbands. But as we all know, this is only the second film for this crew. And they had years to write it. Which begs the question – is this really the best that they came up with?

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There is not a moment in the film which feels earned. In the first 10 minutes Kirk is demoted from Captain. Try watching this back to back with Star Trek 09’. We are supposed to feel a sense of excitement at the end of the first movie. Kirk was now a captain. Pike had faith in him. Let’s go on an adventure! The credits come on, we flash across the galaxy!

…and then learn that he was soon demoted again, and Pike was lying at the end of the first movie.

Thankfully this silly plot point is resolved pretty quickly, showing just how unnecessary it was in the first place, as Pike gets himself killed by Benedict Cumberbatch’s “mysterious” villain. Cumberbatch knows where Starfleet are meeting because apparently it is common knowledge that the high command will meet in that EXACT ROOM any time there is a crisis. What sort of operation are Starfleet running here? And so the gang shoot off to the Klingon home because you’ve gotta have Klingons in there, right? There is an attempt to try and make the threat of war between the Federation and the Klingons significant, but since all we see is a couple of scout ships, and 20 guys, it never really feels big enough. Cumberbatch subsequently comes abroad the Enterprise, reveals that he is Khan (faint, shock, wow) and the audience, some of whom likely don’t have parents who were born when The Wrath of Khan came out, look at the screen confused, not understanding why this is supposed to be a surprise.

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I am not against them using Khan, and Cumberbatch gives it his all. But they waste the character, and make him do stupid, stupid things. He says his is the superior intellect, yet falls for such an easy trick on the part of Spock that he becomes little more than a strong, but dumb brute. Like Hulk, but English. We soon discover that Peter Weller is behind a massive Starfleet conspiracy to try and bring forward a war with the Klingons. There is a thread of an interesting theme here – a couple of times people ask whether the Federation should be about war. But the debate is pushed to the side so things can blow up and Spock can punch a guy.

Kirk dies saving the ship and they replay the entire death scene from Khan. Here is my problem with this. We have only got to know these two actors in these roles. There is no built history, and most of the time they are just being snarky to each other. When the original cast did that scene, it meant something. They had known each other for almost twenty years. At the time Spock really wasn’t going to come back. There was a weight and honesty to the performances. In this movie, the actors all know Pine is coming back. They have all read the script. They attempt to make the scene about the solidification of the friendship, rather than the ending of one. But because they use pretty much the same dialogue from The Wrath of Khan, and some very similar shots, it is hard not to compare, and find Into Darkness lacking.

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The whole thing culminates with Spock says something so embarrassing that I cringed for most of the remaining run time. Just because “KHHAAAANNNN!” is the the character’s best known moment in popular culture it doesn’t mean that you need to do it in the film. The point of that moment in The Wrath of Khan is that Kirk knows he that has an escape plan, he is trying to make Khan feel he has the upper hand. He is deliberately being overly theatrical. In this film, Spock screams it with all of the impact of a kid pissed off because he lost his latest game of Call of Duty.

The film ends with them needing to recover Khan and use his blood to save Kirk…despite the Enterprise having Khan’s other crewmates, who could all supply that blood without the need to fight them (they are all frozen). Magic blood – are we sure Abrams is the right guy for Episode Seven when he is taking inspiration from The Phantom Menace?

Rob can be found on Twitter.

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