The Lazarus Story:
The crew of the Enterprise must stop a conspiracy before it escalates into all-out war with Klingon Empire.
[Advance Warning: This is a long one.]
Review and Analysis:
If it were ever possible for a revamped movie franchise to jump the shark multiple times, this franchise under Abrams showed that it was not only possible, but completely within its capabilities to do so. Having already completely abandoned the mantra of Star Trek in the first movie (to the loud applause of the audience), Star Trek: Into Darkness boldly continues to remind its audience that nothing matters except the moment. And, when that moment passes, it is to be misremembered or forgotten, depending on the amount of “suspenseful action” the current scene is shooting for.
And, yes, it is really that horrible.
No longer content with simply making thematic or structural retreads back to The Wrath of Khan (as seen with Generations, Insurrection, Nemesis, and Star Trek ), Into Darkness has made the inevitable decision to lift whole passages from that movie – and try to call it an homage.
One of the things that set Star Trek (2009) apart from the rest of the franchise was that movie’s frenetic pace. Compared to the previous 10 movies of the franchise, Abrams’ first foray into Trek gave us a film that would not slow down, even for a moment. In some ways, this allowed Abrams and company to get favorable treatment from Trek fans that may not have occurred if the pacing of the film allowed for the viewer to catch one’s breath (metaphorically).
Where the first 10 movies of the Star Trek franchise had spurts in which pace would speed up (The Wrath of Khan, believe it or not, was not a fast-paced film), those films would slow down considerably for the plot and/or character exposition (First Contact and Insurrection, for example), Star Trek (2009) put the metaphorical throttle to the firewall and never bothered to hit the brakes to smell the roses.
That extra-fast pacing continues with Into Darkness. And, in doing so, reveals many of the problems with plot and theme execution for the film.
For example, you end up with sequences like:
Pointless Last Second…Anything:
John Khan Harrison:
From the original series TV episode “Space Seed,” Khan Noonien Singh was supposed to be a jumbled combination of “ruthless” leaders like Genghis Khan, Napoleon, that German Leader during the “Great War,” and others. On top of this, he supposed to have intelligence on par with the great geniuses of all time, as well as superhuman strength and endurance.
Khan Singh was also supposed to hail out of the India/Pakistan region, which is why he is wearing a Dastar in the painting shown in Lt. McGivers’ quarters. Yet, somehow, we ended up with a Spaniard, albeit an actor with loads of charisma that his mere presence overshadows everything, including the plot. Because people wanted to see Ricardo Montalban (and his well-chiseled body) whenever they could, his portrayal of Khan Singh in “Space Seed” overlooks the fact that his role is another example of side-Brownface.
For Into Darkness, the role is completely Cloroxed™; Benedict Cumberbatch is chosen for the role of Khan Singh.
When you watch the sequences in which John Khan Harrison is introduced – and then finally revealing his name, you see why, once and for all, this movie fails.
For Into Darkness, any knowledge of Khan – and the impact of hearing his name – requires that you have already seen The Wrath of Khan (from a universe that no longer exists) because the dramatic impact of Cumberbatch using and emoting the name requires an invoking of Ricardo Montalban from either the episode of “Space Seed” or from the sequel movie. Any confusion about this scene comes from the fact that the dramatic impact at this plot detail was directed at the viewing audience, bypassing the characters, who show little initiative to look up who “Khan” is. This is coupled with the fact that there was no investigation into whom John Harrison “really” was. And for such and “important” plot detail, this is the equivalent of swinging a sledgehammer and punching a hole in the bottom of the boat. And, yes, the ship is taking on water.
The Enterprise crew had no inkling whatsoever of whom Khan was, except that John Khan was a “pawn” of Admiral Marcus.
In fact, until Spock Prime shows up, no one on board Enterprise had any clue as to how to deal with John Khan, as apparently the use of library computers to perform research must have been made forbidden.
For comparison, in watching Wrath of Khan, the dramatic impact of Khan Singh is not pointed at the audience directly, but through the characters themselves. Most people think of the reaction Chekov had on Ceti Alpha V, but Kirk’s reaction to seeing Khan Singh (after Khan blasts Enterprise to within an inch of its existence) is the one that brings it all full circle.
The Klingon Red-Herring:
The scene in which the Klingons are introduced makes no sense, story-wise that is, until you make a few realizations:
- The chase scene with the shuttle and the Klingon Bird-of-Prey (revamped) is nothing more than another Pointless Pod Race. The actual scene that this is chase is lifted from is from Return of the Jedi, where the Millennium Falcon (piloted by Land0) is navigating through the Death Star. Or it could have been its more recent cousin from The Matrix Revolutions, where Niobe pilots through the service tunnels.
- The Klingons being introduced in the scene have no real bearing on the story. You could substitute them for Gorn, Kzinti, Romulans, Sheliak, Astrofarmers from Belnax 10 – and the story would not deviate one iota.
- The Klingons were Cannon Fodder for That Guy from Assassins’ Creed. And that is all. Also, the Klingons don’t have any picket ships patrolling the outside of their star system, where a Federation Battlecruiser suffered a flat tire. Also, the Klingons don’t have long-range scanning capabilities beyond their home planet.
But the real fail of the scene starts long before that. It actually starts with Sulu’s “threat” to John Khan Harrison. Since this threat would have to be broadcasted on an open frequency (highly doubtful that JK Harrison would have taken a secured Federation radio with him), then the Klingons would have (and should have) been able to intercept and monitor the transmission. And then, an appropriate response for both Harrison and Enterprise could have (and would have) been dispatched.
Of course, these things are never dealt with or explored. Because the Klingons were a red herring and a bridge to seeing the John Khan Harrison Shootout.
Poor writing at its finest.
The Over-Complicated Villain Plot(s):
In the wake of the destruction of the Federation fleet at the hands of Nero, Admiral Marcus decides to revive Khan Noonien Singh, a genetically-engineered “super” man, and uses him to design more destructive weapons, including a new class of super-Starship whose firepower exceeds even that of Enterprise. To keep Khan in line, Admiral Marcus holds Khan’s other followers hostage in cryo-tubes.
[Let’s stop for a moment here. Once Khan designed and helped to build Vengeance, did Admiral Marcus have any intention of releasing Khan? Or did Marcus plan on putting Khan back to sleep?]
Next, Admiral Marcus has Khan, now code-named John Harrison, orchestrate a series of attacks on Starfleet assets on Earth, and then flee to Quo’nos. Admiral Marcus would then order a Federation ship to pursue Khan into Klingon space and shoot 72 “special” torpedoes onto the Klingon homeworld. We were to presuppose that this plan was to get the 72 super-humans onto the Klingon homeworld and start blowing stuff to bits – and killing Klingons en masse until the super-humans were all eliminated. Then the Klingons would declare war on the Federation and attack Earth.
It would be then that Admiral Marcus would be able to declare Martial Law, unveil Vengeance, defeat the Klingons, and rule the Federation. Take note that, like The Undiscovered Country, Admiral Marcus is shown as the only high-ranking Starfleet person who sets out to take this approach with regards to the plot. Unfortunately, the events that were supposed to capitulate the Federation towards a more warlike state do not advance the theme towards this, mostly because we never see any of the machinations that were set in motion outside of the military to do so (in sharp contrast to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine‘s “Homefront” and “Paradise Lost” episodes).
This movie highlights the problem with Military Takeover plots in movies and TV Shows. These are natural offshoots of the Dictator/Oligarchy Takeovers that surface every so often. Admiral Marcus’ intentions to further militarize Starfleet with “combat” vessels had no need whatsoever for the 9/11 allegory attacks in the first Act; the utter destruction of the fleet by Nero would have been seen as enough. If this movie franchise had committed itself to showing a Federation actually at peace, seeking out new worlds and new civilizations (instead bracketing the screen with
turbolasers phasers), then the allegory 1993 WTC bombing and 9/11/01 WTC attack would be a better starting point. Also, take note that there seems to be no political structure within the Federation outside of Starfleet. If both the peace and the war are handled by the military, there really is no opposing points-of-view to show in the end.
This is what happens when you try to “dazzle” your audience: You lose sight of the bigger picture.
Sleeping Ancient “Superman” Scenario:
The sideshow plot of Into Darkness is that a 300 year-old man with better-than-average intelligence for someone of his time is needed to design and build weapons using techniques and technology which would have been far beyond his thinking. It would be the equivalent of finding a warship designer from the 17th Century and having him build the “next generation super-battleship” – in the 20th century – when his (or her) familiarity would be with wooden hulls, wind-and-ocean current-dependent fabric sail propulsion, and breech-loaded 18 pound guns. The range of these guns were several hundred yards at best. The “shells” are nothing more than metal balls whose damage comes from kinetic energy impacting against wood. Targeting these weapons is a point and shoot affair, where educated guessing is required for compensating for battlefield conditions.
In World War 2, ships were built with advanced metallurgy and construction techniques, oil and steam propulsion generating tens of thousands of horsepower for movement, and main guns that fire shells that are thousands of pounds – and packed with explosive materials. Sophisticated electronic systems like radar are used to point the guns in the right direction and lock on to the target. And the effective range of the guns are measured in the tens of thousands of yards.
It is those concepts that your 16th century warship designer would not have access without the intense study of said techniques. But even he or she would be at a grave disadvantage compared to their contemporaries born and raised in the current century, having been trained in the concepts of modern warfare and tactics.
In building Vengeance, no new “concepts” were introduced in ship construction that could really be attributable to having John Khan Harrison around as opposed to the usual crop of Federation ship designers working to design and build the ship. The advantages that Vengeance had over ships like Enterprise come from its size and firepower (like a battleship versus a heavy cruiser advantage), both of which could have been conceptualized by 23rd century ship designers, without the need for 300+ year-old war criminal to point them along the way.
The real issue with the way that most modern space fantasy and science fiction writers who present their stories on video is their over-reliance on keeping “details” from the audience. And then, out of nowhere, their story reveals what they believe to be is the “change” in the story – and the audience is supposed to react like this:
And this movie is peppered with them:
- John Khan Harrison mentioning his “real” name for the first time.
- Discovering that the torpedoes were really John Khan’s people.
- Seeing the USS
Evil ShipVengeance facing off against Enterprise.
- Seeing the new Klingons.
- Khan’s “No ship should go down without her Captain” moment.
- Enterprise loses power and the lights go out.
- Spock’s treacherous torpedoes exploding. Best played when Khan screams.
The main problem with OMG!Shock storytelling is that the impact upon subsequent viewings to connect some of the not-so-obvious dots in the plot is diminished to a greater degree than if a more linear story progression were used. OMG!Shock is used to jar the audience in one direction or another, not unlike a horror movie monster popping out of the bushes to kill its victim. Such storytelling devices belong in the proper genre. Crossing over a genre only works if the story itself is sound. Such is not the case here.
The Obligatory Science Moment:
In the “Original” Universe, a Constitution-class Heavy Cruiser is believed to be rated at anywhere from 190,000 to 1,000,000 (deadweight) metric tonnes. The Dreadnaught-class warship that Khan designs and Admiral Marcus builds is obviously twice the physical size of the Enterprise. Scaling upwards, you are looking at 220% or more mass just from the physical components alone. On the low end, your mass rating is close to 400,000 DWMT, and ending somewhere near the 3,000,000 DWMT.
Now, take something that massive…and drop it towards the Earth….from lunar orbit. Even given the “glide” path John Khan Harrison puts Vengeance on, there would be a (very big) crater AND the resulting impact would cause an Earthquake at 9 Richter (or greater) AND the displaced water becomes a tidal wave event spreading in all directions. California, Oregon, and Washington (State) would be both underwater and fractured at the fault line.
At ground zero, Vengeance would have been completely destroyed, and John Khan Harrison, genetically engineered or not, would have died. And let’s not get into the secondary detonations of things like, say, the anti-matter bottles or the photon torpedoes. How about the possibility of a warp core breach? Because that would happen in the event of the kind of crash-landing Vengeance, on an extremely lucky day, performed in this movie.
As it is:
The city of San Francisco is completely destroyed by this action. However, the water displacement from the “glancing blow” and the earthquake that should have happened did not occur. It is not a surprise because this is the same writing team that posited:
- A supernova can threaten the entire galaxy;
- A black hole can swallow the supernova and subsequently shut itself down afterwards, and;
- If the conditions are absolutely perfect and the plot requires it, a black hole created by Red Matter can facilitate time travel.
The writing for this scene stems from the belief that the impact of a 300 MEGA-ton ship is relatively the same as a 300 ton airplane doing the same thing. Along the same lines, believing that the inertia of said 300 MEGA-ton ship would not cause multi-continental devastation – along with the loss of millions of lives.
Tacked-On, and Still Never Mattered:
Abrams’ version of Star Trek finds many defenders because of Uhura and the relationship between Uhura and Spock. As is the case with the first movie, Uhura is allowed to do things – except for anything having to deal with the actual plot of the film. Because the actual plot concerning the movie itself ends at this point:
Admiral Marcus had already died at the hands of John Khan Harrison, which effectively stopped the Starfleet Becomes Warfleet plotline. Vengeance is then disabled and unable to effectively prosecute its attack against Enterprise. John Khan Harrison had no more cards to play. And with the conditions of their engines and power systems being what they were, those ships should have crashed on the MOON.
A minor nit, but not worthy of its own science moment.
But the movie’s running plots have ended.
The Enterprise dropping into the atmosphere was nothing more than tacking on some kind of action-packed finale, including a full-on script lift from The Wrath of Khan, running CTRL+R for Spock and Kirk.
The Spock vs. John Khan Harrison fight? Nothing more than a tacked on bridge between Vengeance going poof and Kirk’s hypocritical speech at the end (more on this in a moment). This was to allow for Kirk to be “revived” after his Genesis Countdown rescue along with Kirk (Dies) moments.
Functionally Useless Captain (or How Not to Write a Coda):
In Star Trek (2009), Kirk makes very bad decisions. In that movie, we are supposed to accept that it is because his “real” father isn’t around (thanks to him dying in the prelude) and his step-father is a sanctimonious jerk. One plot twist that you can always count on from Hollywood: Step-parents (Cinderella, Liar Liar), Foster Parents (Terminator 2), and Almost-Distant Relatives (Star Wars) as Caretakers are to be demonized at every turn where possible. In the end, however, that rebellious nature is what was supposed to be Starfleet’s saving grace against Nero – and Kirk is rewarded by giving him command of the recently completed Federation Flagship USS Enterprise.
In Into Darkness, Kirk not only makes bad decisions, but seems incapable of making any prudent or cautionary judgements whatsoever. The beginning of this movie (beyond the spy movie intro) is supposed to be some kind of storyline corrective action because Kirk has his command taken from him due to his violation of Starfleet General Order 1.
The real issues with Kirk come at the end of the film. Much like the first film, Kirk gives a speech. I had this reaction to it:
Remember, when the attack first occurs, Kirk is the first one VOLUNTEERING to get his hands on John Khan Harrison.
And when he finds him, proceeds to throw a dozen punches at John Khan, for no other reason than to satisfy his own base desires.
And then, while John Khan is in the brig, gives him the “I Will END You” speech.
This is on top him willingly traipsing into Klingon space. It should be mentioned that regardless of the supposition of Enterprise chasing a fugitive from the Federation, the fact that Kirk shuttles down to Quo’nos with a strike team is a big clue that no diplomacy would even be employed, Uhura speaking Klingon to the local Bird-of-Prey gang leader or not.
It was also an Act of War.
And thus is the problem when Kirk sends Scotty out to investigate the coordinates that John Khan Harrison gives him – that ultimately leads to Vengeance. The behavior that Kirk exhibits pivoting from wanting revenge on Khan to questioning the Starfleet Commander (which was supposed to a callback to The Undiscovered Country) ends up being incomplete because any partnership he has with Khan comes more from personal expedience than with any beliefs he may have held beforehand.
In the end, it doesn’t matter whether this movie is in the same mold as Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek, or even Rick Berman’s version. It also doesn’t matter if it is a better or worse Star Trek movie than any of the others. It doesn’t matter if how characters are interpreted through any points of view.
First and foremost, the movie has to make sense within its own internal logic. And it is here, at the last, that Star Trek: Into Darkness comes up short and leaves us wanting; plot details are dropped like hats during a tornado because of a lack of coherency in the story. There is too much going on at once to decipher. There is too much of an attempt to “dazzle” the viewer. There are too many layers to peel off to really enjoy this as a movie.
Admiral Marcus’ behavior makes some sense. John Khan Harrison’s origins make less sense. Marcus’ use of Harrison makes no sense whatsoever. Jim Kirk’s triple pivot, because he and the crew of Enterprise are just along for the ride, falls flat. In addition to the lifting from The Wrath of Khan, this movie lifts from Star Wars AND Raiders of the Lost Ark. It is one thing to be inspired by other movies, but quite another to be able to recognize them lock, stock, and megatron laser cannon in another movie.
I make no recommendations for Into Darkness. If you wish to watch, ingest copious amounts of hallucinogens, because whatever your brain does under its influence would probably be better than what this movie churned out.