After the massive success of 2009’s reboot, the Enterprise and crew returns for the sequel, Star Trek Into Darkness. This time around a mysterious terrorist is attacking Starfleet and it’s up to Kirk and company to stop him without triggering an all-out war with the Klingons. I was not nearly as entertained with this new film as I was with the reboot. I brought in Trek-nerd Nathan Ayling to discuss why. SPOILERS do indeed follow.
BRYAN: I think maybe we should begin by giving a little Trek background on each other. How much you like Trek? Which Trek? Do you perform Trek in the Park? That sort of thing.
NATHAN: Set it up. I’ll throw it all out there.
BRYAN: Are you now or have you ever been a Trekker?
NATHAN: I. . . I consider myself a devout Trek fan. A trekker? A trekkie? That stuff means nothing to me.
BRYAN: And you are a fan of all Trek?
NATHAN: Take it and leave it. I guess I’m just able to tell when something isn”t good. And with Trek, much of it isn’t good. I don’t feel betrayed by Trek when I see these big loud action pieces with the name Star Trek come out.
BRYAN: Right…so long as it’s good.
NATHAN: I find many of these Trek geeks really want stuff that looks like TNG and DS9 and VOY. That look, that feel. I’m not like that. Star Trek is a theater for ideas. It can be anything. Right now Star Trek is a summer action movie.
BRYAN: I gotcha. But you do indeed perform original episodes of Star Trek in play form…in a park?
NATHAN: Yeah, I guess that sorta a Trek fan trump card in a way. But we’re also aware enough to end our producion of Trek in the Park at year 5 because frankly. . . we’re running out of good episodes.
BRYAN: Free plug. Give the folks a website.
NATHAN: Atomic-Arts.org we run every weekend this August with the episode The Trouble with Tribbles.
BRYAN: And it is an awesome show.
NATHAN: Our show plays up more the simplicity of the original series stories by stripping away everything but costumes. We are a theater for the cheese, the 60 brauva.
BRYAN: Myself, I grew up with Next Gen and the original movies. I’d say I’m a fan too. I liked Trek ’09 enough to put it on my top ten that year. So…shall we begin (talking about Into Darkness)?
NATHAN: Let’s, you first.
BRYAN: I think Into Darkness is a stupid, stupid movie. And the more I think about it, the more I dislike it. It has so many different layers of badness that I find it indefensible. Unlike ’09, which was dumb but overcame the flaws. This film just offers flaws up non-stop.
NATHAN: It’s dumb. I’ll give you that. Simple and dumb while also trying really hard to make you think it’s deep and relevant.
BRYAN: That’s one problem.
NATHAN: Is it a bad movie? No. It’s still quite thrilling. These characters, old characters played by new actors, have progressed and gotten better. The set pieces are big and beautiful.
BRYAN: See I disagree. They’re empty thrills. I’ll give you the cast. This cast is great and they do everything they can with a terrible script. But the set pieces are big and awful for many reasons. Like say the opening. Kirk is running. That’s how the movies starts. Why is he running? We don’t know. He runs into Bones. Why is Bones there? We don’t know. They jump off a cliff and the Enterprise is under water. Why? Because someone thought that would be cool. And having Scotty make a joke about it doesn’t make it any less stupid. Then we get a quick info dump to give the action some context but it’s garbage and doesn’t make sense. So right from the start it’s all flash with no purpose and little payoff. Of course later we realize it’s haphazardly introducing a family theme, but this is a terrible way of doing it.
NATHAN: The opening was a little bit too Mission: Impossible but isn’t that what Trek is when you shoot it full of PCP? I like the three set pieces: the volcano, the red forest, the underwater ship.
BRYAN: Well it was trying to do Raiders style opening. But that has a lot of build up before a sweet payoff. AND it introduces us to the main villain. The Trek opening does nothing.
NATHAN: If you’re going to pull at stray ends, you’ll drive yourself nuts. But that goes for any Science Fiction film.
BRYAN: I’m talking story structure. The opening does nothing but try and say “look, look, this is cool”
NATHAN: Why are you comparing it to Raiders? That’s not fair.
BRYAN: I mean we haven’t seen this crew together for more than the last act of the last film.
NATHAN: Kirk plays fast and loose, Spock is rigid. Everyone goes along and plays their part. opening, done. I thought it did a great job of showing everyone together working as a crew.
BRYAN: We don’t know how they interact together. They’re relying a lot on borrowed goodwill from the original cast.
NATHAN: They’re relying ENTIRELY on goodwill from the original cast!
BRYAN: I KNOW!!!
NATHAN: It’s a fucking reboot Bryan.
BRYAN: Which is why anything emotional doesn’t sell.
NATHAN: The Uhura and Spock stuff didn’t work for you?
BRYAN: Not that. Uhura stuff works because we’ve seen those two together in the last film. We’ve been introduced to them. I can’t buy Kirk/Spock as best friends when I’ve never seen this Kirk/Spock being friends.
NATHAN: They aren’t “friends” till the last act. They are entirely at odds.
BRYAN: Right. So why would any of the emotional climax of the end work?
NATHAN: I thought it worked. It was the crazed fan pandering that really offset that scene. The choice for Kirk to sacrifice himself was quite organic. Him accepting the consequences. If they wrote that scene and not simply cut and paste from Star Trek II, it may have worked better.
BRYAN: This is where I half agree. The pandering is one side that sucks and doesn’t work. But even without the pandering I don’t think it works. Let me put it this way. You’re rebooting Batman. You’re going to do the Joker again. Okay. Well that might not be the best idea, but sure go for it. Which is to say, sure Khan might work. Then you have this new version of Joker say things like “Wait’ll they get a load of me” and you have the final set piece take place during a parade. I mean Khan is a terrible thing to return to for so many reasons, but then to steal exact beats and emotion, it’s so lazy and it doesn’t work. And it’s done poorly. The staging of it is a joke. On top of that, it misses the whole point of why Khan worked. Khan had history. Kirk and Spock had history. The climax of Khan had been built up to. You can’t just jump to that with new actors who we’ve never seen work together really.
NATHAN: It’s so very lazy. However the new take on Khan, I liked. The idea that we set out and found the Botnay Bay after the destruction of Vulcan was awesome. Could have gone on longer. Newer.
BRYAN: Maybe. Then that should have been the opening. Crew scanning around. Happens upon the exiled.
NATHAN: I guess this is just the world we live in. Things referencing things. All the time, nothing new. And we have to get excited when they get that balance just right. It’s a sad chain of events.
BRYAN: It’s not just a balance though. And it’s not impossible to achieve. See Trek ’09. When that film had Scotty shout “I’m giving it all she’s got captain” it works because even if you don’t get the reference, it still works in that moment. This new film has things like that that don’t work and don’t make sense but are just thrown in. Like Spock yelling KHAAAAAAAAAAN!!!
NATHAN: Oh god, that Khan. After aping the entire Spock death scene and reversing it, they top it with a fucking meme? Sloppy. Took me out of it.
BRYAN: But it also doesn’t make sense in that moment. He has no history with Khan and Khan was only indirectly responsible at that moment. You know what works? Nero yelling SPOOOOOOOCK! That’s how you do a reference. Fans get it, and non-fans just think the character is mad at the character he’s had beef with the whole movie.
NATHAN: There are a lot of references that do work. Frankly there are so many that at least some hit.
NATHAN: They pepper the beginning with quips about past Trek episodes. Gorn and Mudd, it lets us know what this crew has been through some shit.
BRYAN: I’ll give you that. And that’s back to the cast and their chemistry. This crew would make a great TV show.
NATHAN: We forget that the original Trek crew were a bunch of old TV has-beens. This new crew are all A list actors at the top of their game.
BRYAN: Truth. MORE BONES!!!!!! and while I’m at it. MORE DREDD starring BONES!!!!!!
NATHAN: SIDENOTE – The show Once Upon A Time, total Lost rip-off. Beat for beat plot points.
BRYAN: I didn’t need to know that. Here’s the thing. I could forgive a lot of this crap if the action and everything was fun. If the pace was crisp and what have you. In fact, that’s what happened in ’09. That worked in spite of things. But the action sucks here. There’s the nonsensical opening, the Klingon fight where you can’t tell what’s happening because everyone is faceless, the final crash we’ve seen countless times, and then you end with a lame foot chase. The one decent bit, flying from ship to ship loses points for being a rehash of the space jump from the last film.
NATHAN: I agree on every point. On the whole though, I was not offended. It was bright and fun enough for it to be the perfect “sucky odd movie” for the new Trek series.
BRYAN: But it doesn’t end there. I didn’t even get into the 9/11 dedication and all the truther/terrorism bullshit. Bright and shiny isn’t good enough when you’re this incompetent.
NATHAN: Oh shit, their 9/11 was an inside job.
BRYAN: Or the pointlessness of Alice Eve.
BRYAN: Or the pointlessness of needing Khan blood because 72 other popsicles just won’t do, not to mention the ridiculousness of introducing amnesia bullets…wait, wrong film…I mean magic blood. Which also undercuts the big climax instantly. At least they waited until the next film to do that last time. It’s just dumb. It’s Transformers dumb. It’s unforgivably dumb. I will not give it a pass because it looks cool when the ship goes to warp or because it’s funny when Kirk calls Spock pointy.
NATHAN: Oh fuck, magic blood. Khan as the fountain of youth.
BRYAN: This isn’t nerd rage either. I don’t really know original Trek well enough to pick apart those types of complaints anyways. This is just bad filmmaking. Do you have anything to say for this pile?
NATHAN: No, no, the whole thing is chock-full of holes.
BRYAN: I mean sometimes something like this can seem okay while you’re watching it, and later you realize how bad it was. But I wasn’t engaged with this one from the start.
NATHAN: That’s exactly where I’ve been for the last 72 hours. Watching the film over and over in my head and having it slowly crumble.
BRYAN: But dude, it’s dedicated to 9/11. I almost yelled fuck you at the screen.
NATHAN: Why is it dedicated? WHY?
BRYAN: Like you said “trying really hard to make you think it’s deep and relevant.”
NATHAN: Sweet Jesus
BRYAN: I’ve already re-watched ’09. It ends on such a cool “they can go do anything they want now” feeling. And instead they steal exact shots, lines etc. from a 30-year-old movie. Such bull. That’s it. I’m done. Now I am getting some nerd rage. Unless you have anything else to say?
NATHAN: I’d love to see it again. Most of what I wanted was not to be angry. I’ll give it that much
BRYAN: Just save your energy and watch Khan. That’s what JJ and co. did.