Friday, May 17, 2013

Movie Review: Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) -- Overall Rating 3.25 / 5

Starring William Shatner & Ricardo Montalban
Directed by J.J. Abrams
Rated PG-13

Story: 3 / 5
Direction: 3 / 5
Acting: 3 / 5
Visual: 4 / 5
Overall Rating: 3.25 / 5
Explanation of rating categories appears at the bottom of each review posting.

This is a tough one to review. I’m going to start with a non-spoiler section it will be called…

Turn off Your Brain and forget all the Trek You Know

Now that we’re in that happy place we can review this movie for what it is, a space adventure film that is loosely modeled in the visual style of Star Trek.

It’s difficult to discuss the story without giving away any spoilers, but I will be doing that in the latter section, where I complain about how this “isn’t really Star Trek”. The story is decent, if ultimately ham-fisted. It’s easy to understand what’s going on. Villains are villains, good guys are good guys, and all the action is pretty clear. Given the major changes already taken in this “reboot” it allows for dramatic tension where a standard prequel would fail. “Will [insert character name] get killed here?” Maybe. They destroyed Vulcan and Spock’s mom in the last one, they might just start killing off other major characters too.

J.J. Abrams frantic style is maybe to blame for the story being what it is and the film not really being Star Trek, but it is what it is. He’s a very competent filmmaker. All the pieces come together nicely and he gets some good performances out of everyone. It’s hard to say he has a “style”, other than the lens flares, but so many jokes have been made about that already that I’ll just move on.

Once again everyone does a nice job of emulating the performances of other actors from a hammy 1960s television show. The real standout is, of course, Chris Pine who either doesn’t feel the need to play as William Shatner, or is maybe confused into thinking that is what he’s doing—when in fact he’s not. Some of his superficial traits are caricatures of elements of Shatner’s performance (like the womanizing), but overall he makes the character his own, and as well he should. Unlike the others, this Kirk is not the Kirk of the TV series. His upbringing is totally different. Spock should also be given some room to grow, but unlike Shatner’s buffoonery of years past, Nimoy’s Spock was always a powerful presence. Any attempt to replace that feels odd. Benedict Cumberbatch plays the villain {name withheld}, and at first really drew me in, but once the big reveal happens I completely disconnected from him. I read on IMDB that the original choices for his role were Benicio Del Toro (Puerto Rican), and three other actors of Mexican, Venezuelan, and Spanish descent. Interesting… I wonder why those ethnicities? Who is this villain they’re trying to play???

Visually the film looks great, something J.J. Abrams is pretty well known for. Like its predecessor they’ve updated the Trek look while still paying homage to its aesthetic.

Would I recommend this? Yes, if you’re not a Trek fan, but like a good action and adventure story. Or if you are a Trek fan, but can shut that part of your brain off and just enjoy the ride.

You are being given fair warning, the next section is full of spoilers. Stop reading if you have not seen the film yet, but please come back when you have seen it and enjoy my complaining.

This is where I vent about all the tiny little details of this movie that upset me as a fan of Star Trek. I will call this section…

This Isn’t Star Trek!

Yeah, that’s right. This isn’t. There’s a ship called Enterprise, and Kirk, and Spock, but it’s simply not Star Trek. There are so many core values and ideals from Trek that are ignored or overlooked.

The film opens with them on a mission to stop a volcano from exploding and wiping out a primitive population. There are arguments about how they can’t let the aliens see them or their ship—which is, for reasons un-f**king-explainable by any amount of logic, parked in the ocean rather than in SPACE where these primitive screwheads would have zero chance of ever spotting it. After all, they can’t interfere with the development of a pre-warp culture… you mean like stopping them from getting wiped out by a volcano? Isn’t that interfering?

But fear not, Admiral Pike then chews Kirk out for interfering because in the end he lets the aliens see The Enterprise. While it’s implied that he’s pissed off about them being there in the first place, surely it can’t have been that big of a deal or Spock would have stopped him from even attempting to stop the volcano. After all, the Vulcans had something along the lines of the Prime Directive long before Starfleet, it’s ingrained into their culture, though by this point it should be to Starfleet officers as well.

You may say “oh, quit being such a nerd”, but the Prime Directive is the heart of Star Trek. It’s the core value system that holds all of the series together. It’s the framework of a future built on peace, progress, and acceptance. It’s at the center of many of the best Trek episodes, where human nature is tested against doing what is right by the Prime Directive. But in this version of Trek, whatever, do what you want.

The Enterprise goes after the bad guy, who has transwarp-teleported to Kronos, and we get our first glimpse of the Klingons in this reboot… except they look different. No, they don’t look like the original series Klingons who didn’t have ridged foreheads, they look like slicker, weirder, versions of the modern Klingons, but with bright blue eyes and piercings along their forehead ridges.

“So what? They changed the Klingons! They changed a lot of things in the reboot.” No, only some things were rebooted. The series Enterprise is cannon in this new universe. Pay close attention while Kirk is talking to Robocop, there’s a model of the Enterprise NX-01 on display. That means the Klingons should look like the f**king Klingons from that series! Or like the original series Klingons, into which many of them transformed following the events in Enterprise.

This is like if in Star Wars Episode VII (the one J.J. Abrams is doing) having there be Wookiees, but now they’re shorter, and don’t have sort of ape faces that are hairy. The rest of them are hairy, but the faces are bare human faces. No… make them look like f**king Wookiees! They don’t need to be “upgraded”.

Also, Newhura speaks Klingon in this version. She barely spoke a word of it in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. Are we sure she’s the same person? Maybe this is another Uhura, one who was more ambitious and competent. While we’re talking about her, why was the communications officer going on an assignment to drop someone into a volcano?

Why is Dr. Carol Marcus British and her father is Robocop? Alice Eve has done an American accent before, and if I recall her original timeline character wasn't British. Why that change? Or was she British? Why do I care about that detail and not the filmmaker? Oh but there's a joke at the end where she says to Kirk "it's nice to have a family". Get it... because Kirk will get her pregnant and she'll have his kid. But then those Klingon bastards will kill his boy. Or maybe not, because Star Trek III: The Spocker probably won't happen now.

The bad guy turns out to be Khan. I saw this coming the second Kirk starts punching him and he won’t go down. But Khan was Indian. Why is he now British? Ok, the same argument can be asked about Ricardo Montalban, but at least he had dark skin, black hair, and attempted to have some kind of exotic accent. But seriously, that was the only plot they could come up with? Two films in to the “new” franchise and they have to recycle the plot from the best film in the series. It goes a step further and revives the crew member who sacrifices himself to save the ship. So I can only assume the next one will be about time traveling to rescue whales.

Anyway; the Enterprise warps away from Kronos and spends about 3 minutes in warp before it’s overtaken by Robocop’s ship. When they come out of warp they’re between the Earth and the Moon. The fastest warp speed (not getting into trans-warp stuff) is 7912 times the speed of light, which is 2,372,000,000 km/s. 180 seconds has them going 426,960,000,000 km or .045 light years in distance. Nothing is that close to Earth. The nearest star is 4 light years away. And this was all under backup/emergency power anyway because the engines are damaged.

Kirk is dead, but Khan’s blood can bring him back to life, so it’s imperative that they capture him alive to get Kirk back. But… not the other hundreds of thousands who died when the ship crashed into San Francisco? And what about all of his frozen crew in the torpedo tubes? Couldn’t you get the blood from them?

It’s established that the actions of the Federation getting Khan off of Kronos and killing so many Klingons will provoke a war with the Federation. But the story ends one year later after the Enterprise has been repaired and everything is fine.


Explanation of Ratings

All ratings are on a 5 point scale where 1 is the lowest possible score. A score of 3 indicates the film was simply effective in this regard. A score of 5 indicates perfection in a given category. The overall rating is a simple average of the four scores.

  • Story -- How well the film was written?  Did the story make sense?  Were there plot holes?  Was the dialogue natural for the style/genre?
  • Direction -- How well was the film put together?  Did all of the elements come together properly?  How was the pacing?  Was the tone consistent and effective?  A subcategory of this would be editing, but for the purpose of these reviews it is combined into one category.
  • Acting -- How good were the performances?  In a drama did the lead actor/actress draw the audience in?  In a comedy where the performers funny?  This is an amalgam score of all the performances in the piece. A single great performance can elevate the entire score, but a bunch of bad performances can just as easily bring it down.
  • Visual -- How did the film look?  If there were visual effects were they used appropriately and did they look good?  Did the overall look enhance the telling of the story?


  1. Attempted post, that for whatever reason didn't work and ended up on Facebook :) ...

    I was trying to comment at the review, but it keeps freezing up. So here goes. Anyone who hasn't seen the movie...STOP READING!

    I'm not a Star Trek fan, so a lot of these things don't bother me. I was a little distracted by the admiral's daughter being British. I thought about it, though, and figured she was raised in England (hence her work in the secret research facility), and that the admiral was actually an absentee father (which is why she never felt like she had a family.

    The volcano thing confused the hell out of me as well, though Pike did chew them out for even that, and Spock is somewhat established as not being purely Vulcan and logical in his thinking. Still. It seemed like sloppy writing. Then add in there that Kirk busted into the temple and stole something from them and it gets even more bizarre.

    I was mystified at Bones doing the medical scan on Kirk, telling him his vitals were way off, then that being dropped. Why say that if it wasn't going to matter to the story.? We certainly didn't need it for character development.

    I think the part that pissed me off the most was Spock talking to Spock. That seemed like a cheat to erasing any questions about Khan. Either cut ties to the original track of the series, or take it all in and make it truly part of yours.

    Overall, I liked it. Benedict Cumberbatch was good at playing a scary-ass dude. I like the characters, and the actors are doing well with what they're given.

    1. And my reply...

      Pike was upset that Kirk was there and it was heavily implied that just being there was in violation of something (I don't believe the Prime Directive is actually mentioned), but what should have actually happened to Kirk and his entire senior crew is that they should have been court martialed and run out of Starfleet for what they did there. But that wouldn't service the plot. There were other ways to imply that Kirk was hot headed and may lie on his report, while Spock told the truth, thus getting him demoted and creating a rift between the two. Having a space adventure mission that is outside of what would happen in Star Trek is not the way to do that.

      I forgot about the medical scan! What was that all about? Oh, I know, they had to give Bones something to do because he's not the third wheel in the "New Trek", Uhura is. So while it never really made sense in "Old Trek" that these senior officers would go off to dangerous planets on adventures together (didn't they have people who were assigned to do this stuff?) it was at least logical to have someone with a physical presence and charisma (Kirk), a scientist (Spock), and a doctor (Bones). Why would you ever take a comm specialist? Especially when you have the universal translator, which can translate any language. She's totally unnecessary except to "de-gay" the crew. Three guys together on shore leave? As George Takei would say "OHHH MY!"

      I almost feel like I need to see it again because I'm still not sure what was going on early in the film. So Khan trans-warp-beams to Kronos. Why? It was Robocop's plan to have him beam there after blowing up London so he could send a ship in to assault Kronos and then get the Federation into a war. What was Khan getting out of this? Khan wanted his crew back so he could be a dictator or whatever... going to Kronos didn't accomplish that. Why would he go along with it? Because once it became clear that Kirk was going to launch the torpedoes with his crew in them Khan gave up and wanted to be brought back to Starfleet. Why not reprogram the trans-warp-beam device to send him to a planet full of nymphomaniacs where he could lay low until the heat died down and then plan his assault against Robocop to get his crew back? Why blow up the London facility in the first place? To anger Robocop? Was Khan's plan to:

      1. Blow up London and anger Robocop because he destroyed the secret facility
      2. Get Robocopy to gather all the admirals in one room
      3. Assault the room and kill Pike so that Kirk would get sent on the mission. How does he even know Kirk?
      4. Trans-warp-beam to Kronos (hope someone figured out that's where he went)
      5. Pray he's right that Robocop will send Kirk, give him torpedoes full of his frozen crew, hope Kirk didn't fire the torpedoes (remember, it was Kirk's crew, primarily Scotty, that convinces him not to use the torpedoes)
      6. Allow himself to be taken prisoner by Kirk so that when Robocop shows up Kirk will turn him loose and he can get his crew back?

  2. I think the posting comments issue has to do with using my phone for it.

    Anyway--I hadn't even thought about most of the questions you bring up, but now I've thought about them way too much. I think his entire year spent in "alliance" with the Federation was just so that he could figure out exactly what they had that he could use to his advantage. Once he knew that, he wanted to make sure to destroy any records of whatever he had given them to advance their technology. Yes, it was also then part of a ploy to provoke the Federation into action. From there, you're right, it all falls apart. I have no doubt that he'd assume they'd figure out where he went. It's not like it was that hard for Scotty to trace where he went (though I have to say, I'm super impressed that beaming technology has improved so vastly so quickly since the last movie), so I'd think he intentionally left breadcrumbs. Maybe he ultimately also was trying to provoke the war between the Klingons and the Federation to speed along his end goal of wiping out inferior beings. That still doesn't explain the gamble he took on whether or not those torpedoes full of his people would be used. Everything that happens from the moment Kirk shows up through to the end of the movie I just figure he was improvising as he went along.

    Overall, it was a fun movie. I didn't love it like I did the first one, but I'd see more of them.

  3. Two words that will invariably suck reason and consequence from any script: Daniel Lindeloff. Almost nothing the characters do makes any sense. The film certainly looked great and the action scenes were visually exciting. But yeah, that's all I can really say.

    I certainly didn't expect to get some kind of cerebral, complex plot as it's been made very clear that Star Trek movies are merely action films in space, but there are dozens and dozens of fun action films that are better written than this.

    Also, am I the only one who felt like the ending really beat us over the head with 9/11 imagery followed by an "America's response to 9/11 was wrong" speech? They might as well have re-named Admiral Robocop "Bush" "Chaney" or "Haliburton."

    1. Damon Lindelof! Get it right, fool!

      Right now angry mobs are marching on the home of some poor screenwriter named Daniel Lindeloff (he writes children's programs about tolerance and sharing) all because of your mistake!

      I honestly hadn't made much of a connection between Robocop and Bush or 9/11. I'm probably so used to it by now that I don't notice it.

      But the US was attacked on 9/11 and love or hate his response Bush was responding to a threat that was still present. In the context of the film the Romulans attacked the Federation (though not really the Romulans, a rogue Romulan named Nero). So wouldn't it make more sense that he convinced the Federation to go to war with the Romulans rather than the Klingons? If we're doing a Bush analogy then he should have declared war on the Romulan Star Empire and then on the Klingon Empire, later implicating them of aiding Nero though there was no real evidence.

      But we are talking about abhorrent screen writing so maybe that's what they thought they were doing.