a long review by the Crow
(with many thanks to the Azure-Winged Magpie for her assists).
Captain‘s log, Stardate 96843.99: This shall be quite a savage review. But first: a short story (and in case you’re wondering: no. I didn’t bother finishing my personalised character image. That sort of thing’s more the Azure-Winged Magpie’s scene).
My viewing of Star Trek Into Darkness was rather unceremonious. It was an early afternoon showing at my local theatre. In the audience — apart from myself — was one of the local comic-book shop men (who became my movie-watching buddy for the day), two little old ladies, a high-school couple, and one other man. We were watching the movie in 3D (not my favourite format) and after the long run of trailers and advertisements, I immediately realised something was wrong. Around the time we first enter the volcano, I found myself compelled to stand up and announce that the movie we were watching was not in 3D.
The staff emerged from their shadows and let us know that they’d fix it as soon as possible. And that is the story of how I (in a manner of speaking) watched a movie in a theatre minus trailers and advertisements.
What is most important to take away from that story is that it wasn’t a good start.
My Final Rating for 2009’s Star Trek might seem rather negative, but allow me to point out that on my personal scoring scale, that is distinctly above-average. It’s a movie that was made for an audience that was distinctly not myself, but it worked within those parameters to great effect. In the case of Into Darkness, however, I was much more apprehensive. Good sequels are a rare breed in the world of cinema, and the trailers didn’t look promising (from what I remember of them). However, I’ve always supported the franchise, and nothing was going to stop me from watching Into Darkness.
With my shields raised and my mind set to Augment (Vulcans can get out of my way, thank you very much), I instructed the helm of my former starship to go to maximum warp and take us into:
Star Trek Into Darkness
SPOILER LEVELS at CRITICAL
The first thing one will notice about Into Darkness is how much of Star Trek is thrown out of the window right from the beginning. I found Kirk (Chris Pine) insufferable in the first movie, no matter how he redeemed his character by the end. This isn’t a slight on Mr Pine (I thought he did a good job), I found the character insufferable. To add insult to injury: whatever development he was given in the first movie is undone in the intro sequence to Into Darkness.
Bones (Karl Urban) and Kirk are on the run from a group of religious-styled civilians in this sequence. These civilians are members of a pre-Warp civilisation, and Kirk has stolen a scroll from them. The logical questions in the audience’s mind now become: how does this scroll factor into the larger story, and why has Kirk stolen it?
The answer to the first question is: it isn’t (I consider this a crime in terms of writing). The answer to the second is that this is somehow Kirk’s attempt at taking the aliens’ minds off a massive volcano about to erupt in their vicinity. I don’t believe I have to explain why this makes zero sense (oh, it gets much worse). From what we can gather, the aliens were perfectly happy in their temple, and while the volcano might very well have obliterated said temple, five minutes of running wouldn’t help them to any significant degree (just how small is this “kill zone”?). And this is where things take a turn for the worse (the planet is also named Nibiru, and this is the last I’ll address that stupid concept).
It’s revealed that the Enterprise is here, on the planet (my opinions on starships being seen anywhere other than outer space are quite strong); and worse yet: it’s underwater — in precisely the direction Kirk and Bones are leading the indigenous population towards. The Enterprise has been secreted away underwater, from where Sulu (John Cho) and Uhura (Zoe Saldana) have escorted Spock (Zachary Quinto) via shuttlecraft so that he can detonate a “super ice-cube” to “render the volcano inert” (don’t get me started on cold fusion and how this minor point makes no sense).
Enter: Mr Scott (Simon Pegg) with the first “normal” line in the entire movie. Thank you, Mr Scott, for pointing out how patently ridiculous this set-up is. The Enterprise must surface to save Spock when the plan goes South (after the pointy-eared bastard survives a sudden drop), and a new (pre-Warp) species is introduced to the Star Trek fandom before the movie lets us see how disinteresting the new warp effect is.
But I’m still not done with these opening ten minutes.
Looking at the sequence from an objective standpoint: it only offers us one storytelling element — an element that is resigned to such a minor subplot that it could’ve been done far better in any other context than what we’re given. It’s to do with Spock and death: a theme that runs through the entire length of the movie. However, it’s so mildly dealt with that one could watch the movie ignoring it and come out none the poorer. The people of Nibiru never come back, the scroll is pointless, and the aftermath of Kirk’s breaking the Prime Directive — after the crew of the Enterprise collectively break the Prime Directive — becomes nonpoint by the time the core story of the movie finally starts. The whole first ten minutes of the movie are thereby pointless.
Given that the level of stupidity in what is going on is so high, after Star Trek has come so far and now exists in the modern era: this might be the dumbest Star Trek has been on the big screen (and we’ve been through a time warp and god needing a starship). And for once, I’m not even criticising the “science”. This is a complete failure to tell a story being displayed. (And it gets worse, yet.)
Then: a slight improvement.
We’re treated to a second intro sequence. While this also speaks to a failure to write competently, it’s better than the first by some degree. Featuring only a few lines of dialogue (four, to be precise), it introduces us to the “villain” of the feature.
Just to point out how poorly this is written (and Beyond suffered from this as well — although that review comes from a much milder time on The Corvid Review), it’s the norm to introduce the villain first: to tease the story and place the stakes.
Due to the lack of dialogue and information given to us, this second intro serves neither purpose. The reason I’m calling this a slight improvement over the first intro is that it isn’t anywhere close to as stupid as the Nibiru subplot (if it could even be called that).
In an ideal world — were I allowed to fix this plot — there would have been a completely different intro which would serve both the set up for this presumed villain as well as touch upon Spock’s first encounter with the idea of death. But let me talk about this second intro in more specific terms:
The villain’s name — as we find out later — is John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) a — allow me to sigh now, because we find the following out some time later — supposed Section 31 agent who has gone rogue for reasons at first unknown. There was much speculation about his true identity (the name John Harrison screams red herring), and the answer was always going to be one, no matter what anyone otherwise — hopefully — speculated.
Following along with the story: he destroys a Section 31 base in London (by way of a ring that has little place in Star Trek) and throws Starfleet into turmoil. To do this: he enlists a Starfleet officer’s aid by saving the officer’s daughter from a terminal disease, with an infusion of his blood (more on this later). The daughter and the mother never show up again, and the father goes unnamed in the course of the movie. The blood makes a return; but as I said, we’ll address that at a future point in this “review”.
The sequence is long and could easily be thought of as boring. All we know is Harrison is a man with secrets, and that an Admiral Marcus (Star Trek veteran Peter “Robocop!” Weller) is named as a person of interest in Harrison’s plans.
While all of this is happening, Kirk is chewed out by Admiral Pike (Bruce Greenwood) for violating the Prime Directive, but the rest of the crew is spared (note the dialogue regarding rules, here). The Enterprise is taken away from Kirk; and naturally, this leads to a falling out between himself and Spock. But it doesn’t matter: give the movie another ten or fifteen minutes and all of this will be forgotten.
Just to drive home that point, Kirk falls upwards yet again and immediately becomes Pike’s first officer aboard the Enterprise after a meeting at a bar (he truly is a Gary Stu, isn’t he?). And I have only one thing to say about that:
Starfleet is a broken machine (I’ve long held that view).
Due to Harrison’s attack on London, all senior members of Starfleet assemble in San Fransisco to discuss the issue. There don’t seem to be that many people attending, and the scene does a very good job of throwing into doubt exactly how seriously Starfleet is taking the attack on London (nitpick: why do the lights dim? Dramatic effect is not what anyone goes for in these moments.).
Of course, Kirk deduces that the entire point of the attack was to lead everyone to this room, and Harrison attacks yet again. I know I called Starfleet a broken machine, but did the team behind the movie not realise they were making Starfleet look just as ill-defended as the Romulan Senate in Nemesis?
Pike is killed (without having met Vina this time around, from what we can tell), Spock connects with death yet again — and acts selfishly, and Kirk nearly stops Harrison by interrupting what seems to be his scramjet’s inflow (and I thought Starfleet would’ve had fancier tech), but is thwarted by a transporter (the catch-all solution to nearly every problem in Star Trek, rarely used as it is). Then, we are shown a cryptic scene hinting at where Harrison has escaped to — and this is simply me setting up an even larger problem.
Kirk and Spock take their places on the Enterprise again (with all animosity forgotten), after Scotty reveals that Harrison stole his experimental transporter from the previous movie. He’s on Qo’noS (here named “Kronos, the Klingon homeworld”), and that’s of course a big barrier to Starfleet recovering him.
Admiral Marcus assumes direct command of the situation and sends the Enterprise on a secret op to capture Harrison and bring him back (it’s strongly hinted that Marcus would prefer him dead). There is a scene here I do like, showing a number of ship models that have achieved “firsts” in both our world, as well as the world of Star Trek. At the end, Mr Weller turns around, and I should chase up whether or not I’m owed money due to the graphic in the background. It looks suspiciously (read: exactly) like a graphic I once created for a “proposal” relating to NASA (on an distinctly amateur level, and not as fancy as it sounds).
But here’s something I feel should be pointed out: the large problem itself. Referring to a point before Marcus meets with Kirk and Spock: it turns out John Harrison has transported himself from a small ship in San Fransisco to a remote part of Qo’noS — a place that can be assumed to be predestined by his plans.
To paraphrase the original Captain Kirk: What do we need with starships?
Not only is Starfleet broken. Into Darkness has just broken this alternate-reality iteration of Star Trek itself. There is a subplot involving seventy-two torpedoes that slips into the narrative — a subplot over which Scotty resigns in protest (this is how we’re told it’s important) — and it’s so abhorrently stupid that I don’t think I’ll want to get into the details about what makes it so stupid. Of course I will, when the movie makes the truth about them clear, but I’ll keep the details light.
After taking on a new crewmember in Carol “Wallace” (Alice Eve), the Enterprise warps to Qo’noS (why not simply transport a strike team there?) without Scotty, and en route, the ship’s warp core is disabled — on the edge of Klingon space. Everyone on board (apart from Spock, “Wallace”, and the departed Scotty) is too dense to start voicing any suspicions about the nature of their mission. It’s one of those stories, after all: Kirk’s desire for revenge overrules all questions that could be raised in regards to the predicament.
Sulu threatens Harrison with the torpedoes, while Kirk, Spock, Uhura, “Cupcake” (Matthew Smith), and a few other redshirts fly down to the planet via a confiscated smuggler craft. This journey sets the scene for one of the (attempted) emotional hearts of the movie. Uhura and Spock have a “couple fight”, and it’s revealed that Spock has been exploring death — his first run-in with death being the incident in the volcano; the second being Pike’s death, during which Spock mind-melded with him.
Yes; the shadow of death lingers over Into Darkness, but Spock’s little monologue has little effect. It’s not necessarily bad writing, but it is needless exposition about something the movie barely gives a second look to. From this point onward, apart from the many redshirts who bite the dust, only one major character dies. There is a second, but I’ll get to that in a moment.
The Klingons arrive, and there is a fight. Harrison shows up to save the day in an action sequence which very well might have been good, but is betrayed by the twin demons of choppy editing and flashy particle effects that plague action scenes so often.
Once the fight is over, two things are revealed. One is that Harrison has some connection to the seventy-two torpedoes (he asks how many there are, specifically). The second is that there is something inhuman about Harrison. Not only does he tear through the Klingons like Manchester United through Paris last month (I had to), but he takes a number of knockout-level strikes to the face and the only damage he takes is a slight ruffle to his haircut.
And it’s from here — of course — where the story’s secrets begin to be revealed.
I’ve been picking the movie apart almost scene-by-scene so far. The rest of this review — while spoiler levels remain at critical — will be more fluid.
It’s revealed that the mastermind behind all of this is Admiral Marcus. Harrison was being forced to work for him (primarily) as a weapons designer because of his superior intellect. Harrison at first doesn’t give all this away, but rather suggests Kirk and his officers ask questions of their own. He suggests that a torpedo be opened, and McCoy and Wallace — who is revealed to truly be Carol Marcus — do as they’re told. Following some violence to a few wires, it’s revealed that there’s a “frozen man” inside the torpedo.
And now, all the mystery around “Harrison” is stripped away.
We are given a long sequence in which Cumberbatch reveals his dramatic reading skills — expositing the entire story to us (because movies can double as audiobooks). And I do like this scene, as bad as it is. This version of the character he’s playing sounds similar to myself on a bad day, and my resonance with the performance might be why I’m so being kind to it. But it isn’t a good scene on an objective basis.
And before I forget to mention it: his name is Khan.
I like Cumberbatch’s performance as it is, and I won’t address the silliness of the casting choice or the backlash it generated. Both sides are wrong, but one is more in the wrong than the other, and the comic that was published to explain the sudden change sounds stupid (as are most things surrounding this movie).
But let’s take a closer look at the exposition dump that we have to sit through:
The more we hear about the backstory between Khan and Marcus the elder, the less it makes sense. Why were there increased patrols after the destruction of Vulcan? Were there more time-travelling Romulans marauding through the cosmos? Why was Khan awoken alone? Why was there this antagonistic relationship? Why use Khan simply to create weapons if the goal is to accelerate to a state of all-out war with the Klingons? There are far too many factors which would instantly ring off alerts in any sensible person’s mind as they come into the story.
And how inept is Khan? He fails to smuggle out his people in the torpedoes (so they can’t work, right? The cryo-tubes take up almost 80% of the total volume) and barely escapes — only to come right back to attack Marcus without biding his time. He might talk big about how he has a better mind, etc., etc., but all he’s done so far is beat a few people up, steal a few things, and talk in a menacing voice.
But now the question is — how inept is Marcus? His entire plan is so ridiculous, so over the top, and so much a swipe at a Batman gambit, that he should be a man who is incapable of getting much wrong. And yet, his entire crew is beaten by three men and a phaser set to stun after the Enterprise has been taken out of the picture.
And this man — as far as we are concerned — is the brains of Starfleet. The movie suggests that there is no one above Marcus. He seems to have an endless supply of resources, as well as the ability to operate on — quite literal — monumental projects without a single bother. He has manpower (someone built the Vengeance), he has the power to command a large plethora of Starfleet elements to do his bidding, and yet he makes the decision to send the Enterprise to Qo’noS where he easily could’ve used the Harrison incident in a more direct manner to spark his war.
Every decision he makes in the movie is stupid. The man Khan speaks about sounds much more competent.
And to bring this dance back to Khan: Khan is a complete misfire in this movie. I’ve already said that I like the performance, but there really is little to perform. Khan in this movie is reduced to a superhuman muscleman who talks about how smart he is instead of doing anything smart. Even when the movie expects us to step back in awe of how in command of the situation he can be — he really isn’t. He’s just an indestructible man who knows the ship they’re infiltrating. This isn’t him being smart.
And then, as the third act of the movie kicks off, he makes an error so blatantly stupid that I really wanted to grab him and smack him around the head a few times. When making a purchase, it’s always best to inspect the goods before final delivery.
And yet, this movie could have been saved. It doesn’t even have to change anything up until the second half. Mainstream Hollywood seems to have grown a severe allergy to their heroes being flawed. With one (simple) change, I’m going to fix one of the most incredible amounts of stupid that dominate the movie’s second half.
Spock, after speaking to Spock Prime (Leonard Nimoy, as he’s now known), makes a mistake. Let him extract the bodies from Khan’s torpedoes and detonate them (which shouldn’t have been possible to begin with) on a whim that Khan’s about to return to Earth as a tyrant, but let the story play out as if Khan has no intention of doing so (at least for the moment). Cut Khan’s “…no ship should go down…” line and turn him into the tragic villain you’ve been trying to set up (poorly) from the very beginning.
Don’t simply play on the Khan = tyrant = remember that guy? and expect us to assume that he will inevitably become a menace.
And there’s the movie improved by a significant degree.
But it wouldn’t save it. That would take much more work.
The movie suffers from the problem of having the meat of the story left to exposition and audience expectation. Within the visual language of the movie, very little is said. The movie is so poor at communicating what’s going on within it that when the two ships involved in the final stand-off begin to fall into Earth’s gravity well, the question on everyone’s mind should be how these ships were that close to Earth to begin with. Nowhere in the movie is it insinuated that they are even in the vicinity of the Earth. And yet, there they are: falling.
And just to drive home how inane this movie’s storytelling is when it comes to something completely different, let me make a point about the worldbuilding: Ever since the previous movie, all evidence has pointed to Starfleet operating like a strange blend of a Kakistocracy and a Stratocracy in this reality. I’m using Marcus’ rule as well as Kirk’s antigravity as my primary points of reference.
The movie switches the iconic “death of Spock” scene from The Wrath of Khan by killing Kirk, instead; and of course the movie ends with a fist fight. As cool as the scene might look (and I do like the slipping in of the mind-meld during the fight; now Khan knows death), it makes just as much sense as the movie does. I shan’t linger on it, but I’ll point out that I am tired of the Star Trek movies ending with massive action set pieces.
Now that I think about it, the endings of Star Trek: TMP, and Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan (the only two movies I reviewed during our current celebration) are both far superior to what we’ve been given in Into Darkness.
But what is it about Into Darkness that makes it worse than those movies?
It’s quite simple. Ignoring the idiotic speech that is dropped in (the movie tries really hard to be topical about wars and events that have gone well past their sell-by dates), the movie fails to make good on killing Kirk. Not only is Kirk (as well as a tribble) brought back to full health in a matter of ten or so minutes (however long it takes Spock and Khan to fight it out), but the movie shushes all further mention of a very significant new addition to the nu-Trek mythos.
Khan’s blood can render people as close to immortal as we can get. It can bring people back from the dead. The comic even shows that entire limbs can be grown back.
I despise Star Trek Into Darkness. Everything that worked for nu-Trek for the 2009 movie worked because it was meant to be a clean break from the usual Star Trek formula, and in this 2013 installment, everything about the new formula broke at the seams.
I could’ve gone on in much more detail about this movie, but I think I’ve given you a solid idea of what I think about it. It looks alright, the CGI is improved, the Klingons look rather good, and I particularly liked the design of the USS Vengeance — but it is a right mess.
Into Darkness does not come recommended by us at The Corvid Review. The Azure-Winged Magpie is a little kinder to the movie than I am, but she agrees with me on the fact that it’s a miss.
And on that note: I’ll allow the Azure-Winged Magpie to give this movie the final indignity it so rightfully deserves. Number One? Take it away.
breathe, Magpie… breathe…!
🌬 (>・<✿) Hurrrgh!
🌬 🗑 🌬 (ಠ ◡ ಠ✿) !
…into the bucket the doo-doo goes!
The Captain/The Crow: And there we have it. We’re officially one post away from finishing our Star Trek Celebration (although there may be one more in between). Godzilla Month starts on the seventh, so there will certainly be one more Star Trek review due to appear on The Corvid Review before the next episode of Discovery goes up. Unlike this post, the next post will be about one of my personal favourite episodes of Star Trek, so expect a more positive outlook on our favourite franchises next time around.
— Crow out.
THE CROW: 2/10
THE AZURE-WINGED MAGPIE: 4.5/10
THE SPOTTED NUTCRACKER: 5/10
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- Star Trek: Discovery — S01E01: The Vulcan Hello & Battle at the Binary Stars
- Star Trek: Discovery — S01E02: Context is For Kings
- Star Trek: Discovery — S01E03: The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not for the Lamb’s Cry
- Star Trek: Discovery — S01E04: Choose Your Pain
- Star Trek: Discovery — S01E05: Lethe
- Star Trek: Discovery — S01E06: Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad
- Star Trek: Discovery — S01E07: Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum
- Star Trek: Discovery — S01E08: Into the Forest I Go
- Star Trek: Discovery — S01E09: Despite Yourself
- Star Trek: Discovery — S01E10: The Wolf Inside
- Star Trek: Discovery — Episodes 11 — 15 Round Up
- Star Trek: Discovery — Short Treks
- Star Trek: Discovery — S02E01: Brother
- Star Trek: Discovery — S02E02: New Eden
- Star Trek: Discovery — S02E03: Point of Light
- Star Trek: Discovery — S02E04: An Obol for Charon
- Star Trek: Discovery — S02E05: Saints of Imperfection
- Star Trek: Discovery — S02E06: The Sound of Thunder
- Star Trek: Discovery — S02E07: Light and Shadows
- Star Trek: Discovery — S02E08: If Memory Serves
- Star Trek: Discovery — S02E09: Project Daedalus
- Star Trek: Discovery — S02E10: The Red Angel
- Star Trek: Discovery — S02E11: Perpetual Infinity
- Star Trek: The Motion Picture
- Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
- Star Trek III: The Search for Spock
- Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
- Star Trek V: The Final Frontier
- Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
- Star Trek: Generations
- Star Trek: First Contact
- Star Trek: Insurrection
- Star Trek: Nemesis
- Star Trek (2009)
- Star Trek Beyond
Here’s the official poster: