This article contains major spoilers for Star Trek Into Darkness, released on DVD and Blu-ray yesterday.
Alex: I think I really love this movie. Many people don't. As the summer has worn on, I've noticed that the Filmic Internet Community has been much harsher on it than I think the Real Human Beings were when the thing was released. At the outset, there was a lot of "I think it's GREAT!" and maybe a little more of "It is the WORST!" going on, which you discussed on the podcast. That type of dynamic may be the death of criticism as we know it, but I digress.
Anyway, I guess I'll tackle what I think is your criticism of the film's overarching conceit. Namely, the purported idea of mirroring the events of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan for a newer, hipper, more Apple-friendly generation.
Basically, I think it's shortsighted to discard the use of this story as a simple rehash for the purpose of appeasing a fanbase that may not even want to be appeased in this manner. With regard to the J.J. Abrams's 2009 Star Trek, I think we both agree on the use of time travel as a way to recuse the film from any accusations of encroaching on the original canon. The stuff about Trek that you, the proto-Trekkies, loved is still intact. It's even happening right now maybe! But what you are seeing here is wholly different! It just is happening in parallel to the story with which you are more familiar.
It's a great narrative decision that was able to cogently silence the cries of a certain type of fan that will always hate this certain type of film project. But it always bothered me just a bit, in the sense that it arrogantly asserts immunity to the paradoxes that inevitably rise in time travel stories.
BUT(T)! What I love about Star Trek Into Darkness is that it tackles this notion of inevitability that always surfaces in time travel stories. I think it is within the cheeky and fun vibe of this whole rebooting exercise that the crew will encounter some of the same adventures, but in a different way. I also think that the changes they make to the Khan story are different enough to create new dynamics that make the story interesting.
Patrick: Ok, first things first. I'm glad you love this movie. I will admit that I don't understand it, but I'm genuinely glad that you're getting so much from it.
Having said that...
You're absolutely right that a lot of people liked Into Darkness when it came out. It had one of the highest Rotten Tomatoes ratings (if you're going to put stock in such things) of any movie this summer and was one of the highest-grossing Star Trek movies of all time. I think the phenomenon you're seeing now, where the opinion is swinging more negative, is because of two things: people are finally starting to realize that they were hoodwinked OR (and this is much more likely the case) the people that are still talking about the movie are the Star Trek fans, and they never really liked it. The mainstream audiences that made the movie a critical and commercial hit back in May have forgotten about it; it was just that weekend's summer movie for them, and it offered a reasonable amount of fun. They have moved on to the next thing. But it sticks with the internet community (be they Star Trek fans, movie bloggers or just fanboys looking to be worked up about anything; my heart is with the first two) who is continuing to fuss over the film.
I'm with you 100% on the 'alternate timeline' game that the 2009 Trek played. It was a clever (enough) way of rebooting the franchise without wiping the slate clean and enraging the fans by saying all the stuff they loved never happened or existed. I have never had a problem with any of that.
My problem -- and here's where we get to one of the major issues with Into Darkness -- is that they establish that it's a WHOLE NEW TREK and then by only the second movie are already rehashing old Trek. You can't really say that they are "purportedly mirroring" old events. They flat out fucking are. Half the movie is "Space Seed," the last act is Wrath of Khan. If you're going to branch out and be your own thing, be your own thing. Instead, we get two hours of fan service and unnecessary callbacks, as though the way to make Star Trek feel new is to remind us that it is old.
I don't mean to repeat things I said on the podcast, but I'm too lazy to go back and listen to it again so I might. The idea of "inevitability" that you bring up is a fine one -- that the crew of Enterprise is going to encounter Khan at some point no matter what. I would suggest that's you making an excuse for the repetition of a character that isn't supported by the text, since nothing in the movie really addresses inevitability. But whatever. I'm ok with that. You say that they make changes that create new dynamics, and I have to ask: what do you mean? There is one scene (and I know I mention this on the podcast...sorry) where it really seems like they're going to take the Khan character in a different direction. And I perked up, because I think THAT is the movie you're defending. But the rest of the movie is not that scene at all. So what are the changes that you saw as working?
Do you think that any part of your positive reaction has something to do with seeing it after it had been beaten up for months online? And did you like this movie better than the '09 Trek?
I guess I should say here that I was using "purportedly" in sort of tongue-in-cheek way. They are very obviously mirroring the events of Khan and I find that to be interesting. Maybe I'm falling victim to populist swill, but I actually ENJOY being able to see things onscreen that recognize recast in a different light.
Which brings me to the differences between this iteration of Khan and the one we knew previously. They are markedly different and it tremendously alters the character's actions. As opposed to being enraged with Kirk for banishing him to what eventually became a desert wasteland, Khan is instead embittered against the entire institution of Starfleet for weaponizing him and his people. The stakes are higher and the conflict more interesting.
You might argue that this distinction is minimal, since the endgame is still "Khan is angry and chaos ensues," but I think the distinction is important. Many times on the podcast we've talked about this is the summer of mass destruction for the sake of gratuity. But I would argue that this movie at least attempts to earn Khan's violent attack on San Francisco.
I realize that what I have just done is attempt to elevate this movie by attempting to prop it up against a historically lousy summer movie slate.
You refer to the scene where it briefly appears that the Enterprise crew will be aligned with Khan, or at least sort of indifferent toward him in furtherance of a shared goal. Like you, I was intrigued by this concept. Unlike you, I was not enraged when it was abandoned. The fact that the movie even raises the specter of Kirk cooperating with Khan makes it interesting.
I am fully aware of the movie I am defending. I stand by my contention that this is a meditation on a very standard time travel theme about variance and destiny and inevitability. You say that the movie does not "address" the theme of inevitability, except I think that it addresses it by merely existing.
I have a pretty incendiary comment loaded up here, but I want to leave you with a question. Other than your completely valid criticisms of screenwriting techniques (that beaming/non-beaming crap at the climax is just stupid), would you have any real problems with the way the story of Khan is handled if you did not already have a constructed Khan story at the forefront of your mind?
*I have seen exactly one episode of any Star Trek TV series. It was part of a philosophy class I took in college called Cognitive Science. In the episode, a TNG submission, Data challenges Picard over the morality of using artificially intelligent machines to perform dangerous tasks after the machines begin to display characteristics of self-preservation. It is an incredible episode of television.
I don't want to already to surrender to "agree to disagree," but I don't even know how to respond to your suggestion that just by introducing a scene in which Khan and Kirk work together the movie is somehow better or different. Yes, that SCENE is interesting, but it does not make the MOVIE interesting. In fact, I might argue it hurts the movie even more in some ways because it further demonstrates that the filmmakers didn't know a good idea when they had one right in front of them. Instead, they chose to go the lazy callback route.
Same goes for the theme of inevitability. You say the movie raises the theme just by existing. I say you're assigning a theme that isn't there. I do not believe that the writers included Khan because they want to suggest that their encounter was inevitable. Otherwise, they would have layered that theme elsewhere in the film. That's good writing. Writing with intent. I think it's because they wanted to take what the audience is 'expecting' -- the most famous villain in Trek canon (because Part II!) -- and turn it on its head. It's the same bullshit thinking that led the writers of The Lone Ranger to mess with that formula.
Again, I am not angry that they dared to use Khan. They could have made a very good movie that happened to include the character. I am angry that they don't understand what made Khan special and because they did it badly. And if I'm being unfair and comparing Into Darkness to Wrath of Khan, I share the blame with the filmmakers, who won't stop fucking reminding me of Wrath of Khan. They invite comparison, so I don't think I'm being unreasonable for taking them up on it.
But this sounds like I'm being too confrontational. There were some fun scenes and a lot of the energy that made Trek '09 so much fun. I do like the cast and the way they work together. I'm sad to see them squandered in material that, at best, repeats moments of the '09 film and at worst actively sabotages their chemistry.
Lay the incendiary on me. I'm ready.
But here's the big one. And I absolutely promise I am not trolling or turning into the resident Armond White or some damn thing. This is a real live opinion that I have formed through some real live critical thinking.
I think Benedict Cumberbatch is a better Khan than Ricardo Montalban.
In addition to not being Armond White, I am also not one of those weirdo Internet girls who runs Benedict Cumberbatch tumblrs out of my basement. I was not in the tank for him walking in. In fact, I'd never seen him in anything at all.
And I just think he, how you say, crushes it. The voice, the poise, the authority, he is far and away the most interesting part of the film, though maybe that's not saying much if I'm as much in the minority as I appear to be.
After watching Into Darkness, I threw on Wrath of Khan because OF COURSE I did. That movie is unimpeachable, but I'm sorry, Montalban is a cartoon. He is as threatening as Snidely Whiplash. The wig, the accent, all command minimal authority for me.
Please don't banish me from the blog forever.
Patrick: Oh, that's not so bad. I was steeling myself for much worse.
If you like Cumberbatch's performance better than Montalban's, I won't argue with you. Cumberbatch was totally fine. I can't say he was a better "Khan," because the two aren't playing the same character at all. But I will take GREAT issue with you saying Montalban is a cartoon. He is, for me, one of the classic all-time great villains because he MEANS THAT SHIT. Yes, his performance is pitched very differently than Cumberbatch's. That's because Montalban is acting in space opera, and his style is all fire and passion and theatricality. It's appropriately operatic. Cumberbatch is much more slow-burn and inward looking. I don't think modern audiences could handle a performance that's as big as Montalban's these days, so we get Khan as someone who is plotting and devious, playing everything close to the vest. Montalban's Khan is consumed with only one thing: taking revenge on Kirk. For me, his is the more interesting character and performance. But it's really just a matter of personal taste. If you don't like the theatricality of Montalban's take, I can't convince you that you should. Even though you should.
I don't think that Into Darkness is repetitive of the first movie just because of the last scene -- it's because the entire arc of the movie is basically the same. Kirk is cocky and possibly unfit to lead. People (Pike) doubt him but put their trust in him. He fucks things up and saves the day when he and everyone realizes he is awesome. It's the same story. So my issue isn't that he's finally going to lead the crew on a mission, it's that his character hasn't grown or changed at all since the first movie.
But I don't just want to refute the things you're saying. Let me ask you this: you say you might love the movie. What is it that you love about it? And what do you make of all the Wrath of Khan references at the end? Do those work for you? And if they don't, are they just not distracting enough to derail the movie for you?
Basically the story zigs when I thought it would zag. I think it adds some gravitas to Kirk's captaincy in the Pine iteration. Which actually leads me to what I think elevates this movie for me in a way that it doesn't for others.
I think Chris Pine is really, really good in this movie. I don't know if we, as a filmgoing people, have made up our minds on the Pine-as-Kirk- regime, but it really plays for me. And when you look at this movie as a further testing of Kirk's mettle, his performance goes a long way toward making that work.
I totally understand if you think that the entire first movie was enough to say Kirk has proved himself or whatever. But as I said, I like that the movie is confident enough in its characters to explore that further and complicate it with things like Pike's death and the further exploration of Spock and Kirk's relationship.
Which brings me back to the Khan mirroring. As I said, I sort of like this idea that in the Trek universe, and I'm speaking about all timelines simultaneously here, there exists this parable of Khan. Khan meets the Enterprise crew in some fashion and poses a great test to them. It may manifest itself in different ways, but the fact that the outcome is the same, and even that the PATHS to victory are the same, speaks only to the strength and resolve of these characters, no matter the time.
Am I giving the film credit for establishing thematic overtones that aren't there? Maybe. I don't know if we want to go down the road of talking about how interpretations of art are made by the audience and not the artist, but the point is I feel completely comfortable saying that I was moved when Kirk died in this movie, even if I saw it coming a mile away.
Then again, I go to bat for the Lost finale every chance I get. So maybe I'm all fucked in the head. And the heart.
Patrick: I don't know. I feel like we saw two different movies. Which is ok, because I've certainly had the experience of either a) overlooking (or even rationalizing) a movie's flaws because I like it or b) not being able to see things that work because I dislike the whole. And maybe that's what's going on here.
I like Chris Pine, too. He's one of my favorite things about these new movies -- he gets a lot of stuff right about the character Shatner created but still puts his own thing on it. It's not just an impression. The cast, as a whole, is really great. I like watching them work together, which is another of my disappointments with the movie. When the '09 reboot ended, I was excited about watching this crew going on missions and being on the bridge together. Instead, Into Darkness mostly splits them up or has them quit/get fired or bicker about their relationship issues during life threatening situations because ha ha that's funny and a thing that people do.
I'm not looking for Kirk to be perfect now just because of his journey in the first movie. I'm just looking for growth. Or a different journey. Not the exact same fucking thing. My problem with The Amazing Spider-Man wasn't that they dared to make another Spider-Man movie. It's that they made the exact same Spider-Man movie we had already seen. And then made it shittier. The same thing applies to Into Darkness.
We had said that we didn't want to just fall back on 'agree to disagree,' but that's where we are at. You were moved when Kirk died, I was angry at what I saw as a stupid manipulation of familiar material (and another example this summer of a character being dead even though we know he/she won't be dead longer than a few minutes; at least Wrath of Khan MEANT IT [at the time] when Spock died). You think the writers were suggesting the possibility of multiple iterations of Khan and the inevitability that he would cross paths with the Enterprise and things would play out in basically the same way. I see it as a total lack of imagination and baldfaced attempt at fan service without understanding what made the first thing special or being able to connect any of the emotional dots. This is a movie obsessed with shortcuts.
We saw different movies, and that's ok. If everyone saw the same things in every movie, it would make the point of talking about them irrelevant -- you couldn't point out anything to me that I didn't already see myself. So I'm glad we're able to talk about this stuff and try to make out points heard, even if I don't think we're any closer to changing each other's minds.
I'll end with this: a bad Star Trek movie has never been able to kill the franchise before, so I'm not worried about this one. It made money. People generally liked it. If they announce a third movie with this same cast, I'll be very excited.
But I would like a different creative team involved.
Alex: Well, I hope this has been a useful discussion. We may not see eye-to-eye on this one, but rest assured, I have been and always shall be your friend.
|I know. I'm sorry.|