There was a great deal of nervousness that attended the premier of Star Trek Into Darkness (a grammatically fuzzy title, but we’ll let that slide. The franchise has already split the infinitive, there’s really no going back). I’d only just come back from school, meaning I hadn’t had time to re-watch the relevant episodes, the 11 previous films, or devise a proper Elizabeth Dehner costume, given my Gary Mitchell dreams for the film (but not to worry! I’ll be Dr. Dehner in time for the Vegas Convention in August). I hastily threw on my miniskirt and some Vulcan ears, tricorder and phaser in hand and was still the most dressed-up one there by a long shot, so my embarrassment was mitigated a little.
These were, as Abrams described them (to the quivering and sweaty ire of many fans), movie-goers. Maybe this was a function of seeing it in Albuquerque, but I have a feeling that this is the new face of Star Trek fandom (an adjective, not a noun). And as much entitled superiority and frustration as I felt in the theater last night, we need the movie-goers. Fans can’t keep the franchise afloat on their own anymore, and these so-called “movie fans” will save us all.
Star Trek, after all, was never designed to be a movie series. Roddenberry created it to consist of short, thoughtful, character-driven (and, for many years, standalone) episodes with big ideas and a lot of heart. Trek has always been to action what The Beatles were to rock and roll (tell me I’m wrong). I’m assuming this is why so many of the movies are so abysmal—they manipulate the characters in ways that they could never get away with on TV (like making Picard dance, and the painful “comic interludes” in Generations featuring Data and the smug chip) and that Gene never would have authorized. A shiny new movie for movie fans with a brand new take on Trek that doesn’t swindle fans with familiar sets and actors, take the Enterprise of everyone’s childhood and turn it into jerk-off joint for hack directors and producers who just want to milk good fanboys and girls for all they’re worth. But that could all be said of the ‘09 film. Let’s talk Into Darkness.
I’ll start with unqualified praise. This was a very, very good film. It had all the excitement and more soul than Abrams’ first film. The cast is at their best and the ship looks as snazzy as ever (but don’t get me started about those uncircumcised nacelles).The film had plenty to please fans (there was even a nod to DS9, with the mention of Section 31), though there were things that could have been done better. Chiefly, why in the hell did they need to kill Pike? I know this is an alternate timeline and it advanced the plot and provided some good emotional moments, I think this movie had enough weeping as it was, and all they really needed to do was get him out of the way so Kirk could have the chair back. Relegating him to a life of turtlenecks and blinking once for yes and twice for no wasn’t good enough? I thought this film was written much better for his character, and would have enjoyed seeing more of him. But now that we have Khan’s superblood I guess we can bring ‘em all back! That’s right, Nero and the stretchy-faced admiral who gets his head squeezed to death and Olson who gets incinerated. Also, keeping Pike alive would have allowed some kind of Talosian plot (however small), which would have been cool. When we learned that “Harrison” had gone to “the one place Starfleet couldn’t go,” both my dad and I whispered excitedly, “Talos IV!” Nope. I guess everyone was mad at Abrams for not including any obligatory Klingons in the first film, so we get about five minutes with them in this one. I’ll give him this, though: He made the Klingons fearsome in a way none of the series or movies ever have before. TOS Klingons were fey, and at most a smelly annoyance, and from TNG onward they’ve basically been drunken buffoons who have never intimidated anyone, yellow-alert worthy at best. Just look at how many times Worf actually wins in a fight. In fact, Trek has never been good at creating effective villains (I think the Borg might be the only one), and Abrams excels at it. Tell me I’m wrong!
Women and the Spock/Uhura thing
Was anyone really surprised that Kirk and Spock have about a million times more chemistry than Spock and Uhura? And I can find support for the Spock/Uhura thing in TOS (She sings to him! She touches him, and he smirks! He mysteriously leaves his Vulcan lute in her quarters!), but their kiss at the end was painful. Luckily the romance was severely downplayed throughout the film, leaving only the upsetting bit at the beginning where she worries over him as he prepares to beam into an active Volcano, and a few other unprofessional moments the movie could have done without. We can’t solve racism by being sexist, alright? Maybe their lack of spark is due to poor writing, or the fact that Quinto seems to have a hard time believably playing a straight dude. His engine is visibly un-revved by the gorgeous Saldana and he looks steely even for a Vulcan, particularly one who loses his shit as routinely as Quinto’s Spock. In any case, I saw far more slash (yes!) and far less sexism (bravo!) than I’d come to expect from the little man in the director’s chair.
Alice Eve’s Carol Marcus (was anyone fooled for a second by the Carol Wallace act? Had anyone, a that point, not totally smoked out Cumberbatch as Khan? Was anyone as upset as I am that she wasn’t Dehner?) was highly improbable as a weapons specialist (the original Carol Marcus was a molecular biologist. Maybe in the trying times of the Abrams franchise she turned to something more lucrative), and no, not because she’s pretty. For one, you never really see her do anything but sashay around, biting her lip at all the big torpedoes on board. When it comes time for her to actually do her job and disarm one of the damned things all she does is panic (the women in these films don’t seem to do their jobs very well. The one time we actually see Uhura translating she nearly gets disemboweled by a Klingon, and let’s not forget the dowdy middle-aged woman who bungles the transporter in the last movie). Spock says what we’re all thinking when he points out that she doesn’t even need to be there—the Enterprise already has a science officer. That was about all I expected of the character, an improbably excuse for a direct delivery into Kirk’s lap, and the trailers didn’t give me any reason to believe otherwise. All she really gets to do there is scream (she does have a great scream, though) and stand around in her Starfleet undies. However, in this film, Abrams managed to keep it in his pants and made her much more the daughter figure than Kirk’s love interest, as her character is destined to become. In face, the dearth of Kirk-booty in this movie was a total relief. I never expected it to pass the Bechdel Test, but such a test isn’t really necessary in testing Abrams’ gender bias. We know it’s there, but we’ll forgive him for it. Here’s a tip for next time: I love the buff black lady at the con—try giving her some real lines!
Part of the reason I was pulling so hard for Mitchell over Khan was that I just couldn’t see Cumberbatch doing a believable job with the role, forget the fact that Khan has already had a TOS episode and his own movie. But I’m so glad they chose someone who doesn’t resemble Ricardo Montalban in the slightest. To do otherwise would have been pure parody, trying to milk the old favorite for cheap fan thrills. I know everyone loves Karl Urban’s McCoy, and he’s definitely fun to watch, but I consider him one such example of a too-faithful portrayal, a tribute, but not overly original. What I like about the new films (the ship, the uniforms, the actors) is that they make enough reference to the original so as to be recognizable without being cheap. I think Simon Pegg’s Scotty is my favorite exemplar. There’s the comedy of the role, but this character is all his own. He’s not even particularly Scottish. Imitation does the original a disservice. A nod is more than enough for me.
Vulcan Eyebrows, Vulcan Tears
Shortly after seeing the film I read a bitchy review in The New Yorker by Anthony Lane (whoever that is) who rails with blogger-like venom against an emotional Spock, seeming to think that for him to succumb to his emotions is to teeter on the edge of a dangerous precipice in which he’ll become a veritable pile of green mush. One can see Lane haughtily brushing aside his Little Lord Fauntleroy bangs as he writes, “if he’s going to spend the next few movies mooning over his fellow crew members, like something out of ‘The Notebook,’ and assuring them he’ll always be there for them, what is the point of him or his ears?” The point (pun intended), it seems, is instead lost on our friend Tony. Dismissive as reviewers tend to be of fans, we can teach you a thing or two about the development of the characters you don’t seem to understand. Spock, throughout the original series, is all over the map emotionally, and there’s a clear disconnect between his official line (his Vulcan logic and suppression) and what he actually ends up expressing. Usually his human half peeks through in unexpected moments, and is quickly corrected by Spock, as embarrassed by these outbursts as he is confused (they’re a bit like my imagined vision of Mr. Lane’s hairdo). Kirk tends to indulge him,and it’s understood that this doubleness is as much a part of the character as his ears or eye shadow. That’s what makes Spock a compelling character (and why no one but Tim Russ has really gotten Vulcans right since. Without the duality, they are little more than computers in bathrobes), and a kind of sustained sequence of Spock losing his shit seems consistent with a portrait of the Vulcan as a young man. It’s not as though some impregnable boundary has been crossed. Spock always had it in him, and to follow through on it is only (forgive me) logical.
I grew up on Star Trek, so I can tend to be dogmatic about it. And I don’t just mean TOS—I was born in 1992, so my introduction to Trek was Voyager, which I got into in syndication when I was about 6. I’ve seen every episode (it took a while, trust me), and to me they’ve always seemed of a piece. I know many fans will disagree, but there’s always at least been a family resemblance, even if each new series had to bring something new to the table. The Abrams franchise seems like a different beast entirely, and this film just reinforced the fact that the Trek I know, the Trek I love and means almost as much to me as my own life, is gone, and probably forever. But Star Trek is a living, breathing being, and it has to evolve to survive, and I welcome the next chapter with a cringe, but with open arms.