Friday, August 16, 2013

Where Someone Has Gone Before

Look, I'm not one of the sorts of  Star Trek fans who felt betrayed or insulted by 2009's Star Trek taking the focus into a new timeline. Nor am I terribly convinced by arguments that boil down to "it has too much action to be a proper Star Trek story". And truthfully, I have very few problems with Star Trek Into Darkness as a whole - but the problems I do have a pretty central to the film.

They're also pretty spoilery, so if you haven't seen it yet you probably want to take care of that before venturing below the cut.

Back? Good. Now, my biggest issue with the whole idea of making Khan the center of the story is how  gimmicky the whole thing feels. Right after Star Trek's 2009 opening weekend, it seemed, speculation about how the inevitable sequel would compare to The Wrath of Khan, and somehow this morphed into the idea that the sequel would be a remake of Wrath, or of Space Seed, and eventually these musings and rumors found their way into the actual plot of Into Darkness. To their credit, J.J. Abrams and the other writers & producers did a fine job in keeping the secret as long as possible - I myself hadn't confirmed that John Harrison was indeed Khan before I went to see it, though part of that was not wanting to know beforehand - not to mention writing an introductory Khan story that wasn't actually a remake of either of his previous appearances. I just wish that the whole situation could have been avoided, so that the whole affair doesn't feel like it was a whole-hearted response to random Internet chatter. It was a nice touch to have the Botany Bay found by someone other than the Enterprise crew, though.

That said, there are a couple of tweaks that could, in my opinion, have been made to make the story much fresher. One would have been just to drop the Khan angle altogether - keep Benedict Cumberbatch as John Harrison, and give him the additional motivation of trying to thaw out his boss (this would make the scene where Spock Prime gets called up and questioned unnecessary, but with all due respect to Leonard Nimoy I don't think it would be too big a loss).

Alternatively, if they must have had Khan himself in the film, they could have kept on with the idea that he had no particular quarrel with the Enterprise crew, letting him exit the movie as an ambivalent figure - it would have been a real twist to the Star Trek mythos, on par with the destruction of Vulcan last movie. Indeed, right up until, oh, somewhere between Kirk ordering Scotty to stun Khan as soon as the bridge of the dreadnought was secure and Khan's "No ship should go down without her captain" line, I was half expecting that this would be the case.

That's some bad hat, Harry.
But no, apparently it was more important to set up an admittedly amusing reversal of the legendary finale of Wrath of Khan, complete with Zachary Quinto's rendition of Captain Kirk's famous "Khan Scream". While such things are part of the fun of alternate timelines, I didn't think this particular instance had quite enough resonance with the new characters, at least as we've seen them -  the crew of the Enterprise has clearly been having adventures between movies (I particularly liked that they've had a "Mudd Incident").

Hmm, that's an awful lot of negativity for a movie that I actually feel pretty positively about. Whatever might be said about the plot, there's one area that I think really shines, and that's the characters. The cast of the Original Series left some enormous shoes to fill, and for the most part I think it's working quite well. The dynamics aren't quite the same - I noticed that the main-focused trio almost seems to be Kirk-Spock-Uhura instead of the traditional Kirk-Spock-McCoy, and among the others some got more screentime than others. Scotty, for example, being the subject of a whole separate plotline (not that you'll hear much complaining from me about that), while Sulu was really only utilized for a  single moment (but what a moment!).

Really, in order to take full advantage of the setting, the writers of the next Star Trek film (and you know there's one coming) should really step back from trying to revisit* the previous universe and just let the characters engage with one another, new dynamics and all. The addition of Carol Marcus as a seemingly permanent member of the crew is (ahem) a fascinating change, given her history with Captain Kirk in the other universe. As the film ends with the Enterprise embarking on her famous five-year mission, one can only hope that new life ad new civilizations are truly what they encounter.

*I have to admit, though, there is one Original Series episode I would kinda like to see the new crew live through on the big screen:

Great trigger discipline there, Spocko.

Maybe as the Cold Open, like the volcano-planet thing in Into Darkness. What do you say, Paramount?

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