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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Fishing in the Discount Bin - Star Trek Into Darkness

This is it, gang.  This is what we've been counting down to Fishing in the Discount Bin for the past 11 weeks.  Back in the spring of 2013, I got it in my head to watch every Star Trek movie before Into Darkness hit theatres.  In the time between watching the films and posting these entries to the blog, Star Trek Into Darkness has come and gone from the theatres.  So let's jump ahead in my notes to September 16, 2013 when I first re-watched Star Trek Into Darkness on Blu-Ray.

Well, a few months ago, I got it in my head to watch every Star Trek movie before Into Darkness came out.  Summer is now at a close, Star Trek Into Darkness did well at the box office, and it's just come out on home media.  So I can finish this off with the whole franchise.  I was building up to this.  I was pacing nervously.  Forget Superman and Iron Man and Wolverine....Star Trek Into Darkness was my most anticipated blockbuster of 2013.  It hit theatres.  I was there the second weekend it was in theatres (work and all), and I was ready for the second adventure of the rebooted Kirk and Spock.  What did I think of their second outing?

*sigh*  I had problems with it.  And that's a shame, because I was going along with it, but then one moment came along that really ruined it for me.  Seriously.  One thing just destroyed it. 

As previously blogged, I really did enjoy the 2009 reboot.  For the first time in a long time, a Star Trek movie looked and felt like a movie.  I was ready for this gigantic return to a new, cinematic Star Trek universe.  For a sequel, I was hoping they'd introduce a Klingon general and give us a a good ol' tense, Kirk/Klingon stand-off.  But no.

As soon as the first one was considered a hit, right away, people were saying "Khan for the next one.  Bring back Khan."  But I wondered, was there a point to having Khan?  Could we have The Wrath of Khan without Space Seed and seeing what Khan was seeking vengeance for?  But, can't forget that show business is a business, and with Khan being one of the best known villains to the non-Trekkies, it was a logical choice. 

The Star Trek sequel was originally supposed to come out in the summer of 2012, but director JJ Abrams got too caught up making Super 8 and it got pushed back to summer 2013.  But that delay ensured that the entire creative team would be coming back.  Abrams back as director, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman back as writers, and joining their, their fellow Lost alum Damon Lindeloff.  New cast members started being lined up.  Peter "RoboCop" Weller as a Starfleet Admiral!  British hottie Alice Eve as Captain Kirk's baby mama Dr. Carol Marcus.  Wow.  With one of the more prominent female characters from The Wrath of Khan in the film, does that mean they were leaning towards Khan as the villain?  And then, they announced the villain, Sherlock Holmes himself, Benedict Cumberbatch.  They revealed that Cumberbatch would be playing an original villain named John Harrison.  "See?  The villain is totally not Khan!" said the creators.  "We wouldn't hire a skinny Brit to to play a Sheik-played-by-a-Hispanic!" 

Yeah...there was some controversy about a white guy playing a Sheik-played-by-a-Hispanic, but I won't go into that here.

We open on a distant planet.  Kirk and Bones are running for their lives from angry natives.  Turns out this planet is about to destroy itself in a volcanic eruption, and the crew of the Enterprise has decided to save the day.  Spock is lowered into a volcano to detonate a device to stop the volcano, but Spock winds up trapped in there.  The only way to rescue Spock is to maneuver the Enterprise into transporter range, which would make the Enterprise visible to the natives and violate the Prime Directive.  In classic Star Trek fashion, Kirk says "screw the Prime Directive," the Enterprise moves into position and beams Spock to safety.  And as the Enterprise warps away, we see the natives' holy man sketch the Enterprise into their religious texts, and they start bowing to it.

We cut to, 23rd Century London.  We see that Mickey from Doctor Who is now a Starfleet, and in a beautiful montage, we see that he has a daughter dying of some unknown illness.  At the end of the montage, he's approached by John "I'm not Khan" Harrison, saying he can help.

Cut to Starfleet Command.  Kirk and Spock have been called into Admiral Pike's office.  Kirk thinks that the Enterprise is in line for Starfleet's most plum assignment:  a 5-year mission exploring deep space.  But, no.  By-the-book Spock mentioned Kirk's violating of the Prime Directive in his report, and Kirk gets his ass chewed out.  For his extreme recklessness, Kirk is removed from command of the Enterprise and Spock is getting transferred.  Needless to say, a rift is starting to develop between these two friends.

Back in London, not-Khan synthesizes a serum from his blood.  Mickey injects it into his daughter, and she begins to recover.  Fulfilling his end of the bargain, Mickey sets off a bomb at the Starfleet instillation where he works.

Back in San Fransisco, Admiral Pike meets up with Kirk in a bar.  Pike is re-taking command of the Enterprise, and Kirk is getting busted down to commander and made first officer.  Pike reveals that the head of Starfleet, Admiral Alexander "RoboCop" Marcus, wanted to throw Kirk out of the service, but Pike argued for him, and Kirk's got his second chance.  With that done, their communicators go off and they're summoned to Starfleet Command.

An emergency meeting has been called of Starfleet's most senior officers.  A terrorist has detonated a bomb at a Starfleet archive in London.  The terrorist responsible:  John Harrison, a Starfleet officer who seems to have gone rouge.  But analyzing the photos, Kirk starts musing aloud that it doesn't make sense.  There's no point in destroying an archive, because all the knowledge contained with in is public.  However, in a terrorist attack like this, Starfleet protocol dictates that this emergency meeting of the most senior officers be called....  And before Admiral Ackbar can jump in and deliver his catch phrase, John "Totally Not Khan" Harrison shows up in a ship and starts blasting the conference room.  Kirk manages to take down Harrison's ship, but he transports to safety at the last minute.  In the wreckage, we see that Admiral Pike is dead. 

Analyzing the wreckage, Kirk, Spock, and Scotty determine that Not-Khan used the long range transporter Scotty used in the last film to beam himself all the way to Kronos...the Klingon homeworld.  Kirk and Spock present this information to Admiral RoboCop, and more info comes to light.  Admiral RoboCop reveals that the Starfleet archive that was destroyed was actually the headquarters of the clandestine Starfleet organization known as Section 31, and Not-Khan was one of Section 31's top operatives.  Now, having gone rogue, they figure Not-Khan must be stopped at all costs.  But going to Kronos to extradite him would start an all-out war with the Klingons.  Since their intel shows that Not-Khan is in a deserted province on Kronos, they hatch this plan to bring Not-Khan to justice.  The Enterprise is to go to the edge of the Neutral Zone, and launch some brand new long range stealth photon torpedoes at Kronos, leveling the deserted province and killing Not-Khan.  Wanting vengeance for Admiral Pike, Kirk convinces Admiral RoboCop to give him back command of the Enterprise and lead the mission.  Admiral RoboCop approves.

I've got to say, Trekkie that I am, I geeked out when they mentioned Section 31.  Introduced on Deep Space Nine, Section 31 was Starfleet's black ops group, doing all the un-Starfleet-like tasks to ensure the safety of the Federation.  Deep Space Nine is my favourite Star Trek series because it loved playing in Star Trek's grey areas.  And with such a Deep Space Nine concept brought into the film, I was looking forward to lots of grey areas in the film. 

Needless to say, their mission does not sit well with most.  Scotty feels that undertaking such an overtly military mission is a violation of Starfleet's ideals as a force for peacekeeping and exploration, and he resigns his commission in disgust.  But we get a new Enterprise crewperson in the form of Carol Wallace, a science officer brought on board to supervise these new torpedoes.  Her status as a science officer, and Kirk's instant shine to her, gets Spock a little jealous. 

They set out for the Neutral Zone, but Kirk also begins having reservations about their mission and how it's against Starfleet's principles.  So when they arrive, Kirk decides to put together a small away team of himself, Spock, Uhura, and some red shirts to go into Kronos and capture Not-Khan.  On the trip in, on a ship they confiscated from Harry Mudd in an incident that happened before the film, we find out that Spock and Uhura are fighting as a couple right now.  Turns out Uhura is mad at Spock because her boyfriend, who cannot show emotion because of his faith, is unemotional.  Women, am I right?  Spock reveals that he mind-melded with Admiral Pike at the point of his death, and felt his fear, anger, and frustration at dying.  Spock reveals that he chooses not to feel emotions because such concepts frighten him, and he assures Uhura (and his BFF Kirk) that even though he doesn't feel, that doesn't mean he doesn't care.  Aww....

The arrive on Kronos, and are immediatly taken down by a Klingon patrol.  Despite Uhura's ace negotiating skills, a firefight breaks out the away team and the Klingons, and Not-Khan shows up to save our heroes.  I should have mentioned that, in order to flush out Not-Khan, Sulu, as acting captain of the Enterprise, threatened to launch the torpedoes.  When Kirk announces the exact number of torpedoes, Not-Khan immediatly surrenders. 

Back on the Enterprise, with Not-Khan locked away in the brig, he tantalized Kirk with some information as to his true motives.  He gives Kirk some co-ordinates to deep space, and suggests that Kirk should crack open one of those torpedoes and peek inside.  Curious enough, Kirk calls Scotty back on Earth to check out the co-ordinates.  And Bones and their new science officer, Carol Wallace, are assigned to try to open a torpedo. 

I should mention that, before this, Spock deduced Carol Wallace's true identity as Carol Marcus, the daughter of Admiral RoboCop.  She reveals that she forged her transfer to the Enterprise and took an assumed name because her usually open and loving father is getting mean and distant, so she figures he's up to something.

Here's where we get the much reviled scene of Carol Marcus in her underwear.  it is completely gratuitious.  I don't have any rage against this scene.  In the grand Star Trek universe, it's still more tame that Trip and T'Pol in their underwear rubbing vasaline all over each other in the pilot episode of Enterprise, so...yeah. 

On a desolate planetoid, they crack open a torpedo, and inside, find a 300  year old cryotube with a 300 year old man in stasis inside.  Kirk confront Not-Khan with this information, and we get the worst-kept plot twist of 2013.  John Harrison gives his true name as Khan Noonien Singh.  Following the destruction of Vulcan in the last film, Admiral RoboCop figured it was time to militarize Starfleet.  Remembering the legends of Khan, and figuring Khan's superior intellect would be an asset, an expedition was launched to find Khan's ship adrift in deep space.  Khan was revived, and the rest of his crew kept in stasis and held hostage by Admiral RoboCop, forcing Khan to work for Section 31 and develop weapons of mass destruction for Starfleet.  Khan tried to smuggle his crew to safety in the torpedoes, but Admiral RoboCop caught on.  Fearing that his crew was killed, Khan went rogue and went out on a mission of vengeance against Admiral RoboCop. 

At this point, Admiral RobCop shows up commanding Khan's crowning achievement, a big, black Federation warship, the USS Vengeance.  He confirms Khan's story, and wanting no evidence of his hidden agenda to turn Starfleet into a military powerhouse, sets out to destroy the Enterprise.  As the Vengeance is about to fire its BFGs, all of its weapons mysteriously power down.  The Enterprise gets a message.  It's Scotty!  Those co-ordinates he went to investigate led to the top secret shipyard where the Vengeance was being built.  Scotty sneaked on board.  With both ships disabled, a desperate plan is hatched to take the Vengeance.  Transporters are down, so Kirk and Khan go on a desperate spacewalk to get on board the Vengeance.

Oh, and while the spacewalk's going on, Spock puts in a call to Old Spock, and Leonard Nimoy puts in a gratuitous cameo to recap Wrath of Khan for those who haven't seen it. 

Kirk, Khan, and Scotty take the bridge of the Vengeance, but as expected, Khan quickly turns on them, knocking out Scotty, taking Kirk hostage, and killing RoboCop with his bare hands. Khan hails Spock and demands his crew be returned to him, so he can head out and conquer the galaxy.  After Khan and Spock debate it out logically, Spock returns the torpedoes to Khan, and Khan returns Kirk, Scotty, and Carol to the Enterprise.  But before Khan can fire up the Vengeance's weapons and blow away the Enterprise, the torpedoes disable, permanently damaging the Vengeance.  At first, Kirk is stunned that Spock would kill Khan's crew like that, but Bones revealed that they successfully removed all the cryotubes, so all of Khan's crew are safe. 

But the damage has been done.  Both the Enterprise and the Vengeance are falling towards Earth.  The Enterprise can't escape because the warp core is out of alignment.  In order to restore power, someone has to brave the radiation and venture into the warp core to re-align it.   So, in a reversal of the climax of The Wrath of Khan, it's Kirk who ventures into the warp core to restore power, and it's Spock on the outside who watches his best friend die.

As I was sitting there, watching it in the theatre, I watched this scene.  I started seeing Spock's Vulcan exterior melt away, and those emotions he keeps buried starting to bubble to the surface.  And I started muttering, "Don't say it, Spock.  Don't say it, Spock.  Don't say it Spock."

And then, Spock looks to the heavens, and cries out, "KHAAAAAAAAAAAN!"

I sighed with disgust.  "You said it."

And that is the moment that ruined the film for me.  Look, I understand wanting to plant Easter eggs and do little references to the franchise for the fans.  But having Spock scream out "KHAAAAAAAAAAAAN!" just reached Family Guy cutaway gag levels of ridiculousness.  I expected Peter Griffin to pop up and say, "Wow, this is just like that other movie, when Captain Kirk did that."  It was so blatant and obvious and gratuitous that it completely pulled me out of the film and I couldn't get back in. 

Anyway, Khan is able to direct the wreckage of the Vengeance to crash in San Fransisco.  Riding the wreckage all the way down to Earth, Khan disappears into the crowd and seeks to escape.  For technobabble reasons, they can't beam up Khan, but they can beam people down, so Spock beams down and, blinded with rage over the death of his friend, Khan and Spock begin duking it out through the streets of San Fransisco. 

But wait!  In another much-mocked scene, we saw Bones injecting some of Khan's blood into a dead tribble, because why not?  And now the tribble is alive again!  Thanks to his genetic enhancements, Khan has a healing factor like Wolverine, and using Khan's blood, they can synthesize a serum to revive Kirk!  They need to bring back Khan alive!  So Uhura beams down and tells her boyfriend that Khan can save Kirk so Spock stops beating Khan to death. 

Flash forward a few weeks, and Kirk wakes up, thanks to his blood transfusion from Khan.  Kirk and Spock mend fences, and the audience feels screwed that we're not going to get Star Trek Reboot 3:  The Search for Kirk.  Khan is put back in suspended animation, and he and his crew are locked away in a government warehouse next to the Ark of the Covenant.  With the Enterprise rebuilt, and Carol Marcus joining the crew, Kirk and his crew set out on their 5-year mission...to explore strange new worlds...to seek out new life and new civilizations...to boldly go where no one has gone before!

My final complaint:  when Chris Pine reads that at the film's end, he does it with so little energy and enthusiasm. 

And that's Star Trek Into Darkness.  It's good, but all the references to the franchise start serving to distract rather than enhance.  I wanted to see this new facet of the Star Trek franchise explored more, not just walk around making references to the old franchise.

A good example of that is the whole character of Carol Marcus.  She doesn't do much.  We don't see the beginning of a great romance between her and Kirk.  They barely flirt.  I kinda hoped the post-credits stinger would be the two of them nervously awaiting the results of a home pregnancy test.  But she's just kind of there.

Suffering from the same problem as the Batman films, we have too many villains.  Did we really need Khan, Admiral RoboCop, and some Klingons?  Why couldn't it just be Khan?  As such, we really didn't get to know this iteration of Khan. 

And that's it for Into Darkness.  it's good.  They try hard, but they tried hard in the wrong directions. 

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