And Seven of Nine’s outfits now become the franchise’s second-most embarrassing pander to straight men.

As you can tell from the address of the post, this marks the third time I’ve written about this movie for the site, and probably my third distinct take on it. I’m always evolving, what can I say? My initial take was sort of guardedly positive, my second was fairly critical. This is going to be even more critical. I think this is just a movie that wears poorly with time! It’s okay in the theater and for maybe a couple of days after–the Abrams treatment is typically an invigorating one, to be sure. Then you get to thinking about it, and it drops in your estimation. Then you watch it again a few years later and it drops more. Then you read a review or listen to someone talk about it and think, damn, he’s right, and it drops some more. And so on. As with the prior film, virtually all of the pleasures of the movie are visceral. Unfortunately, there just aren’t as many of them here. Abrams reduced the franchise to shallow fun, which wasn’t great, but at least it was an improvement on the grim, unearned miserabilism of Nemesis. For reasons surpassing comprehension, Abrams turned his hollow ship in the direction of miserabilism for his follow-up. I have no idea why. I wish he hadn’t.

Into Darkness is the franchise at low ebb, to be sure, but what does it get right? I’m honestly not sure how to answer that. I quite like the action sequence where Kirk and Khan fly through space, which is one of the few times where I’m not dizzy catching up with the movie’s references to other films. I’d even give it a few minutes on either direction of that sequence, which is weirdly looser and funnier than the rest of the movie. And honestly, I don’t mind most of the setup of the film. The pieces it puts in place during the first act are all perfectly fine pieces to put in place. I don’t necessarily have a problem with magic blood, or Khan killing off Starfleet brass and escaping to Kronos. It’s not like the first act couldn’t have led to a perfectly decent adventure. Alas, it does not.

It was stupid for the studio to lie to the fans that the villain of the film wouldn’t be Khan. But it was criminal to make a movie with Khan that ultimately just turned on fisticuffs. This is the most literal yet remake of The Wrath Of Khan, but it’s also the one that least reverberates with the cat-and-mouse pleasures of the original. Without that, what is a movie with Khan even about? Tonally, there are some real problems here, with too many scenes that feel lifted straight out of Three’s Company or some similarly shit sitcom. The Uhura-Spock relationship truly is one of the worst things the franchise ever did, is all I’m saying! Having to see yet another variation on the woman being mad that the man is putting himself into harm’s way is just wearisome. I’d have been open to it being the other way around–it makes as much sense to have Uhura be the one in danger while acting as an interpreter on an away mission while Spock chills up on the ship, scanning things. Alas, we can’t have anything nearly that creative in this movie. But that said, there is one really hilarious Spock moment in the movie:

The movie does not do justice to its characters. Chris Pine’s Kirk is much more difficult to take here than in the first film. The movie wants us to believe that he grows by accepting responsibility in the film but the character is too infuriatingly cartoonish to make that resonant. The movie easily sells us on the fact that he was promoted too quickly, but the transitions it settled upon don’t really wash. Kirk is characterized less like William Shatner’s portrayal of the character and more like William Petersen’s ultimate adrenaline-junkie character Richard Chance from To Live And Die In L.A. Chance is a law enforcement officer but, ultimately, to him the job is not about protecting the public but rather is little more than a series of opportunities for fighting, chasing, and shooting (and, not for nothing, vulnerable women to blackmail into sexual relationships). Kirk doesn’t go in for that last bit, at least. But then again, Chance is someone who the audience is not really supposed to love. He’s the protagonist and the “bad guy” is certainly worse–Willem Dafoe’s character is a murderer several times over–but Chance takes risks that put many people in danger and even get a few killed. His objective is the right one, but his methods are reprehensible. That James Kirk–a classic, straight-laced hero–resembles in this movie an essentially amoral antihero from a nihilistic 1980s neo-noir is, well, not great. But he does!

And then there’s Spock. I was willing to accept an overly emotional Spock in the first Abrams movie, but it’s just too much here. I guess the idea here is to have Spock snap a little in dealing with all the loss, but there’s less an arc here than a bunch of ideas that don’t really make much sense. I guess he goes from being the self-sacrificing scientist type at the beginning to an enraged avenger at the end, I don’t know. As I’ve constantly said, it’s not like you can’t do something like this, but it matters how you do it. The entire last act of the film seems like a total misfire to me, action overload that is messy and ugly. This is why “giving audiences what they want” is such a misguided concept: the studio wanted this movie to break big internationally but it only really did as well as the first Abrams movie, and the bad taste left in peoples’ mouths from it hurt the series’ next installment.

The movie, I will say, does give the other characters some things to do–even Chekov!–but it’s not as though they ever really matter much. This is all Spock/Kirk stuff and that stuff is not good. Neither Khan nor Admiral Marcus make particularly compelling villains, honestly, in part because they’re essentially the same villain. They’re both violent, megalomaniacal dicks who sabotage themselves, though I suppose Khan has some redeeming value in that he actually cares about his people. I don’t really think that anybody involved with the film cared much about either character. Or about much of anything! It’s such a waste. At the end of it, you’re forced to ask yourself what the point of all of it was and I truly don’t know. Even the other bad Star Trek movies I can at least ferret out something, some decent intention to it, however poorly served in the execution. Well, except for maybe Star Trek Generations, with which this movie has to share the absolute bottom of the franchise with. They’re pretty similar movies in a lot of ways: so in love with the effects they can create by freely (i.e. recklessly) using the characters that they don’t even realize the damage they’re doing to them, in the service of making a pointless and unpleasant film. They share the absolute bottom of the franchise, which is the worst possible thing I can say about this movie. Even Nemesis isn’t this bad.

Well, it can only get better from here, right? (It does.) Let’s wrap this baby up next week!

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{ 1 comment }
  1. Metavirus says:

    i’m missing the “seven of nine” reference.  you mean ThirtySeven of D?

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