a 2009 JJ Abrams unleashed the prequel/sequel/reboot that reinvigorated the Star Trek franchise, bringing it greater critical and commercial success than it had ever seen at the multiplexes. To mark the occasion Movie-Moron has been honouring the age-old theory amongst Trekkies that the even numbered entries into the Star Trek film series are good by 'Getting Even With Star Trek' and treating ourselves to viewings of those even-numbered Trek films. Our last discussion looks at Star Trek Into Darkness.
THERE WILL BE SPOILERS
DNWilliams: Seeing as how you're fresh to this series of reviews, we'll kick off with a little background by way of introduction. Want to tell the Movie-Moron readers what your relationship with Star Trek is?
Sheridan Passell: I've seen all the films, but the TV shows have largely passed me by.
DNW: That seems like a pretty weird way to come at the franchise, the Trek movies are quite a different animal from the shows.
SP: I'm not a TV person in general, not enough hours in the day, and I think sci-fi benefits from the budget and scope of cinema.
DNW: Would you consider yourself a fan of the films?
SP: For sure. The Wrath of Khan, The Voyage Home, The Undiscovered Country, Generations and First Contact were all enjoyable. The reboot too. I'd say Wrath of Khan is the definitive entry.
DNW: I imagine you have a fairly unique perspective on the reboot, given that you're mainly a fan of the film franchise. Something tells me you wouldn't be crazy about The Original Series either.
SP: The Original Series didn't appeal to me all that much, it's just a bit too budget, but the cast were charismatic.
DNW: What do you make of the return to those characters and the direction Abrams has taken things then?
SP: It was a gamble that definitely paid off. They tried to do the same thing after The Final Frontier, but the fans wouldn't stand for it. After Nemesis they really had nothing to lose, there was nowhere else for them to go. They didn't have a successful TV show to port over a la The Next Generation, so it was either create a whole new crew (which is arguably as risky) or reboot. By the time Abrams’s Star Trek came along there had been many successful reboots of other franchises, so it was a viable option.
DNW: The bitterest of fans would say that the franchise should've looked to the future as it had before, instead of returning to its roots. I feel very differently. The Abrams reboot is a real achievement in my mind; the fact that they returned to the characters that are the most ingrained in pop culture, restored the colourful and adventurous spirit of the original television show, all whilst actually respecting the canon of the franchise…masterstroke upon masterstroke, it shouldn't be undervalued.
SP: They had tried new crews on TV and they hadn't clicked in the way that they needed to. You couldn't have done a Voyager movie or that one with Scott Bakula. They executed it in the right way, I have no problem with it. The mistake would have been, when rebooting with a younger cast, to have them as 'kids' for too long, but they were in their adult mode pretty quick. Star Wars's ‘early years’ treatment of Darth Vader is the textbook case of how not to do it - get them to adulthood fast.
DNW: I agree, things had gotten stale. Alright, shall we dive Into Darkness? On a surface level, I had reservations about the title. And not because it didn't have a colon, like some people.
SP: It's just the words ‘dark’ and ‘darkness’ have become very overused in describing movies on press tours, so to see it in the title here just betrays a lack of imagination. It's not as bad as ‘rises’ though.
DNW: ‘Rises’ was thematically resonant with The Dark Knight Rises though. ‘Into Darkness’ doesn't actually wind up being anything other than a title that the writers thought sounded cool, one that describes the stereotypical 'darker, edgier' sequel in a vague way.
SP: I wouldn't say it's much darker than the previous film, even. If it didn't prominently feature magic blood it might have been.
DNW: Right? There was the question of whether or not you can actually ‘Star Trek into’ something, because the title Star Trek already implies a trek through the stars.
SP: It's better than 'Star Trek: InchErection.'
DNW: Well, when you put it like that! Okay, opening scene: I loved this to pieces. The Enterprise are supposed to be observing a primitive world, Kirk and Bones are making a dash from the natives, and Spock is trying to stop a volcano from killing everyone.
SP: It was strong. It had very good visuals, and it was interesting to see the prime directive brought to the fore so much. In stark contrast to the start of Nemesis, where Picard drops down on a dune buggy for a joy ride before getting chased by the locals, they actually seem to care about the prime directive too.
DNW: The visuals WERE strong. The planet had a very distinctive look, which was great, and yeah, it couldn't have been more different from the likes of Nemesis. It's dynamic for a start.
SP: It did have Silly Movie Rule #1 - Characters can fall as far as they want, as long as it's into water. The reality is that a fall into water from any sort of significant height is virtually the same as hitting concrete. I'm looking at you, Skyfall.
DNW: And Fast Five.
SP: Oh yeah, but in Fast Five they project off a car mid-air. That's never been tried in reality.
DNW: One of them is also Vin Diesel, so we’re in unstoppable force, immovable object territory right there.
SP: He had the spirit of Telly Savalas holding him up.
DNW: Vin Diesel reminds you of Kojak?
SP: Hell to the yes. When they reboot Kojak there's only one name on that list. Are we off topic here?
DNW: Off-topic is what we do best. But yeah, the sequence is great for a number of reasons, it's exciting, it's visually arresting and it doesn't slouch on storytelling. You have a moral dilemma that the prime directive can present, the central theme of friendship brought into focus, and some great character work all in the opening minutes.
SP: Yeah, I'd agree with that, even though Spock's self-sacrificing spirit does feel ever so slightly forced. It's not like he'd be saving anyone, just upholding a Starfleet rule. The Spock of the past was always up for breaking rules to help his friends out.
DNW: Dude, the rule is there for a reason. I thought that was quite well communicated by the deification of the Enterprise that capped the sequence, implying Kirk's rashness shaped that society's development considerably.
SP: Picard didn't seem too bothered in his dune buggy…but young Spock hasn't loosened up yet, so it's okay.
DNW: Trek, truthfully, never let the prime directive get in the way of a some good fun, but they sure do like to bring it up. It's the principle, and Spock is a principled, logical man.
SP: Then we have some demotions and promotions, which take us back to where we started.
DNW: Yeah, Kirk finds out that Spock filed a report about the whole breaking-the-rules-to-save-his-life thing and, like you said, returns us to the status quo ante. Kirk is no longer the Captain of the Enterprise, Pike is, and Spock is no longer his crewmate.
SP: Captain Pike is this series' Kenny from South Park.
DNW: How so?
SP: He's brutally crippled in the first movie, left for dead. Now he's back, he can walk, then he’s actually dead. Next time around I'd like to see him resurrected, reinstated as captain, and then immediately sucked out of an airlock.
DNW: I really like Bruce Greenwood in the role, he's an insanely good paternal figure.
SP: He's great, I was sad that they bumped him off for good. I found Spock prying into his dying moments to be quite intrusive. I thought it would be for some important piece of information, but no, he was just curious.
DNW: It's a mind meld, I figured he was trying to make the moment less painful for Pike by lending him some Vulcan zen.
SP: Pike didn't look very relaxed, I've never seen anyone die worse to be honest. He looked mortified.
DNW: Kirk is, naturally, very broken up about the whole situation. All of this was set up by Benedict Cumberbatch's John Harrison of course, making it the second time Kirk's father figure has been gunned down by the main villain in the movie. Harrison planned to take out as many senior Federation officers as he could in one fell swoop, but he leaves Spock, Kirk and RoboCop alive. This was a mistake.
SP: Yeah, Pike was hobbling around on a stick, surely you'd aim for the guy with the stick last.
DNW: We kind of skipped it, what did you think of Benedict Cumberbatch's introduction?
SP: The musical cue when he first appeared was awful but I thought it was an effectively mysterious intro. He's definitely strong in the movie, going for the stillness school of acting, and it works well.
DNW: I don't know about that introductory cue, but on the whole, I think Giacchino's music is fantastic here. Cumberbatch does enigmatic well, and his it's sort of like someone threw Kirk and Spock in a blender. I like that a lot.
SP: The score is very good, save for that cue to introduce Harrison and the self-satisfied cue later when old Spock appears. "Look who we've got!!!"
DNW: I'm guessing Harrison being tied to Section 31 means very little to you.
SP: Was it referring back to anything in the TV shows?
DNW: Yeah, Harrison is a Section 31 agent, which is a covert operations division of Star Fleet. RoboCop runs it. I thought, with Pike down, RoboCop was being set up as a replacement father figure for Kirk. I was not correct.
SP: I always thought he was a villain, he was too supportive. Anyone in authority who's super nice and supportive at the start of a movie often ends up being the villain.
DNW: Pike? Obi-Wan? Come on man, that's just silly.
SP: Pike is pissed with him to start with. The first thing he does is shout him down.
SP: Trust and fondness have to be earned, everyone needs an arc. If a boss character starts off overly friendly and nice, you know it's probably heading for trouble.
DNW: Well, he does authorise Kirk to use lethal force on Harrison right away, which should set alarm bells ringing.
SP: That too. It does present a genuine dilemma, which has deliberate parallels with modern day terrorism and how we respond to it, questioning whether a retaliatory response just ends up doing more damage in the long term. Would you fire missiles at John Harrison on Kronos, knowing only what Kirk knew at the time?