Nitpickery - Into Darkness

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StarTrekIntoDarkness_FinalUSPoster

So last week I finally got to seeStar Trek: Into Darkness.  Now it should be known that I look at the 2009 reboot as inspiration. I think that film was beautifully crafted in every way and it is a goal of mine to make something like that. So, I went into the sequel with high expectations. If you don't want spoilers or your own perception of the movie rocked by my strong opinions on the matter, please, click away now. Otherwise, join me below and we can hash out the pros and Khans of the latest in this iconic franchise. This movie is Shroedinger's Cat on celluloid. It is amazeballs. It is shit. At the same time. This movie simultaneously inhabits both spheres of a Venn Diagram describing epic movies and derivative drivel. It blurs the line between Sci-Fi/Fantasy and Unbelievable Bullshit.

I loved it. I screamed and cursed J.J. Abrams' name for being such a predictable bastard who couldn't write to his own potential.

So Star Trek has never exactly been a stickler for science fact, especially the original series. (If you want a show that prides itself on scientific accuracy, watch Babylon 5.) The reboot decided to follow in the original series' well-loved footsteps and ignore a few of the more obvious scientifically based holes in the story. Really, just go read this review. It's entertaining and pretty much sums up my problems as far as factual inconsistency.

Aside from my inability to understand why Dr. Carol Marcus is forced to strip on screen FOR NO REASON, most of my problems with the film are in the third act. J.J. Abrams is usually a very cunning storyteller that smacks me from behind when I least expect it. Into Darkness may as well be subtitled "Chekov's Arsenal" for all the smoking guns he left for us in the first act. So much of the climax was telegraphed! Seriously, cats wiggling their asses before pouncing on a catnip mouse are stealthier than J.J.'s climax!

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a_610x408

For starters... now, I'd rather walk on my own lips than say a word against the musical genius that is Michael Giacchino. His scores are phenomenal and I adore his whole body of work. That being said...was it necessary to have the sinister BUMBUMBUMMMMM the first time we see Benedict Cumberbatch on screen? Yes, I know the trailers have set it up that he is the villain and all that shit, but come on. We see him and we have no idea in the context of the story why we should hate this man. He's saving the life of a dying girl. Is he a doctor? Is he The Doctor in some strange fanfic? Why should I hate someone who is saving a child? Allow the moral ambiguity to be there and fuck with the audience, dammit. (Soon, though, we see that Cumberbund Bandersnatch's still nameless character is a domestic terrorist. If we didn't hate him before, we do now because he's just killed Captain Badass Pike. We're sent off to avenge him in such a way that Heath Ledger's Joker would giggle at our adorability.)

Then we have a problem with the Warp Core. Oh, I've seen this one before. It ends with the sacrifice play because the "needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few" WHICH MAY AS WELL BE SPOCK'S FIRST LINE! Come on!

As I said before, the real issues, though, come when we get to the third act. The Enterprise is on the ropes, "John Harrison" is Kahn, and Admiral Robocop is psychotic and flying the most badass looking dreadnaught of all fucking time. Through impossible physics and convenient timing, Kirk and Khan end up on the "Killerprise". Khan kills Peter Weller with his bare hands, turns on Kirk and sends the end of the movie careening inexorably toward Zachary Quinto screaming, "KHAAAAAAAN!"

So many people I spoke with said the end was unfulfilling and I think I have an answer as to why. To explain, you'll need to understand a bit about the Hollywood Formula of writing. (Listen to that podcast, authors, it is golden.)

So crash course. In any story you have 3 main characters:

  1. The Protagonist - this is the good guy. S/he wants something very specific and we are, generally, rooting for him/her to get it. 
  2. The Antagonist - the bad guy. S/he is at odds with the Protagonist and is the one who keeps throwing roadblocks in the way of our Protagonist.
  3. The Relationship Character - This character takes many forms and is often played by Morgan Freeman. The RC typically has wisdom the Protagonist needs and serves to make the Protagonist's journey both more difficult and easier. Hell, if we just listen to the RC at the beginning, most of the time we don't need the rest of the movie!

A fulfilling resolution comes when the Protagonist and the Relationship Character have a deep/meaningful scene that adjusts the perspective of the journey, the Protagonist and the Antagonist have it out and the emotional wrap-up quickly follows.

Based on this, Into Darkness does not have a fulfilling ending.

Let's first identify our characters.

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chris-pine-star-trek-into-darkness-teaser-trailer-watch-now

The Protagonist, I think we can all agree, is Kirk. He wants to be Captain of the Enterprise and he wants revenge on the man who killed his father figure, Captain Christopher Pike.

Now, who is our Antagonist? It is not who the trailer would have you booing. Admiral Marcus is the one who keeps Kirk from his chair. Admiral Marcus is the one who sabotages the Enterprise's warp core. Admiral Marcus is the one who keeps throwing problems at Kirk and his crew. The Admiral is our true antagonist.

That leaves the Relationship Character. This is Khan. Is he manipulative? Is he despicable? YES. But at no time does Khan lie to or attempt to hinder Kirk. In fact, he gives him the exact coordinates of the super secret bunker where the Dreadnaught of Badassery +1 is being kept. Khan is the one who delivers the antidotes.

As it is, this works. The characters are sound and fulfilling all of their roles, doing what they need to do to make the story work. The problem comes when Kirk and Khan board the dreadnaught. From there on, the movie is on a collision course for story disaster.

Like I said up there, satisfaction comes when our Hero defeats the Bad Guy. In this movie? He doesn't. KHAN kills Admiral Marcus while Kirk just stares in horror or picks himself up off the floor. Khan steps out of his role and takes up a new one. This is jarring to the audience in a way that they might not even notice, but it's there. So, Khan--in a way--steps into the role of Antagonist way late in the film. Okay, but then he gets everything he wants. He's killed a bunch of people at Star Fleet and exposed the program that ruined him. He's reunited with his tribe of popsicles and reinserted into the Matrix where he can have happy dreams of genocide.

Khan wins. So, Khan gets all the glory of the Protagonist, the wrath of the Antagonist and the heavy wisdom of the Relationship Character.

What does Kirk get? A blood transfusion. A 5-year mission. No personal sense of having avenged Pike. He gets to stay Captain Kirk (which he was at the beginning of the film).

So, while it is a fun film with pretty effects (lens flare!), a kick ass ship or two and some great one liners, Star Trek: Into Darkness fails at delivering an emotionally satisfying story. The promise is made in the trailer and in the first two acts that we have a clear Antagonist (and we do, it's just not the one we thought it would be) and that he will be dealt with by Kirk. That promise is broken. It's story-telling bait and switch.

So yeah. I loved it. I hated it. If I could tell J.J. Abrams one thing, it would be this:

Listen to Captain Pike from the first film. "I dare you to do better."