Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Star Trek Into Darkness - what didn't work

I really wanted to love Star Trek Into Darkness.  And there were many things I enjoyed in this film, as noted in the first part of this short series.  But, overall, it completely fell flat for me. 

1.      First:  where the hell were Bones, Uhura, Scotty, and Chekov?  Yeah, they were in the film, but their roles were so diminished that it felt as if they were totally absent and, for the most part, superfluous with regard to the overall narrative.

Into Darkness and the 2009 reboot, Star Trek, had similar run times, but that first one felt like all the characters had their parts to play – integral parts to play – and we also got to know them as characters, with many older fans filling in what we knew of the original crew to accentuate them just a bit.  Certainly, that was essential to that first film, but it’s important to note that it was something the filmmakers achieved, admirably so.  But with this second one, they focused on the friendship of Spock and Kirk, which is the thematic core of Into Darkness, while leaving the rest of the crew to flounder about while the writers attempted to shoehorn them in somewhere.  As a result, the rest of the crew felt tacked on, unnecessary, and though Kirk and Spock are the centerpoint of the franchise, focusing in on them, at the expense of the other characters, missed the point of what makes this fictional universe special.
2.      Khan’s introduction:
For anyone who didn’t see the ads for Into Darkness, thankfully we got an overblown, ominous musical cue when Benedict Cumberbatch’s character was introduced.  Nothing like hitting the audience over the head with an orchestral hammer.  This was irritating.  And it seemed a missed opportunity.  We learned that Cumberbatch was given an identity that incorporated him into Starfleet, and wouldn’t it have been great to believe him to be one of the “good guys” and then have him turn?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  And probably not a fair argument, but the heavy-handedness of his introduction was the first, big indication that I was in for a ride I probably would not enjoy.

3.      Kirk is demoted for, what, two minutes:
This quote-unquote plot point … this one really irked me.  If you’re going to shake things up, so to speak, in a fairly significant manner, then just go for it.  Don’t pussyfoot around and ostensibly change it, only to have it revert back to the status quo minutes later.  You’re cheating your audience, and you offer them nothing within the overall narrative when you do this.  Revealing character comes through how they handle adversity, through action and consequence.  With this quick scene from Into Darkness, there was no real consequence for Kirk, not if it wasn’t a lasting consequence.  One might argue this demotion is the reason Kirk took responsibility later in the film (which yields no result, since Admiral Marcus doesn’t care to offer mercy to Kirk’s crew), but it did not ring true because of the limited time span of the demotion.  It wasn’t earned, and even if many in the audience were unable to articulate that point, there were many who realized, in an intuitive sense, that something was wrong.

4.      Khan was hyper-intelligent …
and he put his crewmembers into photon torpedoes to hide them, and eventually save them.  Chew on that one for a bit.
5.      Carol Marcus:
Did she have a purpose in this film?  Other than showing off her futuristic underwear?

So, what point did that scene (the underwear scene) serve?  None.  We already knew Kirk was a cad, a womanizer.  Ummmmmm.   Nope.  I got no other reason for it.  Moving on.

Marcus was able to get onto a major starship merely by lying to the captain that she had orders to be there?  (It’s possible I missed something here; so correct me, if that’s the case).  This was a major naval vessel (or at least a major starship within a large corporate-type entity).  There have to be protocols for accepting new crewmembers.  And, yes, Kirk isn’t one to stand on protocol, but it completely undermined his character.  If he was deemed responsible enough, even with his inability to follow regulations to the letter, for the captaincy of the Enterprise, Kirk must have shown some semblance of this responsibility before.

This just irritated me.  It circumvented any kind of rules already set up in this fictional universe.  Like Highlander III, where Wesley Snipes’s character fought on holy ground, just because he was super-evil, you can’t break the rules of your fictional reality without breaking the narrative.  It’s like a first grader’s superhero story, where whatever needs to happen just happens, because it has to happen.  Rules are set up to keep writers honest, but also to infuse their narratives with obstacles that require thought and ingenuity, rather than the laziness evinced in this scene, and many others.

6.      The Two Spocks:
Continuing on from setting up rules, only to break them.  When new-Spock contacted classic-Spock, he (new-Spock) asked about Khan.  Classic-Spock began his response with the disclaimer, which I’ve paraphrased:  “I said I would never share information from our timeline…”  This is supposed to make it suspenseful, I guess.  But then, immediately, he followed the disclaimer with a big BUT, and then went on to share information about Khan.  Just.  That.  Easy.

This wasn’t suspense, or drama.  This was, again, just ignoring the rules because it was too difficult to figure out how to inventively get around this obstacle.  Poor writing.

7.      Don’t allow accidents to get your characters out of a jam:
This happened at least twice, that I remember.  First, we had Bones and Carol Marcus go down to a planetoid to disarm one of the torpedoes.  When Bones inadvertently armed it, Marcus had thirty seconds to stop it from detonating.  She opened an access port, began acting as if she knew what she was doing, and, ultimately, just ripped the thing – whatever it was – out of the access port … amazingly shutting it down just in time.  There was no ingenuity, no expertise exhibited by Marcus, just stupid, dumb luck.  *sigh*

And then we had Scotty on Admiral Marcus’s ship.  Lucky for us.  (wipes brow)  Now, I’m sure there are some who would argue this is a result of actions and decisions made by characters beforehand.  But the path for Scotty to get here was so intricate and relied on so many little “chance” occurrences, along with the fact that so much else, up to this point, happened that I found wrong-headed, that it felt too neatly tied up.  Sure, this is something we expect from our fiction, but it also needs to feel natural.  This did not. 

Call this sour grapes, or whatever platitude you want to insert here, but my reason for getting this down is to examine why Into Darkness didn’t work for me, from a writer’s point of view.  What lessons can I take from the movie?  And are these the correct lesson?  [Feel free to interject and offer counterpoints to my own above.  I’m not closed against being persuaded I’m wrong] 

That said, I have one more piece in this short series to share, which will tackle the biggest problem I found in this film.  That will be next. 


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