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A Fanboy's Star Trek into Darkness

by Greg Belfrage

SPOILER ALERT.  SPOILER ALERT.  SPOILER ALERT.

Be warned. This column is NOT a review for those who haven't seen Star Trek Into Darkness. This is an analysis and discussion for Trekkers, fanboys and geeks who have watched the movie.  If you haven't yet seen the film, please DO NOT READ this column.  There are multiple and significant SPOILERS ahead that will completely ruin any surprises for you.  Once you've watched the movie...come back here and share your thoughts.

SPOILERS AHEAD.  SPOILERS AHEAD.  SPOILERS AHEAD. 

If you haven't seen the movie, go no further!  Okay?  You've been warned. 

You should know a bit about my history with Star Trek so that you can put my thoughts on the movie into perspective.  

I have a few faint memories of Star Trek when it originally aired on NBC in the late 60's.  I didn't really discover Star Trek until when it went into local syndication in the early 1970's.  I watched the show religiously every day after school.  I built the models and bought the blueprints and poster magazines.  I was among the first in line to see Star Trek: The Motion Picture in 1979.  I've seen Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan so many times that I can easily recite every line of dialogue from memory.

No show or movie series has ever touched me as deeply or entertained me as much as Star Trek. Kirk, Spock and McCoy are more than heroes to me.  They have been my friends and my family.  Do you get the picture?  I am the epitome of the 50 year old Star Trek fanboy.

Star Trek Into Darkness was a huge disappointment.

Word was out several years ago that Director J.J. Abrams was considering revisiting one of Star Trek's most popular story lines and iconic villains... Khan.  I prayed he wouldn't do it.  The Wrath of Khan is beloved among fans of The Original Series.  I knew any attempt to recreate that movie would fail unless it was vastly superior to the original.  Sadly, this movie doesn't even come close.

Star Trek Into Darkness doesn't work on a lot of levels.  The problem is a poorly written script and thinly drawn characters.

The villains are especially shallow, lacking motivation, and completely unsympathetic.  Let's start with the character of Khan, as played by Benedict Cumberbatch.

In the original episode Space Seed, Ricardo Montalban's Khan was ruthless, brutal and calculating.  However, he was incredibly disarming and charming.  And despite his superior intellect and great physical strength, Khan had a weakness... a woman that he loved.

Cumberbatch's Khan shows almost no humanity at all.  He expresses concern for his crew, still in cryogenic freeze, but the character has no significant weakness.  Khan is cool and calm one moment... raving like a maniac the next... and you never really understand why.  Khan engages in a terrorist war against the man who found him adrift in space, Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller), with a hatred that is barely explained and doesn't really make sense.

In the Wrath of Khan... Montalban's character has been fighting to survive while in exile for 15 years under incredibly harsh and cruel conditions.  He has lost his beloved wife.  Khan's hatred for James Kirk, who is responsible for marooning Khan, has brewed and boiled for 15 years.  We can understand why Khan wants revenge on Kirk when their paths cross again.  We sympathize with Khan, even though he's twisted and evil.

There's also the beautiful subtext of Moby Dick hidden within The Wrath of Kahn.  Just as Captain Ahab pursues Moby Dick out of murderous revenge (I’ll chase him round Good Hope, and round the Horn, and round the Norway Maelstrom, and round perdition’s flames before I give him up)... Khan pursues Kirk out of spite and hatred (I'll chase him round the Moons of Nibia, and round the Antares Maelstrom, and round Perdition's flames before I give him up).  

Montalban's Khan pays the same price as Moby Dick's Ahab.  Khan becomes so blinded by his revenge and hatred that he loses the support of his crew and eventually his life.  Wrath of Khan is a horribly tragic, powerful and poetic tale.

However, you won't find any poetry or subtext involving Khan in Star Trek Into Darkness.  I could have cared less about the character.  Khan didn't have a single redeeming quality.  He was nothing more than a plot device to frustrate the heroes.  I didn't understand his choices, his anger or his hatred.  Fans aren't given a single reason to invest emotionally in Khan.  The only similarity between Khan and the original character is the name.

The character of Admiral Marcus, played by Peter Weller, is similarly murky.  Why does a Starfleet Admiral turn against the very institution he has sworn to defend?  Why is he so quick to murder fellow Starfleet officers?  No explanations are offered.  Marcus is simply "the bad guy".  The character is just another plot device, there only to create conflict.

I was also more than a bit bothered that Marcus' crew didn't appear to have a single concern about opening fire on the Enterprise.  Men and women who serve don't abandon their principles so easily.  These are all people dedicated to the ideals of Starfleet, not a bunch of Nazi stormtroopers blindly following orders.  We're expected to believe these officers would open fire on the Federation's flagship without any questions or protest?  This movie has a serious credibility problem. 

Some of these problems could have been easily fixed.  Instead of Admiral Marcus and his minions, writers should have put Khan and his crew in command of the U.S.S. Vengeance.  While we're at it, why not rename the ship?  Reliant has a nice ring to it.

To its credit, Star Trek Into Darkness makes a bold attempt to reinvent Wrath of Khan by reversing the fate of the two main characters... Kirk and Spock.  Its an intriguing idea, but it fails miserably.

Spock's death in Wrath of Khan is incredibly compelling.  Motivated by a desire to save his friends, Spock sacrifices his life to repair the ship so they can escape.

The same moment comes for Kirk in Star Trek Into Darkness.  

However, there is no finality about Kirk's death.  I could see the entire plot coming as soon as Kirk walked into the chamber!  It was extremely obvious that they were going to use Khan's genetically engineered blood to bring Kirk back from the dead.  

Sure, it was cool to see Kirk and Spock on opposite sides of that classic death scene.  However, the scene had absolutely no emotional impact.

Spock's death in Wrath of Khan had deep meaning for me.  I'll never forget watching that scene for the first time, as tears filled up in my eyes and spilled down my face.  I was in disbelief.  They had killed the character.  Spock was dead.  

However, that death scene would have held absolutely no meaning if you knew Spock was going to jump out of his casket at the end of the movie.

Yet, that's exactly what happened in Star Trek Into Darkness.  Yeah, Kirk "died".  Big deal.  Abrams had already telegraphed Kirk's resurrection from the dead.  I knew Kirk would be back on screen within 10 minutes.  The only tears I shed during that scene were out of grief for how badly they had trashed the original sequence.

Which brings us to the infamous Khan shout.  Please tell me you saw that coming!  Zachary Quinto begins quaking, his body shaking.  I'm thinking to myself, "no, no, no, please don't say it"... and there it was... KHHHHHHAAAAAAAANNNNNN!!!!   Totally out of place and way too predictable.

There were other problems with this movie, too.  

Dr. McCoy has become a caricature. He shows up, delivers a one-liner and disappears back into the scenery.  That's a real tragedy, as Karl Urban is a gifted actor and brings a wonderful humanity to McCoy.  Both Urban and McCoy are vastly underutilized in this movie.

Abrams and his writers also don't understand that the Kirk-Spock relationship is actually a triangle between Kirk, Spock and McCoy.  The friendship is between all three characters.  

In The Original Series, Spock and McCoy were written to reflect the inner conflict taking place within Kirk... the rational versus the emotional.  Spock and McCoy were the extremes.  Kirk was always in between, searching for the middle ground.  Spock and McCoy gave voice to Kirk's inner thoughts as he struggled to make difficult moral decisions.  That dichotomy between the three has been completely lost in the Abrams' movies.

Chekov, who I absolutely loved in the reboot, gets relegated to a red shirt and few short and forgettable scenes down in engineering.

And what was with Leonard Nimoy's appearance again as Spock?  I saw Star Trek Into Darkness with friends.  One of them had not seen the last movie.  He was completely lost as to why there were suddenly two Spocks on the screen.  Nimoy's cameo was totally unnecessary, confusing and didn't advance the plot in any significant way.

Simply put... Star Trek Into Darkness has no heart.  It has plenty of action, great special effects, a few memorable moments and some good performances.  But it has absolutely no heart, especially when compared to the original film.  This movie offers no reason to care about Khan and lacks credibility   The film is shallow and doesn't have the deeper meaning and subtext of other successful Star Trek movies such as The Wrath of Khan, The Undiscovered Country and First Contact.

Star Trek Into Darkness was a huge disappointment. 

Greg Belfrage is an avid Star Trek fan, serious Batman toy collector and hopeless geek.  He hosts the morning show on KELO Newstalk 1320 AM / 107.9 FM.