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Star Trek into Darkness and Back Again

I'm back, and I have updates, but everything will wait for now. What I want to do - indeed, what I must do - is share a few thoughts from my first viewing of Star Trek into Darkness. (These are my first, preliminary impressions; I'll see it again tomorrow, and my thoughts no doubt will develop further.)

General and Relatively Spoiler-Free Notes

* This film is an extended and deeply heartfelt love letter not only to the original Star Trek, but specifically to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. STII is by far the best Star Trek film to date, and one of the best science fiction films of all time, and so I find this to be completely right and proper. I was deeply moved by the generous (and - dare I say it? - beautiful) nods to the previous film. I suspect some of the deeper resonances will be lost on viewers who aren't familiar with Star Trek II, but, let's be honest: I couldn't care less. [See Footnote 1. Yes, this post has footnotes.]

* What absolutely makes this film, immediately, right out of the gate, and then throughout, is the remarkable and textured chemistry between Bruce Greenwood as Christopher Pike and Chris Pine as James T. Kirk. Greenwood steals every scene in which he appears, but he also draws a terrific performance from Pine, one that sells the very heart and premise of the rest of the film.

* Benedict Cumberbatch is, unsurprisingly, brilliant. His performance is exceptionally physical, from the details of each action sequence to the very manner in which he enunciates his words; in this sense, it reminds me most of his performance as the Creature in Frankenstein.

* Simon Pegg, bless you.

Notes With Spoilers

* This is the film where both Kirk and Spock must "grow up," each in his own way, to become the heroes they are meant to be. Mission accomplished. I knew Christopher Pike had to die to make this happen, and this was done beautifully with tremendous emotional impact, but oh, the tears. I now have a full-fledged emotional hangover. [2]

* I really appreciated how they showed (rather than told of) Pike's continued physical recovery from his torture on board the Narada through the use of his cane (and his obvious comfort factor with it, as shown at the bar and the final meeting).

* How much do I love that Kirk's first instinct is to fight the attacker, while Spock's first instinct is to protect/meld with Pike? Very much. Kirk's touch to Spock's shoulder after Kirk's own breakdown proves that he realizes Pike meant nearly as much to Spock as he did to Kirk, although Spock cannot articulate this. A lovely nod to Original Series canon there. (Can I have a moment of silence for Jeffrey Hunter?)

* I'd watch the spin-off series of Captain Sulu, Intergalactic Badass.

* I love how the role of Doctor Who's Noel Clarke sets up early the "anything for your family" motif that runs throughout the rest of the film with Pike-Kirk/The Enterprise, Khan/his crew, and even Carol Marcus and her choices.

* The use of Section 31 is inspired. Oh Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Enterprise canon: I see you!

* That's how you do a Leonard Nimoy cameo. Two thumbs up.

* The inversion of Kirk's early "What would Spock do?" line later in the film with the "What you would've done" exchange between Spock and Kirk was perfection.

* A few nitpicks:
1. McCoy needed to be there at Kirk's death scene, even if he'd only been standing in the background, wringing his hands. He was owed this. It's my biggest quibble with the movie. Then again, the film desperately needed more of Karl Urban's performance, period.

2. Am I the only one who tires of the special effects? Less explosions, please. These actors and these characters deserve the face time.

3. My kingdom for the missing scene in which Benedict Cumberbatch gets to say, "To the last I grapple with thee; from hell's heart I stab at thee; for hate's sake I spit my last breath at thee." Less fitting here, perhaps, given that Kirk isn't Khan's personal nemesis, but he would've rocked those lines.

4. Peter Weller saved all of his emoting for his last few lines. Where was he the rest of the film? I have a hard time believing his Admiral Marcus was capable of talking Pike into Starfleet. That said, Marcus's flippant use of "son" against Kirk falls just as flat as it should have, compared to Pike's single, wrenching, and effective use of the word.

Over all, this is a better film than the original "reboot." I can't wait to see it again.


[1] As if this wasn't "meta" enough, there's an extra echo of the way in which the final two episodes of the second series of Sherlock paid its own homage to Star Trek II, with John calling Sherlock "Spock"; the mutual hand-raising between Sherlock and John from the roof and pavement, respectively, once it was clear this was a "death scene"; and John's choked comment at Sherlock's grave, mimicking Kirk's at Spock's funeral, that Sherlock was the "most human" soul he'd known.

[2] Spock's admission that his mind meld showed that Pike died experiencing "anger, confusion, loneliness, and fear" reminded me all too viscerally of a premonition about the end of another great mentor, Qui-Gon Jinn, dying "violently in battle, in shock and despair." (Star Wars Jedi Apprentice #9: The Fight for Truth by Jude Watson. Good grief, I am a geek, aren't I?)



( 47 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 17th, 2013 05:10 am (UTC)
Would it be remotely understandable for someone who is... I hate to confess it, but... 'Star Trek' clueless? I will feel like the only person on earth who won't be seeing this movie this weekend. I hate being left out! (Yes, I am mentally still 12.)

May. 17th, 2013 10:12 am (UTC)
Honestly, this one assumes knowledge. For it to have any impact, I'd really recommend seeing the 2009 Star Trek "reboot" and the original Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, at the very least. Even more so than the 2009 reboot, this is love letter from the fans to the 'verse itself. But both films are very easy to find (I think STII was just on TV last night); you could catch them and still get to the film this weekend!

Edited at 2013-05-17 10:13 am (UTC)
(no subject) - mosinging1986 - May. 17th, 2013 03:08 pm (UTC) - Expand
May. 17th, 2013 06:38 am (UTC)
I didn't care that much for the reboot, but you just made me determined to see Into Darkness. And I love the original series and The Wrath of Khan like mad.
May. 17th, 2013 10:15 am (UTC)
Oh, I hope you like it! I was deeply skeptical about the reboot, but ultimately it won me over. This film is better, and it views the same way a "remix fan fiction" story reads; it honors the original material and reflects a deep knowledge and love for it. I do adore Trek, and Star Trek II is my favorite of the films. I went into this one sort of holding my breath, braced to be delighted or offended. LOL!

Fortunately, this is not one of those "you don't need to see the original" works; on the contrary, the more you've seen the original, the more this will resonate and the cleverer it proves to be. At least, that's how it seemed to me. It certainly won't take the place of the original, but it would make for great back-to-back viewing!

Edited at 2013-05-17 10:19 am (UTC)
(no subject) - sangueuk - May. 19th, 2013 10:15 pm (UTC) - Expand
May. 17th, 2013 11:14 am (UTC)
I didn't care for the first reboot movie and, I have to admit, it doesn't sound as if I will this one, either (I probably won't see it until it comes to cable.) I really would have liked it if they'd gone in another direction, created a new world of their own. As it is, it just seems a new twist on an old idea. ST:TNG already did that, putting their own spin on TOS episodes. It didn't work for me that time, either.

And was any reason given for Khan being white? Montalban as least tried to look Indian.

And I'm totally with you on the special effects and explosions. I haven't been able to figure out if I'd find the movie interesting because that's all they show in the previews.
May. 17th, 2013 12:06 pm (UTC)
For me, the interaction between Kirk and Pike alone was worth the price of admission. Then the alternate scheme of how Spock and Kirk might have learned to work together and appreciate each other's strengths also worked for me. It seemed to me like a well-done remix fan fiction story, offering new character insights and drawing connections together cleverly to comment on the original text, and so that worked for me. It's not a film that stands alone on its own merits, but I can live with that. It definitely "reads" as better informed and more thoughtful than ST:TNG's rehashings, at least IMHO.

As for Khan being white, no reason was given. (There's no nod to his ancestry or origin, either; this Khan is less "exotic" than "alien.") The role had originally gone to Benicio Del Toro, who then - if I understood things correctly from news reports - pulled out before filming due to schedule conflicts. This left Abrams in a bind, and he then chose to go with the best actor he could find, period. I don't think it was a mistake. Cumberbatch's performance was one of the highlights of the film, and his Khan is so Other in body language that he comes across as something quite separate from Kirk and his contemporaries. Also, given the very clear parallels with modern terrorism - the scenes of surprise detonations and civilian reactions were almost painful to watch - I think it's perhaps an easier move for this Khan to appear as he does.

That doesn't mean that I don't see your point about Khan's ethnicity or its importance, though.

[Note: On the whole, this "terrorism" point was fairly well made. Khan has valid reasons for what he's doing now, reasons that don't diminish his culpability as a past instigator of genocide. And in the end, high-ups in Starfleet are incriminated not only for how they've manipulated Khan, but also for actively seeking war with the Klingons, a very STVI-esque notion.]

Fortunately, the film didn't fall completely into the Hobbit trap of pandering to the 3-D format (which I hate - explosions are bad enough, but minute after minute of debris coming Right At You is flat-out annoying!). It could've been a lot worse, in terms of special effects. Most of the big scenes are what you saw on the previews already. The "Will the ship fit?" ridiculousness was incredibly brief and was more of a joke than anything else. The final chase scene (Khan and Spock) went on too long, but that's the only time I rolled my eyes. And a few of the effects, such as The Enterprise rising out of the water at the very start of the film and the commandeered "black ops" ship pouring smoke and crashing toward Starfleet Headquarters, were actually quite stunning and legitimately part of the narrative.

Even so, I could've done with less of them!

I'd be very interested to know what you think when you see it.

PS. Forgot to mention a few other tributes, including Spock's ship reassignment being the U.S.S. Bradbury, and James Doohan's son Christopher once again being Transporter Officer and having a quick but key role.

Edited at 2013-05-17 12:15 pm (UTC)
(no subject) - amedia - May. 21st, 2013 04:22 am (UTC) - Expand
May. 17th, 2013 12:22 pm (UTC)
saw it yesterday afternoon. I have a serious ST love hangover!
May. 17th, 2013 12:25 pm (UTC)
YES! I seriously wore myself out with my emotional response - and that was just in the first twenty minutes! HA.

So glad to hear you felt the love, too! *hugs*
(no subject) - jan_u_wine - May. 17th, 2013 12:31 pm (UTC) - Expand
May. 17th, 2013 01:09 pm (UTC)
I'm not much a fan of the first reboot movie; except for Karl Urban as Bones, it just didn't feel like Star Trek. I'm going to see Into Darkness some time this week anyway (I'm an insatiable trekkie); I was expecting to be disappointed, but your review gives me hope.

I haven't seen Wrath of Khan in a few years, I should definitely re-watch before I head off to the theater for the new one.

Edited at 2013-05-17 03:19 pm (UTC)
May. 18th, 2013 01:18 am (UTC)
Karl Urban and Bruce Greenwood are by far my favorites of the new cast. I do hope you won't be disappointed in this one. It strikes me that it's a much better film than the first. And a recent viewing of Wrath of Khan will only add to its emotional impact.

I'll be anxious to know what you think!

I applaud and share your insatiable Trekkie-ism. :D
KHAAAAAANNNN! - alivion - May. 18th, 2013 09:26 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: KHAAAAAANNNN! - eldritchhobbit - May. 19th, 2013 12:59 pm (UTC) - Expand
May. 17th, 2013 03:48 pm (UTC)
Ooh, I remember that line from Jedi Apprentice. It was one of those lines which really made the entire series very worthwhile indeed...

(Ah yes. Star Trek! That was good too. I noticed the bit about Noel Clarke's character's choice re: his daughter basically setting up the choices everyone else makes for the rest of the movie...but as a Mickey Smith fan I was disappointed he didn't have more lines!)
May. 18th, 2013 01:22 am (UTC)
Ooh, I remember that line from Jedi Apprentice. It was one of those lines which really made the entire series very worthwhile indeed...

YAY!!! I am doing a dance right now. You can't imagine how much it tickles me that you remember that line, too, and love it.

I agree that Mickey - er, I mean Clarke ;) - should've had more lines. That said, the man doesn't need to say a thing to convey volumes. His expressions were amazing! On my second viewing today I was struck by how very much he communicates in those seconds before he drops the "ring" into the water - just wrenchingly well done.
(no subject) - sarah531 - May. 21st, 2013 04:22 pm (UTC) - Expand
May. 18th, 2013 12:11 am (UTC)
Agreed, completely and utterly agreed. Especially about Greenwood/Pike. I cried.
May. 18th, 2013 01:29 am (UTC)
Especially about Greenwood/Pike. I cried.

Oh, thank you for this. I'm glad to know it struck you the same way.

I saw it again today, and knowing what was coming, I cried even harder. I'm already waiting for the DVD so I can rewatch those scenes (the bar scene is devastatingly good) over and over again.

I noticed this second time around that Pike, breathing through clenched teeth and obviously aware he's dying, doesn't actually tear up until Spock puts his hands on his temple to meld with him. That sort of broke me into little pieces.

I also realized this time that the last voice Kirk hears in his head before he comes back to life/consciousness after his two-week coma is Pike saying, "I dare you to do better."

I'm so glad Pike and his influence were given such respect in this film.
May. 18th, 2013 07:36 pm (UTC)
I'm so glad the movie worked for you!

What absolutely makes this film, immediately, right out of the gate, and then throughout, is the remarkable and textured chemistry between Bruce Greenwood as Christopher Pike and Chris Pine as James T. Kirk. Greenwood steals every scene in which he appears, but he also draws a terrific performance from Pine, one that sells the very heart and premise of the rest of the film.

YES. So very true. Their scenes are awesome.

Pike's death wasn't as hard for me because I spent the last years writing my Draws AU epic so _my_ Pike is totally alive, but it's for a good cause in the movie, IMVHO. Kirk grows so much in it, from spoiled boy to Captain.

How much do I love that Kirk's first instinct is to fight the attacker, while Spock's first instinct is to protect/meld with Pike? Very much. Kirk's touch to Spock's shoulder after Kirk's own breakdown proves that he realizes Pike meant nearly as much to Spock as he did to Kirk, although Spock cannot articulate this. A lovely nod to Original Series canon there.

I didn't really know how to read the scene... and then I first read someone who was very critical because she interpreted the meld as purely scientific endeavor, and that Spock didn't give Pike any actual support and help during dying. It's one way to interpret it... but I'm glad you brought another perspective to it. I think I'm on the fence - I started writing a story where Spock indeed fails Pike because he tries to stay emotionally detached, and only when he faces Kirk dying, he realizes that emotions are valid in certain moments and he would be able to give that support if the glass wall wasn't between them.

Thanks so much for your beautiful entry, it made me happy and thinky :)
May. 18th, 2013 08:23 pm (UTC)
*flails with happiness*

Your kind comments deserve a longer response, but I'm on my way out, so just a quick reply for now re: Spock melding with Pike. I can imagine a reading of that scene that posits that Spock failed Pike, and I can easily imagine that Spock thinks he failed him, whether or not he really did.

For a man so concerned with morality (as later events in the film prove him to be), though, the thought of using Pike's death as a handy window into the human psyche seems ethically problematic. Asking for consent to the meld wasn't exactly a practical step at that moment, but surely Spock would recognize such an intimate intrusion would not be welcomed by a private man like Pike if it was simply a data-gathering expedition of sorts.

For that matter, he told Kirk and Uhura that when he joined with Pike he experienced those emotions, not that he joined with Pike in order to experience the man's emotions. For a precise character like Spock, that's a difference. He left his motives out of it; if anything, his comments to them suggest that he didn't want to encounter those feelings at all, but he melded with Pike anyway. (Perhaps, since Spock already knew how they felt from the loss of Vulcan, he was trying to ease those feelings in Pike, distance the man from them? That would fit with Spock's extremely shuttered, unemotional expression. I'm not at all wed to this interpretation: it's just an idea.)

I'm anxious for the novelization - I'll get my hands on it next week, the day it comes out - to see what account that gives of the scene. I can report back if you like.

All that said, on my second viewing of the film it appeared to me that, although Pike was clearly struggling and in agony, breathing through clenched teeth and well aware he was dying, he didn't actually get tears in his eyes until after Spock put his fingers to his temple. That suggested to me that, even as he was projecting his emotions to Spock, he was also getting something from Spock, as well, something to which he was reacting. I really, really like this idea, but I'll need another viewing to confirm that I have that timing down correctly. It's a fast-moving fraction of a scene!

Thanks again, my friend! You have made me so very happy and thinky, as well! :)

Edited at 2013-05-18 08:26 pm (UTC)
(no subject) - Ace Hamilton - May. 18th, 2013 09:06 pm (UTC) - Expand
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May. 19th, 2013 02:54 pm (UTC)
I have nothing much to add, but am glad to see a positive review because I've read SO MANY negative - in fact, furious - ones and I kinda liked it.

I admit it's been ages since I've watched many of the original movies (something that will probably be corrected this week), and am much less territorial about this fandom (as opposed to Star Wars or HP), but yeah, my biggest problems were too little Bones and too much fighting on moving vehicles. Minor squibbles.

Like you I absolutely adored the Kirk and Pike relationship in this one, even more than the last. My only thing I'll add is I really loved Spock and Uhura fighting - for once not as a fandom, trying to break them up scene, but rather as a tool for getting emotions out and a yeah... how would that work... scene.

But overall I just found it a fun movie!
May. 19th, 2013 10:09 pm (UTC)
I kind of agree with every word of this review and it's great that you enjoyed it as much as I did!

I like that you made sense of this: Kirk's touch to Spock's shoulder after Kirk's own breakdown proves that he realizes Pike meant nearly as much to Spock as he did to Kirk, although Spock cannot articulate this. Of course Pike did - they saved him from Nero together, didn't they? I noticed Kirk's shoulder touch, saw it as comforting but I didn't entirely get it till now. I do wish the writers had made it explicit that Spock wasn't being a voyeur but was comforting Pike.

There is never enough McCoy.
May. 20th, 2013 01:16 am (UTC)
Just saw it this afternoon, and I absolutely loved it. Not perfect, but really, really good. Ditto on the wanting more Karl Urban. He is just so, so good.
May. 21st, 2013 04:36 am (UTC)
"Where am I?"
"You're in bed, holding a knife to your doctor's throat . . . I suggest you cut the carotid artery just under the left ear."
"I like a brave man."

I kept waiting for something parallel to that--Bones had some great moments, but I wanted MORE! And I wanted that genuine personal connection that Khan made with various members of the crew, including Kirk, that charm, that "hey, I don't trust you but I can still like you" - and I don't see that as Cumberbatch's fault at all, but the script/director.

Nonetheless, it was a fun movie, if an exhausting ride. Lots of good moments, nods and shout-outs. It's interesting that you mention Sherlock because some of the nods/shoutouts reminded me of the way that Sherlock plays with the original canon. So, the brother's watch becomes the sister's cell phone, and Kirk punching in the override code to lower the other ship's shields becomes Scotty running around the bowels of the other ship turning things off.

I can't help but wonder how much resonance Kirk's death would have for someone who hadn't seen TWOK--I was not so much feeling the emotion of the scene as I was speculating what they would alter and how, what they would keep, thinking not so much, "Waaah!" as "Cool!"

* I'd watch the spin-off series of Captain Sulu, Intergalactic Badass.

Ace Hamilton
May. 28th, 2013 02:54 pm (UTC)
" reminded me of the way that Sherlock plays with the original canon"

An excellent point, amedia. If the writers weren't attempting to pull a Sherlock, they might as well have been.

Apropos of nothing, there was a short-lived TV show in the 70s called "Khan!" exclamation point included. There were only four episodes. Khigh Diegh starred. If only the show had run a full season, odds are William Shatner would have shown up as a guest star.
May. 21st, 2013 01:01 pm (UTC)
With Spoilers - move along
FANTASTIC comments. Thank you for bringing a few things to my attention that I didn't catch the first time, so I can appreciate them more during my second viewing.

Although I agree with you regarding Bones in every respect, at the same time I can understand the decision. It was absolutely the Spock and Kirk relationship that was being explored here, and the fantastic work Karl Urban would have done on a Bones reaction, even in the background, would have been as distracting as it was poignant. I think we could have handled it, though. I do love his gruff, "Stop being so dramatic..." line.

Bruce Greenwood was SO good.

I also agree about the Sulu spinoff. I am in.
May. 24th, 2013 07:10 am (UTC)
What I have noticed is Kirk's command style: Take whatever course of action is most likely to result in artful cuts and bruises to the face.
( 47 comments — Leave a comment )

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