So remember how I said in the “About” page that I was going to be talking about nerd stuff in this blog? Well, I’m sure all of you were just DYING to know what TheTNF thought about the new Star Trek movie! Ok, probably not, but too damn bad. Let’s do this!
We’ll get things going with the nerd point of view. Firstly, I’ll admit that I absolutely walked out of the theater going saying “OMG, that was awesome!” But, I do that for a LOT of movies before my brain has had a chance to completely digest everything I took in. Taking the movie as simply a work of science-fiction/action, I still really enjoyed the film. It’s visually stunning, well-acted, and the sound editing is excellent. The action sequences happen regularly enough to give the film energy, but not so often as to make it feel rushed. There’s good character development, some touching moments, and enough comic relief to keep it from getting depressing. So, from a strictly film-geek point of view, I call the film a total win.
However, if I take it a step further and let the Trek-geek in me have a go at it, things change. I’ll start with the good. I remain very impressed with the casting decisions for all the major characters. I think they all fit the roles perfectly, and Benedict Cumberbach manages to perform admirably as Kahn Noonien Singh despite the glaring whitewashing. Less well done is the intertextuality the film attempts to establish with Wrath of Khan. There are a few points where this is pulled off brilliantly; the fantastically inverted self-sacrifice scene with Kirk and Spock being chief among them. Unfortunately, to me, this only ends up highlighting what “could have been”. Many of the other references feel forced or just plain unnecessary (see: Leonard Nimoy’s cameo). This leads well into my second point, which is the film tried to cover too much. There’s a lot of canon here to deal with- all of WoK, plus the episode “Space Seed” from TOS. Attempting to pull in most of this material (adapted to the new timeline) leads to “cramped” feeling to the film at times, while important plot points are hurried over. Kirk’s coming back to life, much of Khan’s back story, the introduction of the Klingons, and building of the Vengeance are all areas that could have been played out in a far more detailed fashion if the writers had tried to do a little bit less with their limited screen time. It’s the detail that gives Star Trek it’s flavor, and it was so well executed in the first of the reboot films that it pains me to see it lost in the entertaining-but-flawed sequel. The result is a film that just doesn’t “feel” like a Star Trek film. So from a hardcore Trek fan point of view, the film is watchable, entertaining, but ultimately a little frustrating.
Finally, let’s give this thing a look from a feminist standpoint. In two words, it stinks. While the first reboot film wasn’t exactly brimming with female characters and included its fair share of blatant fan-service (hello, Naked Green Alien Girl), at least the one female lead maintained a strong imagine without a ton of giving in to pervasive stereotypes, and more than two women had speaking roles. We just aren’t so lucky in the second film. I’ll admit that Uhura has a few really bad-ass moments, particularly her stone-faced resolve as she deftly negotiates with the Klingons in their native language. Beyond those fleeting moments, she’s either relegated to the background, or far more insultingly used in an obnoxiously sexist joke about women’s behavior. I’m referring, of course, to her attempting to have a relationship discussion with Spock while on critical away mission. This entire exchange pained me to watch as they slowly eroded Uhura’s credibility as a professional, level-headed Starfleet officer. The writers gutted an fantastic, strong female lead character for the sake of a joke that fell flat and did nothing for the story line. But at least Nyota got a chance to BE a character, instead of a piece of alluring scenery. Because really, that’s all Dr Carol Marcus managed in this film. In the original canon, Dr Marcus is not overly developed as a character, but she’s named as the creator of the plot-critical Genesis Device (and mothers a child with Kirk). In Into Darkness, she’s an annoying stowaway who does little but provide an awkward moment of fan service in her underwear, and serve poorly as a bargaining chip. I actually cringe in my seat as they flashed her nearly naked body on screen. It was a contemptuous way to treat the only other female character is a sea of men, and the film suffered for it. While The Original Series wasn’t always at the forefront of feminist portrayals of female characters, the Star Trek franchise as a whole has been of relatively high quality in its depiction and inclusion of women. The writers of Star Trek: Into Darkness would have been wise to have kept that tradition. From a feminist point of view, the film is a dismal failure.
A last completely nerdy quibble about canon: the ending of the film appeared to contain a glaring Trek-science mistake. Star Trek canon has mentioned on a few occasions that one of the reasons that a star ship is built in, and must remain in, space is that once in atmosphere, the forces of gravity and friction would rip the ship to shreds. Essentially, they don’t have the structural stability to hold up in atmo. Now, I fully recognize that the Vengeance was very much CRASHING to earth as Khan aimed her for Starfleet HQ, but she stilled stayed largely intact through re-entry, descent, and the crash-landing. My interpretation of the canon gave me the impression that a starship in atmo would quickly break up, killing absolutely everyone on board. I fully accept the suspension of disbelief that comes from watching Star Trek, but it would be nice if they’d at least stay consistent with the rules that THEY created! But again…that’s just a geeky quibble because I’m a jerk about details, and feel free to correct me on this one!
As a final note, I have genuine hope that many of the issues in Star Trek: Into Darkness are a symptom of taking on more than could really be handled in a single film, rather than actual disregard for female characters. I’ll be anxiously awaiting the next film the franchise, and crossing my fingers from improvement.
PS: I plan on doing many more of these film reviews, taking them on from nerd, trans (when applicable), and feminist points of view. So help me name this segment! Comment below with your ideas!