Do you remember in You're a Good Sport, Charlie Brown where Charlie Brown won Pro Bowl tickets in a bike race but it ended up they couldn't afford to give him the Pro Bowl tickets, so they instead gave him a certificate for five free haircuts? And then Charlie Brown laments that even when he wins he loses because his dad's a barber and he hardly has any hair to cut anyway? Remember that?
That pretty much sums up my entire day.
It got so bad that, on my way back from running errands in town, I swerved off the road to the movie theater just so I could be distracted for a couple hours. I didn't even care what I watched.
Much to my delight, the next film playing was Star Trek Into Darkness. I was planning on waiting to see it in IMAX but, at this point, I just didn't care...
Overall, I thought the movie was excellent. It was action-packed and oh-so-beautiful to look at. This is the first time I can remember watching an effects-laden film where half my brain wasn't analyzing the special effects shots. They were all executed so flawlessly that there was nothing to really analyze. That went a long ways to taking the edge off of some story points that bothered me, and pushed my love of the film to an A rating.
It's impossible to discuss the finer points of Star Trek Into Darkness without spoilers, so I've put my thoughts in an extended entry...
Seriously, don't read any further until you've seen Star Trek Into Darkness... it's well worth your time, and you don't want anything to ruin it for you.
To begin I should probably say that I did my level best to avoid absolutely any and all information on this film. I didn't even read reviews for fear that something would be given away. I wanted the purest possible experience, untainted by mere mortals. I saw a couple commercials which were sufficiently vague, but that's about it.
That being said, I experienced absolutely zero surprise when Benedict Cumberbatch's character "John Harrison" was revealed as Khan Noonien Singh. What did surprise me... and surprise me very much... was the extent to which the reboot "Star Trek 2" mimicked the original Star Trek II in which Khan first appeared. But I'll get to that later.
The movie begins on a stunning planet covered in luscious red vegetation where Kirk and McCoy are being chased by equally stunning aliens in vibrant yellow clothing. As I said, this movie is jaw-droopingly beautiful to look at, and it starts from the very first frame. The reason they're here is so Spock can deliver a "cold-fusion" device to a volcano which is going to destroy all life on the planet. That's when Things Go Terribly Wrong and Kirk has to violate Starfleet's sacred Prime Directive of noninterference to rescue Spock from being barbecued. This results in him being decommissioned, losing the Enterprise, and having to go back to Starfleet Academy for further training.
As far as set-ups go, it wasn't bad at all.
But obviously we can't have the movie's star character kicking around on boring-old earth, so Kirk's decommissioning lasts all of two minutes. After a terrorist bombing by Starfleet renegade "John Harrison" which results in an attack on Starfleet Headquarters in San Francisco, all sins are forgiven and Captain James T. Kirk is in the captain's chair once again.
From there the story is fairly straightforward. Kirk is sent to kill Harrison... but Harrison reveals that his true identity is Khan and everything isn't quite what it seems... insert gratuitous skin, tragedy, and a boat-load special-effects here. The end.
Well, kinda. There are a few points that stand out...
- Doctor Carol Marcus is delicious. I mean, seriously. I don't care how gratuitous and sexist it was to have Alice Eve standing around in her underwear, this was a bold choice by J.J. Abrams, and I completely stand by it. I mean, just look at her!
- Doctor McCoy was criminally under-used. My hands-down favorite character in the reboot is Karl Urban as Dr. "Bones" McCoy. The guy just nails his role, and every minute McCoy is scene-stealing on the screen, I'm smiling from ear-to-ear. But those moments were way too scarce this time around. It's almost as if the original trifecta of Kirk-Spock-Bones has been unceremoniously dumped in favor of a Kirk-Spock-Uhura thing. Not that I don't love me the Zoe Saldana as Uhura, but McCoy has got to be more of a featured player next time around or I shall be very cross indeed.
- Chekov's lament. It sounds weird to say this, but I'm just going to come out with it... Anton Yelchin's take on Pavel Chekov is fucking delightful. But this film pretty much tosses him aside. It's as if they didn't know what to do with him, so they just pulled the whole "substitute Scotty" idea out of their asses and then proceeded to marginalize him at every turn. Well, dammit, FIND SOMETHING TO DO WITH HIM! In the first film he wasn't a major presence, but at least what he contributed actually mattered! It's such a pity that the writers got so lazy with a character that has such huge potential. Yes, not everybody can be a featured player, but surely you can do better than this?
- Peter Weller needs to be in more films. I'll always love Weller as Robocop and Buckaroo Banzai, but his rather small part in Into Darkness was surprisingly smart and added a gravitas that was critical to the end-game of this film. Peter Weller ain't done with movies yet. Not by a long shot.
- Spock and Uhura are a surprisingly awesome couple. In the first film, I thought the romance angle was a gratuitous fan-pleaser that felt tacked-on to the story. But this time? The writers clearly have a handle on how the Spock/Uhura relationship fits into the grand scheme of things. It enhances the story and adds a reality element that is very much welcome... no matter how odd it ultimately plays on screen.
- Khan's master plan was not so masterful. A 200 year-old super-being brought out of cryogenic sleep to build modern weaponry is already inexplicable enough. But toss in Khan's "superior intellect" deciding that the best way to get his fellow genetically-enhanced friends out of Starfleet was BY TURNING THEM INTO MISSILES and it's enough to make your head explode. He had access to all that technology and is super-smart, but couldn't build a transporter or something? It's just crazy, man.
- Spock calling Spock! Spock calling Spock! Ultimately Khan's plan to pummel the Enterprice to space dust is thwarted because new Spock had the smarts to call old Spock and find out just how big a bastard Khan really is. This gives him time to prepare a big surprise that seems so pitifully deus ex machina as to make Harry Potter books look like Tolstoy.
- Bean me up, Captain! And speaking of deus ex machina... the whole Scotty storyline that was blatantly shoe-horned in to provide a last-minute escape? More than pitiful. Contrast and compare the way Kirk escapes from Khan in the original to the way Kirk escapes from Admiral Marcus. One is skill, experience, and intelligence. The other? Sheer dumb luck.
- Destructive entertainment. When Khan inevitably and expectedly escapes at the end (after half his ship was blown up), we get glorious (if not gratuitous) shots of the USS Vengeance destroying a huge chunk of San Francisco. There was no purpose to this... absolutely none... except to provide explosions and eye-candy for the audience. I'm not complaining... again, beautiful... but is it too much to hope for that such scenes actually pay off as a story element?
- Truth and consequences. One thing that makes the Star Trek reboot kinda lame is how the writers are able to say "Because of Nero and his Romulan friends disrupting the timeline in the first movie, THIS WAS ALLOWED TO HAPPEN!" But why do they bother? I'm guessing because they want to keep long-time Star Trek fans happy by acknowledging that the old continuity actually existed... but it feels more like a lazy excuse to play in the original timeline sandbox as opposed to coming up with something fresh. Make no mistake... I love that they are bringing back so much familiar stuff... especially the alien races... but stop feeling the need to explain your reinterpretation of the material in such a useless manner.
- Lather. Rinse. Repeat. Which brings me to the ending, which is basically a complete re-hash of Star Trek II but with Kirk dying instead of Spock. Look, I get it. If you're going to rob something, rob from the best. Star Trek II is a much-beloved film by Trek fans, and it only makes sense to play it safe and get everybody onboard for the reboot. BUT WHYYYYYY?!?? We've already seen that film! You've got an entire universe of possibilities, so would you please take advantage of that next time? Fans just want more Star Trek... it doesn't have to be the SAME Star Trek to make them happy.
- You're dead, Jim. If you're going to kill off Kirk, you'd better make it a worthy death. Luckily, THIS Kirk fared a hell of a lot better than the original Kirk did in that respect. Then again, it was copied from one of the best deaths ever in Star Trek II, so what else could you expect? But I digress. If you're going to bring Kirk back from the dead you'd better have an even more worthy explanation. Instead we get... KHAN'S MAGICAL HEALING BLOOD! On the surface, this is no less hokey than Spock rejuvenating on Planet Genesis but, when you dig deeper, it just feels so much cheesier and unearned. I hate to keep using the phrase deus ex machina, but Star Trek Into Darkness had so many random coincidences built into it for solving the Big Problems that everything just felt so contrived in the end. Does it diminish the film as a whole? Hell no! This was balls-to-the-walls action and a fantastic sci-fi action flick! But do I expect better from the creative talents playing at this level? Yes. Yes I do.
Ultimately, I loved Star Trek Into Darkness.
With such huge potential for failure when building upon one of the most beloved genre properties of all time, my hat is off to J.J. Abrams and crew for once again pulling off the impossible... making THIS hardcore Star Trek fan very happy.
Here's hoping whomever takes over the director's chair as J.J. is off playing with Star Wars is up to the challenge of doing even better next time.