Wednesday, October 1, 2014

A Ghoul Versus Star Trek: Into Darkness (Part 1)

Previously on Star Trek...

JJ Abrams, Alex Kurtzman, and Roberto Orci helmed one of the best reboots in recent times and made Star Trek relevant again in the process. Five year later it still boggles my mind how spot on they nailed almost everything, making the new series an alternate reality that's free to tell its own stories without pissing off millions of hardcore fans. If they don't like it, no worries, they can just ignore it because it's not part of the decades long continuity. Game, set, match.

Enter Into Darkness. Right off the bat, the series continued Abrams' home run streak as he signed the RABIDLY beloved Benedict Cumberbatch to play the film's main villain. Most of the movie's details were kept in secret as it sailed towards its release date of May 16, 2013, although it was painfully obvious to long term fans it was going to be a retelling of the also rabidly beloved Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

And then the movie came out. Critically and financially it was a success, scoring an 87% on Rotten Tomatoes and grossing nearly half a billion dollars on its way to become the highest grossing Star Trek movie of all time. However, among hardcore fans and Trekkies it became a movie that split the fan base. Although split may be the wrong term, as it seems to have gained far more negative reactions than positive ones. Being the Spoiler-Phobe that I am I've never read WHY so many fans didn't like this movie, but I can certainly understand why they don't like Roberto Orci.

On fan site, author Jospeh Dickerson wrote an article called “Star Trek is broken – here are ideas on how to fix it” which detailed his dissatisfaction with Into Darkness. This attracted the attention or Mr. Orci himself, who left this comment (spelling errors fully intact):

I think the article above is akin to a child acting out against his parents. Makes it tough for some to listen, but since I am a loving parent, I read these comments without anger or resentment, no matter how misguided.
Having said that, two biggest Star Treks in a row with best reviews is hardly a description of “broken.” And frankly, your tone and attidude make it hard for me to listen to what might otherwise be decent notions to pursue in the future. Sorry, Joseph. As I love to say, there is a reason why I get to write the movies, and you don't.
Respect all opinions, always, nonetheless.”

Wow, not too condescending there at all. A commenter called him out on writing a movie that relied more on action than thinking, which earned this response:

Ahmed, I wish you knew what you were talking about. I listened more than any other person behind the Trek franchise has EVER listened. And guess what? Glad I did becuase it lead to 2 biggest Trek's ever.
You think action and thinking are mutually exclusive. Ok, then. Pitch me Into Darkness. Pitch me the plot, and let's comapre it to other pitches. Go ahead. Let's see if you actually understood the movie. Tell me what happened?”

The commenter brought up how movies like Inception and Indiana Jones combined action and thinking without dumbing things down, to which Orci replied:

Shitty Dodge. STID has infinetly more social commentary than Raiders in every Universe, and I say that with Harrison Ford being a friend. You lose credibility big time when you don’t honestly engage with the FUCKING WRITER OF THE MOVIE ASKING YOU AN HONEST QUESTION. You prove the cliche of shitty fans. And rude in the process. So, as Simon Pegg would say: FUCK OFF!”

DAYMN! That escalated quickly. I will forever picture those comments next time I watch one of his highbrow and intellectual movies. I'll admit, the quantity of negative reviews from people I respect are what put me off this movie until today. I really, REALLY enjoyed the first one and the potential it offered, not wanting those feelings tarnished, but I think I've put it off long enough. Keeping Orci's questions in mind, let's board the Enterprise and get ready for A Ghoul Versus Star Trek: Into Darkness!

We begin with a fun little opening of the crew of the Enterprise saving the planet of Nibiru and its inhabitants from being destroyed by a giant volcano about to erupt by freezing it. It's standard fare that serves to catch up newcomers to our heroes and all their zany quirks, but more importantly establishes the tone this movie is going to have because NOTHING MAKES ANY SENSE WHEN YOU STOP TO THINK ABOUT IT.

Okay, so they're trying to save the natives without revealing their presence, because that would be a complete violation of the Prime Directive to not interfere in the cultures of non-members of the Federation. Fair enough, but how they go about doing it is mind-bogglingly stupid. There's some nonsense about the ash from the volcano disrupting the ship's sensors so they can't beam their freezing device inside, so they fly over it with a shuttle and drop... Spock inside to arm the device. Um wait, why didn't they just arm the device from the ship and DROP IT INSIDE the volcano?

Oh but it gets better as we see the Enterprise isn't monitoring the situation from orbit, but has submerged itself inside a nearby ocean. What. The. Fuck. The theme here is everyone except Kirk are terrified of being seen by the aliens and breaking the Prime Directive, but you can't tell me they wouldn't notice MILLIONS OF GALLONS of water being displaced by a ship that big parking right next to their temple?! To the film's credit, even Scotty comments on how fucking stupid this is, although having a character point out how stupid your movie is being doesn't EXCUSE IT for doing so.

Star Trek has never been about hard science, but it's usually had believable science that they put some effort into maintaining. Apparently no one involved in the franchise has ever bothered to research what happens when you put large objects in water, because they made the same plot hole in Star Trek Insurrection. Hmm. Anyway, we see science no longer matters in this new reboot because we learn the device Spock is using to freeze the volcano is a COLD FUSION device. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD. I am not even remotely learned when it comes to cold fusion, but even I know it generates energy and doesn't FUCKING FREEZE THINGS. This, this here is Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci at their absolute screenwriting laziness and Damon Lindelof at his highest disregard for common sense.

Oh dear, we're not only five minutes in and I'm already ranting. Yikes. Anyway, things go wrong (of course) and Spock gets stranded in the volcano with no hope of rescue. Everyone else returns to the Enterprise to rescue him, despite Spock saying numerous times they CANNOT as it'll violate the Prime Directive. He even drops the infamous line “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few”, in case you have any doubts whatsoever what movie this is going to be remaking.

Kirk, being Kirk, says fuck it and flies the ship into the volcano because a “direct line of sight” makes the transporters work through the ash... or whatever. Hey, remember that transwarp beaming thing they used in the last movie that DIDN'T require a line of sight? Why don't they just use that to beam Spock out? Or for that matter, beam the... ugh... cold fusion device in? They beam Spock out, who is as angry as a Vulcan can get about Kirk breaking the rules. Angrier in his case I suppose, as he is half human.

The film cuts to London, where a couple is visiting their dying daughter in the hospital. The father goes outside where he is confronted by Benedict Cumberbatch, who tells the man he can save his little girl. The camera loving pans in on Cumberbatch's face, just in case there are any women still conscious after his handsome visage first graced the screen. We jump to Starfleet Headquarters in San Francisco, where Admiral Pike is dressing down Kirk and Spock for their adventure on Nibiru. It seems saving the planet wasn't part of their assignment, that they were only there to observe and report. Wait... then why the fuck did Spock go along with ANY of this if Kirk's ENTIRE PLAN was breaking the Prime Directive?!? RHARRGH! I'm afraid this is going to be a very long movie, you might want to grab some snacks and get cozy.

Kirk was trying to keep this a secret, but the always truthful Spock submitted a report about what really happened. Pike yells at Kirk for his cocky and invulnerable attitude, then drops the bombshell: head of Starfleet Admiral Marcus is taking the Enterprise away from Kirk and sending him back to the Academy. Kirk understandably reacts like he's been shot in the gut, as he doesn't have a rebuttal for Pike's words.  Back in London, we see Cumberbatch make a serum out of his own blood and give it to the father, who uses it on his daughter and almost immediately her life signs begin to rise. Unfortunately the father, a Starfleet officer, now owes the enigmatic man a favour. He repays it by blowing up a Starfleet facility, but not before sending a message to Admiral Marcus.

Kirk heads to a bar to drown his sorrows, but Pike steps in before things get out of hand. He has more good news, he is now commanding the Enterprise and Spock has been transferred to the U.S.S. Bradbury. Furthermore, he wants Kirk to be his new First Officer so he can hopefully teach him some damn humility. He believes Kirk deserves a second chance, Kirk almost brought to tears by his act of kindness. Yeah, this right here? DYNAMITE acting and writing that helps to redeem almost all of the bullshit we've seen already.

Later Kirk meets with Spock to tell him about his reassignment, very angry at his friend for writing the report and “stabbing him in the back”. He tries to explain to Spock that he saved his life because he's his friend, but Spock doesn't really know how to react to any of this. They attend an emergency meeting being held by Admiral Marcus, and BLOODY HELL it's Peter “Motherfucking Robocop” Weller! I'm marking the hell out right now! How come more movies don't try Abrams' method of “cast the best actors humanly possible” thing?

Marcus details the bombing of the building in London, revealing it was a data archive. He goes over the message the officer sent him before carrying it out, saying he was forced to do it by Starfleet Commander John Harrison, shown to be Cumberbatch's character. Kirk wonders out loud why Harrison would bomb something as harmless as a data archive, Marcus ordering him to speak his mind. Kirk brings up Starfleet protocol dictating all senior officers will be gathered in the event of such a bombing, and right on cue Harrison arrives in a ship outside and starts shooting the place up. And THAT'S why Kirk made Captain in less than four years, ladies and gentleman. How lucky for Harrison the senior members of Starfleet meet in a room with huge windows above ground, eh?

Kirk channels some Bruce Willis Die Hard-level of ingenuity to take out the gunship, locking eyes with Harrison who teleports out a second later. Elsewhere in the room Spock drags Pike to safety, but he sustained a massive injury in the assault and dies shortly after. Kirk arrives, breaking down over the loss of his friend and most likely father figure.  The next day Scotty investigates the wreckage of Harrison's ship, finding a portable transwarp device that he traces to an uninhabited region of the planet Kronos, a/k/a the Klingon home world. Wow, the movie actually remembered transwarp exists! Kirk rushes to see Marcus with this information, asking for his command to be restated as well as permission to bring Harrison back. I think this scene suffered from some rewrites they never bothered to fully edit, because Kirk says only HE can go after Harrison and Starfleet can't.
What? Was Kirk actually suspended from Starfleet in a deleted scene or something? The issue here is journeying into Klingon airspace is considered an act of war, as the Federation and the Klingons haven't reached the peaceful terms they'll enjoy later on in Star Trek canon. That's fine, but why don't they just TRANSWARP to Kronos and grab him?! This is the problem with introducing magic macguffins in stories, once we're aware of them we're going to be CONSTANTLY wondering about them. Insert your own Harry Potter and the Time Turners joke here.

Marcus admits London wasn't housing a data archive, but in reality the top secret Sector 31 which is basically a futuristic version of the National Security Agency. Uh oh, this bodes ill already... Harrison was one of the top agents in this division but turned rogue for some unknown reason. Marcus agrees to let Kirk undertake the mission but with a twist: Kirk and Spock are to pilot the Enterprise to the edge of the Neutral Zone and fire Sector 31's new super advanced stealth photon torpedoes at Harrison's position to kill him. Kirk freaking AGREES to this insanity, as he is consumed with vengeance for Pike.

As they get ready to fly out to the Enterprise, Spock RIGHTFULLY points out nowhere in Starfleet law can a man be sentenced to die without a trial as well as the wrongness of firing a torpedo at Kronos. There's also a subplot brought up about how there's something wrong with Kirk's health, but he refuses to undergo tests. Kirk casually dismisses all of this, his attention now drawn to the ship's new science officer Lieutenant Carol Wallace, as she is quite beautiful AND blonde. Man knows what he likes, gotta give him that. Kirk goes over her assignment orders, finding she specializes in advanced weaponry.

They arrive on the Enterprise to find Scotty throwing a fit over the new photon torpedoes, as he can't detect what kind of fuel they use and worries they could damage the ship's warp core. He tells Kirk this is obviously a military operation now, which spits in the face of everything Starfleet stands for. Yes, yes it does. Scotty threatens to resign so Kirk calls his bluff and accepts, which shocks Scotty to the core. Damn, they are making it REALLY hard for me to like Kirk in this film anymore. I get he's consumed by vengeance over Pike's death, but like I pointed out in the first movie, revenge is NOT Star Trek's way. Scotty BEGS Kirk not to use the torpedoes and leaves his post.

The film does give us a break from all the heavy handed 9/11 metaphors to give us a scene where Kirk and Uhura are talking while on the lift to the bridge. Uhura mentions she and Spock have been fighting, to which Kirk exclaims “Oh my God! What is that even like?”. Hahah, and just like that Kirk has won me back over. Kirk finds Chekov on the bridge and informs him he'll be the new chief engineer to replace Scotty, the Russian reluctantly accepting. Although it might have been a lens flare accepting the promotion, because the bridge is as decked out in lens flares as it ever was. Whatever happened to cutting back Abrams?

The Enterprise departs for the Neutral Zone, Kirk opening a com to update the entire crew on their mission BUT adds he'll be leading a team to the surface of Kronos to capture Harrison so he can stand trial for his actions. Spock is pleased by this, offering to join his friend on the away team. Spock then heads down to engineering to talk to Wallace, as he's discovered not only were her assignment orders fake but also that she's Admiral Marcus' daughter. BOOM! You can't fool Spock, silly human! Carol Marcus was a character first introduced in the Wrath of Khan, but there she was a biologist and not an expert in advanced weaponry. I got to wondering why she'd have a different field of expertise due to Nero altering the past, but I suppose his destruction of Vulcan could have changed her interests so I'll let this one fly.

Their conversation is interrupted as the Enterprise drops out of warp, Chekov stopping the ship due to a mysterious coolant leak. Kirk gathers Spock and Uhura for his team, leaving Sulu in charge of the ship. We get a very brief but extremely hilarious Kirk and Bones moment, which really makes me sad how much this franchise is ignoring Karl Urban. There's also a fun bit where Acting Captain Sulu orders the craft Kirk will be using to be fueled up, mentioning they confiscated it after the “Mudd incident” last month. This is a reference to the universe's most awesome con man Harry Mudd, which I would have LOVED to see an updated version of. Maybe the next movie, fingers crossed.

They board a shuttle with two red shirts (one of which was one of the assholes that Kirk fought in the Iowan bar in the last movie) and blast off for Kronos. Spock detects a single life form in the area Scotty traced the transwarp device to, Kirk hailing Sulu to have him order Harrison to surrender. This is done because the Enterprise's communication systems are far more advanced than the ship Kirk is currently on, which is a great little touch.

Sulu delivers one MASSIVELY badass boast to Harrison, but gets no reply. Back on Kirk's ship, Uhura finally speaks her mind about how pissed off she is at Spock, which is about the worst time ever for such a conversation. It's played for laughs, but I really don't like what they've done to Uhura in the movie so far. First of all, she's barely been in it after being the co-star of the first one and now she's coming off really stereotypical movie female by putting relationship drama ahead of everything else. It seems like for every good thing the movie does, it does a bad thing to instantly cancel it out. Spock begins to explain his feelings for her and wins her back over, but before anything else is said they get attacked by a Klingon ship. One exciting and visually awesome chase scene later the away team escapes... only to find themselves surrounded by multiple Klingon ships. Wah wah wahhhh.

Uhura gains a fair deal of respect back by talking Kirk into not trying to fight, but instead land so she can talk to the Klingons. I don't know about you, but I'm pretty damn excited to FINALLY see the Klingons and- wait, why are they all wearing Cylon helmets? GYP! Uhura tells the Klingons the basic truth, that they're here to capture Harrison and not start any trouble. One of the Klingons must have sensed my disappointment because he takes off his helmet to speak with her, and their new redesign is... interesting. The forehead ridges are WAY more pronounced, which gives off a very striking and intimidating look. They're lacking hair, including their bitching facial hair, which I like a lot less.

The Klingon looks like he's about to attack when Harrison pops out of nowhere with a freaking LASER MINI GUN and starts mowing the aliens down. This prompts Kirk and his men to come out shooting as well, a huge shootout erupting that I must say tops the one from the first film. Harrison is a one man murder show as he single handed takes out most of the Klingons, the only way the film can make Cumberbatch look more badass at this point would've been to had him break into a killer guitar solo between kills.

Harrison approaches the away team and asks how many photon torpedoes they have, Spock replying 72. The fugitive looks horrified and throws down his gun, surrendering. Kirk accepts and then tries to knock him out tough guy style, but Harrison just looks mildly annoyed like he's getting stung by a weak mosquito. So Kirk tries it again and again for about half an hour, Uhura finally putting an end to this woefully uncomfortable scene. I'm not even sure what they were going for here, because this went on WAY too long.

Harrison is cuffed and brought to the Enterprise, where he is then thrown in the brig. While Bones takes a blood sample from their new guest, Harrison asks Kirk why the ship isn't moving and wonders if it isn't related to an unexpected problem with the warp core. HMMM. Are you getting a “captured on purpose” vibe here as well? Spock warns Kirk not to listen to Harrison, but Kirk is intrigued by his words. Harrison gives him the coordinates to a location not far from Earth, telling him he'll find all the answers as to why the bombing happened there. Kirk asks why he should believe any of this, Harrison replying that Kirk should open up one of the photon torpedoes.

We return to San Francisco, where Scotty and Keenser (who also resigned) are getting their drink on in the club. Kirk calls him from a communicator- whoa, HOLD ON. Communicators have THAT far of a reception?! HOLY SHIT! I NEVER want to hear any kind of issue out “out of communicator” range ever again in these movies. Kirk gives him Harrison's coordinates to research, as well as apologizing for the whole torpedo incident. Kirk enlists Carol's help to open one of the torpedoes, as she reveals she lied her way onto the ship because she's curious about what they are.

But, since this is a movie with the Alex Kurtzman/Roberto Orci brand of writing I've come to know and loathe, things get sexy as Carol STRIPS DOWN TO HER UNDERWEAR FOR NO GOOD REASON. Yes, she's insanely hot but no, this ISN'T Transformers. Did they get confused which movie they were writing? They write so many movies nowadays, I can understand how this was actually supposed to be a Megan Fox scene from Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen or something.  So yeah, that's the scene, she takes off her clothes and the scene ends. They don't even show her putting on a space suit or whatever the hell she was doing there. It's going to take a LOT of Cumberbatch to redeem the film's dignity from this depth, because this just sunk it about as low as you can go.

Carol takes the missile to a nearby planetoid to open it while Chekov calls Kirk from engineering, having found the source of the core's problem. He's found the leak and is in the process of repairing it, but has no idea how it could have occurred. Kirk knows it wasn't his fault, and... can I just stop things right here? I REALLY hope the movie has some kind of crazy twist planned, because right now the story is painfully obvious what's going on. Admiral Marcus, who thinks war with the Klingons is inevitable and wants to flex his military muscle, set this WHOLE THING UP to get the gears of war a rollin'. His intent was for Kirk to attack Kronos, get stuck in space just long enough for the Klingons to find his ship, and kick off the space war to end all space wars. I just know this is going to end in some clumsy metaphor about terrorism and Iraq and 9/11 and whatever else they can cram in here.

We join Carol on the planetoid for the missile dissection, Bones accompanying her as she needs his surgeon hands to help with the delicate undertaking. Sure, why not? As nonsensical as that is, it gives us more Bones so I ain't complaining. Bones is in rare form here as he OWNS the scene and GODDAMN the next movie better be centered around him! They open the missile and find a cryopod with a frozen man inside, as I BURN my Trekkie card because I no longer have the right to call myself a Star Trek fan. In the original series, Khan had 72 devoted followers, something I am deeply ashamed I missed out on so point to the writers here.

Scotty and Keenser fly to Harrison's coordinates, finding them to be near Jupiter. They find a gigantic space station hovering there, sneaking inside to find something that drops Scotty's jaw. So... there's no security or defense system or anything on this hidden military facility? They just stroll right in, in plain sight totally undetected? Alrighty then! The film goes back to the Enterprise before we can find out what they find, the cryopod back on the Enterprise with Bones studying it. He announces the technology is beyond him thus he can't open it without killing the man inside. Carol tells him he's wrong about it being advanced, it's actually 300 year old technology. Kirk returns to Harrison to get the full narrative, which matches up with Khan's origin from the TV show.

The difference here is Marcus personally woke up Harrison to help him with Sector 31, which came into life after the destruction of the Twin Towers- I mean Vulcan. Harrison says his name is really Khan, which is accompanied by just the right amount of dramatic music. Although if you're not a Trekkie that reveal would mean absolutely NOTHING to you.  A quick back story on Khan if you're curious, as he's a character with nearly fifty years of continuity behind him who first appeared in the 1967 Star Trek episode “Space Seed”. The 1982 film the Wrath of Khan was a DIRECT continuation of this story, which has a BOLD decision to say the least. Remember, this was long before the era of the internet and home video, so basing your movie on a fifteen year old episode that a lot of the audience likely never saw was a huge gamble. Thanks to one of the finest scripts ever written and lots of Academy Award-snubbed acting, Paramount pulled the movie off and created not just one of the best sci-fi movies ever made but one of the best period.

In the 1990s, the world was being torn apart by the Eugenic Wars, an era where genetic engineering and breeding created a super intelligent and super strong race of humans. Khan Noonien Singh, one such person, rose to power and took over a large part of the world, ruling for several years until he was deposed. He and his followers were sentenced to death for their actions, but they escaped and fled into space where they put themselves into cryogenic sleep. They did this because interstellar travel couldn't accommodate life at this point, so freezing yourself was the only way to travel ala the Aliens franchise.

In 2267, Khan's ship is found by the Enterprise, his cryopod accidentally activated during the discovery. He goes on to try to take over the Enterprise, but Kirk is able to outwit him and put a stop to his latest quest for power. Kirk sentences Khan and his men to a nonpopulated planet called Ceti Alpha V, where they're free to build their own world.  Eighteen years later the Wrath of Khan happens, where we learn the Ceti Alpha V was turned into a desert due to a cataclysmic event in the solar system, killing almost all of Khan's followers and driving him quite mad in the process. This leads to an epic showdown with Kirk and the Enterprise, ending in one of the most shocking moments in movie history.  Back to the review, we learn Marcus enlisted Khan to help him build a fleet of new warships and new weapons to fight the uncertain times ahead... because who would know advanced technology better than a man from 300 years ago?

Khan grew resentful of being controlled so he turned on him. Khan details Marcus' plan to have the Enterprise fire the torpedoes on Kronos while the Klingons would find the stranded Enterprise and declare war. Khan's twist was that he hid his friends inside the torpedoes to smuggle them away from Sector 31, but Marcus discovered this and the two had a falling out. Khan escaped, under the impression Marcus had the cryopods destroyed with his allies still inside of them. This was his justification for his murderous actions, sorrow filled revenge because he truly cared about his friends. WOW. Get all of that? Don't worry if you didn't, we'll be going over this is GREAT detail at the end of this thing.

Click here for Part 2!