reflectedeve: Pearl from Steven Universe, in a tux and top hat (everything old is new again)
[personal profile] reflectedeve
Oh, hallelujah. Tonight I am going to have an evening to myself for the first time in a (very intense) week. I'm FINALLY about to watch the Elementary finale (and Doctor Who, I guess; I have seen NO reactions to that, what is up). And work on COMICS again. I have the itch in my fingers.

Last night, though, I went to see Star Trek: Into Darkness, and ... well. Okay. There were some lovely character moments in there! FEELINGS included. And some pretty decent suspense, entertaining action, and some lovely set and costume design ... but I left feeling frustrated. Where the 2009 film was an exhilarating experience (with a set of problems that I was comfortable compartmentalizing away, to be analyzed and acknowledged later), this was the kind of disjointed mixed-bag experience that I'm all too used to having, especially on the big screen.

Anyway, apparently I have more thoughts and feelings than I realized, and this post got long and ranty. If you want to focus on the squee, probably just scroll on by.

I guess I'm kind of grateful that I had to wait to see the film; I'm not sure I would have liked to be surprised, in this case, nor do I particularly regret being a little pre-biased. I don't recall reading anything about JJ Abrams' opinions on Star Trek the last time around; learning that he found it "too philosophical" and was trying to make it more "accessible" to a broad audience (a contemporary fast-paced Hollywood action!scifi audience) was a useful forewarning. The ending of the 2009 film might otherwise have left me with a very different set of expectations; I remember being so excited to see this version of the crew take on the five year mission. Exploring new worlds and seeking out new life and new civilizations! With contemporary special effects that would allow for more truly alien experiences! (Keeping up with original Trek's commitment to a progressive view of the future--updated into pushing today's standards--was probably too much to hope for, but you know. Fingers crossed?)

I mean, I suppose I already knew from the trailer that we weren't going to be getting that focus, but I might still have held out some hope. I was a little excited about the wacky red landscape of the first planet (because of course, they totally didn't show us the disappointingly awful, unimaginative "natives" in any of the previews I saw). As it was, I was actually kind of surprised that the movie actually made a stab at self-awareness about its choices: we're explorers, not military!

The trouble is, if you're going to make a movie about how Starfleet is an exploratory organization, or even a "peacekeeping and humanitarian armada" (as the first movie had it), being perverted by jingoistic forces from within ... you need to spend more time establishing that identity first. A better-written iteration of the Into Darkness concept might have made a better third nuTrek movie, I think. As it is, I think that impact, that philosophical conflict ... which probably should have been the very heart of the movie (interwoven with the personal philosophical conflicts of the characters) ... was severely diluted. And I think that's what bugs me about this movie even more than that whole sense that "this isn't what Star Trek is supposed to be about:" I got the persistent impression that this movie, internally, just didn't know what it was supposed to be about. The whole thing felt like a massive jumble of misfiring plot elements and attempted emotional moments.

For one thing, whatever Abrams might say about accessibility, the nuTrek movies are nothing if not dependent on the original series for emotional impact and plot comprehension. They bend over backwards for it: the entire existence of Spock Prime as a major plot element is intended to transfer all kinds of significance and emotional depth to newly-forming relationships and plot threads. In the first movie, it's not enough that just about anyone with a modicum of cultural literacy KNOWS that Kirk and Spock need to become friends: Spock's alternate universe future self solemnly whacks us (and them) over the head with it repeatedly. (Not that I minded, because I value that sense of history, but it wasn't exactly SUBTLE.) And (to my complete surprise, because I thought Nimoy had "retired"? I must be out of the loop), they brought him in again to do just that with Khan, but much less effectively.

God, Khan was badly handled on every level. For all the attempted secrecy about his identity, prior to the film's release, they totally squandered its impact in the film. Nearly everything that was supposed to give him significance was entirely based on explication: he tells us that his primary motivation is the wellbeing of his crew, but we never meet (and barely see) any of them, or learn anything about them. We barely even learn anything about the history they come from; the Eugenics Wars are barely referenced, and only in order to drive home that Khan is scary superhuman. So much of the significance of his character in the original series/film is that he represents a deeply fucked up, complex connection to the history of the civilization that came to produce Starfleet. That would have tied in beautifully with the whole idea of an Admiral trying to pervert Starfleet's purpose from within, a warmongering conspiracy which derives from the dark, violent past that Starfleet was created to redeem. I'm sure it was intended to do just that, but it was completely flattened.

"Flat" applies to a lot of things in this movie, frankly. Especially the villains! Admiral Marcus had no nuance whatsoever: I guess they implied that he was insanely fixated on starting a war because he thought it was inevitable (and wanted to be in a position to win), but that wasn't well-emphasized. His sheer bloodthirstiness--"I was never going to spare your crew"--was inexplicable, and so was Carol's assertion that she couldn't believe "the man who raised her" would do such terrible things. They tried to use his connection to Carol, and to Pike, I guess, to make it sound like he wasn't just a completely cookie-cutter evil mastermind, but nothing about his performance backed it up.

And look, I think Benedict Cumberbatch is probably a pretty good actor; I have a lot of issues with Sherlock, but that's not really his fault, and I'm sure that eventually he'll be in a role where I can appreciate him. But his Khan was (along with being, you know, WHITEWASHED) ... devoid of personality. I mean sure, he was cold and scary, but that was it, full stop. Ricardo Montalban's character was full of nuance; he was brilliant and "savage" and saw himself as superior, sure, but he was also charming and believably emotional. Cumberbatch might as well have been a(n admittedly somewhat suave) robot who was fixated on his crew as an essential means to his evil ends, and used the whole "family" line in a completely cold attempt to manipulate Kirk. (I don't quite believe that, but mostly because of baggage from the original version of the character!) And even then, his whole sense of purpose was deeply unclear throughout: he was clearly always going to betray Kirk, but the movie never gave us a particularly good idea of why. The fact that Khan's endgame, beyond reviving his people, was to take over/exterminate the "inferior" was an aside, an afterthought, barely even hinted at by his earlier assertions that "I am better ... at everything." Which was chilling! But I needed more than that.

All these pieces could have been tied together into something fairly compelling (even if it's not the Star Trek I want), but the movie just didn't do the work. So many plot elements were just ... hamfisted and random. "We are having an intense conversation here - oh hey, what's with that dead tribble?" Seriously? SERIOUSLY? Worst foreshadowing ever. (The bit where Khan revived the little girl with his blood at the beginning, on the other hand, was actually pretty good. And a good hint at his identity, and the significance he and his past should have had! Which they could have called back to so much more subtly. It would have made sense for Bones to just be examining his blood/genetic makeup once they learned who he was, and it would have been less clunky, but hey, badly-managed fanservice!) And the whole thing with Pike earlier on, with the scolding/redemption/inevitable-mentor-death ... it was so predictable, but at the same time, felt so dashed off to me. I cared a lot about Kirk and Pike's relationship in the first movie, but it (again) fell really flat, felt wasted.

Which is the other thing: the character arcs were almost as all over the place as the plot. In the first movie, we get to see Kirk and Spock grow and change through extreme circumstances, the beginnings of a progression (and partnership) I expected to continue: Kirk learning some sense of responsibility and focus (while still maintaining that flexibility and edge that make him 'special' in the service), and Spock developing an ability to connect with others and work with them (while continuing to ground Kirk and utilize his impressive analytical skills and rationality). It also makes sense to me that a second movie would show them--especially Kirk--fucking up that progression! It's both an effective and a true-to-life storytelling choice, to have the characters fall back on old flaws and suffer for it, only to emerge better. But the movie didn't give that enough time or care. We get dumped in at an indeterminate point in the Enterprise crew's collective career, and immediately we get reckless!Kirk and all-by-the-book!Spock, with, again, little enough in the way of nuance (there's no time for it, after all, we're in medias res). And I mean, I enjoyed the hell out of their dynamic during the action! And Kirk in a classic scrape, more or less! I was all set to love the callback to TOS plots, the "whoops, the Prime Directive" and damage control. But then: racist boringly humanoid aliens and a Kirk who doesn't even take responsibility for his actions afterwards. Gah.

So there you go: Kirk hits what you would think would be rock bottom (although of course, it turns out that rock bottom = death) rather early in the story, losing his ship, disgraced! That's a thing the movie could have worked with in so many ways: Kirk could have snuck, charmed or finagled his way back into space (or the impending Situation) in any number of ways. He's a genius, after all. Instead, Pike hands him a position with very little explanation and then conveniently dies. (I think this would have worked rather better if the disgraced Kirk had managed to struggle his way back in, in the aftermath of tragedy, even if that would have been a little repetitive. But anyway.) So now Kirk's arc is going to be about revenge, and learning (once again) responsibility in the face of that flavor of impulsive recklessness! Which would tie in nicely to a plot about violent, simplistic solutions and a society that needs to relearn the importance of diplomacy, morality and a more complex approach! Especially when Kirk, sent all too easily on his revenge mission by a higher authority, discovers mid-stream that said authority represents conspiracy and immorality, all while using the people he cares about as a disposable tool. In seeing the implications of that broader corruption, he rethinks his own motives and employs his characteristic rebelliousness in the service of the true greater good, opposing the Admiral and teaming up with Spock to re-embody the things Starfleet should be!

I think the movie was trying to do that? But it didn't really work for me, at all. Not with the way they failed to develop Khan, the Admiral, the historical relevance of the Eugenics wars, or even the implications of ... say ... killing off a bunch of Klingons. (A species who, by the way, we never learn anything about in either nuTrek movie. They're just ... bad and threatening, and something about honor, according to Uhura. Again, relying on some knowledge of the older versions? And we don't wanna fight them because ... war is bad, even with Evil Aliens?) Hell, we never even find out if there are any actual consequences for that. Everyone seems to completely forget the Klingons once they start fighting Khan, not just in the heat of the moment but right up through the end. In fact, at the end, nearly all the broader context for the plot just dissipates: Kirk's speech is essentially that he has learned that Revenge Isn't Useful, and he's rewarded for this epiphany by getting that five year exploratory mission that was sort of mentioned offhand at the beginning. (Which would have been effective, if this movie/new series had spent any time on What Starfleet Is About.)

Given a few rewrites, and some slightly different character choices, it could have been much better. But as it is, and considering how much I love the first film, I am terribly disappointed.

However, ON THE BRIGHT SIDE, I was quite thrilled with the Kirk/Spock dynamic (except for the part where Kirk lied on a report and was pissed at Spock for being honest, meh). While I didn't feel as though Kirk's arc was handled well, we did at least get to continue seeing that partnership develop. There was bickering, and frustration! And Kirk understanding and listening to Spock's points about justice and morality instead of his own revengy urges (even though I thought they could have put a bit more work into that). I loved the reverse death scene to itty bits, and that alone would have made seeing the movie worth it. And I managed, somehow, to be unspoiled for that!

In general, in spite of plot issues, most of the cast had a chance to shine. Quinto's Spock continues to be a joy to watch. I liked the fact that Uhura had her chance to be badass and use her communication officer skills ... and I liked her having relationship fights with Spock that totally echoed Kirk's (although I wasn't especially satisfied with the resolution, such as it was). I still want all the OT3 fic.

Also, CAPTAIN HIKARU SULU. Ugh, he was fantastic (and John Cho is becoming one of my favorites, with all the speaking up he's doing about representation). I really liked Carol, even though her relationship with her father was frustrating, and it was good to have more than one female character on the main cast. I hope she gets more to do that isn't just becoming a love interest (and I am generally pleased that she hasn't, yet). Scotty was also BADASS in the best way, ugh, and even Chekov got a great little moment to shine. I just wish they'd given everyone a little bit more to do, made the film a little more ensemble-focused. (Which just takes me back to feeling like this should have been the third movie. We need some time to get to know and appreciate the crew of the Enterprise working together.)

I did also REALLY enjoy the various future!Earth settings and peeks at civilian technology and fashion that we got to see. If the new series wanted to take us out of the Starfleet-centric focus and into off-duty life a bit more, I'd really be okay with that. Worldbuilding, guys! It's the future! Let's have some fun with that?

I am curious to see (if much less confident about) where the franchise might be going next. For all my frustration ... the film explicitly ends with the start of the five year mission, and they at least paid lip service to being "explorers, not military." Maybe we can have exploration, wonder, and diplomacy now? Maybe?
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reflectedeve: Pearl from Steven Universe, in a tux and top hat (Default)
Lilith

March 2017

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