May 26 2013

Why Star Trek Into Darkness Sucked

IntoDarknessDislikeThe latest Star Trek movie wasn’t as monumentally stupid as the last one, but it was still pretty bad.

My complaints about Star Trek Into Darkness might seem like those of a nerd showing off how smart he is, or those of a Trekkie nitpicking. Some of them are. But many of them are more significant than that. When the characters do something dumb, they’re doing it because the writers, Orci and Kurtzman, want something that seems exciting or spectacular on screen. But a writer who must make his characters stupid in order to entertain is a poor storyteller. And when an accepted rule of the ST universe is violated or a piece of technology has no limitations, the writers are employing a sloppy deus ex machina device. Again, it’s poor writing.

SPOILER WARNING: If you haven’t seen the movie yet and you want to preserve your hopes that it’s good, stop reading now.

  • The movie begins with Spock being lowered into a volcano to set off a bomb. Even in the 21st century, we have the technology for a drone or missile to deliver that bomb. The whole scenario is just hard to believe. The writers wanted the spectacle, but couldn’t come up with a credible explanation for it.
  • We’re told that the volcano will destroy the planet. I don’t buy that. I’ll believe that the planet has only one land mass and the volcano will destroy the only intelligent life on the planet, but that’s it. So why is the whole planet threatened? Because the writers wanted a short, over-the-top, easy to shout line of dialog that would presumably get the audience excited.
  • The Enterprise is hiding underwater. Even if the big E is designed to enter an atmosphere and submerge itself in an ocean, why do it? There’s no reason the Enterprise couldn’t have stayed in orbit. If you need something to be underwater for Kirk and McCoy to return to, use another shuttle and have it emerge from the water far offshore. The writers just wanted the (admittedly awesome) spectacle of the Enterprise rising from the water.
  • The bomb Spock set off was described as a cold fusion bomb. How does a cold fusion explosion freeze a volcano? They could’ve used any other technobabble they wanted; why did they have to use this? Or is it just supposed to be a joke because it has the word “cold”?
  • Khan attacks the captains’ meeting with a helicopter-like vessel shooting through the windows. Again, we can do better with today’s technology. A missile with explosives would’ve been faster and more effective. But the writers wanted a gunfight, so they had the super-intelligent Khan stage a super-moronic attack.
  • Kirk puts Chekov in charge of engineering. This isn’t as bad as in the previous movie, where the 17-year-old Chekov was at one point left in sole control of Starfleet’s newest and most powerful ship, but it was still dumb. Chekov was clearly not ready. Isn’t there a second engineer on the ship? OK, I can understand that Chekov is one of the main characters and you want to utilize him. But then let him play the part as if he’s knowledgeable and competent, not as if he’s a buffoon. Really, he’s supposed to be a genius who graduated from Starfleet Academy at the age of 17 and earned a position on the bridge of a starship. Show him some respect.
  • Kirk has orders to kill Khan by firing 72 torpedoes at him. Say what? OK, we learn later that the real purpose is to kill all 72 supermen. But imagine a military officer has been given an order to fire 72 torpedoes to kill one person. Wouldn’t he ask a few questions? Like “isn’t one torpedo enough?” And with an insubordinate officer like Kirk, who would trust him to fire all 72? If I were Kirk, I’d think “one torpedo should do the trick and it would be nice to have the other 71 in case I run into Klingons”.
  • When Kirk’s ship is chased by the Klingon ship, it looks a lot like the Millennium Falcon being chased through the asteroid field. C’mon, Star Trek is not just Star Wars with different characters.
  • Khan shoots down a Klingon Bird of Prey with a big rifle. This is a Klingon ship that’s supposed to be able to fight other spaceships with phasers and torpedoes. It would never have gone down that easily in a dogfight.
  • Benedict Cumberbatch’s portrayal pales in comparison to Ricardo Montalban’s.
  • It starts to look at one point as if Khan could be a sort-of good guy. Now that would have been interesting. A Romulan commander once told Kirk “in a different reality, I could have called you ‘friend'”. Make Kirk and Khan cautious allies against a corrupt Starfleet, and you’ve got an intriguing story that starts to explore the possibilities of J. J. Abrams’ alternative timeline. But no, the movie made Khan end up purely as a bad guy. So boring.
  • Chekov tells Kirk that he doesn’t recommend using the warp drive. Kirk does so anyway and everything works fine. So why did Chekov advise against it? Simply so that the writers could add one more frantic, suspenseful line of dialog to the movie. Thrills don’t come any cheaper than this.
  • This movie has no sense of distances in space. The previous movie had that problem too. In this case, a short trip from Kronos is all it takes to be 230 km from Earth. You can’t have the capitals of two empires (the Klingon empire and the Federation) just a couple of hours (or less) away from each other – it makes no sense.
  • Also regarding distances: Kirk, who is on the edge of Klingon space, calls Scotty, who is on Earth, with his communicator. Apparently, the communicator is a handheld, interstellar, faster-than-light communication device. In the original series, communicators were limited to calling from the surface to low orbit. If the ship was in high orbit or on the other side of the planet, it was incommunicado. This isn’t just nitpicking. If a device can do anything the writers want it to do, it becomes a deus ex machina.
  • Two starships are beating the hell out of each other while orbiting the capital planet of the Federation, and no one from Starfleet flies out to take a look, or even calls? A Cessna flying over an Air Force base would get more attention than these two warships did.
  • The allusions to “Wrath of Khan” come fast and furious at the climax of the movie. It’s cute, but it causes two problems. First, it’s distracting. Second, it just reminds me over and over that this movie, like Cumberbatch, pales in comparison.
  • The transporter is used as a sloppy plot device over and over. Spock can’t be beamed out the volcano, but Uhura suggests that she could beam in (although she doesn’t). McCoy can’t be beamed away from the bomb because the transporter can’t distinguish between him and the bomb (though it had no problem distinguishing between Spock and the bits of lava flying around him). Khan and Spock can’t be beamed up because they’re moving, but Uhura can be beamed down. The writers are arbitrarily changing the transporter’s capabilities, literally on a second-by-second basis, to serve their whims.
  • Kirk is brought back to life. Isn’t that a little lame? Now, I know what you’re thinking: Kirk dies and comes back to life all the time, so why am I kvetching now? (Actually, he doesn’t; people just think he’s dead and he turns out not to be, but Scotty and Spock have truly died and been brought back.) Well, having characters die and come back to life is justly ridiculed. It’s a cheap way to create suspense and the fact that Trek has done it in the past is a source of shame, not pride. You want to make a better Trek? Leave out the resurrections.

Gene Roddenberry tried to make intelligent TV. His universe had rules and he stuck to them. His officers were intelligent, highly trained people and they behaved that way. The new Star Trek has explicitly rejected all that – the previous movie’s marketing pitch was “this is not your father’s Star Trek”. The new movies are one sloppy plot device after another in the service of shouting, running, and explosions. They’re not what Star Trek was meant to be.



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  1. Dave92F1

    The filmmakers obviously think the audience is too stupid to notice or care about this stuff – they think movies are all about special effects and big ‘splosions.

    Maybe they’re right – I remember having similar feelings about Independence Day, and that did great at the box office.

  2. Dmfaozxer123

    I enjoyed this review much more than the film. I thoroughly disgusted by the last two J.J. Abram Star Trek films they have completely undermined the entire Star Trek franchise. I’m not a huge Trekkie and I really can care less about how every space gadget works in the Trek universe I just enjoy truly developed characters that have legitimate purpose in a story line. J.J. Abram has left almost no purpose in his characters they are just aimless bodies blowing hot air out of their lungs, running around shouting things and having random explosions near them. It’s all pure crap that all there is to it. Even the Next Generation Star Trek had some meat and bones to it, some real purpose and solid characters. J.J. Abram writes crap that’s the only way to put it, plain and simple.

  3. Mark Lechman

    Well said. I agreed with pretty much every point. I just saw the flick yesterday with my wife and we’re both old fans of the shows and movies, me more so than her. But neither of us were blown away by this movie which is the least we were hoping for. Not only is this movie a bad Star Trek movie, it’s a bad movie period. Not once did I care about any of the characters in this film, not when Spock was in the volcano, not when Kirk died, not when Uhura was about to get stabbed by a Klingon. Not once. But that’s how all of Abrams’ movies are, they’re mindless spectacles of action and effects. That worked for Cloverfield, mostly, but for Into Darkness it wasn’t enough. The movie was a big “ho-hum” and it really shouldn’t have been. I should have gone with my first instinct and stayed home to watch Dark Knight again.

  4. James

    I agree with many of these, disagree with some. But the main aspect of this movie that made me angry was Kirk’s terrible leadership. At no point in the movie was he in command of his senior officers. In TOS, if you were any member of the crew of the Enterprise, and if you were in your right mind, Kirk was unquestionably in command. He was able to challenge and stretch his crew while accepting their input. Given the passage of time between this movie and the last (where his incompetence is actually excusable and believable), he should have grown as a character, especially since he was captaining a starship. But he did not, and he demonstrated no significant growth during this movie.

    1. AlienSeth

      This is what happens a cadet is made captain, a ludicrous event in the first film which would not believably happen in ANY universe.

      A totally unqualified person might be given a position of great authority in a political system but not in a credible military organization.

  5. Mike

    Nice post. Just saw the movie last night… terrible. I thought it was incredibly boring and they cranked up the music/noise to try to keep you awake.

    The ending particularly sucked. Why did they need Khan alive… dead people don’t have blood? The blood from the other 71 could not save Kirk? Kirk was in stasis, there was no urgency…

    Other stuff:

    In the beginning of the movie, why not shut down the volcano at night?

    If Khan could just beam himself to kronos, why couldn’t the federation? Why bother having star ships at all?

    Why were they fighting on kronos? Couldn’t the klingons just beam humans straight into a brig? Hand to hand combat? really?

    At the end, how does a star ship crash into the ground/buildings and retain its general shape?

    How does Khan survive a kamikaze crash without a scratch and get beaten up by Spock/Uhura?

    The rest of the movie was just a bunch of rehashed one lines from the series… so cliche/predictable. Not a single humorous scene in the movie.

  6. Mike

    One more that I forgot (among dozens, I’m sure).

    So 71 photon torpedoes blowing up inside a star ship is not enough to disable it? One should have destroyed it.

  7. Marco Sassano

    Further blunders are: 1. the obligatory thirty seconds of rap music which MUST be in every Hollywood film. 2. There are no ships stationed around earth to defend the federation government 3. You can just walk right up to the Klingon capital encountering no resistance. 4. Enterprise proves to be as s__t as a tin can compared to “decent vessels” in the fleet. 5. Enterprise is asked to lower her shields when it’s clear “Supership” can take Enterprise’s shields down with a few well placed hits 6. Kirk’s tactically inept plan requires Super-Vulcan to come save his ass. 7. Khan and Super-Vulcan rumble atop flying vehicles ??? 8. Kirk sacrifices his life in parody of Spock’s gesture in a previous film, it’s such a surprise they manage to bring him back to life! 9. Supership has colossal corridors and passageways but doesn’t seem to need much personnel to man the ship.

  8. Matty

    If you’re going to kill a major character in a movie, it better be believable.

    What made Spock’s death so huge in Wrath of Khan was the finality of it. It took an entire new movie to bring him back and even then he was pretty messed up.

    I agree with a lot of the other posts: I just didn’t care about what was going on in the movie or with the characters.

    Also, we have to go through the whole “will Kirk pilot the Enterprise” theme all over again when there is zero suspense about it.

    I loved the original Star Trek movies and enjoyed the last new Star Trek movie but this one really disappointed me.

    1. Rikalonius

      Not only that, but Shatner admitted he was miffed when they informed him of ST III as he was told there would be no further films. He worked hard to get the proper emotional resonance from the audience, which he did, because he really believed it was Spock’s send off. None of these actors could have sold something they already knew to be untrue, i.e. Kirk’s death, which is just a silly subversion of ST: WoK anyway.

  9. monk

    comments above are “spot on!” Into Darkness was atrocious, just garbage…it really SUCKED. talk about a demolition job on everything gene roddenberry believed in. they are killing the franchise. please somebody FIRE JJ ABRAMS!!! Pull-eze!! Even Carol dropping her drawers was totally gratuitous, like everything in the movie…not a genuinely funny line, tons of crappy slapstick! ho-hum…messiah come and reboot us all!!!

  10. Greg

    I couldn’t agree more. The movie spoiled the trailer. It was possibly the dumbest star trek I have ever seen. Pity. The potential was there for something truly epic. An attack on earth by 72 superior humans. Mankind brought to the brink. That kind of thing. They didn’t even get defrosted and the villain (who was excellent) spent most of the time locked up. Huh? Instead of that we got the equivalent of a liquor store holdup. The extremely clever villain falls for the dumbest trick in the book. The storyline was boring, stupid and contrived. And what the hell did Scotty see near Jupiter! It was like watching a porn flick with stunning models but you never actually see anything.

    1. AlienSeth

      “The movie spoiled the trailer”. Great line!!

  11. Greg

    How did Khan beam himself to Kronos? Why did he bother? In fact what was the point or storyline of the whole movie? Just watched Oblivion. Excellent movie. The immediate questions you ask in the beginning are answered. They have an excellent cast for the new Star Trek but Geezez I wish they would find someone who could write a story. I mean how frigging hard can it be.

  12. Rob S

    I think you’ve gained pleasure from writing such a long critique, so the film was actually value for money in the end, wasn’t it? After seeing the previous film I had no intention of seeing this one anyway. Regarding your final remark, wasn’t Star Trek meant to be as good as Babylon Five, but changed heading towards Galaxy Quest?

  13. Jessup Arthur

    Agree 100% with everything. This movie was completely atrocious. Just got done viewing it, it was the worst Star Trek film to date.

  14. david

    Abrams never met an explosion he didn’t like. he’s never written science fiction so he doesn’t understand it and neither does his two Ivy League trained writers. I am afraid Star Trek is dead what we have now is a series of explosions held together by bad dialogue.

  15. kosh

    I enjoyed your comments more than the movie. Just finished watching it and i am so glad i didn’t spend time and money on this terrible star trek movie. As someone who grew up on TOS, the original star trek movies, and TNG, i found into darkness just painful to watch. It came off as an insulting parody of the arguably best star trek movie of all time, the wrath of khan. Every major plot element was completely predictable. Lines were outright stolen from the original. This movie was a complete abomination. KILL IT, KILL IT NOW. They really should have nuked this movie from orbit. After all, it’s the only way to be sure…

    1. admin

      Thank you, Kosh: a very comprehensible and cogent statement. You don’t usually get that from a Vorlon.

  16. dave

    Dude I could not agree with you more. How bout that entire plot? WTF Khan tried to hide his people inside the torpedos? Is that correct or was I just really stoned? I will say however, your point “Benedict Cumberbatch’s portrayal pales in comparison to Ricardo Montalban’s” I agreed with the most. Benedict Cumberbatch was AWFUL for ANY movie. “My name is…KHAN!” Versus ” I’ll do far worse than kill you. I’ve hurt you. And I wish to go on… hurting you. I shall leave you as you left me, as you left her. Marooned for all eternity, in the center of a dead planet… buried alive.”

  17. joey leroy

    Well, the thing that made Star trek stand out among everything else for me was that in ever version of Star Trek. There was always, always that scene when the characters sat down at that table and discussed the morality of their actions. Every angle was reviewed and considered. They talked out their issues in intelligent discussion. No matter how incorrect or correct a view was it was considered and respected. For me, that WAS and shall always be Star Trek.

  18. david

    Abrams is a horrible writer. I enjoyed Lost and found it to be very well written for the most part. After seeing these two Trek films I am beginning to question how much he really had to do with them. These movies are just designed to put bodes in seats and completely ignore anything that has to do with Star Trek. I guess in 2015 we will have another Star Trek film, this one featuring TNG starring Brad Pitt as Jean Luc Picard

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