The 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.