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STAR TREK--INTO DARKNESS

I’ve been postponing this review for more than a month because I’m sure my objections to this movie are subjective and personal.

But now that you’ve all made your decision to to see it or not see it, I’ll spill.

It’s fine. They didn’t make the mistake I thought they would, which was to make it too dark. (Silly me for being swayed by the title!) I always thought of the original STAR TREK as the ultimate foray into unbridled optimism, futuristic style. JJ Abrams respected that in his first movie, and I worried he’d go dark in the sequel, but he respected the optimism this time as well. So whew.

So what’s my issue?

Here’s my true confession: I loved TOS (the original series). And I disliked the follow up TV show (Star Trek: The Next Generation). Why did I dislike it? Because it destroyed everything we loved about TOS.

I didn’t watch TOS when it first aired. But when my future husband and I were in law school, the re-runs aired on TV in the afternoon, and since we needed a break around that time every afternoon, we gobbled them up. I loved those episodes. I loved Kirk, I loved Spock, I loved McCoy.  Did I dislike the portrayal of females – even female professionals – in limited roles with short skirts? Yep. It was the only thing I would have changed about that crazy series.

Fast forward to Star Trek: the Next Generation – TNG.  My kids and husband liked it, but to me, it robbed STAR TREK of its heart. Its soul. Not a fan, not even to this day.

But JJ Abrams went with the original, and in his first STAR TREK, he not only remained faithful to 95% of it, but actually fixed the 5% I hated, i.e. the portrayal of females as subordinates with long legs and limited intellects. In this first outing, JJ kept the legs but respected the whole person. Needless to say, I loved that movie.

In his sequel, STAR TREK: INTO DARKNESS, he limits the intellect of females again. And it hurts so much worse now, knowing that he did it purposefully. The Ohura who was her own person in the first installment is once again an emotional wreck. Sure, she has some skills, but mostly, she’s worried about Spock and the Captain. I call bullshit on this! Why is she almost crying?

Oh, and when they show Kirk in bed with some extraterrestrials? They are silly twins with tails. TAILS, I tell you. No other extraterrestriasl in this story are portrayed as vapid sex kittens. Only the females, and trust me, there aren’t too many females.

So I was annoyed. Then we got to Benedict Cumberbatch as the villain. Did he do a great job? Absolutely. He might have become my favorite Star Trek villain of all time if only he hadn’t carried the name of Kahn.

In Cumberbatch’s portrayal, Kahn is intellectually superior. And physically superior. So far so good. But in terms of primal superiority? Passion? The emotional control of everyone around him? No, just no. He’s not Kahn. He’s an amazing super-villain, but he’s no Kahn.

Travel back to law school with me. Ricardo Montalban played Kahn in the episode that started it all. If you’ve only seen the follow-up movie – THE WRATH OF KAHN – you haven’t seen Kahn at his best.

Kahn has primal urges. He’s the ultimate superman, not only in terms of strength and intelligence, but raw passion. It’s not politically correct, but if you watch that original episode, you can’t help but see why I was so easily swayed. We were ALL easily swayed. Not just Kahn’s followers, but the crew of the Enterprise. And seriously, not just the female crew members, although they literally drooled whenever he glanced at them. The guys were sabotaged too. Like he grabbed us all by the primal guts to the point where we would follow him literally into the bowels of hell.

It’s almost as if that early episode was saying: this super-man isn’t just strong and smart and strategically gifted. He’s super in a primal way. It’s raw, it’s instinctive, and while we no longer wish to choose our heroes on that basis, because we have learned to value democracy and reason, we can still fall prey to it, at least momentarily, when we let our guard down.

So to me, that’s Kahn. Do I think Benedict C could have projected that kind of animal magnetism if Abrams had asked it of him? No doubt. But Abrams didn’t. He relied on the movie – THE WRATH OF KAHN – and didn’t bother to do his homework

But Kahn was born in the TV series, not the movie. And frankly, those of us who loved the series were the ones that made THE WRATH OF KAHN such a hit. It was the second movie based on the series, and we all panned the first one because it rejected its roots. So then they made the KAHN movie, thus revitalizing the movie franchise and paving the way to a zillion more TV and movie portrayals.

My point? If JJ hadn’t backslid on Ohura; and if he had either (1) given Cumerbatch license to portray Kahn in all his primal glory or (2) created a new Star Trek villain for him to play, or even chosen one of the intellectual villains from the old series, like Gary whats’is-name, then this movie would have been another triumph.

As it is, it’s very good. I loved the continued faithfulness to the characters of Kirk, Spock and McCoy. I don’t love the elevation of Scotty, but I can live with it because his sidekick is so hilarious. I don’t like the glib nods to the old series – the Tribble, the dragging out of Nimoy to add nothing to the conversation, the reference to our favorite nurse – but I could live with those.

But really – Kahn? (Picture me shaking my fist and raising my anguished eyes and voice to the heavens)

If you like Star Trek, you should see this film. As for me, I’m glad I saw it, and I hugely enjoyed the interactions with Kirk, Spock and McCoy.

But unlike the first Abrams movie, which I loved in the theater and purchased the day it was released on DVD, I won’t be watching this one again.

Kate

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