Star Trek into Darkness, which I swear we’re all typing correctly, is good. It’s a good film. It’s fun, packed full of great action sequences, and Michael Giacchino’s soundtrack is beautiful as always. So, if that’s what you’re looking for, then you’re in luck and you will absolutely love this movie. If you’re a Trekkie outside of J.J. Abrams’s reboot film series, then your reaction might be somewhat mixed. So, let’s talk about why – but first you have to beware spoilers. Nothing is off limits, and Abrams proved that.
So, first I want to sing some praises. I really loved this movie. It’s fantastic and I think it’s a great sequel to the first Star Trek in the reboot franchise. I really liked this movie, for all the reasons mentioned above. It was fun, smart, funny, looked beautiful, sounded beyond amazing, the acting was great, and (for the most part) the writing was fantastic. With all of that being said, I do have three rather large problems with the film that don’t hinder my enjoyment of the movie, but they do make me uneasy and downright angry, and maybe you feel the same.
Here’s what my biggest problem going into Star Trek into Darkness was: John Harrison? Yeah, he’s Khan. And Benedict Cumberbatch, despite being a fantastic actor who totally killed the part, is white. The internet kind of busted open Abrams’s mystery box. But here’s where we stand: J.J. Abrams and company whitewashed one of the most iconic villains who stood for something utterly amazing in popular culture at the time of his inception, and still holds great meaning today. Khan is a genius. He’s Captain Kirk’s ultimate enemy – the only person who has the capacity to defeat our hero, Jim Kirk. He’s one of the first characters of color to be a genius in popular media, and that was in 1967. “Space Seed” is one of those really, really important episodes of television. We’re talking about a show that Martin Luther King, Jr. found to be so important that he begged Nichelle Nichols not to leave because Uhura was just too essential to the civil rights movement – she was a symbol. And you know what? So was Khan. Kirk accepted Khan’s intelligence. The heteronormative (which I would love to talk about, now that we’re in a more queer-friendly world), white, male protagonist of a television show respected a POC, and acknowledge him as an equal. An equal.
So, essentially Star Trek into Darkness decided that it didn’t matter if Khan Noonien Singh was a POC anymore – even though they had four non-white actors be considered, publicly, for the role. I’m sorry, but that is fucking bullshit. Khan is not white. And please do not even try to pull, “But I bet Benedict was the best actor who auditioned,” because yeah. Okay. Benedict Cumberbatch is a fucking great actor – that’s not what I’m saying. What I’m saying is that there are a ton of great Indian actors who could have played Khan, and who would have done a fucking amazing job. Sendhil Ramamuthy, who played Mohinder on Heroes is a great actor, and Naveen Andrews, who played Sayid in Abrams’s LOST is also fantastic. I mean, just for easy examples. So why then, did they cast a white actor in such an important role for a person of color? It would have made way more sense to have the character be Gary Mitchell from “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” and it would have been way more interesting. I mean hell, Gary gets alien powers, so the writers could have easily spun that to make the super soldiers if they really wanted. They didn’t have to do the Eugenics Wars, which happened before the alternate timeline split, by the way, making Khan’s race unchangeable. Instead, though, we have a white Khan, no real understanding of the Eugenics Wars, and way too many references to the greatest Star Trek movie in the entire franchise – a comparison that never works particularly well for anyone.
Coming out of Into Darkness I gained two more big problems. The first is the lack of women in this universe, and the
second is how utterly unjust and cheap Kirk’s revival felt. So, let’s talk about the ladies of Trek first.
It’s the future. So, where are the ladies in power? I mean sure, there are actually a lot more women in the background doing things at Starfleet than I expected there to be, considering how people assume that Star Trek is a male dominated fanbase (hint: it’s really not). And yes, there were actually a lot of women seated at the table of captains and first officers, but only one of those women actually got to be on the screen, at least in a really noticeable capacity. So, there are basically two female characters in the entire film. The beautiful and, as always, amazing Lt. Uhura, and the newly introduced Carol Marcus. And do you know what they talk to each other about? Nothing.
The only interaction that Uhura and Carol have is Lt. Uhura yelling Dr. Carol’s name. And that is, quite literally, it. So, despite the fact that they could have totally had two women at least talk to each other, they didn’t. Lt. Uhura, however, was 100% utterly fantastic. Zoë Saldaña has always been, and will always be, the perfect young Uhura, and her writing and acting in this film was beautiful. Her interactions with Mr. Spock were so amazingly well executed, I started to wish for a movie of just their relationship – I would be happy with something so simple as long as the writing was at the same level. My only irritation of her came from a single shot, which is less annoying than Dr. Carol being in her underwear (something I’ll come back to). Instead of doing an over-the-shoulder shot while the crew is on Kronos, there’s what I can only call a “beside-the-butt” shot. So, male-gaze? Check.
Dr. Carol Marcus is a really, and I do mean really, important character. And yeah, okay, a lot of that importance came from the simple fact that she gave birth to James T. Kirk’s only known son – so her story arc is, generally, male based – but she has the potential to be fantastically amazing. I don’t think they really let her be as great as she could have been, though. Her writing was fine and Alice Eve is a great actress, but I just didn’t think the writers really utilized her. She sort of just fell into what she always was: an important pawn for the men to play with. You have a female character with a PhD in weaponry and she effectively has one really cool scene with Bones, gets her leg broken, and strips down to her underwear. And, trust me, I understand the two main story reasons for Dr. Carol getting into her underwear, but I reject them outright. There are already two scenes earlier in the film to remind us that Jim Kirk really likes women, and what a shitty way to set up that these two are gonna get together at some point. Like, really? Lame to the nth degree.
Now. Kirk’s revival. First let me say that while I was very emotional during the Wrath of Khan scene, I think a lot of that was just simple because I have a lot of emotions tied to Wrath of Khan. So, it feels almost…lazy, in a way, to just duplicate that heart wrenching scene, and just change who goes where. Sometimes I feel like Abrams, love him as I do, just relies on the audiences backlog of Star Trek emotions. But that’s not my problem with the scene – I actually really love that scene. My problem is that Kirk comes back. I live in a creative world that is wholly tit-for-tat. I’m sorry, you don’t get to bring back your lead character unless someone we really, really care about dies. And Pike, love him as I do, just doesn’t cut it (although, holy shit, that scene was painful and beautiful). So, even though I would have been angry about Kirk dying, his living felt kind of cheap – or at least it did to me.
Also, here’s something that has always bothered me since 2009’s Star Trek: are we never going to talk about how almost the entire fleet is murdered at Vulcan? Like, the entire fleet, with the exception of the USS Enterprise is destroyed. Is no one going to explore the fact that Uhura forced her way onto the Enterprise and the person whose place she took died? Or that the last girl Kirk tired to hook up with before Vulcan was destroyed, Gaila, is also dead. I think that would be interesting, character study-wise, although it might be better for Tumblr discussions.
But, at any rate, I do love the film overall. I think I like Star Trek more, but I got a lot of kicks out of many TOS references (including tribbles, Mudd, and the USS Bradbury). I’ve also never been so happy that a ensign in a red shirt survived as I was by the end, when my one, true love Pavel got to live!
So, overall, I give Star Trek into Darkness eight flag ships. You should go check it out, and tell me what you think.
– Emily Frances Maesar