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On Star Trek Into Darkness

May 22, 2013

(It takes a powerful thing to revive this old, dead husk of a blog; that powerful thing will be me liking a movie everyone else hated!)

(There are spoilers.)

I’m going to ignore the elephant in the room until the end, because it’s weird how they did that.

But Star Trek into Darkness. I hate the name. I have problems with it. I still loved the movie.

Really, I’m moved to discuss it by this post on io9, which captures a lot of what bad criticism is. To whit: bad criticism is saying something’s bad because it’s a.) not canon in a reboot, b.) doesn’t make a lot of scientific sense, c.) THE CHARACTERS WOULD HAVE DONE SO MUCH BETTER IF THEY WERE SMARTER, and d.) they’re picking the bad parts of canon to use in this reboot.

All of these are ridiculous. It’s how you’d discuss a taco, not how you’d discuss a film.

Let’s hit point C first, because I’m nonlinear. I’ve screamed, occasionally, on twitter and beyond about how much I hate anime criticism. I hate it because this is their way of discussing things. One of the best anime of this present season, The Flowers of Evil, gets shit on primarily because “If I were the protagonist I’d make this a nonstory.”

Of course you would. Of course, if you were the Enterprise crew, you’d have come up with way better plans. That’s not how stories work, though: you’re not the protagonist. Star Trek into Darkness isn’t a video game. You don’t get to be angry because you would have thought up a better plan in a situation. You’re not there. You have practically perfect knowledge. You’ve seen Star Trek 2. You’ve watched movies. When Kirk and Bendy go on a magical trip to capture a ship he can pilot himself, you can think it’s a bad plan, but resenting the writers for insulting your intelligence is wack. Wiggity wack. You’re not doing it: a dude, in an entirely different situation, is.

As for this being a reboot—and oh, it is—there’s no good and bad parts of canon. All canon is bad to some people, all canon is good to others. You, the audience: there’s no cherry-picking the smartest or dumbest parts of the canon. You either hate that this was Star Trek 2 again, or it doesn’t bother you.

To me, the canon moments didn’t matter. To you, they might have. But they’re pretty much a factor divorced from the quality of the movie. It’s like how I hate well-made zombie movies because they have zombies. I loathe zombies. That’s not a problem with the films themselves. It’s a problem with me. I’m allowed to have this opinion, but it doesn’t really relate to the movie being terrible.

(I’ll accept the bad science. You can complain about it. I don’t care about it—I think they sold it okay—but you can pick bones with that.)

See, because here’s the thing: Star Trek into Darkness had a narrative arc. That’s more than something like The Avengers had. Kirk, Spock: these characters are different between the beginning and end of this film. They’ve learned stuff. We’ve learned stuff from them. They had chemistry. Things were funny, and sad, and happy, and triumphant, all at the right times.

I’d go so far as to say the movie had a soul. My favorite writing advice I got my third year of college, and was, “Make sure your story can work in a magazine office.” What that means: when you write a genre story, make sure it’s not just about genre. Make sure it’s about people. If you stripped out the spaceships, the explosions, I bet you’d be able to make Star Trek into Darkness into a story. It’s about people, not about spaceships.

People have souls. Spaceships don’t.

I didn’t absolutely love the movie, of course. But it worked way, way better than I thought it would.

Now, into the CRITICISMOSPHERE!

Benedict Cumberbatch. He’s one of my favorite active actors. Some days I get wistful that Harry Potter didn’t become films until six years later so that he could have played either Snape or Sirius Black or (holy shit) Voldemort. I’m that kind of guy. I imagine writing a movie that’s just him and Sam Rockwell having parties. In writing this, I learned he was in War Horse and I suddenly want to see War Horse.

He was miserably cast in this movie. Even worse, he was sneakily racebent.

Now, Bendy, god bless him, he’s a gamer. He tries to own the Khan role. He does a job of it. Good Christ does he really try. He makes a character out of it.

Of course, it’s not the character the movie describes him as. There’s no savagery to him, as he claims in an early shot. I’ve never, not once, in a movie disbelieved that that actor could punch a dude to death, but Bendy doesn’t pull off the action. He’s not a badass fighter. He’s a badass thinker. That’s his job. That’s what he does.

So the script has him as a badass fighter, and someone who falls for a really obvious bluff later in the movie.

He’s criminally misused, is what I’m say.

EVEN WORSE.

Okay, time to lay into the marketers of this movie.

The whole time, in prerelease, they claimed that Bendy wasn’t Khan. Which was good: if he was, he’d be…well, probably as awful racebending as the original Khan (it makes as much sense for a Mexican to play an Indian warlord as it does a Brit playing an Indian Warlord, to be fair. Great Britain occupied India for many years. Mexico is on the other side of the world), but he’d still be some seriously intense racebending.

Now, of course, he was Khan. And that’s awful.

Because I can’t write an article being like, “Man, it fucking sucks that Bendy was Khan because he’s playing an Indian dude,” because that’s a spoiler. That’s a major spoiler. That’s the “I am Keyser Soze” of Star Trek into Darkness. Of course, it’s revealed in the first thirty minutes of the film. It’s not a movie about, “Who is John Harrison?”

It’s a spoiler almost exclusively to avoid the racebending card for while it’s in theaters, and that’s bullshit. Star Trek creators, I am calling you on your bullshit. This is a spoiler to avoid heat for miscasting the greatest actor of his generation, and for no other reason. And that’s bullshit.

That said.

The movie had soul. And maybe, just maybe, J.J. Abrams can pull of Star Wars. This was a pretty Wars Trek movie. It felt almost like a dry run, a little: lots of pseudoscience, spectacle, and fistfights on moving cars. So yeah, I think he can do it.

And, abruptly, I’m out.

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