Star Trek Into Heartlessness

“Like tears… in… rain…”

Warning: This is not a review. This is a rant. And it is full of spoilers.

I really hoped J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek Into Darkness would be a little better than the first movie. Finding myself too tired to work last night, I thought I might give it a chance. At least the amiable cast and the special effects would take my mind off my troubles.

But alas, no. Now I have more troubles.

Wow. How do I despise this movie? Let me count the ways.

I can almost hear the script meeting…

“We need an action-packed opening sequence.”

“Put Spock in volcano, and let’s put Kirk back in another ‘the ends justify the means’ situation.”

“Okay, sure. But more intensity.”

“They’re on a mission to save a people from extinction. Put the Enterprise underwater, because if the aliens see it, it’ll ruin them!”

“But… won’t they see that massive spaceship when it flies in and hides under the ocean?”

“Never mind. If the audience doesn’t see that part, they won’t think about it. But it’s still not enough! We need more intensity!”

“Steal the opening of Raiders of the Lost Ark. That’ll be cool. Let Kirk steal something important from their temple, and then he has to flee through a jungle from a host of spear-throwing natives.”

“You can never go wrong with a Raiders reference.”

Okay, that’s how it starts. And it’s pretty much all downhill from there.

The team members all quip their signature lines, and the audience chuckles in recognition.

The lead characters struggle to learn lessons they learned in the last movie.

Carol “Blonde” Marcus, played by Alice Eve, is included merely as a convenient plot device. No, wait. I’m sorry. She serves another very important purpose. The movie needs somebody to give the screen a jaw-dropping set of curves in a lingerie-modeling shot. You know… for adolescents! Isn’t the objectification of women so wonderfully old-fashioned?

(Need I mention that this moment is another rip-off from Raiders, although handled without any of the restraint?)

The other prominent female character, Uhura, has an important role to: To ensure we don’t confuse the Kirk/Spock bromance as a gay love story.

The one recurring cast member in this franchise that I find interesting? He gets killed off in a forgettable scene of sound and fury — this year’s installment of Scenes In Which a High-Powered Aircraft Descends to Open Fire on People Inside a Skyscraper.

The fight scenes in this movie reach staggering heights of physical impossibility, so much so that all suspense is drained, and no punch carries any real weight. It just becomes an absurd marathon of people emerging un-bruised from bouts that would kill history’s greatest boxers. I mean, Yeezus. Even Indiana Jones had trouble recovering from the punches he took. Remember?

And then, in its enthusiasm for reminding us of the original franchise’s most “sacred” moment, it severely cheapens that moment. A crew member gives his life — such heroic sacrifice — but don’t worry. We won’t have to wait years hoping for a mystical resurrection this time. We’ll only have to wait a minute for a quick injection of Unbelievably Timely New Biological Science so that Abrams can pull a “Ha! Made you look!” trick…

… and that raises this question: Can this nifty new Resurrection Syrum help any of the dead in this franchise from here on out? This development, in addition to the franchise’s already established time travel capacity, makes it inconceivable (!) that our heroes will ever face anything they can’t overcome. The suspense, already registering at Zero, is killed even deader.

Which leave me wondering why such miracles aren’t afforded to theguaranteed thousands of casualties from the big-city calamity that is included as a disgustingly indulgent shock-and-awe spectacle, one for which we are given only a fleeting blink of solemnity about the massive losses.

And then, swoosh! We’re rushed into an epilogue with smiling, good-humored heroes ready to leave earth behind for five years of space tourism. Why not? Let’s put earth and its gaping, bloody wounds behind us.

Not to mention the fact that the epilogue’s guilty-conscience tribute to the original TV series pretty much acknowledges we’re two movies through the franchise so far without any attention to the core characteristics that propelled Roddenberry’s source material.

As Roderick Heath writes, J.J. Abrams’ Trek films preserve “only a thin veneer of the inquisitive humanism and speculative eccentricity that was the point of Roddenberry’s creation. This edition provokes suspicion, reinforced by Abrams’ own admissions, that he uses the superstructure of the Trek mythos in service to space opera malarkey whilst ignoring the richer and stranger texture of the source, the patina of flower-child idealism emphasising the multitudinous possibilities for contact and communication in the universe. …  Even at its corniest, Star Trek was about wonderment, curiosity, and awe, but these seem to be aspects our screen culture has lost.”

Okay… I’m done now.

Oh wait…

J.J. Abrams. More than ever, it’s becoming clear that all he can do is link together LEGOS that came from other movies’ LEGO kits. When Cumberbatch’s character meets his maker, there’s an alarmingly unapologetic cut-and-paste right out of Blade Runner. You can tell that Cumberbatch is acting to exactly match Rutger Hauer’s facial expressions. What is going on here? That’s not homage… that’s unapologetic stealing!

Oh, and a nod of admiration to Benedict Cumberbatch: An actor giving his all to a film that doesn’t deserve him.

I know, I’m ranting, spending more words on this movie than it’s worth.

But I’m angry. This movie didn’t just bore me and bother me. It pissed me off.

It wasn’t that long ago America was wringing its hands and saying we would never go back to depicting violence and mass casualties lightly. But how many American cities and landmarks have we seen destroyed as a desperate measure to lend some semblance of “importance” to what should be serving the purpose of fun summertime entertainment?

This movie’s appalling exploitation of 9/11 for action-blockbuster entertainment is the equivalent of going up to a war veteran, forcing him to play a video game that causes flashbacks to the calamity that gave him Post Traumatic Stress, and then rewarding him with a Slurpee. Yay, movies!

Gee, I hope the terrorists come up with something even more brilliant than 9/11 next time. Because action movies could use some new ideas.

Okay, not really. But man… that seems to be the way Hollywood storytellers are mining national nightmares for box office gold. I’m sure those who lost friends and loved ones in the Boston bombings and the attacks of September 11th are really loving escapist fantasies like this.

Wow, now I am really dreading J.J. Abrams’ new Star Wars movie.

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Note: The image you see in this post is from a deleted scene… one that reveals yet another moment in which they almost made another clunky Blade Runner reference.

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UPDATE:

For the record, this has been the most common response to my Star Trek Into Darkness rant: “Well, if that’s how you feel, stay away from Man of Steel. When it comes to senseless devastation and 9/11 exploitation, it’s ten times worse.”

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About Jeffrey Overstreet

Jeffrey Overstreet is the author of a “memoir of dangerous moviegoing” called Through a Screen Darkly, and a four-volume series of fantasy novels called The Auralia Thread, which includes Auralia’s Colors, Cyndere’s Midnight, Raven’s Ladder, and The Ale Boy’s Feast. Jeffrey is a contributing editor for Seattle Pacific University’s Response magazine, and he writes about art, faith, and culture for Image, Filmwell, and his own website, LookingCloser.org. His work has also appeared in Paste, Relevant, Books and Culture, and Christianity Today (where he was a film columnist and critic for almost a decade). He lives in Shoreline, Washington. Visit him on Facebook at facebook.com/jeffreyoverstreethq.

  • Tyrone Barnes

    J.J. Abrams really is beginning to become the epitome of almost everything that is wrong with summertime action entertainment. The dehumanizing nature of these flicks really seems to embellish a story like “The Hunger Games” with dreadfully prophetic dimensions. Good Lord, Star Wars has it coming…

  • Cooper Williams

    Your choice of a still n’ caption for this review is impeccable.

  • Nick Alexander

    For the record, I’ve avoided both Man of Steel and Star Trek into Darkness (and Beijing-censor-approved Iron Man 3, for that matter). I liked Fast & Furious 6, but I wish there were more summer tentpoles for me to check out.

  • Evan

    Here is the expanded version of why I think your rant perfectly summarizes MAN OF STEEL. It had rip-offs from other films (BATMAN BEGINS most noticeably – I’m inclined to blame Goyer for that instead of Nolan), a gratuitous sexual remark from Adams meant to be funny and inappropriate for its target audience, talented actors whose talents were not used at all, and catastrophic destruction and loss of life that’s never shown or thought about. I thought if Zod intended to wipeout humanity, he should have come close to succeeding. And a good part of that destruction was caused by Superman, but that clearly was supposed to be ignored because he was fighting villains, so that clearly excuses demolishing an entire city of buildings.

    I’ll admit I found STAR TREK to be lighthearted and enjoyable despite its flaws. But I didn’t catch the BLADE RUNNER rip-offs, because I’ve only seen BLADE RUNNER once. And I wasn’t reminded of 9/11 during the final battle, so it didn’t bother me, but maybe it should have. (MAN OF STEEL, on the other hand, bothered me a lot with 9/11 similarity.)

  • jack2211

    In STID, there’s a scene where Kirk destroy’s Zod’s, er, Cumberbatch’s ship — and it crashes toward scurrying people below, and there’s screaming. I’m thinking at least one guy down there died. Basically, Kirk killed that guy. Later, they blow up Zod’s, er, whoever’s ship and it crashes into San Francisco. Again, they’re responsible for a hell of a lot of deaths.

    In Man of Steel, Superman and Zod’s fighting destroys many buildings and undoubtedly kills a lot of people. And again, our hero, Superman, is partly responsible. Take the fight somewhere else, buddy.

    Neither movie acknowledges the impact to anyone but folks directly connected to our heroes.

    Man of Steel does this to the point of absurdity — we watch long, long stretches where Morpheu, er, Perry White and two or three fairly random Daily Planet staffers (Steve Lombard, but he was fairly inconsequential even in the comics) outrun falling debris and entire falling buildings and emerge, triumphantly, out of the rubble (to see Supes and Lois making out). No mention of the thousands of people who would have been killed around them.

  • Paul Boyne

    The comparison to MAN OF STEEL is pretty apt, unfortunately. Near the end of both films, a character cries out after another character’s death, and in both cases the purpose of the outburst seems to be to inject some emotion into a sequence that had been void of it. Doesn’t really work in either movie. Overall, though, I found more things to appreciate in MAN OF STEEL than this movie, which isn’t saying a whole lot.


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