Thursday, 23 May 2013

Star Trek; Into Darkness. Benedict Cumberbatch is Khan. There, I just saved you six quid

The world is divided into 10 kinds of people; those who think this sentence is funny, and those who don't. That first group is divided into two subgroups, those who hate Star Wars and those who hate Star Trek, though thanks to the horrible things George Lucas has done since 1999, there's a lot more overlap between the groups than there would have been when I was a kid, and did not care at all for Star Trek.

The enduring popularity of Star Trek is one of those things which would baffle me if I cared enough to think about it in the first place. The huge revival coincided with my own four year voyage to seek out dead civilisations and not own a television, and so I have missed out entirely on all the various generations and voyages and what all, at least to the extent that it is possible to miss out on all that crap and still have a working internet connection. People do be liking them their Star Trek, hell if I really see the excitement.

Benedict Cumberbatch, on the other hand, is awesome. Actually, Until I went to see Star Trek: Into Darkness, I don't think I realised quite how awesome he is. I'd seen him in Sherlock, which is distilled awesomeness at every level, and I'd seen him in Parade's End, which was literature and I kind of knew I was supposed to be impressed. But there's so much going into the awesomeness that you just see Benedict as part of the show. Then you wheel him into a Star Trek movie, and suddenly you realise how good he is all on his own, surrounded by so-so acting and dialogue cheesy enough to induce lactose intolerance in a newborn baby. Even with terrible dialogue and wall to wall lens flare standing in for actual directorial flair, Benedict simply rules every scene he's in. It's up there with the way that Alan Rickman dominated Kevin Hood, except that it's nothing like as funny, and there's probably no chance at all that we're ever going to get a director's cut with more Cumberbatch in it.

Everything else. Well, it was J J Abrams, so there's lens flare on everything. There's lens flare indoors, in completely CGI settings where there aren't even real lenses involved in making the images. And there's stuff happening, apparently in the hope that if there's enough of it piled up, it might, through all the lens flare, resemble a plot. And then there's Kirk. 

Now, don't get me wrong. I never liked Kirk. A whole bunch of why I could never get interested in Star Trek was the original Captain Kirk. Even at the age of ten, I could see that Kirk was kind of a dick. If I identified with anyone, it was probably Doctor McCoy, presaging the lifetime I've spent since then grousing about other people's rampaging stupidity and then grumpily fixing all the stuff they broke. [If I could only wear one T-shirt for the rest of my life, it would be this one]. Kirk was not my kind of person. But I'm really starting to see his good points after a couple of hours with Chris Pine's interpretation. William Shatner's Kirk may have been an arrogant, smug, entitled asshole, but he at least looked like he'd put in the hours to earn it. Chris Pine's Kirk is just a punk. Somehow, everyone else in the cast is nearly as in love with him as he is with himself, and his crew follow him everywhere. I get that you'd want to know where Kirk was at all times, in much the way that you'd want to know where a tornado was, but following him just doesn't seem like something that would catch on.

But, but, but, the audience has to see Kirk grow up and become a man. Hell, no, it doesn't. It didn't have to see it in the original TV show. The Captain is the Captain. Move on. There's no need to explain it. Tell an actual story instead. And for gawd's sake, how much the hell origin story does Star Trek, of all things, need? Two full length movies' worth? This is beyond ridiculous. This, the second of the new movies, ENDS with Chris Pine, all growed up now, intoning the famous OPENING words of the TV show. Four hours and twenty minutes, almost the running time of SIX episodes of the original series, and we've finally lurched to the opening credits. The mind reels at how long the actual five year voyage is going to take.

It turns out that telling a story is too hard these days. This is basically a remake of Star Trek II The Wrath of Khan, but rather than admit that and get it over with, Abrams and his scriptwriters dance all over the place for half the movie, chucking random incident at the screen rather than get on with the perfectly serviceable plot they CHOSE THEIR OWN DAMNED SELVES.

So the movie opens with Kirk and McCoy running away from hundreds of yelling tribesmen while Spock tries to put a bomb in a volcano to stop it going off. One, if anyone wants to make a movie about a bomb in a volcano, they should buy the rights to Martin Woodhouse's Moon Hill, not least because it would force them to make Blue Bone into a movie first. Two, at no point do we ever see any explanation of why Kirk stole something from all these tribesmen to piss them off. He even admits he doesn't know what it is himself. (see Kirk, dickness of, earlier in this post). This has got nothing to do with the plot; it just means that when Kirk gets back to earth, he's in trouble for breaking the prime directive, and has to struggle (ever so briefly) to get the Enterprise back after the bosses take it off him. Which has also got nothing to do with the plot. The plot is "Kirk needs to bring down Khan". Bringing down people like Khan is pretty much Kirk's job anyway; there's absolutely no need to complicate it. 

Meanwhile, Khan is, as usual with Hollywood villains, simultaneously the smartest man in the universe and a complete moron. Khan's motivation is established in the middle of the movie; he's out to schwack all of Star Fleet because they killed his crew. His genius plan to achieve this is a) suborn a Star Fleet intelligence officer to turn suicide bomber and blow up his own office b) attack the Star Fleet HQ when they call a COBRA meeting to respond to this terrible atrocity. What with all his suborning and bombing skills (seriously, the first bomb fits in a class ring and levels a goddam building), presumably he's suborned someone else to make the whole COBRA briefing room table out of explodium? Look at you, bringing a brain to the dumb fight. Nah, Khan shows up at Star Fleet HQ in some kind of armed helicopter and shoots the crap out of the meeting, killing everyone except the names on the posters. On the one hand, you have to love the idea of a war-room with windows out onto the street, but really there's more than enough idiocy for everyone. Anyhow, Kirk, who is blessed with the power to avoid the bullets which shred everyone else, manages to Die Hard [1] the helicopter out of the air, but Khan makes his escape to Klingon-land [because why the hell not?] using unprecedented intergalactic transporter technology [2].

As plots to destroy your enemies go, it rates a "Would not breed from this officer." in almost any assessment system known to man. Or woman. Or lichen, assuming that lichen ever have this problem. I suspect that being half fungus and half alga, they're too evolved to waste time on Star Trek. Or assessments. 

Where was I? Oh yeah, Kirk gets sent off to schwack Khan. For reasons which even lichen might arch an eyebrow at, his commanding admiral thinks the subtle way to schwack one man on the Klingon home planet would be to fire 72 experimental photon torpedoes at him. This is hand waved away as being not a problem since it's a deserted province and no-one will notice. As it happens, those exact torpedoes are actually packed with all of Khan's supposedly dead crew, which becomes a major plot point, but leaves me wondering whether the commanding admiral is a) completely insane or b) completely insane or c) Peter Weller. Anyhow, for fear that all the stupid might rub off, I will pass over that point, and move on.

Here's a good one. In an effort to find out what's in the mysterious torpedoes, McCoy and some random piece of posh totty try to take one apart on a conveniently located planetoid. So far, so why the hell not. Here's the weird bit; as an intro to that, posh totty gets on a shuttle with Kirk and explains that the torpedo needs to be moved. For absolutely no pressing reason, while she's explaining this, she strips down to her underwear.  She doesn't put anything else on afterwards, she doesn't ravage Kirk on the spot, and McCoy is nowhere nearby so it's not as if they're leaving in a minute and she absolutely has to put on a spacesuit (not that she actually DOES put on a space suit, either then OR later). Between that and the fact that Star Fleet has thoughtfully authorised micro skirts and cap sleeves for all the female staff, but proper trousers and long sleeves for the men, I really felt that something needed to be done about the gender policy for Star Fleet, even if only to ensure that hypothermia didn't become a leading cause of sick absences for 40% of the crew. 

Anyhow, the good news is that once they get to Klingon-land, we get a good long stretch of Cumberbatch being bloody awesome, which almost makes up for the presence of - I was going to say everyone else, but really I just mean Kirk; Scottie, Spock and McCoy are not half bad and Zoe Saldana can light up almost anything, even Uhura. Anyhow, just focus on the Brit demi-god and it will all feel a little more painless.

Then stuff happens, some more stuff happens, the Enterprise nearly blows up, then nearly blows up some more, then Kirk apparently sacrifices himself, but sadly is saved at the last minute, and Spock gets to yell "Khan!" because, I don't know, it's his turn in Abrams' mind or something, and there's a cameo from Leonard Nimoy (who is almost as awesome as Cumberbatch, and thus shouldn't have to be there at all). Peter Weller gets his head crushed flat (but out of shot so that the kiddies can still buy tickets to see the movie) which is never not a good idea, really. San Francisco gets almost destroyed (again) and then finally, blessedly, it's all over.

But it could have been worse. At least I didn't see it in 3D.

[1] There's a fire hose and everything

[2] A word here about transporters, which are of course, bollocks. They only exist because Gene Roddenberry couldn't get the money for a stock shot of a shuttle craft landing every time the Captain left the Enterprise to visit that one rock formation in California which stood in for every planet in the universe back in the 1960s. In Into Darkness, transporters don't make any sense at all. One minute Khan can use them to teleport out of a crashing helicopter to the other side of the galaxy, and the next minute they can't beam McCoy off a planetoid right beside the Enterprise because he's got his hand stuck in a torpedo and the exact same technology that could tell the difference between Khan and a helicopter can't tell the difference between McCoy and a torpedo. That's also the technology which can't beam Khan OFF a moving vehicle at the climax, but CAN beam Uhura onto the exact same moving vehicle, even though the problem is that it's moving. Yes, it IS all the same technology; Scottie specifically grumbles about how Khan is using his ideas, which he also grumbles about not being thanked for putting on the Enterprise. Bah. End of word about transporters.

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