All we want is a decent Trek film.
Don’t’ get me wrong. JJ Abrams’ Star Trek was a decent Trek film. It was fun, big-budget and rebooted the Trek-verse in a way that preserved everything you ever knew about Trek while wiping the slate clean for new fans. Some folks felt like it gave 40 plus years of history the finger, but something had to be done to get the Trek-verse out from under all that backstory.
Love it or hate it, I thought Star Trek worked, even if it did make Enterprise the basis for continuity from this point forward. Now let’s discuss the follow up, Into Darkness.
I wanted to love Star Trek: Into Darkness, but ended up only liking it. To me, it was the Trek film we would have ended up with if Abrams’ team hadn’t took a chance wiping out the past/future in the first one. Instead of boldly going, they meekly pandered and gave the fans what they wanted.
Kind of a missssssstake!
Khan was the perfect bad guy for the Trek-Prime films, having an established relationship with Kirk and crew. Bringing him back for revenge was brilliant. Making him the bad guy in NuTrek, on the other hand, didn’t have that same kind of heat. Why? Because he just showed up. No context. Fans wanted him reimagined. They wanted the same ruthless, megalomaniac survivor of the Eugenics Wars, but with better hair and no chest prosthetic. They got that, but…um…so what. He’s just there. Instead of a driving personal animus towards the good captain and his ship, we just got general villainy.
Which is a shame. The movie starts off so strong. Having established our young band of heroes in the first film, they get right to it. They’re brash and bold and wiping their ass with the Prime Directive (which Trekkers will recognize as vintage Kirk). The opening scenes with the volcano were great and raised expectations. The following scenes with Kahn/Harrison saving the little girl and blowing up Star Fleet were even better. Quiet, touching, and kind of scary, too. AWESOME.
And then the narrative descends into blandness (see what I did there?). My gut feeling is that they had a solid story about a Star Fleet officer who’s gone around the bend, but needed a little punch up. So the writing team gets together with the studio’s marketing team and, after a late night spent trolling Trek message boards, decide to force Khan into the film. The marketing department high-fives each other and immediately starts writing press releases denying that Khan would be in the film. The Trek community lights tiny candles of hope. The writers go back and try to figure out how to make it all work.
Which they don’t quite do.
But I can.
Below are four plot issues that mucked up the flow of the film (for me) and how I would have resolved/removed them. Feel free to add your own.
1 – Carol Marcus
Fans of the original Khan film know that Carol was Kirk’s ‘one that got away’, so there’s a bone for the Trekkers. Unfortunately, she’s underdeveloped here. When they do the reveal, us fans who knew the significance all went ‘hmm…interesting’ and then joined the rest of the audience in waiting for her to do something, or flouncing around in her underwear like in the trailers. Let’s be honest, all she did was scream like Mary Jane in Spiderman 3. She could have been ‘Screamer 4’ in the credits for all the more she was given to work with. Did I mention the gratuitous shot of her in her undies?
2 – McCoy playing doctor
You’re in the middle of a fire-fight. Broken and bleeding crewmen lie everywhere and what is your ship’s doctor doing? Injecting Khan’s blood into a dead Tribble. Why’s that? Because we need to drop this important plot device somewhere and here’s as good a place as any. Seriously, why not? Bonus feature: we learn that Tribbles are the rhesus monkeys of the future.
3- Spock phones home
Having Nimoy in the first film was kind of a plotline necessity. He tied the timelines together, made fans happy, and, well, there you go. Having NuSpock call him up, in the middle of getting waylaid by the Vengeance, makes very little sense. Just a little shout out to the fans that Leonard’s not dead or retired. Why do we call him up in the middle of a battle? Because texting is offline? No, because they have no record of Khan in their databanks. Hmm. They knew all about the Eugenics wars in TOS. Actually seemed to be fairly common knowledge back then. It’s not like they collapsed the timeline THAT far back. Mad props to Section 31 for covering their tracks.
4- The needs of the fans outweigh the needs of the plot
Okay, the theme of the movie (not that it was developed properly) is ‘Family’ and what you would do to protect it. The ship is in danger, the lives of 400 some-odd crewmen hang in the balance. The Captain got them into this mess, the Captain’s going to get them out. He climbs into the warp core, saves the ship, dies in the process. That’s dramatic, has weight, and kind of catches you off guard…until you realize you’ve been saying all the lines out loud. BEFORE the scene plays out. Wha-huh? Only way to top that would be to have someone quote the most memorable line from the movie the scene is lifted from. ‘Khaaaaaaan!’ yells NuSpock. Cut. Print. Nailed it.
Granted, these are my top four. Some of you may have been bothered by Kirk’s rapid rise, fall, and rise through the ranks. Some might have wondered how the Enterprise is powered by a microbrewery. A few of you might even question space luging from ship to ship. Valid points one and all. But this is my post. So there.
And now the solution.
War with the Klingons is inevitable. Star Fleet is out scouring the universe for an advantage. They find the Botany Bay. They realize what they have and scientists being the way they are, convince themselves they can thaw one of the popsicles out and control it. They fail spectacularly and a bunch of the test subjects die. One of the popsicles goes ballistic and kills all the scientists, swearing revenge on the Admiral and his daughter, who just happened to be working on the project. Rest of the movie to continue as written.
The only real change is the addition of the medical experimentation. Heck, call it ‘Genesis’ while you’re at it. Gives us Trekkers a reason to wet ourselves with glee. The way I figure it, if you add the Genesis angle you:
Eliminate the Tribble scene. Genesis already did that experiment.
Eliminate some hot Spock-on-Spock action. Carol saw what Khan is capable of first-hand, no need to pick up the phone, heck, she might even have it on tape. She get’s something to do besides scream.
Add some weight the Carol Marcus role, in fact it would make it a focal point. She’s the Admiral’s daughter, she knows what Khan can do, she’s part of what sent Khan down vengeance road. Are you kidding me? They didn’t think about this?
So, you still want to kill Kirk, okay, go ahead. Just change the dialog. However, now that you have the Genesis angle, you get to make Carol a hero (she knew that’s what Genesis could do) and you get to play God, just like McCoy-Prime opined in Wrath. Bonus feature: when Kirk and Marcus get together in the next movie, there’s a basis for the relationship. She saved his life.
Look, I’m not a screen writer, but I do think a lot about why the films I want to love don’t work. I know Into Darkness doesn’t work completely, and I think it’s because they forced Khan into the movie without a clear reason for being there. But, really, a little more thought to the storyline and you get to keep the references to Wrath, give Khan a reason to go batshit, and give yourself more time to build on the themes of family and sacrifice.
Make it so in the director’s cut.