Peter Fenzel, Mark Lee, Jordan Stokes and Matthew Wrather are joined by Ben Krinsky to overthink J. J. Abrams’s Star Trek Into Darkness.
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Spoiler Alert for Into Darkness and the whole Star Trek Universe.
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- Felicity on IMDb
- The Philosophy of Batman: Literary Theory Edition by Jordan Stokes
- I Boldly Went Where Every Star Trek Movie and TV Show Has Gone Before by Matthew Yglesias
- The Eels Have Eyes by John Perich
I wanted the title to be “Star Trek II: Spirit of Vengeance”
Hope you’ll settle for it being top comment :-)
There’s also the penultimate 2 Star 2 Trek…
Some additional reading re: targeting international audiences with this movie:
Article about how past Trek entries have underperformed outside of the US: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/03/business/media/star-trek-into-darkness-aims-for-world-audience.html?_r=0
And a recent news item on how this movie is actually underperforming in the states but overperforming internationally:
As an African-American reader of OTI, American Pie: Into Darkness reminds me of what we called the MTV movie The Wood. We thought of it as “Chocolate Pie,” another film about guys in high school trying to hookup with girls.
So, kind of a mashup of Fenzel and Stokes’ responses to the question of the week.
+99 for “Ret-Khan.”
Dovetailing with your “Agents of SHIELD” discussion, do we think that a CW “Starfleet Academy” series, focusing on a different set of characters rebuilding Starfleet in the aftermath of “Into Darkness,” could find an audience?
Sure, of course. _Teen Wolf_ found an audience. The key would be to just jettison every Star Trek priority and focus on making sure the actors are all sexually attractive.
Well since the movies already did that…
One thing that I’d like to point out as a major point of departure from the Federation in the Prime Timeline and the current timeline is that because of Eric Bana’s destruction of Vulcan, the nature of the Federation has been fundamentally changed. The Vulcans, instead of being the shepherding influence that keeps Earthlings from submitting to darker impulses, are in survival mode on New Vulcan, allowing for Section 31 to pursue “inevitable war” against the Klingons using Khan as their WMD (instead of, I don’t know, synthesizing medicine from his blood). As Starfleet ventures deeper into darkness, it risks fighting evils of its own creation, evils that would not have been encountered in the Prime timeline, particularly in a state in its development where it wasn’t ready to withstand them.
On the bright side, this bodes well for the franchise, as there remain still more butterfly effects, because the Klingons will be pursuing vengeance against the Enterprise crew (as well as presumably Khan), while Prime Spock, having opened the Paradox Pandora’s Box before, might delve deeper into that bag of tricks to “fix” the wrongs that have been wrought. (Whatever our appetites for Deus Ex Machina under normal circumstances, we generally accept more where reboots are concerned.)
And I hate to be the guy to bring this up, but we’re likely only one movie away from a rebooted Borg. Sure they never encountered the original Enterprise crew, but this accelerated new timeline will mash together elements of stories we’ve seen before, and a JJ Abrams rendering of The Borg is inevitable. Why resist?
Clearly, it would be futile.
The non-cannon explanation for the existence of the evil Mirror Universe, as posited in one of the expanded universe books, is not too dissimilar to this. The idea in the books was that after the events of Star Trek: First Contact, Cochran told the Vulcans about the borg, leading to a more militant and paranoid approach to the founding of Starfleet.
That does run contrary to the scene at the start of the Enterprise episode about the Mirror Universe, where Cochran and company greet the Vulcans by blowing them away and stealing their ship. (Hence the “non-canon” part of what you said, I guess.)
I’d forgotten about that episode of Enterprise. (I try so hard to forget everything about Enterprise.)
What immediately came to mind for a movie series based on a TV show that did well overseas was Mission: Impossible. Checking the numbers, the entry that did the worst was M: I 3 directed by J.J. Abrams.
Also, between Feicity and Lost, he created Alias.
I’m not sure Admiral Marcus’s fatal mistake wasn’t poking the Khan, it was treating a war criminal like Khan as a useful tool. Because even before he doesn’t anything in STID, Khan is already a war criminal. He was a notable dictator in Trek’s versions of the 1990s. If Marcus had wanted to, there was a laundry list of crimes he could have sent Khan to the slammer/rehabilitation for.
I think the movie’s lesson is “evil is not a toy.” You shouldn’t use immoral means (long-range torpedos, Khan) to achieve moral ends. Not only will there be blowback, but it damages you on an intrinsic moral level.
Re: the space shuttles
The Enterprise actually *is* named after the shuttle in-universe. In the ST:ENT show, both the NX-01 and NX-02 are named after the first space shuttles (Enterprise and Columbia respectively). Although in that case, that was done as a memorial to the then-recent Columbia shuttle disaster. So canonically speaking, the first six Starfleet vessels are named after the six space shuttles.
> “Marcus’s fatal mistake… was treating a war criminal like Khan as a useful tool…”
Logically speaking, you’re right. But Khan tells him “you should have let me sleep,” and at the end, we don’t see Khan on trial, we see him back on ice. The film tries pretty hard to tell us that there is no good way to deal with Khan other than… Actually, you know what? Scratch “other than.” There’s no good way to deal with Khan, perhaps because (as Wrather keeps reminding us) our own institutions are inherently corrupt, and will therefore deal with him corruptly. The only proper course is to avoid him entirely.
And we can set what Stokes says against the TNG philosophy that there is no evil that can’t be overcome by good intentions, or a stern talking to over a cup of tea, earl grey, hot.
I highly recommend reading this interview with Damon Lindelof to get some insight into the creative process behind this movie:
On a related Trekkian note, for some insight into the rise and fall of the TNG Era of Star Trek, check out Michael Piller’s unpublished (officially) book “Fade In: The Making of Star Trek Insurrection.”
This is fascinating.
I just finished this over the last few days. Totally fascinating look at how the subspace sausage is made. Must read for TNG fans.
Here’s your third +1 from an OTI editor who just read this book for the first time. Thanks for the link.
The Land Before Time Into Darkness – it’s basically Jurassic Park. Although on an actually darker note, I’ve read an interpretation of the ending of the original Land Before Time where the Great Valley is a metaphor for Heaven, and so all the kid dinosaurs die at the end.
Re: “You should have let me sleep.” There’s an interesting historical parallel here. I just finished the Wrath of the Khans podcast series from Hardcore History, a 10 hour dissertation on Genghis Khan and his descendants. There’s a turning point when the Mongols go from a regional power to a global power – Genghis Khan spends all this time uniting the Mongol tribes and conquering China (which is basically the most difficult military challenge they faced), and at that point, the Mongols seem ready to stand pat.
But then the Mongols get poked by the Khwarezmian Empire, which I had never heard of…because they were wiped off the map. One thing led to another, the Mongols conquer all the way into Europe, and literally millions of people are erased from history. It’s not exactly the same since they weren’t trying to control the Mongols, but it’s an interesting case of unintended consequences.
As soon as they said ‘Section 31’ I audibly groaned in the theatre. I was very upset that they added it into this film. As much as I enjoyed the episodes of Deep Space Nine that involved Section 31 (And have bought and read several Section 31 based novels) they were created by Ira Steven Behr years after Roddenberry died, and I’m on the side of the issue that says if presented with the idea of Section 31, Gene would have been vehemently against it.
It is sadly more realistic that an institution like Starfleet and the Federation would require someone tucked out of the way to do the bad things, to leave everyone else free to do the good things, but that was part of the appeal of this vision of the future, that we could, in fact, be better.
So that happened and was annoying. Other things from this film:
1/ I actually really liked the reversal of Spock and Kirk in the radiation chamber, and giving ‘Khaaaan’ to Spock. The fact that Spock is half-human secondary to the fact that Vulcans absolutely feel emotion means that it’s actually perfectly reasonable and quite effective to see him show emotion. If you wanted Data instead of Spock, watch a TNG movie (Except all the ones where he has an emotion chip)
2/ Kirk deciding that the purpose of the attack on the archives was a ploy to get the high command into a room to try and kill them was some pretty serious Batman Logic, especially since Kirk isn’t necessarily known in the canon for being exceptionally -clever- just someone who can follow his gut and get lucky.
3/ Benedict Cumberbatch -killed- it. He was fantastic. And portraying a North Indian Sikh with a white actor is no more or less problematic than portraying him with a hispanic one, so issues about that should be pretty moot. Forgetting any issues of racial casting, he was exactly what he should have been. I was reminded of the line from Sherlock “I’m not a psychopath, I’m a high-functioning sociopath, do your research!” and this is what we would get if he were in fact a psychopath and he nails it.
Okay, I just saw the movie and I haven’t listened to the podcast yet. But I have to say something IMMEDIATELY.
This movie had a huge violation of Chekhov’s Tribble. And no, not THAT Chekov.
If you introduce a Tribble, at some point, somebody has to open a cabinet and get pummeled by Tribbles. I mean, would it KILL them to add a little scene after the credits? That’s very low hanging fruit!
Okay, I have a lot of thoughts about this movie, not all of which are probably worth sharing in this comment thread. But did anyone else have a strong sense that there was a reel missing at the end? The Enterprise crew beats Kahn by:
1. Sending him a bunch of armed photon torpedoes, which struck me as SO simple that I’m disappointed Kahn falls for it. I mean, Kahn doesn’t even CHECK IF HIS CREW IS IN THEM BEFORE BEAMING KIRK AWAY? It’s supposed to be Spock’s crowning moment of clever, and it’s just not that clever.
2. Chasing him down and beating him up.
What I was waiting for was the equivalent of that great Wrath of Kahn nebula dogfight, where both ships are beat to hell and it just comes down to who is a better captain. I wanted to see the Enterprise crew to pick themselves off the mat and prove that working together, they could outsmart this guy.
Also, I didn’t understand the shot of Kahn back in his tube at the end. This is a man who murdered tens of thousands of people when he purposely crashed that ship. (By the way, Spock was DIRECTLY responsible for that by making him think his crew was dead.) The implication is that he doesn’t stand trial – he just disappears. (Unless you believe that in less than a year, he was tried and sentenced to being cryogenically frozen? Like in Demolition Man?)
I gather that while JJ Abrams does not approve of using drones to assassinate people, he loves the idea of locking them up forever in secret prisons.
One more thing. I understand why Abrams wanted to have Kirk actually “die” and then un-die. But jeez, do they now have a cure for DEATH? That’s even crazier then being able to beam yourself from Earth to Kronos (which nobody else thinks to do). Abrams has a bad habit of inventing technology that gets himself out of narrative corners but only at the cost of completely breaking the fictional universe.
I saw it when first it opened, but I’ve been crazy busy and needed to catch up on Podcasts. I’ve seen it twice, and here’s what I have to add that you didn’t address, or address as much as I would have.
1) Benedict Cumberbatch as Kahn. I know at least one person above said something along the lines of “a Hispanic dude played him before, so a Brit doing it now is okay.” And that’s being tossed around a lot on forums and the like. I don’t think them getting it wrong back then makes it okay for them to get it wrong now, though. We’re in the 21st century, and at least it was an actor of non-white color in the sixties- having a Brit play a northern Indian character now is even worse, is regression. They get around it a little by abandoning detail about his background in Into Darkness, but they kept the name. Cashing in on the popularity of the character while not being true, and certainly being less true to it than they could have been nowadays, is pretty awful. They at least had Montalban was playing and Indian- Cumberbatch was playing a super soldier… with a British accent. And y’all know I’m a Cumberbitch through-and-through, and of course he was riveting and moving. But Benedict Cumberbatch is about as white as you can get in an actor. Especially considering that Abrams has access to Naveen Andrews (Sayid from Lost), there’s really no excuse for it.
There’s a great piece by Marissa Sammy about the shrouded nature white-washing is taking on lately, using Into Darkness as a focal point- but she also brings up Iron Man 3, another movie that white-washed a non-white character this summer: http://www.racebending.com/v4/featured/star-trek-whiteness/
And when you think about it, this kind of fits with how since Abrams doesn’t really care for the franchise as it was, it’s losing the spirit of Star Trek itself. Roddenbery purposely pushed the envelope by forcing persons of color to be part of the core cast, and women. Whoopie Goldberg got her role on Next Gen by asking him personally to be on it, telling him how someone in her family told her to watch the original, saying something along the lines of, “There’s a black woman on TV, and she ain’t no mammy!” Whitewashing a character that was originally played by someone of color, even if it wasn’t the “right” color, is a step back in general, but a huge leap away from the game-changing nature of the originals.
2) The healing power of Kahn’s blood! The scene with the guy with the sick daughter could have sort have been the last time that happened. If they could friggin’ bring Kirk back to life with Kahn’s blood, then one would hope they drew more from him and/or his fellow supersoldiers and mass-produced healing serums.
3) I’ll be very disappointed if the next movie doesn’t have Tribbles in it.
Okay. Not that I think anyone would want to read it, but I go into more detail on the following in my blog (I can give a link if anyone wants to see it).
4) The opening scene with the “primitive” species used about every single negative/colonialist stereotype about indigenous peoples possible.
5) Star Fleet is hypocritical and parallels modern colonial and jingoist perspectives in the US. First, if Marcus was making most of the decisions on his own, he still had to get funding, and he still had a ton of people working for him. So official Star Fleet officers were either deliberately turning their cheek(s) or knew everything he was up to and never stopped him. Also, re-freezing Khan and keeping his crew frozen is a pretty dodgy way of dealing with him, imo. Locking him in a cell the rest of his life is more of a life than being frozen. They’re avoiding execution through a technicality, and that’s kinda bollocks for me.
Re: #5 — This runs back to ’98 or ’99 in DS9, too, with stuff far nastier than just an off-the-books dreadnaught program. Section 31 attempts outright genocide of the Founders through a bioweapon… before the Federation-Dominion War officially began.
And they almost succeed, with no one knowing the source of the Founders’ mysterious disease until near the series finale. When the truth, and a cure, is brought to the Federtion Council, they vote to suppress knowledge of the treatment, because helping the Founders could prolong the current war and kill millions more on both sides.
As Odo, a dissident Founder notes, “Interesting, isn’t it? The Federation claims to abhor Section 31’s tactics, but when they need the dirty work done, they look the other way. It’s a tidy little arrangement, wouldn’t you say?” And Captain Sisko concedes the point.
Re: #1 — Specifically the point about Abrams not caring for the franchise as it was in terms of progressively portraying race and/or nationality. I’m not going to defend Abrams on whitewashing Khan, as that is indefensible. But I will argue this isn’t a new thing. Because Star Trek as a whole? It got really, really bad about representing people.
The Original Series (TOS) is rightly pointed to as an example of progressive portrayals on television for its era, but later Trek shows have a much more questionable record. The Next Generation is lily white bar Geordi. Guinan only shows up intermittently as a supporting cast member, and tends to play the role of the mystical black adviser to the protagonists. Michael Dorn is black, yes, but he’s under full face make-up as Worf.
DS9 had Avery Brooks and Alexander Siddig — although, I’d argue, Nana Visitor’s character of Kira, an unapologetic ex-terrorist/insurgent, has ended up being the most daring of the cast, although due to circumstances beyond the ability of the writers to foresee back in the 1990s.
Voyager had a well-rounded cast as far as representation goes, but indulged in a fair bit of racism and sexism at the same time. Commander Chakotay is an incoherent mish-mash of Native American cultures and 90s New Age philosophy, whose ancestors were literally gifted with civilization by White People From Outer Space. (See the episode “Tattoo”.) And for as much as Jeri Ryan did some great character work as Seven of Nine, she did so while crammed into a skin-tight catsuit.
Enterprise, the latest and last Star Trek TV show, is just terrible in terms of race, gender, and even history. Anthony Montgomery is little more than an elevated extra. Linda Park started out as a Linguistic expert but shortly devolved into a go-fer. Jolene Blalock, the sole female among the show’s power trio, was constantly belittled for being a Vulcan. She and Park were often put on display as eye candy in the “decon chamber” as they got antibiotic gel rubbed all over their stripped down bodies. Plus, the show’s opening had an Americentric view of history, with NASA’s achievement in space glowingly highlighted but Soviet/Russian accomplishments totally ignored.
There’s also the risible example of “Star Trek: Insurrection,” where Picard and company stand up in defense of the relocation of 600 natives… who are plainly white people without even token rubber foreheads. This, after Picard tries to forcibly relocate a whole *planet* of Native American settlers in the episode “Journey’s End.”
Not to mention how Star Trek as a whole, which often treats aliens as parallels for various nationalities, engages in essentialism about them, with there only being one way to be a good Vulcan or Klingon… although I’m probably getting too far afield here.
So whitewashing Khan? I see that as totally in-line with the Star Trek franchise’s trend, to the point that the Abrams films *still* come out a lot better compared to most post-TOS/TNG Trek despite the body blow of Khan’s whitewashing. Uhura getting some decent screen time, having replaced McCoy in the main trio, and the background is littered with men and women of every body shape, skin color, and age.
Which is terribly sad, being able to point to the bit roles and *background* characters as examples of Star Trek being on a representational upswing! But, I think, it’s sadly true.