Table For Two: Star Trek Into Darkness

By Kendra James and Arturo R. García

Image via Collider.com

You know why we picked the poster for the 3D showings of Star Trek Into Darkness? Because that’s about two more dimensions than the story ended up having. Set phasers to spoilers under the cut, as we talk about Khan, Sulu, Uhura, and where the franchise might go after this — assuming the fan backlash doesn’t sink the new film series.

Arturo: So, the Khan fail. Besides the whitewashing, Cumberbatch didn’t even use the character’s full name. It made the scene with Spock Prime play out like Exposition for Dummies. Like I said on Monday, I don’t think this was a necessary bit of casting at all. But the idea of Khan-as-ally-gone-wrong was actually an interesting take on the character before it got derailed by the third act fisticuffs.

The point was raised, astutely, by several commenters in Monday’s thread that casting a South Asian in the role ran the risk of taking the character into problematic territory from another direction. But I continue to feel that having the franchise’s seminal villain resurrected with appropriate casting and smart writing might have mitigated those concerns, at least partially.

Kendra: I was more pissed about the Khan race-fail coming out of the movie than I was going in. Knowing it was Khan going in (thanks, Australia) I was looking for a grand reinvention of the character, figuring that if they were going to remake Wrath of Khan they had to have a good reason for it.

Turns out that wasn’t the case. Not only did they whitewash a culturally significant POC character, they did it for a crappy role in a semi-crappy movie. What a waste.

Arturo: I’d like to tip the hat to Racebending for pointing out that there’s also been dissent about this idea from within the franchise.

First, you had John Cho saying in an interview that Khan was his favorite Trek villain:

“Ricardo Montalban as Khan. He was badass. And a man of color, I might add.” Cue the nervous laughter around the 1:50 mark here:

Also, Voyager’s Garrett Wang took to Twitter to critique the casting choice:

Wang’s pick for the role? Naveen Andrews — whom, one would think, would have been an option since he worked on Lost under both Abrams and STID co-writer Damon Lindelof. For their part, Racebending included Andrews in a group of six picks of their own, along with our old friend Sendhil Ramamurthy from Heroes.

And props, as well, to IO9’s Rob Bricken for this lovely bit of shade:

I don’t know. I think it’s nice that in this day and age, a white male can still be cast as an Indian played by a Mexican. White men really have come a long way!

Kendra: The best thing to come out of this movie is John Cho’s blatant eye rolling on the media campaign at everything JJ related.

Cho Trek1

Cho Trek2

Arturo: Speaking of Mr. Cho, I came away very happy for this version of Sulu. Not only does he handle the big chair admirably (with McCoy there to make it “okay” for the audience to root for him), but we get a strong suggestion that like Sulu Prime, John Cho’s version will eventually reach his own command. While the point was well made in Monday’s thread that this is also a rehash from the Roddenberry films’ timeline, I’m still glad that this particular aspect of the character was kept — and enhanced. His ultimatum speech to Khan was money.

Kendra: I can’t find the cam version floating around out there just yet, but for now take my word for it: the final shot of Sulu on the bridge as Kirk leaves him in charge was fantastic. Intentional or not, the crew has never looked as diverse as it did then. There was the Black female officer in command gold, one Black operations officer, and (I think) one POC science officer as well. Sulu’s command was a dream bridge.

Arturo: I did some looking around, and Navigation Officer Darwin there was played by Aisha Hinds, who was part of the cast of Detroit 1-8-7 and appeared on the CW’s Cult. Also seen, and mostly silent: Doctor Who‘s Noel Clarke playing the officer blackmailed by Khan in the early going, with Nazneen Contractor and Anjini Taneja Azhar playing his wife and daughter, respectively.

Zoe Saldana as Lt. Uhura. Image via aceshowbiz.com

Arturo: Uhura, on the other hand, had an uneven arc this time around. Your thoughts?

Kendra: I loved the insights we got into Spock and Uhura’s relationship (or the polyamorous relationship between Spock, Uhura, and Kirk, if that’s more your speed). Those were good, funny ensemble moments, even if they did happen at the most inappropriate times. JJ apparently wants me to believe that smart, capable Uhura would decide that a life threatening away mission was the best time to discuss the status of their relationship.

But I digress. On her own, Uhura sort of peaked during the confrontation with the Klingons and that was early on in the movie. I’d count that she helps save Spock during his showdown with Khan, but I was so annoyed with everything after Kirk’s “death” that I can’t bring myself to do it.

I kept expecting the Klingons (or some Klingons) to resurface at some point during the film and refer back to their encounter with Uhura — perhaps as a plot point to help wrap up the movie. But because that didn’t happen it’s almost as if we’re not supposed to see that moment as important. It’s a thing that happened, it was cool, but obviously it wasn’t that significant. (And that in itself is baffling to me– As far as I can tell, like much of what went down in this movie, Abrams introduced the Klingons for no other reason than his Wrath of Khan playbook told him to do so.)

Honestly, I think Alice Eve’s Carol Marcus drew the shorter straw among the ladies of the Enterprise. This movie came nowhere near passing the Bechdel Test, but I think that unnecessarily lingering shot as she stripped down in front of Kirk really sealed that failing grade.

Alice Eve as Carol Marcus. Image via comicbookmovie.com

Arturo: Going in, I thought Dr. Marcus was going to be an accomplice of Cumber!Khan’s, actually. So it’s interesting to see the mother of Kirk’s child become a member of the proper “family.” Having her onboard also diverts from the Kirk/Spock/Uhura poly action you described earlier, another signal that this Kirk “grew up” a bit more quickly than Shatner!Kirk.

Also, Lindelof has taken at least a little bit of responsibility for that underwear shot. But that was a bad situation for him and the other writers to inflict upon Eve, because Dr. Marcus actually had an arc of her own — she’s the one who figures out what’s up with the pho-pedoes, and she stands up to her father. Now, if she could have told Bones to shut the hell up with his creepy-ass flirting, that might have helped.

Kendra: Then there’s the Scream The Will Live in Infamy. You know, Zachary Quinto’s been a decent replacement Spock and I have nothing against the guy, but… wow. It was so unfair of Abrams to have him do that and it added nothing to to the movie for me. If anything it rudely jerked me out of what had been, until then, a dumb but enjoyable popcorn flick. It wasn’t until Spock did his Shatner-best that I actually started thinking about what I was watching and realised how disappointed I was.

Kirk’s death was very well shot and acted, and if they hadn’t used a tribble to blatantly telegraph the ending 20 minutes beforehand I might have even been sad about it. As it stood the death had little emotional resonance because the metaphorical toothpaste was going right back in the tube. That made the unnecessary, “KHAAAAAAAAAAAANN!” even worse.

Arturo: And really, by that point having that be the Big Reveal just seemed silly. That said, I did sort-of enjoy the role reversal there. Having Kirk not only lose his mentor but his own life (however briefly) and admit that he didn’t know what he was doing was a more thorough take on the Hero’s Journey myth than we tend to get in these kinds of movies. So it’s a little more believable that this Kirk needed to go through all this before being able to handle a purely explorational mission. Instead of The Search For Spock, this was The Search For Character.

Also, I can’t imagine how Tumblr reacted to seeing Zachary Quinto and Cumberbatch beating each other up. If Tom Hiddleston had dropped by, Yahoo would have needed to double its’ asking price.

Kendra: Aside from Kirk, Scotty probably had the most well developed arc of the movie!

And yeah, the Sherlock/Star Trek crossover fics started appearing months ago, and they’re just as bad as you’re thinking they are.

Arturo: You know, I don’t think I appreciated a Simon Pegg performance as much as I have this one. His Scotty really did toe the line between comic relief and being an Everyman character.

Kendra: McCoy, on the other hand, turned into a Southern caricature. I think they forgot that not every line that came out of his mouth had to sound Dixieland folksy and full of snark.

Arturo: But, what little plot there was reminded me of some TNG or DS9 episodes, where Our Heroes had to confront the darker side of Starfleet. It’s one thing for Spock to voice his concerns; that’s to be expected. But when Scotty (more of a “POV” character) speaks up, that makes it register. And then to have Peter Weller revealed as being a warmonger scared about the threat of the Other, I was actually hopeful.

Eddington (Kenneth Marshall, left) was a thorn in Capt. Sisko’s (Avery Brooks) side on “Deep Space Nine.”

Kendra: And this is why I was still mad at this movie 24 hours later. They had everything the needed here to make an interesting movie, but it’s like JJ Abrams slammed his fist down on the table at each turn and yelled, “But no– I want to do Wrath of Khan! He’s my mystery box!”

Like you said, this could have been a movie about the darker side of Starfleet. They could have still made their ‘terrorism movie’ –as you must do now, no matter what your franchise genre is– and done it well. They had great touches at first, especially when it came to making the Starfleet campus appear slightly more militaristic as Spock and Jim walk through in the beginning of the film. It’s admittedly very easy to forget that Starfleet is, essentially, an optimistic version of a futuristic military state; and what military state doesn’t have opposition? In addition to giving us Section 31, Deep Space Nine consistently attempted to show the tension between Starfleet and private citizens of the universe. Most notably in their creation of the anti-Federation and Starfleet terrorist group, the Maquis.

The main focus of this movie didn’t have to be Khan– it could have been a look at the changing nature of Starfleet, struggle to balance exploratory missions and the Prime Directive with militarization and defense. The struggles of corruption from within, and how that affected their relationships with not only various off-world species (like the Klingons who never reappeared), but also the people of Earth. The latter would have opened the door for any mandatory terrorism plots they wanted to run with, all without the use of Khan. Timelines be damned, if you were going to reinvent any character for this movie it should have been Michael Eddington.

Instead we got Khan, and they went with the Corrupt Admiral route that Picard already dealt with in Insurrection. They had all the elements for a perfect movie, and made this –a movie so un-Treked that it has Klingons and Tribbles in the same film and doesn’t even snarkily mention the Great Tribble Hunt– instead.

Arturo: And the thing about the Corrupt Admiral stories was, there was always a firm push-back to that stance. This Kirk doesn’t have the weight, professionally or otherwise, to provide that. And, most jarringly, we never actually saw anybody be brought to justice. No shots of Khan going to trial. No updates on what happened to Admiral Robocop’s accomplices — and he had to have them — following the revelation of his scheme. I mean, if you’re going to bust out with the Iraq War allegories, have the stones to follow it through.

Kendra: Excellent point. I had a problem with the not one, but two, leaps of time they took in the final 10 minutes of the film, extricating themselves with the need to deal with any of the chaos they’d set up. As my friend said when we left the theatre, “you can’t just destroy San Francisco, kill at the very least hundreds of people, and leave it at that!” TNG and DS9 generally followed through with consequences of some sort, and even when they didn’t you at least got something like this:

Kendra: Where do you see (or hope to see) the Trek franchise going in the next five years?

Arturo: Assuming Into Darkness isn’t listed as a “failure” given its’ relatively flimsy opening weekend, I’m guessing the next installment gives us this timeline’s versions of the Khitomer Accords. Since this film basically covered Wrath Of Khan (and Search, sorta) and nobody wants to touch Voyage Home or Final Frontier, the next “acceptable” guidepost is Undiscovered Country. Although now that I think about it, without this Kirk having to go through the loss of his son at the hands of the Klingons, an attempt to turn him into a xenophobe for the sake of yet another redemption/learning arc is going to come off really badly.

Dream subplot? We also see this Sulu gets cleared for command of the Excelsior and ride in to the rescue again. And, since this is the last movie this crew is under contract for, we can expect a Spock/Uhura wedding … or at least the “death do us part” part. How about you?

Kendra: You won’t catch me refusing an offering of more on screen Spock/Uhura, but it’s still really unfortunate how things have to come in trilogies these days. Honestly, I want Star Trek back on television where it belongs, preferably on a network and not syndicated like it was before. I think after Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has a season or two to prove that a sci-fi/fantasy based off a movie can do well on network television we’ll probably have a better chance of getting a new series.

The show can take place in the reboot ‘verse, all I ask for is a captain with gravitas (maybe another stage actor like Patrick Stewart, Avery Brooks, or Kate Mulgrew. Though who could say no to John Cho getting his own series?), a diverse crew, and no more recastings of beloved characters. I would love to see Bryans Fuller and Singer’s version with Angela Bassett.

These last two movies were made to cultivate new fans, not necessarily to cater to die hard Trekkies. But now that they have them and they’ve made Trek cool again they can capitalise on the chance to show the n00bs what the movies were missing: real intrigue and exploration. Actual well thought out parallels between that universe and our reality that go beyond the Terrorism 101 seminars that pop culture’s been shoving down our throats. DS9, TNG and — to a lesser extent — Voyager excelled at that.

Arturo: But what we’re seeing with this movie, though, is how it’s getting ripped not just by “regular” movie critics, but by more visible aspects of fandom, ranging from IO9’s dissection noted above to members of the Trek “family” to figures like Felicia Day. In wanting to make a Star Trek movie that was “accessible,” Abrams and company have thrown away the goodwill their first installment won (including from this website). If we do get a new show based on this timeline, it’s in the unique position of playing from behind.

  • Shilpa K.

    I have to say, while it’s cool that they did their best to cast people of color in the original Trek, Mexicans aren’t South Asian either. And while I certainly appreciate Indian visibility on screen, I can see how casting an Indian could have entered tricky “brown terrorist” territory…

    Hm, I don’t know whether it’s okay to post links in comments, but I processed my dissatisfaction with the roles of the women in the film: http://luminaryjourneys.blogspot.com/2013/05/the-dissatisfying-roles-of-women-in.html

    …still wrapping my head around a full racial analysis…enjoying reading everyone’s thoughts…

  • Shawn0680

    In my one defense of Abrams he did get the habit of many TOS characters to get into seemingly off-point arguments during stressful times/actions. So the Spock/Uhura exchange actually fit. A chunk of other things didn’t, such as the sensitivity of the warp core, Mr. Scott being part of the investigation team after the attack on the briefing room (they aren’t so legendary throughout Star fleet at this time, so why are they involved in evidence collection?)

    While I loved Cumberbach’s acting here and in “Sherlock”, having him and keeping the name Kahn did seem rather incongruous. I figure if anyone, JJ would have gotten the message that nerds come in all races and genders. And they like seeing people like them on the screen in meaningful roles.