After four years of waiting and anticipation, geek honcho J.J. Abrams has finally given us the sequel to his 2009 box office and critical hit. And it is … serviceable. Abrams’ new movie is as sleek and shiny as his first Star Trek picture but lacking much of its charm. The novelty of seeing these characters coming together is gone, the villain is lackluster in bizarre ways, and the high-flying pacing is absent, making many of the film’s logic gaps even more head-scratching.
And there are indeed some real head-scratchers. Choosing emotion and spectacle over logic can work, and it does in the last Trek outing and the first half of Star Trek Into Darkness, but this time around Abrams and his screenwriting team can’t gloss over all the leaps in logic and other narrative problems. What starts off as another thrilling Abrams movie ends up turning into a mess by the end.
Here are some (spoiler-y) questions which arise out of that mess:
1. What’s the Vulcan Word for “Hypocrite” Again?
Spock (Zachary Quinto) takes issue with Kirk (Chris Pine) dismissing their Prime Directive. The cocky captain was not supposed to let that ship be seen by the natives (and I’m sure none of them saw it while they landed that gigantic monstrosity underwater), but Kirk decides to save his friend anyway after he steals that holy scroll for some unexplained (or probably cut out) reason. Then Spock, of course, reports him for his actions. Did Spock report himself, too? Captain Pike (Bruce Greenwood) mentions that their mission was to observe, not to stop that volcano. And yet, from the start of this mission, we see Spock doing just that. He apparently has no problem whatsoever going against the Prime Directive himself.
Also, since when is the Enterprise a submarine?
2. Why Can’t I See Alice Eve’s Face?
It’s no secret by now that J.J. Abrams likes entertaining his audience with the assistance of lens flares. For the most part they work, sometimes to beautiful results. It adds an immersive quality to the bridge, but there is one moment where Abrams lets those shiny lights to undercut him. When Carol (Alive Eve) pleads with her father to not blow up the enterprise it’s her defining dramatic moment. So why are we looking at a giant lens flare and not Eve’s emoting? Was Abrams not pleased with her performance there or something? Hard to believe since Eve does a commendable job with a thin role, but why would a director almost entirely cover up an actor’s face during such a dramatic moment?
3. Why Trust Khan?
For a character who consistently talks about going with his gut, Kirk’s first thought shouldn’t have been to bring Khan along on a mission. Sure, Khan could help Kirk get around Marcus’s ship, but in the first movie Kirk didn’t have a problem going in blind on Nero’s ship. Kirk is reckless, but does that mean he’s idiotic? It’s difficult to pin down what exactly the movie is saying about “going with your gut.” For the most part it leads to disastrous results. Kirk helping Khan get aboard the Vengeance winds up being a stupid decision that leads to Khan taking control of the ship, which then leads to a dead Kirk. That means his death is kind of his own fault.
But don’t worry, you can get plenty of your unnamed crew killed with barely a mournful mention and even risk the ones you care about and you’ll still be okay after you yourself die.
4. Why Even Bother with Khan?
When John Harrison reveals himself to be Khan, my theater erupted with scattered scoffs but mostly silence. That indifferent reaction begs the question, “Will general audiences give a crap about the reveal?” It’s played as such a big deal, but without knowledge of Khan he’s just another generic “superhuman” villain who punches slightly harder than our heroes. Although Spock takes a moment to phone his older self for a piece of exposition (which the movie itself cracks a joke about how silly that is), what Old Spock tells us about Khan is never truly shown. His manipulation and skills have been seen previously in superior villains, and this Khan doesn’t raise the bar or stakes in any way. When your movie says he is one of those most powerful enemies around, show it. If Khan got his crew back, what could they accomplish? If you don’t know who Khan is, then you probably won’t have a clue.
And considering Khan’s state at the end, Wrath of Khan does not take place in that timeline’s future. I’m sure he’ll escape in a sequel to make that story happen, but with Khan currently locked up, the much better Trek adventure is now gone or altered.
5. Do We Know This Crew Well Enough?
For movies that are made for non-Trekkies, both of Abrams’ movies rely heavily on an audience’s knowledge of both the Trek universe and these characters. When Kirk and Spock say goodbye to each other, it doesn’t have half the impact of the original goodbye scene in Wrath of Khan. That era’s Kirk and Spock went through many highs and lows together. This Kirk and Spock haven’t known each other for very long. You get the sense they like each other but not love each other in the way we saw with Shatner and Nimoy. This scene should’ve been saved for another installment further down the line.
That death scene doesn’t work for another reason…
6. Why Not Use the Blood of One of Khan’s Goons?
It is imperative Spock does not kill Khan at the end. We see Bones realize what his blood can do — even though we the audience already know what it can do from an earlier scene — so they must keep him alive. Why, though? Why can’t Bones take a sample from one of Khan’s colleagues? They all share that same power. And since there is that super blood, where are the stakes now? If a character dies in this universe, they can simply take a pint of blood from Khan. Also, since we know what his blood can do before Kirk dies, does anyone in the audience buy the weight of Kirk’s death scene?
7. Where Are The Klingons?
Early on in the movie Kirk, Spock, and Uhura (Zoe Saldana) pay a visit to the Klingon planet, which does not go according to plan at all. They, along with Khan, kill plenty of Klingons. Word is they were already heading towards war, but this action for sure would spark the real thing. Abrams doesn’t need to show Starfleet and the Kingons going to battle in this movie, but wouldn’t the Klingons retaliate, maybe catch up with the broken down USS Enterprise and join in on the fight? They may save all this Klingon war mumbo jumbo for the third film, but as of right now this subplot goes nowhere. And wouldn’t Kirk, Spock and the rest of the crew face some trouble for invading the Klingon planet? I guess Starfleet doesn’t care that Kirk got plenty of his crew killed and may have sparked a war.
Side question: Why is the Klingon planet, Qo’noS, spelled incorrectly as “Kronos” in the film?