Star Trek Into Darkness: A Spoiler-Heavy Review

I think they used “Sabotage” one film too early.

I love the Star Trek franchise, although I consider myself a casual fan (not sure what the term for that is. Trekker?). When it comes to the Trek movies, I tend not to nitpick small details. The story and its themes are what’s important to me. Star Trek (2009) was about dealing with pain and loss, the uncertainty of the future, and learning to depend on others. It almost had to be about those things, since fans had to come to terms with the retirement of the original timeline. Anyways, Abrams’ first film was very good (though it had its problems), and it did what it needed to do: get Kirk in the chair, divorce itself from the rigid continuity of the original series, and rustle up some new fans. Hollywood being Hollywood, a sequel was inevitable. Four years later, Star Trek Into Darkness has warped into theaters. Is it as good as the last one? Short answer: no. Slightly longer answer: no, because it’s better. What?…Why yes I WOULD like to elaborate at great lengths! Onward!

KIRK, SPOCK, AND THEIR BROMANCE

“Did they ever put this ‘Everything is gray now’ business up to a vote? I feel like they didn’t.”

It always bothered me how quickly Kirk got to command the Enterprise in the first movie. He basically from a cadet to the captain of the Federation’s flagship in a few days! It was a little rushed. But Into Darkness acknowledges that it WAS rushed. Kirk DID take command of the Enterprise too early. He depends too much on luck. He’s irrational. He exploits the loyalty of his crew. He really SHOULD spend a little more time at the Academy. People like Kirk: he’s smart, handsome, charismatic, and a risk-taker. Which is great, but those qualities allowed him to bypass the system and become responsible for a starship before he was ready. After all, it takes wisdom and experience to learn when to take risks and when to avoid them. That’s where Spock comes in.

In the first movie, Kirk and Spock spend a long time at odds with each other. Eventually, they develop mutual respect and admiration, but their inevitable friendship is only hinted at by Spock Prime. Into Darkness delivers on that promise by showing us how much one needs the other. Kirk must learn to keep his emotions in check and look at things logically. Spock has to accept his human heritage and understand that emotion is not a weakness. At the beginning of the film, Spock is willing to sacrifice himself on Nibiru so that its inhabitants can live (“The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few”), and Kirk doesn’t understand how he can accept his fate so easily. Spock, meanwhile, is the voice of reason for the vengeful Kirk after Pike dies. By the end, their positions are reversed: Kirk makes the logical decision that his life is worth the crew’s, and he sacrifices himself to save them without hesitation. Spock, moved to tears by Kirk’s death, is acting on anger when he goes after Khan moments later. Maybe some die-hard Wrath of Khan fans didn’t care for the Kirk/Spock role reversal in the final act, but I thought it was a great callback to the volcano scene. In that moment, Spock was deliberately unemotional about death, and Kirk couldn’t see the bigger picture. Neither could comprehend the other’s thought process until the whole ship and crew are threatened; Kirk is forced to start thinking like Spock, and vice versa. After the events of Into Darkness, it can truly be said that Kirk and Spock are friends, because they’ve learned from each other: they now fully understand each other’s perspective, and they’re better men for it.

VILLAINY

“Yes, Khan Noonien Singh is my birth name! Why does everyone always ask me that?!”

Benedict Cumberbatch is predictably amazing as Khan/John Harrison. In the original timeline, it’s remarked that Khan is noble in his own way, and he makes a great foil for Kirk because they have many similar qualities. The same is true in this film. Khan is a cunning and savage fighter, and he has no use for rules or limitations. In that way, he’s very much like Kirk, just distorted to the extreme. Indeed, both men are aggressive, determined, and fiercely protective of their people, but Khan is willing to do whatever it takes to get what he wants, damn the consequences; Kirk has to learn the danger of that kind of attitude.

I don’t think it’s too controversial to say that Nero from Star Trek (2009) wasn’t a particularly compelling villain, but thanks to great writing and an intense, nuanced performance from Cumberbatch, we don’t have that problem here. Interestingly, in his first appearance on the original Star Trek show, Khan was initially going to be a big Nordic guy in order to hammer home the whole Nietzschean ubermensch concept. It wouldn’t surprise me if Cumberbatch’s casting was a clever nod to what almost was.

MAKING THE MOST OF AN ALTERNATE TIMELINE

WOO WOOOOOOO WOO WOO WOO WOO WOOOO (Imagine that noise coming from a theremin and you’ll get it)

Into Darkness makes excellent use of the alternate timeline concept established in the first film. The chain of events that brings the Enterprise into conflict with Admiral Marcus and Khan can be traced back to Nero’s attack on Vulcan and Earth. The Federation’s leadership realizes that it’s vulnerable, so it becomes more paranoid and militaristic, aggressively exploring as much space as possible. They find Khan (Presumably aboard the Botany Bay), realize who he is, and exploit his strategic genius in order to prepare for inevitable conflicts with the Klingons and other threats. It’s an interesting idea that Khan, despite being from the past, would have a better understanding of weapons than people living in the more peaceful 23rd century. We can also see less obvious signs that Starfleet has become more militaristic: the uniforms are darker, more official looking, and certainly not what we would expect from benign explorers (whether they were meant to or not, they reminded me of the Soviets). At any rate, the story manages to address 21st century terrorism and our responses to it without appearing heavy-handed, not an easy accomplishment.

I saw Into Darkness with a friend who had seen the 2009 movie and nothing else from the Star Trek franchise. He also thought it was great, and I believe that’s evidence enough that Abrams has succeeded at making Star Trek accessible to new audiences without alienating old fans. The references to the original timeline were enjoyable (though not too excessive), and I think it was smart of Abrams to have Into Darkness mirror The Wrath of Khan without blatantly stealing from it. In a way, it’s comforting to know that some things are MEANT to happen, regardless of the timeline we’re in.

BUT WHAT ABOUT EVERYBODY WHO ISN’T KIRK, SPOCK, OR KHAN?

Given the huge focus on Kirk and Spock’s budding bromance, the supporting cast is surprisingly well-developed. Even though he’s not in the movie for long,Bruce Greenwood’s Admiral Pike adds a lot to the story. Into Darkness confirms his status as Kirk’s surrogate father, and their scenes together are really touching; we can tell that they genuinely care about each other. Uhura has more to do this time around, and her interactions with Spock are a little more believable. It doesn’t look like we’ll see the resurrection of the Kirk/Spock/McCoy relationship that anchored the original films, but Karl Urban is more comfortable as McCoy this time around, and the character’s friendship with Kirk is strengthened; he also gets to participate in more of the action, which is fine by me. Scotty continues to be comic relief, but he plays a major role in the movie, demonstrates his expertise, and gets some good dramatic moments as well. Peter Weller and Alice Eve are also great as Admiral and Dr. Marcus, adding emotional heft to the Enterprisetussle with the Vengeance.

NITPICKS (OKAY, FINE…I DO HAVE A FEW)

There are some minor things I would have changed. I will now list them:

1. Sulu and Chekov have nothing to do. I wanted to see Sulu fence again and I wanted Chekov to see some combat.

2. Not enough Klingons. Especially disappointing, given their awesome redesign. Here’s hoping the next one will be about them.

3. Always nice to see Nimoy, but his cameo felt really forced and didn’t contribute much.

4. I was fine with the naked cat ladies because…well, OF COURSE they would be unclothed after spending the night at Jim Kirk’s place. But the scene with Carol Marcus changing in the shuttle was an unnecessary, blatantly obvious chunk of cheesecake trailer-bait.

5. I don’t expect anybody to agree with me on this one, and I admit it’s weird, but I REALLY like the design of the Starfleet flight suits in Into Darkness, and I kind of wish they had been the new standard uniform. It seems really unfair that the female crew members have to wear skirts all the time.

I know. I know! I KNOW, OKAY?! I DON’T KNOW WHY I LIKE THEM EITHER!

6. Okay, this isn’t actually a nitpick at all, because I loved Cumberbatch as Khan, but I can’t help but wonder how Benicio Del Toro would have done in the role if the rumors about his casting had turned out to be true. I bet he also would have been pretty amazing. Just an observation.

WHAT’S NEXT FOR THE FRANCHISE?

Obviously, J.J. Abrams is moving on from Star Trek, which is for the best. I mean, even if he weren’t, we’d still have to wait another four years until the next movie in the series, and I REALLY don’t want to wait that long to see what happens with these Klingons! That’s where I think the series is headed, by the way (at least IT BETTER BE!). If Brad Bird were to take over like he did with Mission Impossible, I wouldn’t be too broken up about it. To be honest, I’m much more excited for the next Trek than I am for episode VII of Star Wars. But hey: here’s hoping Abrams gets better results from copying George Lucas than he did when “paying homage” to Steven Spielberg.

Remake This: Krull (1983)

In the wake of the original Star Wars trilogy, the late ’70s and early ’80s saw a wave of movies attempting to cash in on the public’s renewed interest in science fiction and fantasy. On the plus side, we got a revitalized Star Trek franchise. But then, we also got Starchaser: The Legend of Orin, so…yeah, mixed bag. See, the vast majority of movies inspired by the success of Star Wars were pretty…um, uninspired. And most of the ones that did turn out well, like The Last Starfighter, weren’t exactly original. But there were a few such films that stood out, and one in particular that (in my opinion) REALLY stood out. I am of course referring to the awesome Sci Fi/Fantasy mashup that is….KRULL!

What is Krull?

Good question. Krull is a movie set on a distant planet (also named Krull) that exists in an unknown galaxy. I know what you’re thinking. “A long time ago in a galaxy, far, far away? How original.” And perhaps you’d be right, if Krull were a desert planet, or one with futuristic technology. But it’s not. Its people use swords; they live in castles and cottages and caves; some of them practice magic (with varying levels of success, but more on that anon). Yeah, that’s right: Krull is a world of high fantasy. At least until…

The Story:

Here’s where things get kooky. Remember how I said Sci Fi/Fantasy, not just Fantasy? Well that’s because, as the movie starts, Krull gets invaded. By aliens. A giant telepathic shapeshifting alien known as The Beast. His ship, a monstrosity called The Black Fortress, touches down on Krull’s surface and disgorges an army of laser-wielding shocktroopers called Slayers. They promptly lay waste to the countryside. Naturally, an army of technologically advanced monsters will make whatever petty quarrel your kingdom has with another kingdom seem silly by comparison; it’s time to unite. The two rulers of Krull decide to do just that. One king’s daughter marries the other king’s son, making the two kingdoms one. Apparently Prince Colwyn and Princess Lyssa have had the hots for each other for a while, so they’re cool with it.

But guess who isn’t cool with it? THE BEAST!!! Slayers attack the castle where the wedding is happening and kill everyone except Colwyn (they meant to, though. It would be weird if they didn’t even try, right?). They capture Lyssa and take her to The Black Fortress, so The Beast can make her his bride. Why? Well, because there is an ancient prophecy about her:  “A girl of ancient name shall become queen, she shall choose a king. Together they shall rule their world, and their son shall rule the galaxy“. The Beast wants to rule the galaxy, so he figures he’ll try the old kill-everybody-they-care-about-and-promise-them-power-on-the-off-chance-they’re-willing-to-overlook-that-whole-killing-everybody-they-care-about-thing-from-earlier trick. So he’s holding her hostage in the Black Fortress, which randomly teleports to a different part of Krull every day, and Colwyn wants her back. With the help of an old seer, a gang of oddly pleasant escaped convicts, a not-very-talented “wizard,” and a brooding cyclops, Colwyn has to find an ancient magical weapon of great power, find the Black Fortress, get inside before it vanishes, fight his way through scary foot soldiers with laserthingies, rescue Lyssa, and kill The Beast. Yeah, it’s pretty intense.

Here’s the trailer:

…Are you still there? Good. I only want people who are committed to this! Now that we’ve weeded out the nonbelievers, let me explain why that wasn’t as stupid as you thought it was.

What’s Great about the Movie:

1. The Premise. One of the things that makes Krull unique is the fact that it’s a mashup of the Sci-Fi and Fantasy genres. The idea that Krull is in the rough equivalent of our earth’s Middle Ages is really cool; its buildings, costumes, and weapons have a vaguely familiar medieval look about them, but they’re also exotic enough to remind us that this is another planet. It also becomes clear as the story unfolds that Krull has its own unique history, traditions, and legends and myths.

2. Almost Everyone Gets a Character Arc. Seriously, this does not happen often in movies. Hell, these days we’re lucky if the main character in an action movie has any character development whatsoever. But that’s what’s so fascinating about Krull. You’ve got the main protagonist going through the basic Hero’s Journey arc, the convicts who are reluctant to help him but eventually come to care about their mission, the bungling wizard who overcomes his cowardice, the melancholy cyclops who embraces his destiny; I could keep going, but just see the movie instead of reading about it, okay?! GO!

3. The Score Is Amazing. James Horner really knocked it out of the park on this one. There’s a reason why the man’s got two Oscars under his belt (I could list all the movies he’s done, but you could just Imdb it if you’re curious, so why bother?).

4. The Writer and Director Were Clearly Passionate About Their Project. Peter Yates directed this movie. He was responsible for some of the best dramas of the late 20th century, but with Krull he was able to balance lighthearted adventure and dark fatalism perfectly. He also got the actors to take their roles seriously when it would have been easy to play it camp. As a result, the film is fun, but a little more introspective and atmospheric than other Star Wars rip-offs. I think Yates’ direction is largely responsible for that. I’d be remiss if I didn’t also give credit to Stanford Sherman, the writer. He wrote a lot of camp; it’s what he was most well-known for (I won’t lie and tell you all of his work is good, but I will say that Sherman’s post-Krull fantasy, The Ice Pirates, is a hilarious and self-aware parody of the genre). Maybe it’s because he had so much experience writing deliberately silly scripts that he was able to give Krull the right amount of self-awareness. Not enough to make it a comedy or parody, obviously, but enough to remind the audience that its primary goal is to entertain, and we don’t have to take it too seriously.

5. It’s Fun to See Famous Actors, Both Old and Not So Old. Like any good post-Star Wars sci-fi/fantasy, Krull features a few veteran classical actors slumming for a paycheck. But it also has a few faces modern audiences will certainly recognize:

SEE! ON THE FAR LEFT! IT’S CHARLIE BUCKET’S TEACHER! oh, and Liam Neeson too, or whatever.

5. The Set Design of the Black Fortress is Inspired. The Beast’s lair/spaceship/love nest is super trippy. The environment constantly changes, whether it’s to keep intruders out, or prisoners in. At times, it seems like the place is alive. Maybe it is.

So Why Remake It?

My philosophy for remakes is simple: you should only attempt it if you think you can tell the story of a movie  in a better or more unique way. I try to reserve judgment on remakes until I’ve seen them, because there’s a good chance that they might be just as interesting (if not more so) than the original, like the newer versions of The Italian Job or Ocean’s 11. But in order to justify a remake, the original has to have untapped potential. After all, what did the remake of Clash of the Titans do besides suck all the joy and fun out of a silly but earnest fantasy film? And did the new Fright Night really say anything that the original didn’t? With Krull, though, there is potential to expand on the story, especially since its concept (more than the actual story) is the best part. Since I just mentioned some of the great strengths the original has, let’s look at a few ways a remake could tell the story better:

Better Special Effects. The original has some great set designs, as I mentioned earlier. If they ever remake Krull, they should NOT use green screens or depend too much on CGI when practical effects will do. Some of Krull‘s greatest triumphs are in the clever application of practical effects (there’s an especially well-done scene with an evil shapeshifter that terrifies me to this day). However, there are several moments in the film where I can’t help but feel underwhelmed. The magic effects look bad, and many of Krull’s locations and wildlife aren’t nearly exotic as they ought to be. I think some creative applications of modern motion picture technology would take care of that.

2. Exploit the Setting. Some movies spend too much time with exposition. Krull doesn’t spend enough time with it. As I mentioned earlier, it’s really cool to imagine what another planet would look like during its equivalent of a medieval period. What would be different about it? What wouldn’t be different? Unfortunately, in the movie, we don’t get much more than a taste. Most of the action occurrs in the wilderness, with a small group of heroes against The Beast and his Slayers. We don’t get to see the cities and villages of Krull, nor do we know why the two kingdoms were fighting one another to begin with. We can tell from conversations and quick glimpses that Krull has its own religious ceremonies, ancient myths, prophecies, holy people, and even a class hierarchy. But the movie just assumes we know all this stuff, and doesn’t bother to elaborate on it (I’d like to think that Sherman had a lot of Krull’s history and mythology figured out in an early draft of the script, but I haven’t researched it, so it may just be wishful thinking). I propose a few scenes and some dialogue here and there to make us understand Krull a little bit better, especially when it comes to the magic users we meet in the film and their past. Oh, and there should also be a ton of animals (domestic and otherwise) on Krull that are unique to that planet. They don’t have to look SUPER different, but just enough to remind us that we’re not on Earth. Finally, I think we need to see a much larger portion of the planet; different continents, different races, different climates. Even if it’s just for a brief amount of time, this establishes The Beast as a threat to the WORLD of Krull, not just the (apparently white, mostly male) kingdoms of Krull.

3. Jettison the Damsel in Distress Subplot. This one’s easy. Even though Lyssa is smarter and a little more determined than your average damsel trope, she spends the entire movie trying (halfheartedly) to escape from The Black Fortress. Except for the beginning of Act 1 and the end of Act 3, she doesn’t have much to do. So let’s not have that. Instead, at the opening of the film, let’s have Lyssa be a warrior. She’s a battle-hardened commander for her father’s army. Instead of showing her and Colwyn falling for each other off-screen, maybe they meet face-to-face in battle and almost kill each other. Over time, as their kingdoms fight again and again, they develop a grudging respect, then a friendly rivalry, then…something more. On their wedding night, almost everybody gets killed, but the two lovebirds escape, and they decide to kill The Beast. This way, instead of simply rescuing a princess, the motivation for storming the Black Fortress is revenge and security, and Lyssa and Colwyn are equals on this quest. Sure, The Beast still wants to seduce Lyssa, but that’s part of a bigger campaign of psychological warfare he’s inflicting on all of the heroes. Now we don’t see the Black Fortress (at least not from the perspective of the heroes) until the end of the movie, which increases the uncertainty and terror as the adventurers force their way in.

That’s all I would suggest. I honestly think, if these changes are implemented, everything else would fall into place.

In Conclusion…

At the time of this post, Krull is about 30 years old. Hollywood is fast running out of movies to mine for ’80s nostalgia, and I think this one is better-remembered than people realize. And hey, even if nobody remembers it, they’ll still pay to watch a movie that looks exciting enough…Right? Well, it doesn’t really matter if they remake Krull. I don’t need an excuse to wax nerdrantical about movies I like. I never have; you can ask literally anyone who knows me.

Need I reiterate that this is all opinion-based? I guess I will. It is. As you have undoubtedly discovered, I am heavily biased in the movie’s favor. HEAVILY. So there you have it. I unironically enjoy Krull a great deal and I recommend it to anyone who likes space operas, high fantasy, or both. Give it a watch and let me know how you feel about it, and whether you feel a remake is a good idea. Let me know in the comments which films you think deserve to be remade, and what you would change if you could. Feel free to stay if you want, but I’m going to get a sandwich. And no, it doesn’t matter when you read this. Odds are, I’m getting a sandwich then, too.

P.S. At the time of this posting, Krull is available, in its entirety, on Crackle. I hope it stays there for a while, but who can say? Pay attention to their description of the film; it’s accurate. And don’t listen to those Poindexters at Imdb and Rotten Tomatoes!