Star Trek Into Darkness: Waiting for Superman

There are going to be some spoilers, after the jump. If that’s not cool, just walk on by. The main spoiler isn’t even a SPOILER, if you have two eyes and a goddamn brain. Or one eye. Or one of Geordi La Forge’s visors. Or fingers which can read interviews with J.J. Abrams in Braille. A single working ear, or a cochlear implant. A telepathic line of communication with the veiny brain scientists of Talos IV, even. It’s not a well-kept secret. At this point, I bet Mad Men really is going to end with Don taking a nosedive out the window, just because it seems so obvious.

How about those effects, huh? I saw Star Trek Into Darkness in IMAX 3D and literally tried to dodge some debris. There’s a lot of debris. Let’s talk about that: how do these starships not fall apart constantly? OK, it’s the future. It’s pretty far in the future. But, so far, the only way people do not die the minute they enter space is for absolutely nothing to go wrong. If your cup holder doesn’t retract right, you’re going to die a horrible and lonely death in the frigid vacuum of space. If your engineer has a hangnail and rests his hand on the wrong console, no one will ever find any of your bodies. This is why Apollo 13 is so gripping: it is pretty much the only time anyone in space has ever said, “whoa, THAT doesn’t look right,” and lived to shake hands with the handsome, inoffensive actor who would portray them in the ensuing biopic. Space is a fucking nightmare.

There are points in this movie in which there is physically less Enterprise than there is Enterprise. It is like a Swiss cheese starship. It’s scaffolding with some towels hanging off it. Restoring the warp core under those circumstances (which, whatever, that’s not a spoiler, that happens in every single episode of each incarnation) would be like nudging a corpse with your foot and saying, “let’s get that watch going, or we will NOT know what time it is.” My family’s K-car (a fine reliant automobile) ended its long life as the protagonist of a demolition derby, and it looked better than the Enterprise looks two hours in. It’s obvious that commerce no longer really exists, because otherwise someone would have tossed a hook on that thing and dragged it back to Earth for the salvage rights. And, whatever, it’s happened before in Star Trek, but in this EXACT MOVIE, Kirk drops a (smaller) enemy aircraft by chucking the equivalent of a transistor radio into their engine, and said vessel wasn’t even in space.

Just before the jump, which is where all of The Benedict Cumberbatch Coverage can be found, let me say this: as a filmgoer, I had an absolutely wonderful time at this movie. As someone who would never agree to be paid for watching Star Trek lest she lose her eligibility to compete in the Watching and Caring Too Much About Star Trek Olympics, and has committed to naming her first masculine child “James Tiberius,” it was a hot mess.

We have to stop making our antagonists “supermen.” It’s a big problem. The problem is that once we’ve made them “supermen,” we then have to find a plausible way to defeat them. You’ve got my boyfriend, Benedict Cumberbatch, the greatest living human being, spending an hour and a half embodying a machine of human perfection, both physical and intellectual, and then you have to find a way to make him dumber than people he is demonstrably smarter than. Is it any wonder they have to come up with two equally stupid devices to help it along? No. But do they have to be SO stupid? Kind of! They kind of do! Because when you buy a ticket on the superman ride, it’s hard to get off.*

He’s too good, is the thing. Not even the character; the character being, of course, Khan. (WHAT! SHOCKER! NO! WHO KNEW?) And, because Cumberbatch does nothing other than act his face off 24/7, you buy it completely. He is better than the rest of us. All of Daft Punk’s songs are secretly about Benedict Cumberbatch’s Khan. But Cumberbatch’s Khan is not Ricardo Montalbán’s Khan. Firstly, I love Cumberbatch—he’s my guy—but he claims to have really hit the gym in preparation, and I’m not seeing it. Not only was Khan more ripped in Space Seed, Khan was more ripped in Star Trek II, at which point Montalbán was 62 years old. (I will not entertain fake-pec theories at this time.)

The physicality is not really important, though. Again, Cumberbatch is perfect. But with Montalbán, it made sense that the good guys eventually managed to give him the runaround, because he’d been on Ceti Alpha V going crazier and crazier and becoming more “emotionally compromised,” to borrow from Spock. Cumberbatch is supposed to be reasonably fresh out of cryostasis and with his faculties intact. More like Space Seed Khan, who, to be fair, was eventually defeated because Kirk brained him with something. It was a different time.

Cumberbatch’s defeat is pathetic. Pathetic. You don’t think Benedict Cumberbatch’s Khan would have popped open a torpedo to make sure there was a frozen dude in there before lighting shit UP? Benedict Cumberbatch’s Khan would have checked. Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock would have checked. Benedict Cumberbatch’s Peter Guillam would have checked. Benedict Cumberbatch’s Christopher Tietjen would have checked.

Honestly? Benedict Cumberbatch’s Smaug would have checked. And then he would set his enemies on fire, as super-villains should.

One other quibble, brilliantly explained by others, is that no one seems to be worried that Bones has solved the problem of death. No, it’s cool! We’ll just bring Kirk back from the dead. No one will decide to thaw Khan and his crew and hook them up to Matrix-esque blood-milking machines until their entire society collapses. Nothing to see here.

There is something to see in this movie, though. (There always is, with Star Trek. Even bad Star Trek is sublime). As I sat there, waiting to hear if Kirk would go for accuracy and proclaim his intention to boldly go “where no man had gone before,” or if he would take a page from dedicated pro-womanist Jean-Luc Picard, I realized I hoped for the latter. Change is not the enemy, here. Bad writing is the enemy. Bad writing, and contrivance, and cashing checks your mouth can’t cash. Maybe Abrams should have had Khan fling the Enterprise into the sun. They’d find a way to explain it away for the next installment, and I guarantee, it would have been a better movie.

*Unless we’re calling Benedict Cumberbatch “the superman ride” now. 

Nicole Cliffe is a writer and a Trekkie. People who say they are “Trekkers” are kidding themselves.

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