I will finish this thing if it kills me.
But, it isn’t really about Star Trek: Into Darkness.
Because that movie’s just garbage, and you shouldn’t see it. Somewhere in a file on this very computer is a twenty-page dissection of everything that’s wrong with ST: ID, that no doubt is still growing and growing all on its own now, and will eventually claim all the available memory on this machine…because if you want to know what the real problem with ST: ID is, I will tell you:
The problem with it is EVERYTHING.
Weren’t we just talking about bad sentences? So often the truly terrible is used to prop up the merely bad, to distract from it enough that it can slip its cynical incivility right under your radar. The truly terrible, in a movie, is something we’ve all gotten adjusted to…it may annoy, it may even offend, but it remains “disposable crapness” at its heart. Just another dumb thing; unimportantly awful. But the merely bad stuff…
That can be so much worse.
For example (and believe me the examples just keep coming with this movie, but this is my favourite one), while watching ST: ID with a friend who genuinely loved Star Trek 2009 — I didn’t love ST: 2009, but I did tolerate it — a posture I am coming to regret — anyway as we kept pausing the thing more and more to complain, question, and mock, I found myself thinking of something that you really shouldn’t expect to find yourself thinking of while watching a Star Trek movie, which was:
Isn’t it sickening how people continue to furrow their brows over whether or not it would be defensible to have recourse to Josef Mengele’s alleged “research” IF there was something in there that would help cure cancer or whatever? I mean, I’m not saying we shouldn’t have Phil 100 topics, but we can’t possibly be this hard up for them, can we? Can’t possibly be so hard up for them that we need to ask if our opinion of senseless acts of torture would change if it turned out they weren’t senseless after all?
Do we really think it such a fun game to imagine that the only thing holding back the cure for cancer is all this bureacratic red tape that makes it socially-unacceptable for us to be sadistic monsters?
There’s an equation here that we should be ashamed of being willing to tolerate, even hypothetically. Because Mengele wasn’t doing science. What Mengele was doing was equivalent to firing a bunch of newborns out of cannons to see how aerodynamic the different races are. And then if a Jewish baby had flown the straightest he would’ve done the experiment again and again until it showed the Jewish baby was actually the least aerodynamic. That’s about the level of “science” we’re talking about.
But, what if it could save lives?
Okay, it can’t save lives. It was just fucking torture. It was the senseless torture of innocents (redundant!), in an attempt to extort information from their unwilling flesh, that said flesh just didn’t ever possess in the first place. Because there was no information like that. This was seventy years ago, that this happened, and it wasn’t even science then. What can one really hope to learn, from a vivisection of identical twins that was performed a lifetime ago?
That sometimes the needs of the few outweigh the needs of the many?
Or that “it’s complicated”, or something?
NO. That’s actually what we don’t learn, from the example of Josef Mengele. One might as well suppose that what we learned from Mao is that you shouldn’t wear white after Labour Day. The real Phil 100 topic, in fact, ought to be “is it right to reason on the example of Mengele as though he had been doing science”…don’t you think? Well, I just ran someone over with my car, and then went back to make sure I got their dog too; perhaps that was science.
Yet the idea is out there. Just a thing, a dumb water-cooler thing, a pop-culture reference: “Mengele’s experiments”. Like that thing where you only use one-twelfth of your brain, or how the Eskimos have 500 words for snow, or how Mussolini made the trains run on time, or Galileo was locked up for saying the world wasn’t flat, or any other stupid “meme” from which a perverse narrative of causation may be assembled. Just consider for a moment what it would mean for us if the lesson of Mengele was that sometimes the needs of the few outweigh the needs of the many! Jesus Christ, but what a frighteningly obtuse moral that would be! We think it’s bad to say that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, but actually the reverse formulation is just as bad, and we should be careful we don’t get stuck with either of those things…
Or worse: with both of them. How does one begin to argue for the idea that “torture is sometimes okay”? One begins, Clarice, by wanting it to be okay. By assuming it is okay, already.
And that’s called begging the question. Not just asking it!
But, what does this all have to do with Dr. McCoy, you ask?
I was recently reading a bit of Film Crit Hulk on the subject of convolution — the movie that is all plot-mechanics, in which characters never make choices but simply react to inexplicable happenings all around them — but I think I’m disposed to be a little less merciful than Hulk, and conclude that the love of convolution doesn’t so much indicate an overwhelming interest in one thing, as a disinterest in others. My generation of SF filmmakers has a lot of good qualities, but they also have a lot of bad ones, and one of the worst is their breezy nonchalance when it comes to politics. “The Dark Knight Rises” toys with the French Revolution as though it were just another pop-culture touchstone, hey remember the French Revolution, everyone? That’s the one where Spock had a beard? The new TV show Agents Of SHIELD plays the same distasteful game with — and I can hardly believe this wasn’t just a dream I had — NINE-FUCKING-ELEVEN, as though referencing 9/11 was simply something a competing show had done to great effect, whose popularity they wished to emulate. So the politics gets stuffed into the hat, but the magician can’t pull it out again because apparently he doesn’t know it wasn’t just another rabbit…c’mon you guys, doesn’t it make sense that the events of the Avengers movie would’ve been just like another 9/11, and then in the wake of it a covert black-ops team would be operating without oversight to black-bag American citizens off the streets of major American cities in order to…
Why are you all looking at me like that?
Sigh…okay, okay, you’re right…we need more comic relief…
I don’t know how long it may take Illogical Volume to get around to watching Agents Of SHIELD, mind you; just as I’m advising all of you to avoid ST: ID (hmm, there’s a joke in there somewhere, isn’t there?), I’ve already advised him that Agents Of SHIELD is something he may not wish to get in on the ground floor of…but, what the hell, I also figured maybe I can tempt him by teeing off on the new J.J. Abrams Star Trek, which also bandies the name of 9/11 around a wee bit…and just as incompetently. “Convolution”: it’s a term I like quite a bit, but it’s a bit like naming the absence of a thing rather than naming the thing itself: looking at the compensation for a lack as though it had been a positive choice to have the lack, a matter of studied craft or ambitious theory, rather than pure necessity and plain old brass tacks. Hulk points out that for a passive moviegoer (which is a fine thing to be, don’t get me wrong) the replication of a thing is good enough to be considered the thing nine times out of ten, and maybe that’s true…but what excuses a filmmaker being so passive that he or she doesn’t seem to notice the difference either? Watching this movie, my friend and I (and he LOOOVED ST: 2009, I’ll say once again) didn’t just hit the pause button over and over to discuss why it sucked, but also how it sucked. All those shout-outs to the Seventies…
“Hell, the fall‘ll probably kill ya!”
“Never tell me the odds!”
(Remember in Mystery Men how Ben Stiller’s character just kept on meaninglessly harping on old Partridge Family episodes and Laugh-In catchphrases? Sort of like that but with Steven Spielberg…)
…Right down to the truck from Duel bumping the Enterprise from behind at Warp 15,000 or whatever plus twenty miles an hour, you know? And these are things that perhaps one expects from committee-thunk pieces of crap like the remake of Total Recall, where it’s pretty certain that the alleged writer didn’t know what the hell do they put in these “story” things anyway?…but where Christopher Nolan shits the bed pretty bad in “TDKR”, here J.J. Abrams seems to be insufficiently aware of the location of the bed (in the fridge? under these magazines? could it be in the bathroom, or the garage?) to be capable of shitting it with any efficiency to speak of, and in my opinion that’s something that really does cry out for an explanation. Because you heard it here first, folks: ST: ID doesn’t have a story.
Doesn’t have a story!
It only has a bunch of myoclonic twitches, masquerading as a plot!
And what’s the reason for it all, is what I bet you’re wondering…so we’ll get back to that directly, hopefully in no more time than it takes to freefall from the Moon to San Francisco, but FIRST…!
It’s Dr. McCoy’s turn, at last.
So there’s something funny about Benedict Cumberbatch’s blood, and McCoy idly wonders what it might be…so he does what any medical man would do, and jams a great whack of it into a handy Tribble that he has lying there on his desk. Oh, you bet your sweet bippy he does! Because why wouldn’t he, right? After all, Reader, if I jammed a bunch of my blood into you, you’d…uh…
Well, you’d probably die, but never mind that right now, the Tribble isn’t you, it isn’t a human being for heaven’s sake, it’s just a…
…Totally alien life-form from another planet! Whose pint-sized body you’re only jamming about eight ounces of extra fluid into, so don’t worry about it having an allergic reaction, because it’ll probably burst before the blood affects it…
Hell, the fall‘ll probably kill ya…
…And besides, as anyone who knows anything about Tribbles is well aware, it’s really easy to make more of them, so WELCOME TO THE WORLD OF THE FUTURE!! where we do lots and lots of super-harsh animal experiments that aren’t scientifically valid in the slightest, because the good of the many outweighs the good of the few — or the one, sorry Mr. Tribble — I capitalize your race’s name because it’s clear no one else will bother to do so — and in just a little while we will badly need for nothing to happen in this movie, and as always someone has to stay in the plane. Besides, Trekkies like Tribbles; they’re cute.
And anyway we’re going to save it!
So it’s win-win!
HRM. There’s a lot I’m not saying, here. I’m not talking about how if you feel your G.I. Joe guy doesn’t have a big enough gun, then you can just take away the gun that comes with him using pliers, and then glue a big old Oh Henry bar into his hands…and then suddenly budda-budda-BLAM, Klingons! Behold, I teach you the Superman! And I’m also not talking about how uninterested I am in whatever similarities or differences there may be between Khan and Kirk, or Khan and Spock, or really Khan and anybody, because okay maybe it’s true that Spock has lost all but a handful of his people and he’d do anything to protect those that are left, and Khan is in the exact same position, but you know what I like to do with Neapolitan ice cream? I like to melt it in the microwave until it’s just a sort of pinkish-grey slurry of sugar and guar gum that all has the same trivial, unnameable flavour and wouldn’t it be cool if Khan fought Spock…
I am, in fact, not saying a whole bunch of stuff like that. Because that’s why the first draft of this goddamn review went to twenty pages in a heartbeat. Because there is no story, and EVERYTHING IS WRONG. If one thing were right, the whole movie would collapse. If the truly terrible things were taken out, it would only reveal the merely bad things. This movie can’t afford to be good!
This movie needs its shittiness!
Because without it, something about its makers is bound to be revealed. So forget the “cold-fusion device” about the size and shape of a screwdriver set that upon exploding apparently freezes all the magma in a planet’s crust…forget all that! And forget that no one gathers together their entire operational command in one well-known place with windows when there’s been a major terrorist attack…forget that too! Because that’s only truly terrible, and thus easy to forgive or ignore…because it simply isn’t very important. Concentrate on the essentials, not the details. Like:
McCoy tortures that Tribble.
Don’t you think?
Leonard Nimoy loads and aims New Spock just as surely, and in exactly the same way, that Admiral Marcus loads and aims New Kirk.
Does he not?
This is going to be really hard to finish in the time it takes to freefall from the Moon to the Earth, at least in the time it takes to do that in the Abrams Star Trek universe…Star Trek: now with less science than Lost In Space…but I’m going to press on, Bloggers, and I hope you’ll come with me to the end. I’ve already made it fabulously short, and I’m about to make it shorter, but the ride may be slightly jumpy and it’ll all be just a bit incomplete. It all comes down to politics, and the inability to handle politics that leads to “convolution” in my generation’s SF filmmakers, sheerly for the want of any better option. For characters and the stories they reside in to have political dimensions is a very common thing, and ST: ID is obviously a movie where politics is not only included but employed…but it’s employed with an ineptitude so extreme that you wonder how the people putting it in didn’t know that they were going to fuck it all up.
Until, that is, you realize…
…That they may not have thought there was anything to fuck up. In every scene, as Hemingway might say, motion is mistaken for action…Uhura and the Klingons bellow the word “honour” at one another for a couple of seconds, but then before anything can actually happen it all just goes budda-budda-BLAM, and I’m just not sure that’s only a matter of craft, you know? Or even philosophy. I may not have loved ST: 2009 as my friend did — may not have been successfully snowed by it, is what I mean — but there were choices in it, that were made, that I could occasionally agree with. I’m damned if I can see the choices in ST: ID, though. I am beginning to think there just weren’t any…
And therein lies — as promised! — the crux of the matter. That our assumptions can be dangerous is something everybody knows, but not everybody knows when they’ve picked one up from somebody else, and that’s twice as dangerous; for the most part these little bugs ride along with us harmlessly, but out there in the larger environment they sometimes run into other bugs they can connect to, and from these connections a narrative can grow. And maybe it seems harmless enough, when that happens!
But if you don’t understand politics, you’re not going to be in a very good position to evaluate the “harmlessness” of its narratives, so how it seems doesn’t really fucking matter. I saw McCoy pick up a Tribble, and thought of Josef Mengele’s undeserved reputation as a scientist. Should that have happened? Honestly, should it have? I saw Kirk break the Prime Directive and create a vassal state for Starfleet because it was easy…and it’s played for laughs. Does that seem right to you? So, sure, it’s primally shitty when Spock yells “KHAAAN!”, but it’s still only “truly terrible” — in other words it’s stupid, okay, but it doesn’t reinforce superficial and illiberal narratives while flying a false flag.
Not to mention: while claiming ignorance that any of this might be going on, anywhere but in the mind of a “bad fan”.
A non-passive moviegoer?
Is that what being a Bad Fan is, now?
Here’s me, from the twenty-page first draft, because if I’m just going to point this out again I might as well cut-and-paste it:
“…We have the Superman, but notably he is NOT a eugenical superman, being instead a product of good old-fashioned couldn’t-make-a-superman-if-we-tried genetic engineering. There are assumptions bundled up here that Space Seed never suspected, but perhaps it would’ve been most surprised by the assumption that no one would really want to see Khan’s superiority interrogated — that no one would be interested in knowing about the dichotomy between Khan and Kirk, or Khan and Spock, or even Khan and Scotty or Khan and Sulu for that matter. In part, this is made hard to get at through Khan being made simply a technological product instead of an ideological one…and his past never really comes into conflict with the future he finds himself in. He’s been here for years already, by the time we meet him; already has acquired a mastery of society and technology that surpasses that of the future-native Kirk…who, hmm, actually is a technological product himself, if you think about him as being an alternate Kirk generated by time-travel meddling? But you know, I wouldn’t even bring this up if they didn’t keep harping on it…
…And more on that in a minute, as a variation on our theme, but first there’s the little matter of there being no conflict of perspective between Khan and Kirk, and no perceptible differences in the way they engage with the environment of the future. Khan is also far more (and far less!) than he’s ever been, here: a scientific genius whose genius has simply been built into him, and a murderous asshole because it’s his nature to be a murderous asshole. I’ve talked before about how a belief in biological determinism is the antithesis of everything the Star Trek franchise has ever stood for, and you can sort of see how even this Khan might make an interesting dialectic with even this Kirk…or Spock…on this basis, but even that Kevin Sorbo show with its “Nietzchean” (gah!) human subspecies made a better stab at that symbolism than ST: ID does. Everyone here just accepts everything about Khan, right down to the ground, and even when it looks like they may be slightly inclined to question the smallest part of it all, out pops Leonard Nimoy to remove all ground for doubt, really in exactly the same manner that Admiral Marcus attempts to encourage appeals to his own authority in order to justify his warhawk ways and his notions of collateral damage and political expediency. But, this kind of politics — though it definitely sucks, and we will definitely get to it — isn’t the most important politics on display, here. Technology — all technology — is simply supreme in the environment of ST: ID, never questioned because never noticed, and Khan is part of it so of course he clicks with it, and even adds on to it himself. Khan is technology, in a sense — the spirit of a greater technology — by being what the power of the Golden Age looks like in a world where technology is all the philosophy there is. Admiral Marcus treats him just this way, unthinkingly: he needs Khan because Khan is better, purer, more efficient and inventive. A better tool. BETTER.
The movie never questions this either. Kirk never questions it. Spock never questions it. The genetically-engineered Superman is superior to Saturnian alien races, too, you’ll notice: Spock and Khan meet as two dangerous skinny guys, not as advanced purebred vs. exotic mutt, and so in the bankrupt logic that eschews engagement with politics because it would taint the sweet escapist fun of pretending that Admiral Marcus was our only problem after 9/11 and now that he’s gone we’re fine…why then, naturally the bad guy was set up to win because he’s BETTER and STRONGER and SCRIPTWRITING 101 and also NOW BLOW THIS THING, KID, SO WE CAN GO HOME. Of course the stubbornness of this construction isn’t helped by there being so many aliens around the action of ST: ID — why should Spock, or the Klingons, represent anything in particular to us besides “the history of that Star Trek show”, if they’re so far behind the curve of “unusual” as to even have five fingers? Hell, fuck Spock, Starfleet’s LOADED with aliens that could probably squash Khan like a bug! Kirk should’ve been friends with THEM! But, who am I kidding, it isn’t that it doesn’t happen because it’s made structurally difficult; rather, that structure isn’t created because the movie doesn’t care about what could come from it…”
No, I dont think it’s enough to claim ignorance. A certain eschatalogical promise suffuses these new Star Trek products — that Kirk will achieve his Kirktastic destiny no matter how the new timeline has changed things, that nothing can stop it! — and it seems the filmmakers don’t believe it’s even necessary to support this. And, you know…maybe they’re right!
Because that contention really isn’t supportable, is it?
But don’t look at me! Because I sure as hell didn’t fucking put it in there.
And don’t get me started on the title.
This was lazy, careless garbage with no story and no clue…but on the plus side, it comes MST3K-ready pretty much out of the box, so actually I shouldn’t not recommend it, should I? Still: fuck this ship, and all who sail in her. This is my generation of SF filmmakers, the ones with all my background and all my interests and twice my talent and they’re fucking up royally.
It’s a goddamn embarrassment.
(sudden crash as something flies through the window)
I shall become a bricklayer.