Archive - Story


May 20th, 2013

Into DarkDork

Memo to JJ Abrams*: BAD NERD. NO BISCUIT.

Right off the bat, let me say that for the most part, I liked Star Trek Into Darkness. Or, more accurately, I liked most of the parts of Star Trek Into Darkness. But when the movie breaks, it breaks in such specific ways, for such specific reasons, that I'll damn well call it dumb.

And it all boils down to one word. Khan. Or, more accurately, "KHAAAAAAAAAAN!" But we'll get to that in a bit. Before we can talk about the decisions made in the movie, we have to talk about the decisions made about the movie. The decision to use Khan, and the decision to keep that a secret.

Wanting to use Khan is understandable. Thanks to that one movie, Khan has become the singular iconic villian of Star Trek. He's Trek's Joker. Trek's Lex Luthor. Trek's Darth Vader. And let's face it, the last time JJ Abrams had to come up with an iconic Trek villain, he started with a plot device and backtracked it until he came up with a tattooed Romulan miner from the future, and it ended up not being iconic at all.

So fine, we're gonna get Abrams' take on Khan. But then they decide it's going to be a secret, probably in an attempt to manage nerd expectations. Which is admirable in theory, and impossible in practice. And that's how you end up with Whitey White McBritish Khan. Because you cast someone who looks like he might be "Khan Noonian Singh", and everyone knows it's Khan, because the other possibility is inventing a new villain and hiring a non-white actor to play him in a Star Trek movie, and nobody takes THAT bet.

So, yeah, Cumberbatch did a great job, but someone less pale blue could have done a great job, too. But nerd circumstances didn't allow that.

But now we get to the sticking point, the point at which JJ Abrams proves himself to be a Bad Nerd at heart. Here's what a Bad Nerd says. "We've got Khan in the movie. At some point, someone has to yell 'KHAAAAAAAAN!'. We can't not do that. It's a classic moment! Everyone knows that moment! What idiot wouldn't do that?"

And so, it was done. And not only was it done, it was done as part of a fifteen minute chunk of the movie that lifts the most noted chunks of Wrath of Khan, bit for bit, and drops them in the new movie. It's moment after moment of Bad Nerd choices, getting their grubby little hands on the things they love and hugging them like Lennie in Of Mice And Men.

Nobody had to yell "Khaaaaaaan!" in Into Darkness. It wasn't mandatory. It wasn't necessary. It wasn't even a good idea. For fuck's sake, Khan didn't even break the ship, forcing Kirk to fix it and die for a little while! Robocop did!** It was in there because someone's inner nerd insisted it had to happen, and that inner nerd was WRONG.

Up until that 15 minute chunk, what we had was a perfectly valid "what if" version of Space Seed Khan. And that was fine. But nobody knows Space Seed Khan, they know Wrath Of Khan. So you force your Wrath bits into alt-Space Seed even though it doesn't work. Even though it basically stops a good movie and makes you think you're watching a bad convention sketch.

There are a couple of other, smaller mistakes along these lines. Calling the "five year mission" speech the "Captain's Oath", while talking about how nobody's done a five year mission before. Just shoehorning a nerd bit in and trying to justify it. That's some rookie-ass shit that was old when Cyclops awkwardly joked about "yellow spandex".

Also, I can't help but notice that two movies, four years apart, take ut to exactly the same point. The crew of the Enterprise, together at last, on their ship, ready to start the adventures they're famous for. They're not gonna be making many of these movies, you know. Maybe they should spend some of them on the actual, you know. Things that happen on their five year mission. Things that fall under the basic premise of "Star Trek".

Now, all this would be water under the Bridge, as it were, except they gave Star Wars to Abrams, too. And there is a good nerd and a bad nerd in Abrams, and they are constantly fighting for control. If Bad Nerd Abrams shows up to direct Episode 7, it's not going to be pretty. I don't want my new Trek and Wars movies to be constantly shouting "Hey, remember this? This was cool!" at me. I want new cool things to remember.

*Movies are, of course, a joint effort. Consider Abrams to be shorthand for Abrams and his creative team.

**And yes, that sentence traveled back in time and gave 1987-me an inexplicable nerd-boner, but still.