By Christopher Binder (Lorton, Virginia, USA)


Politics ‘n Stuff

WARNING: Major spoilers down below.

My belief that J.J. Abrams can’t (or won’t) do original films the past few years is nothing new, and seeing his latest escapade into film making this morning did absolutely nothing to change that. My initial suspicions going into the theater proved to be right in that Abrams simply drew from past material and put a little spin and shine on some of the elements. In case it wasn’t that depressingly obvious leading up to the release of the film, yes Benedict Cumberbatch actually does play Khan, with “John Harrison” simply being a cover.

We’ve seen this done before recently haven’t we? Just last July Christopher Nolan had Joseph Gordon Levitt go by the name of “John Blake” in The Dark Knight Rises before revealing that his real first name was actually in fact “Robin.” But Abrams borrows (I’ll call it that in a nice way) more than just that little nugget from Nolan. So far as I can tell, ever since the Joker allowed himself to be captured in the middle of The Dark Knight in 2008 to ultimately corrupt Harvey Dent, Star Trek Into Darkness marks the third big summer film in the past year that has attempted to mimic Nolan in this regard.

Loki gets captured in The Avengers to turn the group against each other, Silva gets captured in Skyfall to attempt to assassinate M, and Khan surrenders in order to save his 72 supermen and women. Going even further, the scene near the end where the Enterprise is falling to Earth and Kirk and Scotty are running sideways on a wall in a hallway, images of the hotel fight sequence from Inception raced through my mind at warp speed.

As I mentioned before, borrowing elements from others seems to be a specialty with Abrams (the Hollywood Tarantino). The Star Trek reboot that he did in 2009 owes an enormous debt to the original Star Wars. His reasoning that if Star Trek were classical music and Star Wars was akin to Rock ‘n Roll, in order to make Star Trek appealing to a present day audience, some Rock n’ Roll needed to be injected, is certainly something I can understand. I would say he injected too much but that’s another conversation. The same goes for Super 8. I can understand an homage to the Spielberg films of the 70’s, but again it’s really nothing that original or something that hasn’t been seen before, (as far as I’m concerned) and therefore not all that interesting or memorable.

Star Trek Into Darkness borrows many elements from both The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek: Nemesis and if you’ve seen both they should be pretty obvious. I will say Cumberbatch did a decent job even though he wasn’t given a whole lot to do and was underused in my opinion. Some of his facial expressions made me think he would have made a far better Voldemort than Ralph Fiennes was. A few reverses, primarily Kirk sacrificing himself to save the ship rather than Spock and Spock fighting Khan rather than Kirk (if you’ve seen the original Space Seed episode) did virtually nothing for me. Even Spock yelling Khan’s name out loud in a rage (as William Shatner famously did) turned a rather somber moment into an extremely corny one, akin to Darth Vader yelling “no” at the end of Revenge of the Sith (and Return of the Jedi if you own the Blu Ray). Thankfully Kirk’s body was not shot into the Genesis planet and we will not have to suffer through “The Search for Kirk” 3 or 4 years from now.

But what I groaned about the loudest, more so than any of the previous things listed, was this insistence to essentially turn Khan into a terrorist. Even though the word “terrorist” is never mentioned once in the entire film (“one man war” is used instead), the fact that he is behind a bombing that takes place in London (July, 2005 ring a bell?) and pilots an enormous starship into a bunch of skyscrapers should say enough. Interestingly, the word “Arabic” does get mentioned though in an argument between Kirk and Spock, with Kirk citing “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” in a positive way to justify his forth coming actions and Spock flipping it around to reveal the negative reality. Funnily enough the fact that the phrase has an identical Chinese origin is never mentioned. But getting back to Khan, he isn’t really the primary villain of the film is he?

It just so happens to be the commander of Starfleet, who for whatever reason feels a war with the Klingons is inevitable and is just looking for some excuse to provoke a conflict. Sound familiar? I suppose if you rolled up Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rove, and George Tenet into one you would get Admiral Marcus, but isn’t it long past the time for finger pointing now? I had sincerely hoped that after Bin Laden had been found and killed in 2011 this so called “War on Terror” would finally come to an end and we could finally put that entire mess behind us and move on. Obviously a film had to be made chronicling as much as possible and earlier this year Zero Dark Thirty came out. And that was it, reflection period over, time to move on. Right? Apparently not. Given the recent bombings in Boston, this terrorist thing is still not yet over with and goes on in another form. If anything the Boston bombings have brought a new, fresh sense of fear to Americans.

Let me provide you with an immediate example. Early this morning I had planned to see the film (in 2D, I hate Stereoscopic) at the first showing at 10am. I do not have a car so I always walk whenever I see something at the Bow Tie in Richmond. I had brought my backpack with me containing only my most recent paycheck (I went to the bank afterwards) and a Red box copy of The Bourne Legacy (which sucked in its own right). Upon reaching the theater I was immediately turned down by the person manning the ticket booth, saying the theater had a no backpack policy.

Now I’ve taken my backpack to that theater off and on in the past 4 years whenever I feel I’ll need to save my seat so this was a new thing. Security wouldn’t even hold it for me. So, since I had no car, I had to turn around, walk back to my apartment (1.8 miles), leave my backpack there, and walk back to catch the next showing at 11:20. It didn’t need to be said, but given that the two Boston bombing suspects carried the bombs around in backpacks… well. Thinking about it a little more I suppose the word “caution” not “fear” would be more appropriate, but then again there has to be a certain amount of fear present in order to initiate caution, so they basically walk hand in hand more or less. Not to mention the overly excessive amount of force used to find the one living suspect, if anything, shows that after 10 years of hunting Bin Laden we haven’t learned a whole lot about going after people who’ve done us harm. Even at the end of the movie, a special thanks is given to the post 9/11 people protecting us.

Obviously this film was written and shot many, many months before the bombings took place. It’s a common thing for Star Trek films to have some sort of social commentary on the current present, and again I’m still annoyed Abrams chose to talk about terrorism. The fact that the bombings took place after the film was shot but before it was released will make it so that the film shall reinforce the need for caution in the wake of new domestic incidents. T.V. episodes of Hannibal, Castle, and Family Guy were pulled due to sensitive subject matter right after the bombings happened, but I guess its too much to ask a studio to push back one of their summer releases, like they did with Gangster Squad last July after the shootings in Aurora, Colorado. I guess Star Trek was too big and important a film for something like that (Gangster Squad didn’t do so well financially).

In closing, it seems that Abrams has successfully evolved from a film maker into a plastic surgeon, with the ability to dissect something old and worn out and make it feel and look new and shiny, grossing hundreds of millions of dollars as a bonus. I can see now why he was so heavily, secretly coveted to helm the new Star Wars film coming out in ’15 for the growing corporate empire known as Disney. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if he drew from past Star Wars material for the new film and put a personal spin on it like he did with Star Trek. We’ll see. Time will tell.

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