“Star Trek Into Darkness”: Ongoing Reboot Uses Lying as Brilliant Marketing Tool

Benedict Cumberbatch, Khan, Star Trek Into Darkness

Does Benedict Cumberbatch’s new entourage stand a chance against hordes of delighted Sherlock groupies?

If your only exposure to the Star Trek universe so far has been JJ Abrams’ scintillating 2009 revival, then Star Trek Into Darkness will seem like a simple, straightforward extension of that origin story — funnier, louder, more hyperkinetic, and blessed with a far more charismatic villain. You may not notice the parade of lines and moments borrowed and refurbished from previous works, but that might be for the best.

Most of the plot, including the parts you’re not meant to know, can be discerned from the trailers. Multiple innocents die horribly because one angry man (Benedict Cumberbatch) wants revenge for some reason. It’s probably not revenge on young Captain Kirk because he’s too new to have enemies with grudges. Since Our Villain thinks slaughtering innocents will make his point, that usually means the government’s done him wrong somehow and therefore his maniacal plan is justified in his mind. Also, he has super-powers. Fortunately our entire cast has returned from the previous film to save the day, even Bruce Greenwood as Christopher Pike and Deep Roy as Scotty’s silent alien sidekick. There’ll be space battles, new aliens, explosions, lens flares, and at least one great villain speech.

About that mysterious villain: a fierce, scenery-devouring Cumberbatch is one of the most memorable, overwhelming antagonists to command a movie in quite some time. If you’ve never seen his fabulous tag-team work with Martin Freeman, I recommend you watch STID, revel in his performance, then run — don’t walk — to the nearest available copies of Sherlock and prepare to meet your new favorite series.

As summer popcorn flicks go, if you’ve already seen Iron Man 3 enough times, one showing of Star Trek Into Darkness won’t require you to deviate much from your movie diet, provided you resist the urge to scrutinize it for logical errors. This summer’s theme at the theater seems to be “Keep Calm and Don’t Think.”

To answer the burning question that MCC is always happy to verify: no, there’s no scene after the Star Trek Into Darkness end credits, but if your family’s like mine and you tend to form discussion groups after a film, your debates will be accompanied by several extra minutes of another energizing Michael Giacchino score.

That’s as much as I can discuss without a courtesy spoiler alert. Beyond this point be my thoughts on a couple of curious subjects that the rest of the Internet may already have ruined for you, but I’d like to do my part for courtesy’s sake and allow you to retreat to a minimum safe distance now if you’re among the select few who remain 100% spoiler-free as of today. I salute you and your astounding luck, and with a tinge of jealousy on my part. Thanks to one formerly level-headed Facebook friend, Entertainment Weekly‘s overly descriptive review, and a severe Feedly programming flaw that overcame another blogger’s generous attempt at civility, I already knew one key spoiler ahead of time.

Here’s hoping your fate isn’t mine. So…see you tomorrow?

…so everyone else in the free world already knows that Cumberbatch is inhabiting the role originally made famous by Ricardo Montalban, despite 2012 interviews insisting he wasn’t reprising that iconic character. Whether this misinformation was his idea or Abrams’ remains unclear. I’m unable to detect any outright sophistry loopholes in which his interview answers can be interpreted in multiple ways without some slim, bogus rationalization that no one over age five should be expected to buy.

Basically, he was asked if he would be playing Khan. He said no. Fast-forward six months later: surprise! He’s not Khan, he’s…Khan! Fans wasted the last six months brainstorming other possible answers to his identity (Gary Mitchell? Trelane? Brand new villain? General Zod?) under the impression that media interviewees were sworn in on a Bible before answering all questions with nothing but the truth.

Funny thing: I’m kind of okay with that.

Yes, lying is a sin, but how many alternatives do filmmakers have left for giving an audience a chance at being surprised when they see a movie for the first time? In a culture that wants to know everything now now now now now, months before it’ll even be relevant to them, all the studio security measures, fake scripts, color-coded pages, last-minute edits, and closed sets won’t stop the stubbornest entertainment newshounds from continually hammering at them — either in interviews or behind the scenes — until they find a crack in the defenses and reveal every film’s secrets for all the world to know ahead of time. Back in my childhood, that was the job of terrible, condescending movie trailers. Today some Internet users call that a career.

In the face of that kind of pleasure-depriving onslaught, I think lying in interviews is a daring, even useful strategy. It’ll work best if every star of every movie lies in every interview about their movie’s biggest surprises. Sooner or later, after a dozen letdowns in a row, fanboy interviewers will tire of the lies, stop trusting any answers they’re given, and possibly — just possibly — stop asking stupid questions about gigantic spoilers. Then maybe we can all start being surprised by movies again.

Unfortunately, though STID was technically fun for me in a carefree summery way, it has one other recurring flaw that disrupts the element of surprise: the fact that all its other major revelations are either carbon-copies of surprises from previous works or reverse carbon-copies of same. When I was in the theater, transfixed and carried away, I didn’t give it much thought. After the fact, all the little parts we’ve seen before began to add up and bug me: the reuse of one of Trek’s biggest villains, including most of his backstory (if not his ethnicity); a dramatization of the Wrath of Khan death scene; running gags that will never be allowed to die; and quotes as old and overused as their biggest competitor’s own “I have a bad feeling about this.”

Even more perplexing: the recycled parts are a mishmash of both the original Khan episode “Space Seed” and his movie sequel. Events previously separated by a fifteen-year gap are conflated into a single event. One could partly justify this with the old sci-fi trope about how, no matter how much the timeline changes, some moments will always be fated to happen. Somehow, life will find a way! Or, more likely, the filmmakers are mixing and matching parts from other films like kids dismantling their favorite Lego vehicles for bricks to build other, not-so-different vehicles.

With the 2009 reboot, I already accepted the notion that new actors can offer different interpretations of roles previously brought to life by other actors. Shakespeare and every other playwright since Creation depend on reuse and reinterpretation of their best works to remain in mankind’s memory in perpetuity. Regardless, I refuse to accept that the Trek universe has run out of plots and character possibilities so soon in its relatively short history that it needs to be relegated to nothing but repetitive revivals of the same old scripts.

If the audience all agrees to play nice, can we have a new villain in the next film? Maybe a new story, even? Or are we already locked into something involving Klingons again?

4 responses

  1. I saw the trailer for this yesterday.

    I’m not a movie buff like you, but found myself shelling out $1.50 for a showing of “Silver Linings Playbook” yesterday. It was well worth the price of admission. The acting was superb and if they would just have conceived of a different ending, it could have been an almost-great film.

    If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it. Once you have seen it, I’d love for you to respond to my review here –

    http://writingforfoodinindy.wordpress.com/2013/05/22/the-hollywood-silver-linings-playbook-fake-right-go-wrong/

    Keep up the good work.

    Like

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