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horatio 09-10-2013 10:01 AM

So I finally watched it
I finally watched the last Trek movie and I consider it to be slightly inferior to STXI because it lacked the emotional punch of STXI and because the story is kind of forgettable. It's like with Harry Potter, I did not dislike the one book I read and the two or three movies I saw but the stories evaporated, they didn't burn themselves into my memory.

To go into details, like the previous movie STID suffered from evoking too many familiar aliens and notions (namely the Prime Directive, militarization of Starfleet after the Nero incident, tensions with the Klingons and the Klingons themselves) but not delving into them. It felt like an album snippet, i.e. more like an appetizer than a real meal. From a fan perspective the problem is more grave as we all know a better previous Trek story about the Prime Directive, the Klingons or the exploration-military tension in Starfleet. Sometimes less is more.
On the positive side, unlike in STXI this unfinished medley was not in the least fanwankish. The Klingons were not a bad copy of previous incarnations, they were something new and just not enough in the spotlight. Or take Marcus' little ships, there were more pre-UFP vessels among them and they did not in the least feel like Picard's toy ships.

The villain suffered once again (and after three times in a row it becomes predictable and boring) from lacking an understandable motivation. OK, we understand why Khan wants to go after Marcus and that he wants to conquer the world but I simply did not understand why he wants so direly to blow up Starfleet HQ. In TWOK there is a reason for Khan's obsession, in STID there is not.
The main problem is that the movie is too ambivalent about Marcus and vilifying Khan too much. The ending suggests that the lesson is that Marcus is the bad guy, that Starfleet is about exploration and that revenge is bad ... but in the actual movie we see Kirk and Spock happily avenging the deaths of Pike (Kirk beating a prisoner who just surrendered) and Kirk (Spock going after Khan), Marcus being treated far too respectfully by his fellow officers after he has committed treason and Khan being portrayed first as calm guy with reasonable motives and then as madman. In other words, while the story outline suggests something like TUC or Homefront / Paradise Lost plus the "Augments as an unsolved problem from humankind's past" notion of ALL previous stories that involved Augments or humankind and genetics in general (Bashir), i.e. something that emphasizes that, pardon the pun, the enemy is within, the actual story externalized the enemy. Marcus wasn't so bad and Khan isn't an error from humankind's past but a lunatic terrorist superman.

Like in the previous movie STID created the impression that you are really there. I loved that there was again a shot which zooms in from the outside of the ship into the window/viewscreen of the bridge. Furthermore the acting of The Seven plus the three co-stars was top-notch (Alice Eve played OKish IMO but then again it could just be that she played fine but that her character did not have much to do). Kinda nice to have Admirals which actually radiate competence and authority for a change.

The opening scenes on Nibiru showed all this in a nutshell. Great visuals that make you feel as if you are really there, great acting and character writing which totally convey the notion that these people have worked together for some time and an unfinished story idea (if you are new to Trek you would not understand the point of the non-interference rule at all and perhaps even think that Kirk is right).

The warp core was plain brilliant. Instead of the tiny reaction chamber we are used to ever since TMP we actually get a large reaction chamber surrounded by a lot of stuff. It looks far more realistic than any previous design.

martok2112 09-10-2013 10:05 AM

I would say, that's a fairly put assessment, horatio. :)

horatio 09-10-2013 10:08 AM

Thanks. So I do not have to worry that you send any D4s after me to punish my insolence? ;)

martok2112 09-10-2013 10:42 AM


I would send only the best...

K't'ingas! :D

kevin 09-10-2013 11:15 AM

I haven't watched it for a while (I did pick up the Blu Ray but I was waiting until I could sit down and watch them back to back) so some of my memories could be wrong but for whatever it's worth.......

I would agree with some of those notes (insofar as I think and expect watching them back to back would make them feel like two parts of the one story by the end of which you've sort of had the 'foundation course' in what the prime elements are of the Trek Universe and also the new timeline versions of those elements.................fair enough we could argue that maybe didn't require two films but with Trek you sometimes have to take what you're given over what you wanted!) but I liked that there's an element of pliability in the character of Marcus. And the others.

Because they used the events of the first film as a generator of the storyline of the sequel then you can have the discussion of was Marcus right or wrong to make his choice? He looked at the environment around him post Vulcan and made what he admitted was a 'tactical risk' when he sought out Khan, and enemy and began to use him for his own ends.

(though in fairness I think Wil Wheaton puts it slightly better saying the same thing in his review of the film)

You can in fact have a conversation about what he chose to do employing both points of view so I don't personally think the film took things too simply on that front (this debate has happened over a multitude of real life events and responses. I don't believe that's necessarily ambivalence but more an attempt at a grown up stance whereby life makes people disagree over what to do and both arguments can have validity). It could be considered a dramatic trope but sometimes the old questions are still the ones that make people talk most.

Similarly, I think Kirk giving in when confronted with the man who killed Pike shows that he's still struggling with the decision he has to make at this point. He's already being played by Marcus (though obviously we don't know that at the time) to murder the man extra-judicially and he's being scrutinised by Spock to do the opposite thing and allow the rule of law to make him accountable for his actions, and I think without that struggle being demonstrated (and briefly given into) what you would have is a less compelling character moment of internal conflict and instead have a character on a soapbox. Similarly I think Spock then finds out taking the moral high stance isn't always easy when the situation turns around on you and he loses (or thinks he's lost) Kirk. Which again, I think, mirrors real life more than it doesn't.

horatio 09-10-2013 12:22 PM

I wouldn't have minded the setup being stretched out over two movies if the ending of STXI hadn't pretended that the prologue is over and if there had actually happened something new before Pike's death. But let's not forget that the latter is structurally impossible, with the father figure still being around the protagonist cannot grow up and repeats his mistakes.
They should have watched more Star Wars, Obi-Wan dies in the first movie.
But let's be honest, seeing Greenwood again certainly more than off-sets this minor issue.

About Marcus, I fail to see the supposed moral ambiguity. The guy wants to start a war in order to gain more power and kills his own people to achieve this aim ... behind the moon! I was pretty shocked to see this and actually expected the battle to take place somewhere in deep space, far away from the eyes of the people on Earth.
So yeah, no ethical dilemma or whatever in the case of Marcus, he was clearly the bad guy. Which isn't a bad thing by the way, in the real world evil is rarely ambiguous or hard to notice either and many good Trek stories are fairly simple morality tales. This was after all also the intention of this flick so let's get to Kirk's speech.

I do not think that the story sketch was bad, just the execution (just concerning these themes, in general it felt that the story was pretty fluid, well done and superior to the story of the previous movie). There wasn't any focus on the mood in the Federation after the Nero incident (compare this to how much TUC delved into how various Feds actually tick!), anything about how the Klingons tick, anything about human awareness that it went too far in its past concerning genetic manipulation/enhancement.
I also don't mind Spock or Kirk being angry at Khan, I mind that this is not in harmony with (finally we get there) Kirk's speech in the end. The middle piece is missing. In TUC it was the scene in Rura Penthe when Kirk talks with McCoy and in FC it was Picard's Ahab scene. Not that you need that much but there has to be at least some indication that Kirk has reconsidered.
I don't see how your point that Kirk and Spock learn from each other to be more rigid about rules respectively follow your guts more often (don't get me wrong, I liked this mutual learning thing far better than in STXI) is related to Kirk's speech. Spock going berserk after Khan and thus saving Kirk's life certainly doesn't match what Kirk preaches: There will always be those who mean to do us harm. To stop them, we risk awakening the same evil within ourselves. Our first instinct is to seek revenge when those we love are taken from us. But that’s not who we are.
Well, no. Spock learned from Kirk to be more intuitive and from Khan that he has to unleash his emotions to become a better fighter and in this instance (inadvertently) save Kirk. And I do not think that Kirk has a problem with Spock having saved his life so his speech is bullsh*t.

The speech does not organically emerge from the story (this is a bit euphemistic, words and deeds do not match) and rather feels fake and mechanically added. "OK, what's next on our check list, Kirk gives an idealistic speech at the end". As I already said about STXI, it is not enough to gather many good ingredients for a good meal, you also gotta cook well. And, to be properly dialectic and extend a previous point, a good Trek story does not need a moral lesson or whatever in the end to be good.

It is as if Spock gave a lecture about the dangers of forced mind-melds in the end of TUC. I don't like to be bullshi*ted so how about the characters being honest and not disavowing the price they paid? While I am a hardcore proponent of Star Trek as an idealistic and optimistic sci-fi franchise I am also a bit of a Jacobin: sometimes you gotta fight fire with fire.
Marcus' actions were obviously wrong but once his genie was out of the bottle he and his genie (this is where Kirk erred, kinda like in Space Seed) had to be stopped at all costs. Messy situation that doesn't warrant simple moral conclusions like "revenge is bad" or whatever but common-sensical conclusions like "follow the law, do not commit treason, do not start a war if it can be avoided, if you are attacked by a dangerous enemy defend yourself like a crazy motherfu*ker at all costs (fight fire with fire / awake the same evil in yourself)".

kevin 09-10-2013 12:41 PM

There's no such thing as too much Bruce Greenwood, that's certain.

The speech at the end I felt was akin to the frequent little coda's that a lot of episodes have where the characters sort of talk amongst themselves just to try and make sure that the main point isn't lost but while I think it could be considered a little blunt (I think that scene may also have been longer originally but on the Blu Ray there's no deleted scenes to verify that or not) but I think it does come out of what Kirk has experienced in the film.

I know deleted material exists somewhere that would have smoothed this out because in one of the trailers Pike has the line 'Starfleet isn't about revenge' to which Kirk replies 'Maybe it should be' which clearly ties into the ideas the film is trying to bring in and neither of those lines is in the finished film. This also helps to define Kirk as being caught between the philosophy of Pike (the equivalent Dove) and the actions of Marcus (the equivalent Hawk) which clearly would be at opposing ends of the Starfleet spectrum. In the end, Spock takes over the Pike role in the early stages but Kirk's own decision making comes to a head on Q'onos when faced with Harrison and has to decide what he's going to do. That's where he gets his understanding and the actual situational experience to make his speech at the end.

Their prior actions wouldn't need to be in harmony with that speech because the film is them learning (in theory, although it's more weighted to Kirk) why the words of the speech matter. Saying them with the understanding behind them of what it means. That's the intention I believe anyway, but like so often sometimes it can be said the execution doesn't always work smoothly. Speeches like Kirk's tend to be emotive by design and often can still support the ideas and/or ideals of a speech, but I'm not one for confusing well meaning speeches with reality. Which is why Picard's speech in FC doesn't really work for me. But that's just an example and not an intent for a tangent.

I don't view Marcus as 'evil' - he simply made a decision he felt was in the best interests of the Federation but since he's allied to Section 31 his reasoning process would likely take him down that path. Did Pike ever know about Section 31? We don't know and never will. But again, letting the genie out is fraught with danger and in the end Marcus' actions caused catastrophe on Earth (which I actually thought was more interesting than having the damage caused safely away from Earth).

Although I do agree it's unclear what the mood on Earth was like after Nero. The problem I think is that I don't think we've ever known exactly how much the general population of Earth was ever told about how close to various disasters they came, or how much of the truth. V'Ger? The Alien Probe? The various Borg attacks...............really what at the end of the day does Paul in Venice or Sandra in Prague know about these events or are they subject to restrictions on just what was going on? Are Augments widely known about on Earth? I think you could look at that aspect of it, but I think it would open up similar conversations about other Earth theatening events. We usually see aftermaths through the prism of Starfleet Officers and I think that was repeated in Darkness.

horatio 09-10-2013 01:44 PM

I agree, Kirk basically talks about how he overcame his hatred for Khan which made him able to listen to him and even temporarily work together with him to achieve a common goal. But one should be wary about generalizing personal experiences, Kirk's friend has to do the very opposite and unleash his anger to stop Khan.

Sure, speeches can work for you or they cannot. But unlike Kirk's speech Picard's speech does not merely match his own motivations but those of most people or at least those of most Starfleet folks. I don't recall Kirk, Riker, O'Brien, Tuvok or Reed being out there because of the large paycheck. Picard's words in FC might sound pretentious to many folks but there are correct. Political or ideological issues make these folks unable to realize something purely technical, that pecuniary incentives do not matter in a world in which a machine can create virtually all consumer goods and that some folks wanna not just eat crisps and play holonovels all day long. Gee, if I do this for more than a day I am becoming depressive! I do at least need the illusion that I do something useful with some of my spare time.
This is not a new idea, Keynes wrote about it in Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren a century ago:

Thus for the first time since his creation man will be faced with his real, his permanent problem-how to use his freedom from pressing economic cares, how to occupy the leisure, which science and compound interest will have won for him, to live wisely and agreeably and well.

and Aristotle wrote about it in Nicomachean Ethics more than 23 centuries ago:

The happy life is thought to be one of excellence; now an excellent life requires exertion, and does not consist in amusement.

So it looks like the hyper-hedonistic notion that people never exert themselves unless they gain means for consumption for their efforts is not "natural" but contingent.

About Marcus, how can starting a war without the consent of the parliament or even the executive not be wrong, how can wanting to kill the crew of an entire Starfleet vessel in order to protect his Augment secret not be treason?

The former beats what the conspirators tried to achieve in TUC (they wanted to prolong the Cold War, not put the Quadrant on fire) and the latter beats what Luther Sloan did or planned to do. Moles in high position, genocide, Sloan was no angel and I would have been the first one who wanted to see this guy tried and shot (or put into a dilithium mine for the rest of his life). But you gotta give the devil his due, unlike Marcus he hasn't killed his own folks.

If Marcus' actions aren't evil we really are in a postmodern nightmare of total relativism.

kevin 09-10-2013 01:50 PM

Relative to what he 'should' have done Marcus' actions are clearly wrong. That isn't in dispute. The point is why he believes his way is the best way for the Federation. He has his reasons for making his choice and his point of view. And which lines he's willing to cross in the pursuit of those views.

horatio 09-10-2013 02:31 PM

I don't know what his reasons are and why he ticks the way he ticks.
In the West we are all influenced by Shakespeare and the individualistic illusion that we are more unique than we actually are. You can take the Stanford perison experiment, take a look at how a quiet and reserved man like Assad behaves once he becomes part of a certain social order or take Marx's (oh my God, he said the M word) line "das gesellschaftliche Sein bestimmt das Bewusstsein" (social being determines consciousness) seriously to realize that we are more shaped by external structures than our fixed or slowly-changing core of personality.

Sure, Marcus likes his daughter but Hitler liked dogs and was a vegetarian. I also like dogs and am a vegetarian. So what? Nazis could kill in the camps and then play sublime classical music in the evening. You can be a nice and caring guy with artistic sensitivities and the most cruel brute at the same time. In other words, personal stuff is overrated, we should focus on the surface actions and not the inner depths of a person who does something which is unusual, dubious or wrong. (This is also how I would "excuse" Spock. Who cares what he feels, he gets the job done and captures Khan, albeit only with the help of his significant other. The bad potential thing about Vulcan rage is not his inner psychological life but that he might one day be unable to stop it.)
This is why I would guess that Marcus is mainly an ordinary Section 31 scumbag. Like in the real world the military a*sholes in the intelligence agencies have plenty of power because they are beyond control and can do whatever they want and like all of us they are able to rationalize whatever ugly stuff they are doing with noble motives. As Dougherty would have said "It was for the Federation. It was all for the Federation." Bullsh*t, it is about power and sadism. Unless you wanna claim that killing your own people is ordinary for a "hawk".

Which isn't such a rhetorical question as hawks are extremists. The dovish position on the other hand, speak softly and carry a big stick, play tit-for-tat (be initially cooperative/friendly but punish the other when he is not) or however you wanna call it is what game theory tells us to be the best strategy for many situations and how people actually behave in reality.
The constant indoctrination from commercial trash political television might say otherwise but the truth isn't always in the middle, sometimes one position is sane and the other is insane. The mirror image of hawks would be some stupid peacenik hippies but I do not see them influencing policy in either the real world or the fictional world of Trek ... unless one wants to argue that not having enough warships in stock to deal with something like the Borg or Dominion threat qualifies as hippie behaviour.

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