Star Trek: Into Darkness — what I would have changed as a writer
I’m part of the slightly underwhelming minority who liked elements of Star Trek: Into Darkness, but wished it had been a different film. I might have accepted it more if a complementary Star Trek TV series still existed, something that had slower, more intellectual drama, thus not putting such a burden on Hollywood. But the fact is, being confined to the big screen has turned Star Trek into short term, popcorn fun and eviscerated many of the reasons why Trekkers (or at least I, as a Trekker) used to love it so much. That spoof on The Onion, while funny, was also a bit dismissive. In a different interview, someone compared the old Trek to “beautiful classical music” and Star Wars to “rock and roll”, stating that the newer Trek films have more rock and roll to them. That’s all fine, but rock and roll could never (and should never) replace classical music entirely.
Let’s look at the villain of Into Darkness, where most of my issues come from. We have a quiet, sad looking Benedict Cumberbatch saying “I can save her”, referring to a little girl on her deathbed. If he were Gary Mitchell, this could have kicked off a pretty poignant, introspective story — a man starting out by using his new extraterrestrial powers for good, and slowly becoming corrupted by them as the film progressed. While this may have allowed for fewer lens flares and explosions, it would still have been Trek at its Trekkiest, in a deeper way than having a bunch of self-referential in jokes. Further, you could still have action scenes peppered throughout the film to avoid the whole “Vger” style plot pacing.
Instead, what did we get? A superhuman already bent on some zany revenge scheme, simply using the girl’s life as leverage to get her father to help him blow stuff up. A superhuman who somehow changed ethnicity when the timeline was altered. Maybe Nero’s actions in the first film triggered a bunch of events that caused Khan to attend British boarding school and get plastic surgery.
Let’s say for argument’s sake that we accept and embrace Khan as the villain, and not just a cheap fallback to a fandom safety zone. While this Khan’s enhanced strength was more physically realistic — Kirk couldn’t even come close to beating him in a fight with pole dancing leg kicks — the subtle nuances that made him more than a rage machine in the original incarnation weren’t there this time. In the original story, he accepted defeat at the end of “Space Seed” honorably, and you could tell part of him liked and respected Kirk as an adversary. In Wrath of Khan, he had a much better reason for wanting revenge — his people had been condemned to a frozen hell, and his ‘beloved wife’ (presumably the woman he seduced in Space Seed) had died as a result. In this new film, I’m still trying to figure out what his true motivation was. He didn’t like being used as the weapon he was engineered to be, so his solution is to use himself and his crew (which he claims to be protecting) as…living weapons? He somehow has a grudge against everyone, not just Peter Weller, but I don’t know exactly why. Those motivations seem incomplete, at best.
I only wish I could try my hand at writing my own version of the film with that “Make your own TOS Episode” generator, but that no longer seems available. Would I have done a better job in the script with my ideas? I like to think so, but every Trekkie/writer probably likes to think so. All I know is that I would have written a far more multifaceted villain, at least by my criteria.