Note: TOS means Star Trek The Original Series.
On Tuesday, we talked about what I thought was good about J.J. Abrams' Star Trek. Today we talk about some of the bad (we don't have enough time to get into everything). So without further ado, and in no particular order, the bad:
1. Chekov Wonder Boy
McCoy: "How old are you?"
Chekov: "Seventeen, sir."
It's true, Chekov was young in the original Star Trek, but he was young because he was a freakin' ensign. It's possible you don't know much about Navy/Starfleet ranks, so let me explain. Ensign is the lowest officer rank in the Navy. So basically a kid straight out of college is an ensign, and he'll be an ensign for two or so years. (Unless you're Harry Kim, and then you never get promoted. Poor Harry.) So Chekov would have been 22 or so. He could possibly have been a little bit younger, but not much. Chekov was a helmsman on the Enterprise. He wasn't a super genius. He wasn't stupid, but he wasn't a wonder boy. It seems Abrams has gotten Chekov confused with another helmsman, Wesley Crusher.
The writers undoubtedly felt the need to make Chekov a wonder boy because they wanted him to be in the movie, and they needed some excuse as to why he would be at the academy at the same time as Uhurra and Sulu. Let's ignore the fact that Uhurra and Sulu were both lieutenants in TOS which means not only were they older than Chekov, but they had been in Starfleet longer. The writers seemed to forget that last part. According to this new system, Uhurra, Sulu, and Chekov should be lieutenants at the same time. That doesn't even make sense!
It would have been better if Chekov had been left out of the first movie, and then they could have added him in the second. Which would have been true to TOS since Chekov didn't come in until season two.
2. Uhurra the Hottie
Question: What does Uhurra do in this movie?
Answer: She gets hit on by Kirk, she's sassy in the face of his come-on, she rolls her eyes a lot, she overhears a Klingon message, she listens for Romulan because she can differentiate it from Vulcan, and she makes out with Spock. Twice.
Only two of those things are what I expect from Uhurra, and both of those two involve alien languages and telecommunications.
But let's ignore the fact that they've reduced a woman who is a pivotal figure in the history of feminism and African American rights to a mere love interest. Let's instead focus on this love situation they want me to buy into. So another question:
When did Spock and Uhurra become an item? There are two options here.
(1) They've been dating since the academy which means Uhurra was dating one of her teachers--something that is considered morally wrong by today's standards. (I had one friend who was engaged to a prof and she was forbidden from taking any classes from him. This is how things work, people). This could indeed be the case, since Spock was afraid that assigning her to the Enterprise would be showing favoritism for his girlfriend, so he overcompensated by assigning her somewhere else. But then he let her use that relationship against him to get what she wanted. (So many things wrong here).
(2) They were not an item before but became one when Uhurra tried to randomly make out with Spock in the turbolift after Vulcan exploded. Look, I'll fully accept that Uhurra is a more confident lady than most of the ladies of today, fully secure in her sexuality and all that. But there is a difference between being secure with your sexuality and randomly kissing a teacher/superior officer without knowing in advance if he returns your feelings. It's not appropriate. Also, she would be directly under Spock's command so Spock's response should have been "I'm sorry. You're awesome, but I am unwilling to enter into an inappropriate relationship."
Also, isn't Spock married? Did I miss something? Are we now making Uhurra a home wrecker?
I think Uhurra could have been given a relationship, even with Spock, but this was not the way to do it. The writers reduced a character who established that having a woman or an African American on your crew was unremarkable, because of course women and African Americans are equal to white men, to a mere love interest and point of competition between the main male leads. Kill me now.
3. Scotty as Comic Relief
This may offend a lot of people, but Simon Pegg should never have been cast as Scotty. He played Scotty as comic relief, and yes, Scotty liked to joke but he himself was not a joke. Simon Pegg doesn't look like Scotty, he doesn't act like Scotty, he is not Scotty. This was abysmal. The only thing I can really applaud the writers for was not giving into the temptation to make Scotty a contemporary of Uhurra and Sulu. And of course the reference to Admiral Archer and his prize beagle. (Poor Porthos).
4. So That's How You Gain Command of a Starfleet Ship
Apparently the way to gain command of a ship is (a) get randomly named first officer even though you are only a cadet and this ship actually has ranking, official Starfleet officers on it and (2) goad your captain into a fight. Now I'm going to let the first one slide, because the whole cadet thing was entirely bogus and I can't even begin to wrap my head around why Starfleet has dozens of ships that can only be manned by cadets. Let's focus on the goading your superior officer into a fight.
Now, it's true, Spock was probably emotionally compromised. (On the other hand, he was making completely logical decisions, not revenge driven "let's kill Nero decisions", so...not sure he was actually emotionally compromised). However, what sane person would accept Kirk as their commanding officer after he had been (a) accused of mutiny and therefore should be awaiting trial and (b) was a complete and utter jerk to his captain, purposefully goading him into a fight with the sole intent of robbing him of his captainship. Everything about this scene is wrong on so many levels. What person on that crew would accept Kirk? If anything, Kirk's actions were the actions of a mutineer, someone who only seems to care about being captain and in power. The crew should never have accepted him as leader after that. Kirk was just as much to blame for his fight with Spock as Spock was. Neither of them was fit to command. Someone should've put the second officer in charge. Not sure who that is on the Enterprise, but it should not under any circumstances have been Kirk.
Why the heck would real officers accept a cadet as their captain? There is just so much wrong with this.
5. Why Must Kirk Be Captain?
And in that train of thought, why the heck did Kirk need to be Captain at all? We've established a separate timeline where our characters are not exactly as they were in the original timeline. Kirk was not raised by his father in a (presumably) loving family environment where he learned respect for Starfleet and a desire to explore. Instead he seemed to be a hellion. How the heck can old Spock even begin to think new Kirk is the same person as old Kirk? Why does new Kirk deserve to lead? Does he even deserve to lead? I say no.
I think Spock should have stayed Captain and Kirk should have been first officer (though Lord knows how he would have earned that and Spock's trust...which by the way, how the heck did Kirk earn Spock's trust? By telling him he was unfit to lead? That's a real trust earner). Spock as Captain and Kirk as first officer would essentially have been the Picard/Riker dynamic (which makes sense because Picard/Riker was subverting the expectations viewers had from the original series), and would make a lot more sense.
But really the fact that this is a different timeline, where things are different, should lead old Spock to question whether new Kirk is the same man as old Kirk. Is new Spock even capable of being friends with new Kirk? I guess it's a nature versus nurture argument. Are Kirk and Spock always destined to be Captain and First Officer, respectively, and friends because their nature destined them to be that way? Or does the environment of a separate timeline and their diverging paths mean nurture them to be different men than they should have been?
6. What Did We Learn?
This point I'm about to make is not just a problem of this movie. It's a problem of many of the Star Trek movies. The point of Star Trek is not to be an action spectacle. The point of Star Trek is to make you think about your world, to question what you think you know and how you see the world. Star Trek strives to use science fiction to make political statements, and statements on our world, whether it's Uhurra being a bridge officer or Nazi planets. When Star Trek does it's job right, you learn something, you re-evaluate something. So what did we learn or learn to question through this movie?
Time travel theory? Nah, there are better movies for that. Nature versus nurture? Maybe, and the result is "nature" and "some people are just destined to be captains", which doesn't actually seem to line up with the ideology of Star Trek as a whole. (Once again, I think this would be a much stronger thinking point if Spock was Captain at the end and Kirk first officer, then we would have a true statement on nature versus nurture). The problem with revenge? If that's the lesson we should be learning, just watch the Wrath of Khan. It does it much better.
Ultimately, we learned nothing from this movie. It was nothing more than a spectacle. And usually I'm the last person to complain about a movie being a spectacle. Sometimes I just want things to blow up. But is not what Star Trek is about.
People often posit that the reason why the prequels suck is that George Lucas, ironically, doesn't understand Star Wars. Well I posit the same thing about Star Trek. J.J. Abrams, who has admitted to not liking Star Trek, doesn't get Star Trek. And this movie is nothing more than Star Trek without a soul.
It was fun the first time or two. It was pretty. There were explosions and jokes, but ultimately, it wasn't Star Trek.
And this is why Star Trek needs to go back to TV, where it's not expected to be a spectacle, where it can explore the tough questions without worrying about reaching a "broad" audience, an audience of people who don't like it's soul. I miss the Star Trek that made me question the Prime Directive, or what makes a sentient being, or any of the other dozens of questions Star Trek challenged us to look at.
As I stated before, I'm glad this Star Trek got butts in seats, and hopefully that gives producers confidence to go back to TV with Star Trek right now. Because right now, Abrams' Star Trek is just a shadow of what Star Trek should be.
Maybe the new movie will pleasantly surprise me. I'm definitely keeping my mind open and I'm hoping that it will fix all the problems that the first movie got wrong.
But please, producers, give Star Trek back it's soul. Put it back on TV. Because soulless wraiths do not stand the test of time.