This review comes a little late because I wasn’t able to see the movie until today. I was there bright and early, popcorn and large drink at the ready. Before I go any further I have to tell you that I am a life long Trek fan and a purest when it comes to Star Trek. I enjoyed the first movie very much, but I had many issues with it and this film was no different. This review is also going to contain a rather healthy dose of spoilers so don’t say I didn’t warn you ahead of time. I am going to attempt to examine as many elements of the film as I can while at the same time keep this review as concise as possible, but just in case you better strap yourself in for a lengthy read.
Before I get too deep into this let me first say that I thoroughly enjoyed Star Trek Into Darkness and would recommend it to anyone wanting to see a good sci-fi action film that is down right fun to watch. So now I will say it again that there are MAJOR SPOILERS ahead. Okay, so if you read any spoilers from the overseas reviews or heard the rumors I will tell you now that they were true. Benedict Cumberbatch‘s character John Harrison is indeed Khan. But that is only the beginning of the plot twists and other details that J.J. Abrams and crew did one hell of a job of hiding during the production of the film.
Hardcore Star Trek fans will have cause to smile at all the subtle details woven into the story. For instance the existence of Section 31, the covert branch of Starfleet dedicated to preserving the United Federation of Planets by any means necessary. This rouge organization was first revealed during Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and later was known to exist during the time of Captain Archer on Star Trek: Enterprise. That was not the only reference to past incarnations of Star Trek. In one scene we get to see a display of past ships to carry the name Enterprise and we catch a glimpse of the good ol NX-01.
Another classic Trek surprise was the appearance of Leonard Nimoy as Spock Prime (as he is now referred to). The Spock Prime appearance was a surprise and, in my opinion, yet another poor attempt to link one Trek universe with the other. It also broke all kinds of established canon when new Spock enlists the help of Spock Prime in full view of the Enterprise bridge crew, even calling him by name. Surely both Spocks should and would have disapproved of this tactic. It also set up the inevitable betrayal by Khan and put Kirk and crew in even more mortal danger.
One other callback to the first film was the mention of Nurse Christine Chapel. But what was sad to hear is that she requested a transfer off the Enterprise due to the advances and probably one night stand with Captain Kirk. Now we all know that Kirk Prime wasn’t the type of man to bed his own crew members and had only done so once that led to unfortunate consequences, in the season one episode Dagger of the Mind. It is well established that Jim Kirk was a ladies man, but his portrayal by William Shatner never had him strutting around like an over-sexed horn dog. Perhaps in future films we will get to see Kirk mature a bit, even more so than he did in this film.
Since I am on the subject of Captain Kirk, let me explore him a little more for you. At the beginning of the film, we see a side of Kirk (Chris Pine) we’ve never seen before. A brash and rather irresponsible young officer whose place wasn’t in the captain’s seat, a fact he is reminded of when Admiral Pike (Bruce Greenwood) informs him he is demoted to first officer and Spock (Zachary Quinto) is reassigned to another ship for their violation of the Prime Directive. What bothered me so about that is that Spock actually had to explain the Prime Directive to Kirk. Shouldn’t every starship captain know full well what the Prime Directive is and be dedicated to upholding it at all cost? You are probably about to shout at me and say that Kirk Prime violated the Prime Directive on a number of occasions…and I do not dispute that. My issue is that Kirk Prime wouldn’t have so blatantly tossed the rules aside without more to say that he simply didn’t agree with them at the time. James Kirk in his time was the model Starfleet officer and the finest to ever serve. This new Kirk is in desperate need of seasoning.
One good thing we get to see is an element tragedy to befall Kirk. He loses his mentor Admiral Pike early on in the film at the hands of Khan. This leads Kirk on a path of revenge as he dedicates himself and the Enterprise to the task of bringing Khan to justice. By doing so, he unknowingly falls right into the plans of Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller) who wants Khan dead at all costs in order to cover up his own treachery. With Khan’s unwilling assistance, Admiral Marcus has been secretly building advance weapons and the largest starship ever seen, the dreadnought class USS Vengeance.
Marcus orders Kirk to pursue Khan to the Klingon home world and use 72 special advanced photon torpedoes to kill him. It takes the urging of Spock and the resignation of Scotty to resign him to merely taking a landing party to Kronos to capture Khan alive and bring him back to Earth for trial. This doesn’t sit well with Admiral Marcus who has sabotaged the Enterprise and takes the Vengeance into Klingon space to destroy the them and start an all out war with the Klingons in the process. This begins a pretty epic space battle that sadly does not see the Enterprise fire a single shot but instead gets the crap beaten out of it. Left with few options, Kirk enlists the assistance of Khan to help stop Admiral Marcus, leading to his sudden yet inevitable betrayal (thank you Wash) by Khan and the call for help from Spock Prime.
Thus begins an entire reverse Wrath of Khan scenario that leaves Kirk on the other side of the glass door dying of radiation exposure while Spock helplessly looks on. Unfortunately it doesn’t end there, Spock pulls a Shatner and shouts KHAAAAANNNNN upon Kirk’s death. Oh but wait…earlier in the film we find out that Khan’s blood as special powers that heals the sick and reanimates dead tissue. There is only one man for this job and that’s Spock. He must get some of Khan’s blood in order to save Kirk and avoid Star Trek III: The Search for Kirk. I must admit, though, that Kirk’s death scene was almost more tear jerking than Leonard Nimoy’s Spock in Wrath of Khan.
After guiding the battered and crippled USS Vengeance into a crash landing on Starfleet Headquarters, Khan miraculously survives and is able to lead Spock on an exhilarating chase through San Francisco and of course his eventual capture. As initially silly as I thought this was, during the struggle I found myself enjoying what I was seeing. It was nice to see Spock in the action hero role for a change and actually share punches with the bad guys for once. In the past it was always Kirk who beat them up and saved the day. This time we get to see Spock and Uhura (Zoe Saldana) get in on the action. And yes the whole Spock/Uhura relationship thing is still disturbing to me.
It was nice to see the other crew members get a little more to do in this film. The lion’s share went to Scotty (Simon Pegg) this time but I was saddened to see he’s still a source of comic relief. Simon Pegg is a great comedic actor, but Scotty isn’t a role that needs much comedic chops. I would like to see a more serious Montgomery Scott and less bumbling buffoon. Sulu (John Cho) even got to command the Enterprise in the film and let his badass side out while the ship is stranded in Klingon space. That left poor Chekov (Anton Yelchin) to fill in as Chief Engineer after Scotty resigns. Let’s just say that Pavel is NO Montgomery Scott.
That leaves the one true acting genius of the entire cast in the face of Karl Urban. Whatever he does in order to channel DeForest Kelly as Leonard McCoy is nothing but pure magic. He’s even given more to do this time than be the straight man to Kirk. And rounding out the cast is Alice Eve as Carol Marcus…you know who she is. If not, refer back to Wrath of Khan, she’s Kirk’s baby mama and the daughter of Admiral Marcus. She had little to do in the film beside strip down to her bra and panties and scream on cue. But she does have significance in Star Trek lore so was kind of cool to see her introduced. Now if they can only get Gary Mitchell on the ship and establish his significance to James Kirk.
I know, I’ve gone over a lot and may have lost a number of readers. But I warned you to strap yourselves in for a long read. You might be thinking now that I hated this movie and by all rights I should have hated it. The odd truth is that I couldn’t and didn’t in spite of all the problems I found with it. Just like the first film, this one was just fun. It was a fun movie to watch. I ended up having to accept it for what it was and just enjoy it. As the self-proclaimed Star Trek purest that I am, given more time I could probably point out many other things that I and many other die-hard Trek fans find wrong. But that is the brilliance of J.J. Abrams and this film. You find yourself liking it in spite of itself, right down to the heart quickening soundtrack.
Cumberbatch is no Ricardo Montalban in his portrayal of Khan. He doesn’t have the vile villainy down that Montalban perfected in the original series episode Space Seed or Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. This could have been for a number of reasons however. Cumberbatch is wonderful in the role, he’s cold and calculating and is a great “leave no stone unturned” type of villain. There wasn’t enough development and interaction between Khan and Kirk for my taste, but they were able to convey a sense of tragedy to his character that gave him much-needed depth. His capture at the end of the film also leaves the possibility of a true Wrath of Khan type sequel somewhere down the line.
It’s going to make a lot of money and, yes, there will be a third movie, how can there not be? Those unfamiliar with Star Trek can enjoy this film without having to be versed in nearly 50 years of cannon and back story. It is a little too intense for younger kids, but older children should enjoy it as well. Hell, you don’t really need to have seen the first movie to enjoy this. If you even know who the characters are, that should be enough for anyone to walk in and get a nice thrill ride. Like its predecessor, Star Trek Into Darkness is a great summer popcorn film that appeals to fans and non-fans alike.