Review: Star Trek Into Darkness (SPOILER ALERT)

star-trek-2-into-darkness-poster Other people have been looking forward to Iron Man 3, Man of Steel, Pacific Rim, or any of a number of other blockbusters coming out the summer.

But today is shiny and perfect because today, ladies and gentlemen, is Star Trek day, and if I have one thing to say to you all it is this:

Go see this movie. RIGHT NOW. I know, a lot of the reviews have been bad, but really, I don’t know if these people were watching the same film I watched this afternoon.

SPOILER ALERT – THE FOLLOWING REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS, INCLUDING A SYNOPSIS OF THE FILM – YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!

Ready for a wild ride?

Full Synopsis

Like some other movies this summer, it’s wild to see that the narrative we’ve constructed in our heads from the trailer is completely *not* the narrative of the movie. It begins on a pre-warp planet as the Enterprise crew attempts to save a pre-warp civilization from imminent destruction. (More on that later.) Long story short, the Prime Directive goes completely out the window when Kirk refuses to let Spock die on the planet.

But unlike in TOS, this actually has some consequences, and Kirk is reprimanded and demoted to first officer of the Enterprise, as Admiral Pike is given back command. This lasts for about fifteen minutes, because meanwhile, in London, a Starfleet officer (played by Doctor Who alum Noel Clarke) blows up an archive in return for a cure for his dying daughter. But the explosion is just a ruse to gather part of Starfleet Command together and the conclave is attacked by the mastermind, John Harrison (Sherlock‘s Benedict Cumberbatch). In the firefight, Admiral Pike is killed, and in retaliation, Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller) sends Kirk and the Enterprise after Harrison–all the way into Klingon territory, damning the consequences, which could mean all out war.

The crew of the Enterprise has a lot of problems with their orders. Spock argues with Kirk–the Enterprise is effectively conducting a drone strike in hostile territory on a Federation citizen who has not had a trial. Scotty refuses to sign aboard some of Admiral Marcus’ new experimental proton torpedoes and leaves the ship instead, leaving Chekov in charge of engineering. Kirk eventually agrees to capture Harrison, if possible, and return him to Federation space to face trial.

An entertaining rendezvous on Kronos, a battle with Klingons, and the revelation we’ve all been waiting for comes about–Harrison is actually Khan–but the question of how this came to be is settled in a brief bit of exposition. Since Vulcan was destroyed, Federation ramped up its exploration, and Marcus stumbled across Khan, woke him up, and had been using his superior intellect to help create new weapons for Starfleet–all in preparations for war with the Klingons. Marcus had also arranged for the Enterprise to conveniently break down just inside Klingon space. Back home, Scotty finds Marcus’ giant battleship and sneaks aboard.

Meanwhile, McCoy and Carol Marcus, the admiral’s daughter, discover that each of the special new torpedoes has a cryogenic tube inside–with a person. This, of course, is the crew of the S.S. Botany Bay, Khan’s former ship, who Khan attempted to smuggle out in the torpedoes when he escaped Earth. Marcus, realizing that his plan is ruined now that Kirk is bringing Khan back to Earth to stand trial, brings his new battleship out to retrieve or kill Khan and destroy the Enterprise, hiding all evidence of what has transpired. Kirk is forced to ally with Khan to get aboard the battleship, where, aided by Scotty, they take the bridge, but they are betrayed by Khan, who holds Kirk, Scotty, and Carol Marcus ransom for his own crew, in the proton torpedoes onboard the Enterprise.

What Khan doesn’t know, is that Spock has contacted New Vulcan and asked his older self, once again played by the inimitable Leonard Nimoy, if the original Enterprise had ever encountered Khan before. While the old Spock is reluctant to give information, he does reveal how the original Enterprise beat the original Khan, and new Spock takes inspiration from that plan, beaming the proton torpedoes aboard (sans their crew), getting the Enterprise crew back, and letting the torpedoes explode on board the battleship.

Things should be over, but the Enterprise is losing altitude fast, and the only way to save her is to enter part of the warp core and put it back into realignment. Kirk takes on this job, while Spock mans the bridge, in a heart-rending reversal of the iconic ending of Star Trek II. But Kirk can’t be dead, just like old Spock can’t be dead. You see, Khan wasn’t destroyed when the battleship mostly exploded, and Spock, now genuinely feeling grief, goes after him. But Bones realizes that Khan’s blood can save Kirk, and with Uhura’s help, Spock brings Khan back in time for them to save the captain.

Analysis?

The Good

Benedict Cumberbatch – He’s frighteningly intense and brings every note of his baritone in to playing Khan. His Khan is, by far, the most compelling character in the movie, and there is a good part of the movie where you wonder if, just maybe, Khan might possibly be a good guy after all.

Peter Weller – He’s been a bad guy on Star Trek before as John Frederick Paxton on Enterprise, but Admiral Marcus takes the cake. Why? He’s not just Commandant of Starfleet, he’s also the chair of a secretive division in Starfleet, which leads me to–

Section 31 – This is something that comes straight from Deep Space 9, a hidden part of Starfleet, unsanctioned, that does whatever they see fit to protect the Federation. It was brilliant to see hints at continuity past just TOS.

Sulu – Sulu got to play captain, which was awesome. Seeing Sulu in the captain’s chair brings back hints of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country with Sulu as captain of the Excelsior – Bones: “My God, that’s a big ship.” Scotty: “Not so big as her captain, I think.”

Wrath of Khan flashbacks – This scene was particularly more poignant for hardcore Trekkies than the average moviegoer, I think, and this is probably where some of the rehashing complaints from critics came from, but I think those critics were missing the point. First, the torpedo stunt was the new crew learning a trick from the old crew directly, which was brilliant. Kirk fixing the ship and dying and saying goodbye to Spock, instead of the other way around, is advancing Spock’s emotional development. It cements the relationship of Kirk and Spock as brothers, which, to be honest, isn’t something that TOS did well until the movies themselves, so I think it’s incredibly important. Spock’s shout of “Khan!” is spine-tingling.

The Bad

Lens Flares – No, they aren’t as bad as 2009. They still aren’t great.

The Prime Directive – Okay, so this got me at the beginning of the movie. They are saving a planet from extinction by stopping a volcano, but they are trying not to be seen because exposing the aliens to other lifeforms is a violation of the Prime Directive.

But guys, we’ve seen time and time and time again that any interference in the development of a species is a violation of the Prime Directive, even saving one that is doomed to extinction. So one, why was the Enterprise there in the first place? Two, why was Spock not chewing Kirk out about stopping the volcano, rather than just letting the Enterprise be seen? Three, why was Pike just chewing out Kirk for breaking the Prime Directive when Spock was also the one who went down in the volcano to stop the eruption with a cold fusion device? Four, in what realm of physics does cold fusion stop a volcanic eruption?! This word cold:

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Timeline and distances – The entirety of this movie takes place in perhaps two days. Warp drive isn’t that fast. And I don’t care how smart Khan is, no one–no one–can beam from Earth to Kronos.

Kronos – why is there an uninhabited province on Kronos? It had obviously been inhabited at some point. And what is with the helmets and piercings on the Klingons? This isn’t anything we’ve ever seen before, and it is definitely weird.

The Ugly

Carol Marcus – She’s a plot device and a T&A shot. Yes, she’s harkening back to Star Trek II, but they could have done a lot more with her. Actually, there’s quite a bit to complain about when it comes to women in this film–Uhura does get to show off somewhat, which is nice–she gets to show off her language skills, and she does get to come save Spock’s neck in the end, but other than that, there is a grieving mother who never speaks, and two alien women (with tails) who are in bed with Kirk. That’s it. Also, what did Kirk do to piss Christine Chapel off so much that she transferred off the Enterprise?

Khan – I love Benedict Cumberbatch. I really, really, really love Benedict Cumberbatch. Almost as much as I love my husband, so what I am about to say in no way whatsoever is meant to reflect on him.

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Ricardo Montalban as Khan

But why–may I ask–did they choose a Caucasian, British actor to play Khan? Khan, in the Star Trek universe, is believed to be from India, of Sikh heritage (Khan is also an Asian title for ruler); Ricardo Montalban, who played the original Khan in both the episode “Space Seed” and The Wrath of Khan, was Hispanic. Part of the mission of the original Star Trek was to show diversity in all things, and this is something this movie doesn’t do well.

In some ways, I can understand not wanting the villain to be a person of color, particularly in our current political situation where a man of indeterminate racial or national origin, like Ricardo Montalban’s Khan, might be too easily and incorrectly identified with certain groups as a terrorist stereotype. Still, for a villain as iconic as Khan, whitewashing the role isn’t the best way to go about things. The cast of Star Trek Into Darkness is still primarily Caucasian, and we have more than ample evidence to know that doesn’t fit Gene Roddenberry’s vision of the future–so I expect more diversity out of future installments (and I hope Abrams does more to bring a more diverse cast to Episode VII).

Overall, though? Four and a half stars out of five.

5 thoughts on “Review: Star Trek Into Darkness (SPOILER ALERT)

  1. Think the scene were Kirk just had to turn and watch her undress was just damd fun.

  2. You must be new here. You may wish to review some of our other posts about women in science fiction before you comment again.

  3. Just saw this in the theaters with 3D (which I thought was well used) and pretty much agree with your review. And not even knowing I was going to see it today, I just happened to rewatch ST:II on TV last night, so seeing all of the connections in the theater today was great fun.

    It may be geeky, but I can't agree more about the complete ignoring of distance and time in many sci-fi movies and franchises of late. It was annoying about the SW prequels, Firefly, and now this. It's lazy writing and an example of ignoring common sense needlessly for sake of easly plot advancement. Thinking about lots of moments of the movie that way afterwards, really thinking about them, generates a lot of WTF retrospective...

    I agree too that Carol Marcus was a major sour note overall for so many reasons, with "contrivance" written all over her character. That T&A scene was by far and away the movie's worst, like they were checking some box on a list...

    The other major sour note was all the Kronos stuff (from getting there, to how it looked, to what happened, to the whole WTF aspect of it). It felt like it was all from another movie.

    Overall, though, as someone who did NOT enjoy the JJ Abrams reboot and who wasn't a TOS guy (I'm a TNG fan myself who ignores the existence of the TNG movies and views the series ender AGT as the true TNG finale) I have to say that "Into Darkness" was the best sci-fi movie I've seen in many, many years, at least since District 9 and easily the best Trek movie of the entire franchise from beginning to now. Amazingly, it was true to the good Roddenberry core of Trek, an absolutely gorgeous film from beginning to end (save for Kronos), well acted, and actually mostly coherent. I even enjoyed the (greatly toned down) lens flares.

    4.5/5 out of 5 indeed...

    • Looking back, now that I've seen it for a third time, I'm less irritated with the Kronos stuff. Praxis seems to have exploded at some point much earlier than in Prime continuity, so an uninhabited province makes a little more sense. And the helmets and piercings bothered me much less, because they do have the whole honor thing down, which was nice.

      But you still can't transport from Earth to Kronos in one go. Even the transwarp beaming in the reboot was still stretching it too far (and yes, I'm saying that about a movie with Spock's Costco size bubble of red matter).

  4. Ya know, you're the first person I've seen to actually agree with me that Khan was not the villain this time around. I get a lot of funny looks and comments when I say it, but it's true. Khan was NOT the bad guy. I think most everyone else hears the name Khan and immediately assumes "bad guy," but if you put that aside and unbiasedly follow the plot of the story, you can see that he just isn't. He's actually no different than Kirk. Khan and Kirk were the same characters on opposite sides of a story, played against each other by Admiral Marcus as the central villain. If you think about it, if some alien admiral on some other planet did to Kirk what Marcus did to Khan, what would Kirk have done? The same thing Khan did.

    As a life-long Trekkie, I gladly admit that I'm 100% FOR the "reboots," and I thought that this movie was an absolutely genius twist in the re-imagining of this story. It was SO much better of a story than the stereotypical good guy vs. stereotypical bad guy stories that we're so used to seeing. And also as a life-long Trekkie, it seemed so weird to actually find yourself sympathizing with Khan and wanting to see him save his "family" just as much as you wanted to see Kirk save his... and actually finding yourself just a tiny bit heartbroken that Khan was put back into cryo-stasis believing that he failed to save his "family" and that they were dead. And I may take some heat for this, but... Zachary Quinto shouted it better. X-)

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