A valid criticism about the last Star Trek film was that it was too much like Star Wars with its emphasis on flashy special effects and high-octane action. This same critique is applicable to Star Trek Into Darkness, the latest entry in the long-running film series. But at least more of an attempt is made to make this film seem more like Star Trek.
How so? Concern is brought up on more than one occasion that Starfleet is becoming too militarized and that they should be explorers. By the end of the film, the main characters wholeheartedly embrace that concept based on their experiences throughout the film. In some ways, Star Trek Into Darkness is a battle for the soul of Star Trek and to try to go back to its roots. The film doesn’t always succeed in getting that point across, since it wants to revel in the big-action scenes that define the J.J. Abrams era of Star Trek. In fact, it’s best to think of this film as Abrams’ audition tape for directing the next Star Wars film.
Star Trek Into Darkness opens on an alien planet where angry, primitive natives are chasing Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy (Karl Urban) after Kirk insulted them.
As the two men flee to their hidden starship, the Enterprise, the ship’s Vulcan first officer, Spock (Zachary Quinto) is trapped in an active volcano. He was trying to keep it from erupting using a cold fusion process. Once Kirk and McCoy make it back to their ship, Kirk orders a rescue of Spock. The ship is able to rescue the Vulcan but violates the Prime Directive when the natives see the advanced starship rise out of its hiding spot in the ocean.
When the Enterprise crew returns to Earth, Kirk is called to Starfleet’s headquarters by Admiral Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood). Expecting a lucrative assignment, instead, Kirk is berated for being too reckless and thinking rules don’t apply to him. Kirk is stunned to find out that his command is taken away for violating the Prime Directive and for not being ready to be a starship captain. This was based on Spock’s accurate report about the incident on the planet.
Kirk is justifiably incensed at his friend and starts berating Spock later before they attend a high-level meeting with Starfleet brass. This meeting is to discuss a recent terrorist bombing in London by a Starfleet operative named John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), who has gone rogue.
The meeting is interrupted when Harrison shows up outside the building where the meeting is held in a fighter craft and fires weapons at the attendees. Kirk is able to stop the attack but Harrison beams away and one of the casualties is Pike. Investigations reveals Harrison’s current location: Kronos, the Klingon homeworld.
An enraged Kirk asks Admiral Alexander Marcus (Peter Weller) to be reinstated as captain of the Enterprise so he can pursue the terrorist. Marcus agrees and tells Kirk to go to the border of Klingon space and launch several long-range, prototype photon torpedoes at Harrison’s location to kill him.
Later, the Enterprise has to drop out of warp space near their destination due to a malfunction. Kirk then takes a shuttle to Kronos with Spock and other crewmembers and are saved from Klingons by Harrison himself, who quickly surrenders to him.
Now a prisoner onboard the Enterprise, Harrison reveals to Kirk that his name is really Khan and that he is a genetic superman who was in cryo sleep for three hundred years in sleeper ship along with 72 other superhumans. Starfleet discovered their sleeper ship and only Khan was revived. Marcus, anticipating an all-out war with the Klingons, wanted to utilize Khan’s superior intellect to develop advanced weapons and is holding hostage the other superhumans as leverage. Furthermore, Marcus wants to use the Enterprise and Harrison to instigate a war with the Klingons.
Kirk’s suspicions about Marcus are soon confirmed when a massive starship arrives armed to the teeth. It’s commanded by Marcus, who demands that Khan be turned over to him.
Star Trek Into Darkness is one of the most exciting films in the series thanks to J.J. Abrams’ directing. Like its main character, the film is brash, bold and in your face with wild and intense action scenes. Highlights include a thrilling chase of Khan in San Francisco by Spock that culminates in a heart-pounding fight, where Spock nearly loses his control. Another is when a crippled Enterprise falls towards Earth, the special effects of those scenes are just brilliant and dazzling. Expect an Oscar nomination for special effects.
What should also be lauded are the magnificent settings. Seeing the futuristic cities like London and San Francisco are delightful. They look so real and plausible while being futuristic, and evoke the cityscapes seen in Blade Runner or Coruscant in the Star Wars prequels with all the flying vehicles and high tech. Only the cities are more pristine and inviting. Overall, an impression is made that our future could really look like what’s on the screen. Let’s build that future already!
What buttresses all the eye candy in the film are the characters. More attention is spent on developing them, especially Kirk. Pine does a great job with him, and although he isn’t William Shatner, his rendition of Kirk is admirable. He injects a wider range of emotions as Kirk begins to learn about humility, loss and his vulnerabilities. Quinto also does a first-rate job as Spock although he comes off at the beginning as too stoic and cold. His early scenes with Uhura (Zoe Saldana) are too much like bad high-school romances with pointless bickering. However, events by the end of the film do a lot to unnerve the Vulcan to the breaking point and he has just cause for nearly losing control of himself.
What causes that loss of control has to do with some quibbles I have with the film. Star Trek Into Darkness goes overboard at times in recreating moments from Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan right down to the exact dialogue. A couple of times is an homage but a few more cries lack of originality. It just brings to light the fact that the screenwriters resorted to using Khan, Star Trek’s greatest villain, and not be more original. It would’ve been acceptable if Khan wasn’t revived but some other superman. That isn’t anything against Cumberbatch. His Khan is a great lethal and cold villain but can’t compare to Ricardo Montalban, who was more regal and charismatic. The new Khan has little resemblance to the original one, which is why a different villain would’ve been preferable.
Regarding the re-imagined Klingons, frankly they’re not as intimidating as the bulky warriors with the complex ridged foreheads we all love.
This film gets high marks for being fun and visually spectacular, but at times it just goes a little over the top with its hectic pace. It’s clearly not the traditional Star Trek but remember not all the episodes in the original TV show were about exploring and ideas. They had their fair share of action-oriented episodes, just call to mind Kirk’s many fight scenes, including one against the original Khan.
Abrams and screenwriters Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, and Damon Lindeloff should be saluted for paying more attention to Star Trek lore. There are many nods and tributes to all the Star Trek incarnations. Casual moviegoers won’t spot them but core fans would. Some are utilizing Carol Marcus (Alice Eve) Kirk’s lost love, showcasing models of the Phoenix and the NX-01 Enterprise, and the existence of the nefarious Section 31 from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
It’s these little nuggets that make Star Trek Into Darkness a more enjoyable viewing experience than its predecessor. There are some nagging logical flaws in the plot that have to do with inconsistencies and matters of security. Many of these plot holes will bring up “why don’t they do this?” type of questions if you start to think about the plot in more depth. But that is typical with these writers; maybe next time, they should see if Nicholas Meyer is available. Is it too much like Star Wars? Yes, it is, but the bottom line is that the film is an enjoyable romp and fans shouldn’t worry too much about how off the mark Abrams’ Star Trek films are in representing the franchise. Just note that Abrams and company won’t be doing Star Trek forever; already he’s to deservedly direct the next Star Wars film, something that better suits him. So we may yet get a new incarnation that better reflects what Star Trek is about. As stated earlier, there is a concerted effort by the film’s end to put aside the rage and vengeance and begin exploring and striving to be better. That is the essence of Star Trek and it’s great that this film finally began to recognize that. I can’t wait to see what comes next.