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.