Star-Trek-Into-Darkness

Director: J.J. Abrams

Starring: John Cho, Benedict Cumberbatch, Alice Eve, Bruce Greenwood, Simon Pegg, Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, Peter Weller, Anton Yelchin

I’ll start this off by saying I understand that a large portion of my fellow Trek fans have no love for “Star Trek Into Darkness,” but also that I do not share those feelings. At a convention in 2013, just after the film’s release, a poll was taken which ranked the series from best to worst. “Star Trek Into Darkness” came in dead last. Much of it has to do with the fact that this movie is a “Wrath of Khan” redo. But why should that be such a big deal? The last two movies pulled the same card… with vastly different degrees of success. But those were only half measures. “Star Trek Into Darkness” succeeds where “Star Trek” (2009) could not by dropping the pretense and actually including the character of Khan in this new universe. The result is a superbly-acted, thrilling and superior sequel.

The film opens one year after the events of “Star Trek,” with the Enterprise crew preventing a volcano from destroying the home planet of a primitive species. At the same time, they also break Starfleet’s Prime Directive by revealing themselves in order to save Spock (Zachary Quinto) from certain death. Due to Captain Kirk (Chris Pine)’s blatant disregard for the rules… and Spock’s ignorance of the fact that he, too, was in violation of Starfleet’s non-interference policy… Kirk is demoted to first officer and Spock is reassigned.

Before they can become acclimated to their new posts, a new threat has emerged. John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), a member of Starfleet’s secret security force Section 31, has perpetrated a terrorist attack on London. His next act is to attack the high ranking members of Starfleet who convene to discuss the threat. In a scene which looks remarkably similar to one from “The Godfather Part III,” Harrison flies in and kills almost everyone in the room. This includes Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood), who was promoted to Admiral at the end of the previous film and was just about to assume command of the Enterprise for the second time.

Having never known his own father in this universe, Kirk had come to think of Pike as a sort of father figure, and is devastated by his loss. Kirk asks Admiral Alexander Marcus (Peter Weller) for his and Spock’s reinstatments to their original positions on board the Enterprise, as well as for permission to hunt down John Harrison, who has fled to Kronos, the home of the hostile Klingons. The ship is outfitted with 72 special long-range torpedoes, which prompts Scotty (Simon Pegg) to resign as chief engineer.

Upon arrival at Kronos, the Enterprise’s engines mysteriously fail, meaning that they cannot simply fire at Harrison from a safe distance and then “haul ass.” Instead, Kirk, Spock and Uhura (Zoe Saldana) fly down to the planet’s surface to find Harrison. An unhappy band of Klingons intercepts them, but are annihilated by Harrison who suspiciously surrenders himself. Kirk and crew soon learn why when Harrison suggests they open one of the new torpedoes. Dr. McCoy (Karl Urban)… with the help of Admiral Marcus’s daughter, Carol (Alice Eve)… is successful in doing this. The torpedo, as with the other 71, is revealed to be the housing for a 300 year old cryotube containing a superhuman. Harrison then reveals his true identity to be that of the exiled late 20th century superhuman/dictator Khan Noonien Singh.

Khan details how it was Admiral Marcus who found and awoke Khan from his centuries of slumber so that he could develop weapons to bolster the Federation’s defense against the Klingons, with whom Marcus believes war is imminent. He tells that it was Admiral Marcus who ensured that the Enterprise’s warp drive would fail, so that they would be martyrs in a Klingon attack. Khan also gives coordinates which Kirk passes along to Scotty, who follows his instructions to the planet Jupiter. There, Scotty discovers the U.S.S. Vengeance: a much larger, faster and more well-armed starship built specifically for war and capable of being run by only one person. The Vengeance, commanded by Admiral Marcus, intercepts the Enterprise and demands the release of Khan.

When Kirk orders the Enterprise to flee to Earth instead, the Vengeance catches up and disables the ship near the Moon. The Enterprise is just about to be destroyed when Scotty, secretly aboard the Vengeance, temporarily powers down her weapons systems. This buys Kirk and Khan enough time to transfer over to the Vengeance, Iron Man-style. Once there, they make their way to the bridge where Khan kills the Admiral. Carol, whom the Admiral had transported over, watches in horror. As Kirk had suspected he might, Khan betrays them.

Spock, upon consultation with his elder self (Leonard Nimoy, in his final film role), devises a strategy to defeat Khan. He bargains for the return of Kirk, Scotty and Carol while giving Khan the torpedoes before exploding them in the Vengeance cargo bay. As Spock is no cold-blooded murderer, he had McCoy extract Khan’s friends (still in their cryotubes) from the torpedoes before the transport. Khan crash lands the Vengeance into San Francisco, completely destroying Alcatraz Island and leading to an untold number of casualties. Meanwhile, the Enterprise’s engines are misaligned, leading Kirk to sacrifice himself to save the ship. Spock means to kill Khan (who survived the Vengeance’s crash), but Uhura persuades him not to when McCoy learns it is possible to use Khan’s blood to restore Kirk to life. One year later, the Enterprise sets out on a five-year mission of space exploration.

This being their second outing, the cast feels like they’ve settled into their roles, in particular Chris Pine who, while excellent in “Star Trek” appeared apprehensive at times. No longer. There will only ever be one William Shatner, but the role of Kirk is safe in the capable hands of Chris Pine. He’s got a great supporting cast to help him out. As in the previous film, the arguments between Quinto’s Spock and Urban’s McCoy really stand out.

The villains are also much improved. You would think that Benedict Cumberbatch would automatically be the scene stealer in this movie. His is one of the most attention-grabbing voices you’re ever likely to hear. But, impressively, he’s not even the movie’s best villain. That’s Peter Weller’s Admiral Marcus, one of my favorite Trek bad guys of all-time. Weller plays Marcus like a 23rd Century Dick Cheney (which is no accident, as it was the intent of screenwriter Roberto Orci). A warmonger of the highest order, Marcus’s high-ranking position in Starfleet makes him as great a threat as any genetically-engineered despot.

In spite of my consistent belief that “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” will never be topped, my general unease when it comes to the subject of remakes, and my loyalty to the original Trek, I find I have nothing but love for “Star Trek Into Darkness.” I don’t care that many scenes and pieces of dialogue are unashamedly lifted from “Star Trek II,” or that Kirk’s death scene is a direct role reversal of the same (and much more impactful) one for Spock from the 1982 classic. It matters not that Kirk is almost immediately revived, since the original TV show pulled that stunt several times. I don’t care that Benedict Cumberbatch doesn’t even remotely resemble Ricardo Montalban’s Khan, or that Carol Marcus now has a British accent. In fact, I don’t much care about any of the concerns raised by most fans. All I care about is whether or not the movie entertains me. “Into Darkness” does that job better than many “Star Trek” movies have.

 

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Comments
  1. Sylvia Williams says:

    Chuck, I think you nailed it with this review. I totally agree! This movie is a bit more complex plot wise than its predecessor, and at times just a little hard for me to follow; but it doesn’t keep me from thoroughly enjoying it! You are so right about Peter Weller as an even better villain than Benedict is as Khan. I just consider that a bonus!

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