First off – this review will be long, sorry. Second it will contain spoilers. I usually try to avoid that, but honestly, I don’t think I can tell you what I really thought about this without spoiling some things. So – that being said – you have been warned. Spoiler Alert! Don’t read this unless you’ve seen the movie! Although, the spoilers only apply if you’re a die-hard Star Trek fan, and know all of the previous incarnations of the franchise. If you don’t, and you’re thinking of seeing this because it looks like a fun summer popcorn movie (which it is, and you should), then never-mind – and read on.
Star Trek is an American science fiction franchise created in 1966 by Gene Roddenberry. The Original Series (TOS) lasted three years, and became a huge cult hit, spawning many TV spin-offs: an animated show (you can Netflix those, and you should!), Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG), Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (DS9), Star Trek: Voyager (no acronym needed), and Star Trek: Enterprise (no acronym here, not because it’s short enough, but mainly because no one liked it). It also spawned six TOS movies and four TNG movies, and now J.J. Abrams’s re-booted movies. TOS gave us a multi-ethnic cast (on TV in the 60s!?! What?!?) and a future where all mankind was seemingly at peace with one another, and our “Federation” was a science/exploratory based group. It was hopeful to say the very least.
In terms of Stars, I have always gravitated more towards Wars than Trek, but I have always loved Star Trek, mainly TOS, but I am familiar with the others. I love the six movies featuring the original cast, especially 4, 6 and 2. In particular Star Trek 6: The Undiscovered Country, in which the Klingon Empire suffers a near fatal blow, but not nearly fatal enough to stop Klingon Christopher Plummer from coming after Kirk and crew one final time. It also features the fantastic exchange by the crew of the Enterprise, “Well, once again, we’ve saved the universe as we know it.” “The good news is that this time they’re not going to press charges.”
A fantastic show of swagger by a cast who, at that point (1991), had been in these roles for 25 years; and were well aware of their influence on pop culture and the world at large. We did have a NASA Space Shuttle named Enterprise, and countless real-life gadgets and gizmos are based on the items seen first on Star Trek.
Kahn Noonien Singh was a warlord during his time, and ruled a quarter of the earth; he was widely reputed to be the most dangerous of the ‘supermen’. After waking up on the Enterprise, he promptly out-egos Kirk (an almost impossible task but he pulls it off easily – go Netflix the episode again and watch Montalban tell you he’s fatigued), romances McGivers, wakes up the rest of his people, and decides to take over the ship – because, after all, he’s genetically superior.
Kirk and Spock eventually come up with a plan, which involves gassing the whole ship, capturing Khan and court-martialing him. Kirk decides to exile Khan and his followers onto Ceti Alpha V, a treacherous world, where Khan agrees to take his people to start his kingdom over again. McGivers goes with him. Spock states that it would be interesting to return to Ceti Alpha V in 100 years to see what Khan has done with it. As a side note, Chekov does not appear in this episode.
You’d think that would be the last you hear of Khan, but then in Star Trek 2: the Wrath of Khan (spoiler in the title?), Chekov is working on assignment on the Reliant with Paul Winfield, looking for barren worlds for Dr. Carol Marcus to test her ‘Genesis Experiment’. Basically it creates a living planet on a dead rock. They think they’ve found one, but then they come across the remains of the Botany Bay. Chekov panics, and tries to get them out of there, but not before Khan and his people find them. Khan is really, really angry because he’s lost his wife (McGivers) because Ceti Alpha VI exploded after they were left on Ceti Alpha V and turned V into the dusty rock it is now. He blames Kirk for all this, puts some brain-control slugs in Chekov and Paul Winfield’s ears, steals the Reliant, finds out about Genesis, and sets out to destroy Kirk.
Meanwhile Kirk debates retirement, establishes the super close friendship he has with his whole crew, but especially McCoy and even more especially Spock. He is supervising Spock’s new crew of cadets on the Enterprise, when they have to swing into action and check up on Carol Marcus and her crew. Kirk and McCoy find Carol, and her (and Kirk’s – surprise!) son David, in the center of a planet where Khan attempts to maroon them. Kirk gets angry, and yells Khan’s name, in what is perhaps the best yell in all of movie yells.
Since Kirk and Spock have a 30 year friendship at this point, they are able to come up with a secret plan. Kirk bides his time by reminding everyone he’s with how awesome he is; eating Genesis apples and telling them how he beat the Kobayashi Maru test, until Spock beams them out. They head into a Nebula, and battle Khan. Khan, unwilling to go out without taking Kirk with him, sets off Genesis, and the Enterprise is entirely too damaged to make it out. Spock heads down to engineering, mind-melds with McCoy, and enters the radiation-filled chamber to manually fix the ship, to save it. Kirk mans the bridge, but afterwards, gets called down to the engine room to witness Spock’s final moments. The entire scene between Nimoy and Shatner is absolutely brilliant; beginning with Nimoy’s straightening of his uniform as he stands, to confirming the ship is out of danger, to collapsing at the window, to Shatner collapsing on the other side. Spock states that he has been, and always will be, Kirk’s friend. This scene, and the funeral after, and David’s visit to Kirk, always makes me cry – and I have seen it hundreds of times. It’s the performances by actors who have a relationship, and can bring that through to the characters’ relationship that is so touching.
Why tell you all that? Isn’t this supposed to be about Into Darkness? In 2009 J.J. Abrams re-booted Star Trek, gave us a bold new young crew playing the characters we already loved and a fancy new adventure on a super shiny new Enterprise which has more lens flares than all of the Star Trek TV shows to date. During this adventure, a Romulan named Nero comes back in time with a grudge against Spock and screws up the timeline. So, you see, Abrams can give us a bunch of new stories with the same characters, because – alternate timeline.
Into Darkness picks up where the re-boot left off. The Enterprise saves an indigenous people, but Kirk bucks the Prime Directive (shocker) so he gets demoted. Meanwhile, Benedict Cumberbatch promises to save the daughter of a Starfleet Officer if he blows up a building. After the explosion, Kirk and Spock are called to a meeting of Starship captains and first officers. The meeting is attacked, Captain Pike gets killed, Kirk gets angry and talks with the head of StarFleet about heading off to kill “John Harrison” the man who planned the explosion and the attack. Harrison’s on Kronos (is he out of his mind?), the Klingon home world, and the Klingons have been on the warpath lately. Admiral Marcus tells Kirk to take these new torpedoes and the Enterprise, head to Kronos, and kill the hell out of Harrison. Kirk’s crew reminds him that’s not morally good. In fact, Scotty protests so much that he resigns. They get to Kronos, Kirk realizes everyone else is right, and beams down, telling Sulu to threaten Harrison with the new torpedoes. They immediately run into Klingons, who are about to - well, who knows – Uhura was doing a pretty good job with speaking Klingon. Harrison attacks the Klingons, there’s a big fight, he wipes out all the Klingons (wow), and demands to know how many of the torpedoes are pointed at him. When Kirk tells him 72 (hey, that sounds familiar, right?) he immediately surrenders.
They take him on board the Enterprise, where he gives them some coordinates that Kirk relays to Scotty (they lead him to a secret shipyard outside Jupiter), and he tells them to open one of the torpedoes. McCoy and the Admiral’s daughter – Carol Marcus open them and surprise! They’re filled with people. Genetically altered super-people leftover from the Eugenics Wars, and Harrison says, “My name is Khan”. Meanwhile Admiral Marcus shows up in his militarized starship very disappointed that Kirk didn’t fire all the torpedoes at Kronos, simultaneously killing Khan and his people, and starting a major war with the Klingon Empire. There’s a big battle, during which Khan and Kirk briefly team up, Spock calls old Spock to ask about Khan, and the Enterprise gets damaged while beating the militarized ship. Khan crushes the Admiral’s head with his hands, there’s another firefight, and the Enterprise wins by pulling the people out of the torpedoes, but arming them and beaming them over to Khan. His ship goes down, and the Enterprise starts to go with it, but Kirk heads into the radiation-flooded engine room to re-align the warpcore manually (see where this is going?). Spock arrives just in time to see Kirk dying through a window; they acknowledge their friendship and confirm the ship is safe. Kirk dies, and Spock yells Khan’s name. He then beams down to beat the hell out of Khan, who has survived a starship crash into San Francisco. With Uhura’s help, they catch Khan, and use some of his blood to bring Kirk back to life. They re-freeze Khan and his people, then it looked like they stored them in the same warehouse the government put the Ark of the Covenant. They then are given their 5 year assignment to explore new worlds and boldly go where no one has gone before.
Cast-wise, everyone’s as good as you expect, Pine and Quinto make a find young Kirk and Spock, but they have nowhere near the chemistry Shatner and Nimoy had by Star Trek 2. Maybe that wouldn’t matter, except for the Kirk death scene. Because these two characters did not have that extended time and relationship built up, the scene doesn’t have the same weight and beauty the first one did. And maybe they shouldn’t be compared, but since it is virtually the same scene – comparisons are inevitable and this new one falls way short. The rest of the crew of the Enterprise has very little to do, everyone gets one or two scenes, and they are all good, but minor: Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, John Cho, and Anton Yelchin. Peter Weller was fun as the Admiral, but really, who put RoboCop in charge of StarFleet and then was surprised when he wanted to militarize it? Alice Eve plays Carol Marcus, and looks like a young Carol Marcus.
The standout is Benedict Cumberbatch, he does an amazing job. You have to get over the fact that he is exceptionally Caucasian, playing Indian (besides, Montalban was Mexican playing Indian). He is threatening and powerful and does a really really good job.
Overall, I liked the movie, I just didn’t love it. The inclusion of the death scene from Star Trek 2 upsets me the most, because that movie was so fantastic, and that scene so amazing. In this one it felt forced and hollow, mainly because these characters just haven’t built up the relationship yet that the originals had. Also, I did love the Kirk line, “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do, I only know what I can do.” Very nice, very Kirk, and well done.
8 out of 10 – it’s pretty fantastic. Gained points for making sure there were 72 torpedoes. Lost points for not mentioning the Botany Bay at all. Gained points for Nimoy’s cameo, and his reaction when Quinto asks about Khan. Lost points for Alice Eve in her underwear, not necessary. Lost points for all the lens flares.
Bonus Video 1: The best commercial ever?
Bonus Video 2: How the first one Should Have Ended...yes, turn off the lens flare generators!
Bonus Video 3: Cast Interviews:
Bonus Video 1: The best commercial ever?