I’ve been looking forward to seeing Star Trek Into Darkness for a while now. Not because I loved the first of JJ Abrams’ Trek movies, not because I’m a big Trek geek (I’m only kind of one), but because it was going to be an IMAX 3-D spectacular that was actually shot with IMAX cameras (for at least 30 minutes anyway, claims wikipedia). Unfortunately, life circumstances required me to wait over a month to see it and a stupid cancellation of the final IMAX 3-D screening near me (to show a sneak preview of White House Down of all things) required me to see it in non-IMAX 2-D. Oh well. It was still pretty good, and thankfully I saw the “first 9 minutes” in actual IMAX 3-D before The Hobbit, so I guess I only missed out on 21 additional minutes.
As the movie opened, I was pleasantly surprised that they started with the sequence of the Enterprise crew trying to save the inhabitants of the red-treed volcano planet and then followed up with the sequence in London with John Harrison claiming he could save the sick girl. I as I mentioned in my post on the 9-minute preview, which had these segments flip-flopped, starting the movie with characters we don’t even know didn’t seem like a great idea. I’m not going to claim credit for the change in the actual feature, of course. I’m guessing it was a conscious choice all along in order to leave audiences in suspense about Spock’s fate at the end of the preview.
With that out of the way, my general opinion of the movie is similar to my opinion of the first. It’s a fun action movie, but the tone is a lot different from past Trek incarnations (perhaps less so with this film, considering it’s Abrams’ version of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan). Yep. Khan’s the bad guy, though he starts out with the presidential-sounding alias John Harrison. He’s played by Benedict Cumberbatch, or, as he’s known around our house “Bandersnatch Cumberbund“. Whether you love or hate the idea of re-imagining the best of the (wildly varying in quality) Trek films, Cumberbatch is awesome. He’s ultimately what makes me rank this Abrams installment ahead of the first one. It also helps that, for better or worse, we know these characters by now so we’re not saddled with origin stories, fun though they may be.
As great as Cumberbatch is, Pine and Quinto as Kirk and Spock, respectively, are also very good. Some of the supporting cast gets a few things to do here and there, like Simon Pegg’s Scotty and Karl Urban’s Bones. Zoe Saldana is given little that is interesting or important to do, Anton Yelchin and his horrible (but very Koenig-esque) accent is thankfully kept in the background. New additions Alice Eve and Peter Weller as Carol and Admiral Marcus don’t fare quite as well. Honestly, I don’t know if we really needed Carol Marcus at all, besides the fact that she’s a character in The Wrath of Khan. I feel like Admiral Marcus could have been given some more depth, considering the situation he faces in the film, but I guess he gets us where we need to be for the stuff to blow up real good.
As for the story. It was what it was: a way to get us from one action setpiece to another. I was entertained throughout by the action, but I wondered about the convenience of certain things. It seems silly that Kirk would come up with a theory on why Khan blew up the archive mere seconds before Khan goes Godfather III (or is it Perfect Dark?) on Starfleet command (at a meeting that is inexplicably located near the top of a skyscraper in a conference room with a whole bunch of windows). Also, all of the business with the torpedoes/suspended animation pods (and exactly what Admiral Marcus or Khan thought was going to happen with them) was a bit wonky. Oh, and thank goodness Khan’s blood has regenerative properties, otherwise Kirk would have died. As my wife Beth asked me near the end of the film, why not use blood from one of the other 72 frozen super-beings? I guess that would mean thawing them out.
Speaking of Kirk being dead, I’m not entirely sure what to think of Into Darkness‘ reversal of what happens in The Wrath of Khan. Anyway, I think I liked the Kirk/Spock change, particularly since it led to an emotional moment from Spock and an angry revenge chase after Khan. I feel like Spock’s “Khaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan!” was more giggle inducing (as the original line has become) than it was emotionally resonant. Also, Abrams doesn’t really give us an ending to the final fight between Spock and Khan. Really, Khan kind of disappears from the film for about 20 minutes before the final fight, which is rather unfortunate. He does manage to kill a ton of people before he is captured again, though we don’t have time to consider the reality of his deed. I also don’t think that it was necessary to have Old Spock pop up again, though I guess it makes sense for Spock to need to hear it from himself just how formidable Khan is.
Overall, I feel pretty much the same about this as I did about 2009’s Star Trek. It’s a brand new flavor of Trek, and it’s exactly what I expect from a JJ Abrams summer popcorn flick. It’s far from cerebral, but it’s pretty fun and hey, it has Cumberbatch.
- Was anyone else troubled by Kirk’s ineptitude in this movie? He doesn’t just disobey the Prime Directive, he obliterates it in the opening sequence. Of course, that’s something Shatner’s Kirk wouldn’t hesitate to do, regardless of whether it meant rescuing Spock. Then, he disobeys the order to blow up Khan (drone-style, topical!), which allows for the rest of the movie to happen, including the squashing of Peter Weller’s head, the near destruction of the Enterprise, the hijacking and destruction of an expensive-looking Federation vessel (even if it was a WARship), the smashing of a good chunk of San Francisco, and even his (Kirk’s) own death (and subsequent resurrection). If I hated the movie, I’d take Kirk’s “I’m sorry” declaration to the bridge crew as a direct apology to the audience. How does Kirk keep his job after this one?
- Also, if killing Khan with the torpedo strike would have ended all of this, aren’t we supposed to support it? Of course you want to side with Kirk because he’s the hero who understands that sometimes the needs of the many don’t outweigh the needs of the few (and because drones are no fun), but look what happens when you do side with him.
- By the end of the movie, lots of people are dead and Khan is now in cryo-sleep. Is the Enterprise not outfitted with the equipment to put Khan in suspended animation? Maybe not. Is Admiral Marcus that hell-bent on killing Khan and going to war with the Klingons that he can’t see the sense in freezing Khan again and avoiding the war? Where’s the oversight in Starfleet?
- Those first three bullets might be filed under “reading too much into it”, but it’s questions like those above that make this movie more frustrating, but also more interesting than the 2009 entry. Of course, it might be better if the movie took time to explore these ideas, but that isn’t what it’s all about.
- I didn’t even mention Sulu. Maybe because he doesn’t really do anything either. I guess John Cho was too busy filming Go On? Sorry about that one John.
- Bruce Greenwood got to come back, but where’s Tyler Perry?
- Section 31!
- Abrams shows us the Klingons in this film, albeit briefly. Think they’re the bad guys in Star Trek 3: The Search for More Money?
- Speaking of Spaceballs, if you didn’t get a Colonel Sanders vibe off of those new dress uniforms…