Man, what an entertaining movie. Not perfect, of course, but what is? I had a rollicking good time watching Star Trek Into Darkness, even though the movie has a healthy dose of what TVTropes and others call Fridge Logic – those plot points that don’t completely make sense but that you generally don’t realize until later (ie during the commercial, when you are getting something out of the fridge). This of course puts it ahead of the “original” (if you can call it that) Star Trek, which wore all of its plot inconsistencies on its sleeve, and dared you to care about making sense of them. (Someday, I’m sure I’ll write about all that, but not now).
For the sequel, there was only one moment that I noticed while I was actually in the theatre that I wondered about, and that was why, at the story’s climax, was everyone saying that Khan was the only one who could save Kirk when there were 72 other potential donors on board. All it would have taken was a quick line from McCoy about how the blood wouldn’t work from someone who just waking up from hibernation, or whatever. But then again, when your plot hole can be patched up with one line of dialog, it’s probably not worth dwelling on.
What is worth dwelling on is Benedict Cumberbatch, who does an outstanding job as the film’s primary antagonist. We already knew the guy could act, having seen Sherlock, but it’s nice to have another equally compelling performance to confirm it. John Harrison, as he is known, is not just a plot-inducing villain, but a fully developed character – simultaneously frightening and sympathetic. This is as strong a commonality with the Prime Universe’s Khan as any other, and I appreciate the fact that if we’re going to use Khan again, then he both avoids being derivative as well as honors to the original. And there are surprises with the character: he turns out to not just be an agenda-driven madman determined to destroy the entire Federation way of life, as had been hinted at by the trailers. Similarly, he is not a basically omniscient puppet-master who merely allows himself to get captured as Step 25 in his 47 Step masterplan – which was something I was fearing as I was watching the movie (cast your mind back, if you need to, to Skyfall, The Avengers, and The Dark Knight). It also avoids having Khan turn out to be in league with the film’s other baddie, Admiral Marcus, all along – something else that was worrying me for a bit, which would have resulted in that annoying thing of having a villain who was so in control of things that you don’t understand why they bothered with all their loopy plans in the first place.
Instead Khan turns out to be a guy who has been used and abused by a faction of Starfleet, so he takes revenge against them, killing a bunch of innocents in the process. Then when he realizes there is a chance to save his people – his family – he improvises, adjusting his plans, waiting for the right moment to try to regain the advantage. The film does a good job of establishing motivations for his actions that are not hard for the audience to connect to, while never letting us lose the sense of intimidation over the character. And then it re-establishes his savagery in the brutal and effective scene where he crushes the life out of the equally if not more immoral Admiral in front of his grown daughter. It’s a great character and a great performance, even if he does not have Ricardo Montalban’s inherent gravitas.
What makes less sense, though, is the whole thing about Khan hiding his people in the torpedoes that he was supposed to be designing for Starfleet. Maybe I need to see the movie again to see if I missed something, but he hid them all to try to keep them safe from Marcus and Section 31? But then he assumes that they’re all dead and that’s why he goes on his revenge spree? And he thought the safest place to put them was for each to go into his or her own personalized exploding rocket? And Marcus supposedly did or did not know they were there? If he knew, why did he leave them there? If he didn’t know, why were the torpedo’s contents classified? And what actually happened to the super weapon that was supposed to be in the torpedoes anyway?
There were a few other oddities about the movie. I wasn’t crazy about the plot business of having Kirk demoted near the start of the film, only for him to be reinstated a few minutes later. It seemed like the only point of that was to give Bruce Greenwood some scenes to play before he was killed off. But my friend and fellow fan felt that was justification enough. He pointed out that it gave the movie an opportunity to really show Pike as Kirk’s father figure. He commented that the loss of Kirk’s father should be the defining trait for this version of the character – it’s what separates him from the “Prime Universe” Kirk, and he felt it was worth playing up. I can concede that.
Another minor bit of awkwardness comes in the middle of Kirk trying to convince Khan to help him stop the Vengeance. The scene is interrupted by Kirk realizing that McCoy is busy injecting a dead tribble (of all things) with some of Khan’s blood. This is clearly happening just so that the tribble can come back to life later and provide a way to resurrect Kirk, and it’s inserted into this scene quite abruptly, having no bearing on the conversation Kirk is having with Khan. So it becomes an awkward example of a Chekhov’s Gun, which I think is worth pointing out just because this is Star Trek (no, not that Chekov, the other one).
This brings up all the odd and obviously intentional parallels the movie makes with Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Aside from the fact that the film features Khan and his, er, wrath, you’ve got the death scene, complete with a glass door separating Kirk and Spock as they express their deep friendship while one of them fades away into the undiscovered country, having taken a lethal dose of radiation to save the ship. It was a bit of a strange choice, to so obviously and closely homage what is a contender for the best directed and best acted and most affecting scene in the entire history of the franchise. I found it a bit distracting, but I think if I was unaware of its heritage that I would have considered it to be a decent moment. Certainly both Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto do a good job with it.
What crosses the line is the second homage that immediately follows Kirk’s death: Spock’s “Khaaaaannnn!!” scream. Not only are we suddenly hearkening back to what many consider to be a laughable moment in Star Trek II (though I still think an effective one), but having it come on the heels of the other, more substantial homage makes you feel for a moment that the movie is just playing “Star Trek” rather than just being “Star Trek.” Plus it’s arguably out of character for Spock.
So that’s a lot of nerdy film and fan talk about Star Trek Into Darkness. And I haven’t even brought up the arbitrary title. I’ve no idea why the film is called “Into Darkness” except that “Darkness” seems to be an in-vogue concept (Batman, Thor, Transformers). I thought Star Trek Vengeance would have been a more logical title – it’s Kirk’s motivation for much of the film, it’s Khan’s motivation for all of it, it’s the name of Marcus’ super-starship, and it’d have been a cool shout-out to the working title of the Star Trek II. But maybe it’d sound too much like the names of the largely unsuccessful later Next Generation films.
So the bottom line is I enjoyed the movie a lot. The “regular” cast do a good job and everyone gets a moment at least, with Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto and Simon Pegg having the most to do. And Leonard Nimoy shows up for a moment, playing Spock for the 8th time in a movie (Take that Hugh Jackman as Wolverine or Bruce Willis as John McClane). It sort of makes me miss having Star Trek on television, getting to watch another mission each week, but hopefully this crew will have another movie or two in them. In the meantime, there’s plenty to like here.
Oh yeah…Klingons! And well done. True to the original but still new.
PS I forgot, I saw this movie in 3D, because there wasn’t a choice at the time I wanted to go. Total waste of time. Aside from being more expensive (annoying), it made the opening of the film – an otherwise exciting chase through a cluttered forest – confusing to watch and hard to understand. Also, Shallow Depth of Field + 3D = blurry little blobs floating by the edges of the screen, totally robbing me for those moments of the illusion of being transported into a cinematic reality.
PPS I ended up writing even more about this film later on. You can read those additional comments here.