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Star Trek Into Darkness (A Film Review)

Updated on January 5, 2015

About The Film

"Star Trek Into Darkness", the second film in the Star Trek franchise directed by J. J. Abrams, was written by Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, and Damon Lindelof, and based on the television series "Star Trek", created by Gene Roddenberry. The film was produced and presented by Paramount Pictures, Skydance Productions, and Bad Robot, starring Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Benedict Cumberbatch, Bruce Greenwood, Peter Weller, and Alice Eve. "Star Trek Into Darkness" was released in May of 2013 (US).

Acts of terrorism and attempted assassination place James Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise at the spearhead of a man-hunt for a renegade Starfleet officer. In the course of their pursuit, they quickly discover that things are not as they were told. The man they were sent to destroy is not who they were told he was, and the Enterprise finds itself in a bad place at the center of a massive coverup. Relationships are tested and forged as the Enterprise crew fights to survive.

The Review

This movie is a wild ride that starts from minute one. And on top of that, there's that combination of action and humor that has been a part of the Star Trek franchise since it started. The interaction between the characters is of a kind you find between people that have known each other forever. But, at the same time, in some ways, they are still learning each other, making the success of interaction more chemistry than familiarity. James Kirk continues in the same fashion as in the prequel. He's reckless, but intuitive and resourceful. An overall combination that serves him well. To a point. As the movie progresses, Kirk discovers his weaknesses and shortcomings as a captain and is forced to confront and come to terms with them. Spock shows his youth in his comportment with Admiral Pike when he and Kirk are called to answer for their actions on a mission shown at the beginning of the movie. Beneath his veneer of logic-motivated self-control, not only is Spock contending with his own emotions, he's also, with some difficulty, contending with the nuances of human interaction. This shows itself most in his relationship with Uhura.

Other members of the bridge crew are finding their abilities tested as well. Both Sulu and Chekov are thrust into situations clearly outside of their comfort zone as the circumstances change, Chekov being sent to Engineering as chief in the absence of Mr. Scott, and Sulu placed in temporary command as Kirk goes on an away mission.

Both Kirk and Spock are also forced to come to terms with the loss of Admiral Pike. Admiral Pike's death clearly hit Kirk hardest as he was a connection to the father he lost. Kirk described him as a friend, but, I kind of got the sense that Admiral Pike was something of a surrogate father, a mentor at the very least. Spock's experience was a bit more cerebral. But it was profound enough to spill out into his relationship with Uhura. And, when faced with the loss of Kirk, we're shown the true scope of Spock's emotions. We're also given a glimpse of the abilities of an enraged vulcan.

To me, Mr. Scott was something along the lines of comic relief. There was, however, something of a brief show of Scotty's sense of principle in the face of unethical orders. Dr. McCoy kind of shared a little in the comic relief, coupling his constant sense of urgency and caution with the frequent use of colorful metaphors.

And then there are the villains. John Harrison, who's real name is Kahn, is ruthless, deceptive and manipulative. He has no compunctions about killing innocent people in vast numbers and will align himself with anyone for as long as is necessary to get what he wants. Then there's Admiral Marcus. Right out of the gate, Admiral Marcus comes off as a hard-rock. He kind of reminded me of a character out of an old World War 2 movie. He was like an old-head military commander that liked to take the direct route to everything. No beating around the bush, no fooling around. Always about business and getting the job done. But, it turns out that, on top of all that, he's also a bit delusional. Believing that war is on the horizon for the Federation, he's convinced that if he's not there to lead them through it, life as everyone knows it will cease. And it is in this belief that he justifies his actions in using Kahn, then, attempting to destroy him, Kirk, and the Enterprise in the course of trying to cover up what he's been doing.

With all that is shown, the characters are engaging and fun to watch. Especially as the performances are well executed by the cast. All of the cast members have made their respective characters their own, and wonderfully so. (I have to say, though, my favorite is still Karl Urban's "McCoy". I was quite enamoured with his performance in the first movie, and I'm feeling much the same way about his performance in this one.)

All that being said, "Star Trek Into Darkness" is not dependent on its special effects. But they do add to the feel of the film. The level of realism is forceful. Medium and large scale special effect events are percussive and visceral. This makes for a captivating experience that lets you feel everything. All things considered, bottom line, this movie is a fun ride through and through.

A Fan's Perspective

First, I'm going to start off with a warning. From this point on, there are spoilers. If you have not yet seen this film, and this is a problem for you, this is where you want to stop reading. Now. (Or, you could just skip to the recommendation.)

Just as it's always been with every incarnation of Star Trek that there is, the central focus is the bridge crew. And with the changes that have been introduced in the first film, it's clear to any knowledgeable Star Trek fan that J. J. Abrams has taken full advantage of the opportunity provided by the proverbial clean slate generated by the story there. The fact that everyone is coming out of the academy (what appears to be years earlier) in a Federation at war with the Romulans has provided grounds for some really interesting storyline and character changes and variations.

From time to time I've gotten into some rather in depth conversations about Star Trek and the world of Star Trek canon generated by the TV shows, movies and novels. One thing that often stood out was the mindset of the society in which Star Trek was set. On earth, war, hunger, disease and poverty were done away with. And with that there seemed to be a prevalent societal mindset that kind of tranquilized the characters. And I mean all of them, aliens and humans alike. Even when violence entered the equation. And, often, those characters (or societies) that didn't possess this "tranquility" were often depicted as villains. Now, Star Trek being what it was, for whatever reason(s), this was well accepted by its following.

With the most recent incarnations of Star Trek, though is hasn't been directly mentioned, appearances suggest that the same social advancement exists. But the "tranquility" of the characters from the '60's is not present. This serves to add to the realism. And it seems to be something of a necessity when it comes to movie audiences these days. The characters are more engaging, more intense, more believable. This makes for some rather interesting changes in the Enterprise bridge crew. The characters of Kirk, Spock, Uhura, McCoy, Scotty, Sulu, and Chekov are almost iconic among some of the older (and some of the younger) Star Trek fans. With the changes that have been introduced, they've all become more intense, more realistic. Kirk, growing up in the shadow of his father's absence and troubled childhood and youth, is reckless rather than just bold. Spock has joined this group at an earlier age than in the original series. So, the turbulance of his youth is present in his character as well. The destruction of his homeworld and the death of his mother have altered a lot about Spock with respect to his relationship with his people and his father. Spock's history with his father was plagued by a kind of reserved animosity in the original storyline. In light of the new circumstances this seems to have changed. And his relationship with Uhura has changed his character as well. Uhura is also very different. Her skills as a communications officer are more developed and pronounced. In the original series and the first set of movies, she was not a linguist. At least, not on the order of which she appears in J. J. Abrams' Star Trek movies. In "Star Trek, Uhura is fluent in Romulan. In "Star Trek Into Darkness" she's fluent in Klingon. In the original Star Trek films, Uhura didn't know a word of klingon (or at least that's how she was depicted). In this film, McCoy is much younger. But, there's still a taste of that "country doctor" he described himself as in the original series. Scotty is apparently every bit as much the "miracle worker" he always was. But, even though he's younger, having joined the group at an earlier time, he seems a bit more cantankerous than he was originally. (He didn't seem to fuss as much until he got older.) But this seems to serve to make him a lot more amusing, more fun to watch. Sulu and Chekov are much like what I would have expected them to be like at a younger, "less experienced" age.

"Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan", based on the television series "Star Trek", created by Gene Roddenberry, was directed by Nicolas Meyer and starred William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and DeForest Kelley.
"Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan", based on the television series "Star Trek", created by Gene Roddenberry, was directed by Nicolas Meyer and starred William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and DeForest Kelley.

Veteran Star Trek fans will recognize that "Star Trek Into Darkness" is a re-imagining of "Star Trek II The Wrath of Khan". (I'm sure this was documented somewhere, but, I never saw any indication of that. I figure that if I could spot that fact without seeing it documented anywhere, any devotee of the franchise would pick it up quickly.) About this fact in particular, I've not heard much in the direction of discussion, good or bad. For myself, being the kind of Star Trek fan that I am, I was rather pleased by it. I really enjoyed how it was handled in the face of the changes that were introduced by the storyline of the first movie. In light of the revelation of the story of Khan in the altered timeline, among those with whom I've discussed it, the question has come up, in one form or another, as to whether other major canonical events in the Star Trek universe will be similarly re-imagined. (I don't know about anyone else, but, to me, that's something of an exciting thought.)

Personally, I love the way they reversed the roles of Kirk and Spock in the scene where it's Kirk that's trapped in the warp core chamber instead of Spock, as it was in "Star Trek II The Wrath of Khan". That scene in both this film and "The Wrath of Khan" was the greatest revelation of the friendship that developed between Kirk and Spock in "Star Trek Into Darkness", and that existed over the period of many years in "Star Trek II The Wrath of Khan".

There was only one thing that threatened to interfere with any part of my enjoyment of this film. Benedict Cumberbatch was cast in the role of Kahn for this movie. In "Star Trek II The Wrath of Khan", the role of Khan was played by Richardo Montalban. I grew up watching the reruns of the original episode on which "The Wrath of Khan" was based. Richardo Montalban made that role all his own. And he kept it that way when he reprised the role in "The Wrath of Khan". Now, don't get me wrong. I thought Benedict Cumberbatch did an awesome job in the role of Khan. It's just that, because I grew up watching the character of Khan played by Richardo Montalban, the role became a bit iconic for me. And, even as brilliant as Benedict Cumberbatch was in the part, I still found myself having to suspend my expectation of Richardo Montalban's "Khan". I didn't have to do that with any of the other characters, though. My thinking is that, because the character of Khan has origins that predate the changes that J. J. Abrams introduced in the previous film, my reflex expectation is a character that is unaffected by the changed timeline. Benedict Cumberbatch's "Khan" did not provide that. The other characters, on the other hand, all have origins that exist inside the altered timeline. So, the most profound changes lie within the realm of expectation. However, Benedict Cumberbatch's performance provided me with more than enough to suspend that relflex expection and allow me to thoroughly enjoy the film.

The Recommendation

Like its predecessor, "Star Trek", "Star Trek Into Darkness" was a great ride. It was great fun, and I would recommend it to anyone. Also like its predecessor, there's enough of the old Star Trek for the veteran fans of the franchise, and plenty of the new for the newcomers. As a matter of fact, as good as the previous film was, as far as I'm concerned, this movie was still a step up. I am hardpressed to come up with a reason to not recommend this movie, even to those who are opposed to the changes introduced by the prequel.

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