Look, I know this movie is technically being promoted as Star Trek Into Darkness, but there really should be a colon between “Star Trek” and “Into Darkness.” Henceforth, I shall refer to this movie as Star Trek: Into Darkness. Because grammar, goddamnit. I mean, come on. They colonized (Yes, colonized) Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Ah, the return of J.J. Abrams and his exaggerated lens flare. It’s been almost four years since the last Star Trek came out. I like that we had time to miss it, you know? Then again, the reason it took so long to come out is because this movie had a SERIOUS budget (We’re talking $190 million), and considering how much CGI is needed, they wanted as much time and money as they could get.
Having seen the movie, I don’t think “Into Darkness” was a good title. Director J.J. Abrams loves vague titles, of course. In fact, I’d even go as far to say that he loves ambiguity in general, considering how little about this movie’s plot or villain (KHAAAAAAAN!) was known before its release. But the only reason we were presented with “Into Darkness” as the title was because Abrams didn’t want us to know that this movie was actually “The Rise of Khan”—or at least “The Introduction to Khan” since Khan hasn’t yet become the ever-present antagonist for the Enterprise crew that we know from the original series. Sure, you can argue that “Into Darkness” segues somewhat into the Enterprise crew’s five-year mission out into space at the end of the film (which no other crew has done). But personally, I think “Into Darkness” sounds like a title for a movie where the Enterprise crew goes rogue. Don’t you? Perhaps the reason why the title seems so out-of-place is because the story, itself, is a little confused.
Jumpy and indecisive are the words I would use to describe this film’s plot. It started out nicely, but then it felt like the writers couldn’t make up their minds about where the plot was going—or worse, who their true villain was. It didn’t necessarily detract from the movie as a whole, but it was noticeable enough to make it feel less organized than Abrams’ first Star Trek (which might have seemed confusing due to the black-hole, time-travel story, but at least had one villain and one mission objective). Let me break it down for you so you can see what I mean…
The film starts with a reminder of Kirk’s (Chris Pine) inability to follow Starfleet protocol as his crew explores the planet Nibiru—and by that, I mean they try to stop a volcano from erupting, which alters the destiny of Nibiru’s native race and almost gets Spock (Zachary Quinto) killed. After returning to San Francisco, Kirk is reprimanded by Pike (Bruce Greenwood), the former captain of the Enterprise and Kirk’s mentor, who strips him of his title and intends to send him back to the Academy. Of course, because Pike knows Kirk has leadership material, he pulls some strings and tells Kirk he’s been reinstated as First Officer aboard the Enterprise under Pike.
Meanwhile, in London, a couple visits their dying daughter in a hospital. Because, apparently, we care about anybody outside of the Enterprise crew (Hint: We don’t). The father cuts a deal with a man, who we later learn is Starfleet agent “John Harrison” (Benedict Cumberbatch), to blow up a Starfleet building in return for a cure for his daughter’s disease. Of course, all the higher-ups meet at Starfleet’s headquarters to discuss the attack, and just as Kirk realizes this is exactly what “Harrison” was hoping for, KABOOM. “Harrison” attacks again, killing Pike and several others.
As I said, the beginning starts well. Kirk got demoted AND lost his mentor, and we were introduced to a singular rising evil within Starfleet. It’s a nice parallel, and it changes the status quo for the characters. Never mind that it took all of five minutes for Kirk to be discharged, reinstated in a lower position, and then resume his command of the Enterprise. What matters is that we have a decent structure for a protagonist vs. antagonist encounter.
Kirk then approaches Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller) for permission to find and kill “Harrison.” But, unfortunately, “Harrison” is on Kronos (the Klingon planet), and the Klingons and Starfleet don’t get along well, which makes Marcus wary because he doesn’t want to start war. Nevertheless, Marcus gives Kirk the okay and sends him with 72 torpedoes that he’s supposed to fire from a neutral position outside of Kronos (Hello, I’m a red flag!).
Can we talk some political Star Trek for a moment? Because this is something that should be discussed, as it does pertain to this film’s plot. I always thought it was strange that Starfleet spent so much money training officers and building spaceships to “explore” other planets. Why would you need an Academy to train “explorers” unless they were also functioning as a military? Starfleet officers follow chains of command and respond to attacks on their own planet. Sounds fairly militarized to me. Not to mention, Starfleet sends them out to “explore” yet warns them not to disturb a planet’s environment. That’s kind of impossible. On top of that, Starfleet continuously cranks out bigger and faster ships. Yes, warp helped them get rid of cryogenic freezing, which made “exploring” go faster, but their ships are also receiving improved battle equipment. Shields, speed boosts, weapons—these aren’t solely for defensive purposes. I mean, shit, they even hinted at this issue of militarization when Marcus showed Kirk and Spock the ship models in his office (Did you notice the big one next to the Enterprise model…?).
Back to the story. Unlike Marcus, Spock advises Kirk to retrieve “Harrison” and bring him to trial rather than killing him from an already unsafe distance. As does Scotty (Simon Pegg), who resigns after telling Kirk he doesn’t trust what’s inside the torpedoes on a ship powered by radiation. Of course, right when the Enterprise reaches Kronos, its warp core suspiciously breaks down. While Chekov (Anton Yelchin), who’s now in charge of engineering, attempts to fix the core, Kirk, Spock, and Uhura head down to Kronos to capture “Harrison.” Down on Kronos, they get into some deep shit with Klingons, and “Harrison” saves their asses before surrendering. As soon as they’re back on the ship, “Harrison” admits that his real name is Khan (KHAAAAAAAN!). Oh, yeah. And he’s almost 300-years-old, and his crew are cryogenically frozen inside the torpedoes on the Enterprise.
And here’s where the story becomes a confused mess. You see, in the original Star Trek series, Khan was found cryogenically frozen during the Enterprise crew’s five-year mission, so this whole “Khan Comes to Dinner!” thing happens really early. But the writers brought him in to force the true villain into the spotlight. You might be saying, “What? Khan isn’t the villain?” Khan is still evil and backstabbing, but he isn’t the chief puppet-master behind all of the sneaky plots. The warp core breaking down, being stranded right outside of Kronos, housing a 300-year-old bad guy and his torpedo crew—this was all part of Admiral Marcus’ plan to militarize Starfleet and start war with the Klingons with Khan acting as his weapons expert. In fact, Marcus appears in a giant-ass ship and is pissed because he hoped Kirk would fire on Kronos in order to start war, which would’ve gotten them immediately killed, and then Marcus would’ve had a reason to test out his new military ships that are insanely fast and weaponized.
I’m kind of getting sick of this whole “Just kidding! It was me the entire time!” villain thing. It’s like Hollywood screenwriters don’t know how to write decent plot twists anymore (It just happened with The Mandarin in Iron Man 3). And by making Marcus the villain, the writers instantly lessened Khan’s fear-factor as an antagonist for Kirk and the Enterprise crew. Basically, they completely undid everything they built up in the first act of the movie. Khan is a serious villain in the Star Trek universe, yet his introduction in Into Darkness now seems lackluster because they decided to make him a pawn on the chessboard. Not that he can’t be evil later, but…oh, wait. Nope, the writers took Khan’s most evil moment away from him, too.
Remember that scene where Kirk goes into the ship’s core to restart the radiation that powers it and dies so the Enterprise doesn’t crash into Earth? Yeah, in the original Wrath of Khan, Spock was the one who went in to restart the power, and he ended up dying to save the crew. But not like the “dying” Kirk did in this movie, where he died for a moment and was revived later thanks to Khan’s blood. Spock actually died, which really messed up Kirk. That’s pretty goddamn evil. Except we don’t get to see that now.
Fortunately, the Kirk switch with the killing/reviving still worked out for the Kirk-Spock bromance, which arguably is the best thing about Into Darkness. I could listen to their banter all day, what with Kirk being a rule-breaker and Spock being a rule-follower, and Spock being an unintentional smart-ass when he corrects people. Plus, the moment where Kirk is dying inside the radiation chamber when he and Spock both place their hands on the glass to make the “Live Long and Prosper” sign is not only touching but kind of heartbreaking. Because after seeing all of their idea-clashing and Spock’s refusal to show emotion out of fear of the pain it causes, you believe that they care about each other, and you want their friendship to survive. Pine and Quinto nail this every time.
Since I’ve spent so much time discussing Star Trek plots and how the writers kind of ruined this movie’s potential, I’ll do a quick good vs. bad for you to sum up the rest of my movie experience. Good: Benedict Cumberbatch’s scary (sexy) voice and face, Uhura and Spock’s squabbles, Scotty running through Marcus’ ship, the visuals in general, the Enterprise falling toward Earth scenes, the music, Leonard Nimoy cameo. Bad: Alice Eve as Admiral Marcus’ daughter (Why are they trying to make her and her boobs happen?!), the ending of the film where no one recognizes that half of San Francisco was ruined by Khan driving Marcus’ ship into Earth.
Overall, Star Trek: Into Darkness had stunning visuals and was a lot of fun. After the first Star Trek, where we saw the developing friendship between Kirk and Spock, it was nice to see a more developed relationship between the two that not only continued to give us laughs during their stubborn disagreements but also, perhaps, a few tears when they were pulled apart. The film keeps up with the camp of the original series, as well as the new-age technology of current cinema, but the film is far from polished. Several minor tweaks to the story would’ve made it much better, especially when considering the impressive acting skills of Benedict Cumberbatch that were not put to full villainous use. Don’t let that keep you from seeing the movie, however. It’s still plenty entertaining.