WARNING! THERE WILL BE MASSIVE SPOILERS FROM THIS POINT ON!!!
After the assassination of Captain Pike (Bruce Greenwood) at the hands of the renegade Starfleet officer John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), Kirk (Chris Pine) and crew are ordered by Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller) to hunt him down and kill him. But things are not as they seem after a little investigation and Marcus’ motivations appear to be more sinister once Harrison reveals his true intentions, and his real name… Khan.
Yes, Star Trek: Into Darkness is an alternate universe retelling of the classic episode “Space Seed” and Star Trek II combined. I figured that was the case when I saw the first few minutes of the movie back in December before an IMAX screening of The Hobbit. Harrison offered a dying child’s parents a cure for a price, and right there I knew that he was going to turn her into an Augment, or a superhuman for those not versed in the Star Trek: Enterprise episodes on the subject. I wasn’t exactly thrilled once I figured that out since as far as I’m concerned you don’t go messing with the best movie in the pre-reboot series or attempt a new take on a villain such as Khan. Thankfully upon watching this new film I stand corrected. Khan is such a badass in this film that I forgave the writers’ trespasses and just went along for one of the most thrilling and emotionally charged rides I’ve seen in years.
Themes of terrorism and post 9/11 paranoia are this flick’s bread and butter thanks to writers Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof. They thankfully stuck to their guns and continued to write this alternate universe with the repercussions of what went down in the previous film. Spock Prime gave Scotty the formula for transwarp beaming, and we see that the tech has been stolen and is in use by some of the baddies. Due to the destruction of Vulcan the Federation is looking into more aggressive weapons technologies to prevent something like that from ever happening again. It’s smartly written, and adding Khan into the mix is just the icing on the cake. We also see Kirk and Spock finally beginning to form the bond that we are all familiar with. Sure these guys still write in some fairly big plot holes, but I was able to overlook them more easily than I did with its predecessor. I’ll get into those later.
The cast is all back and they are just as fantastic as ever. We see Kirk beginning to become the more seasoned captain over the course of the film, and Chris Pine pulls it off. His big scene at the end proves that he’s got the goods, and he is great in his action scenes. Zachary Quinto is absolutely amazing as Spock and completely embodies this alternate timeline version of the character. The fact that Kirk made him lose control of his emotions in the previous film is still affecting him, and when he loses it once again it is one of the greatest moments in the entire flick, and dare I say the entire franchise. The other cast members give it their all as well. The writing for Zoe Saldana’s Uhura isn’t nearly as good this time around since she’s made out to be a bitchy girlfriend and not much more, but she still makes it work. John Cho gets a great throwback moment when he takes command of the Enterprise for a few minutes and he makes the most of it. Karl Urban has the surly country doctor down pat even though his accent comes and goes randomly, but at least his jokes this time around are much better. Anton Yelchin basically runs around in a frenzy for the whole film, but he still has what makes Chekov tick in the bag. I was extremely happy to see Simon Pegg get even more screentime as he takes part in a side mission for Kirk after resigning from Starfleet. He excels in both his comedic and dramatic scenes, especially toward the end.
Newcomer Benedict Cumberbatch is fucking amazeballs as Khan. This isn’t the Khan we all remember, he actually is a little sympathetic and is more of a master manipulator than a conqueror. Sure he wants to bring his band of superhumans out of cryosleep so they can one day rule the galaxy, but he seems to enjoy playing people against each other more than anything else. He is a truly threatening presence and Cumberbatch seems quite adept at action scenes as well. Seeing him run up and down the halls of a starship beating people senseless left and right is not something I associate with this guy after seeing him in Sherlock. The fact that he’s performing all these terrible acts of terrorism for his family of outcasts, who are being held hostage by Admiral Marcus, gives him a new angle that is more interesting than the “I want revenge” motive from Star Trek II. He’s also unpredictable. At one point he teams up with Kirk for a “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” moment. This is one of the best villains from any of the films.
Peter Weller is great too as the secondary villain Admiral Marcus. He wants to militarize Starfleet, which goes against everything that institution stands for. He gives Kirk permission to carpet bomb the Klingon homeworld just to take out Khan, he has built a massive warship with the help of Khan as well that he plans to use to take out the Klingons before they can start a war. He doesn’t care who he has to use in order to get the results he wants, including his own daughter, Carol. Alice Eve plays this part honestly, but she doesn’t have much to do but be eye candy, flirt with Kirk and be a damsel in distress.
J.J. Abrams pulls everything together into one of the most consistently entertaining movies of the year. This quite literally blew me away. It screams by at a breakneck pace, even during the character and dramatic moments, always continuing to push the story forward. Great performances, bitchin' action and awesome character development prove that he can keep this franchise going strong for (hopefully) years to come.
Unfortunately there are some problems, like the plot holes I mentioned earlier. If this transwarp beaming technology can transport someone from Earth all the way to another solar system why isn’t everyone using it? I mean, why even have starships at all if that’s the case? In the case of Khan’s blood, yeah it’s great that it is regenerative and can revive dead tissue, but why would McCoy have a dead Tribble lying around to test it on, especially while the Enterprise is being blown apart by another ship? And why make all the fuss about needing Khan’s blood later in the film when you have a cargo bay filled to the brim with his compatriots who all have the save regenerative properties? I make them sound like major issues, but they really aren’t. Every film has plot holes, even the great ones. Did these affect my enjoyment of the film? Not really, at least not nearly as much as it did in the original reboot.
And now I’m going to talk about something that is a major, major spoiler, so if you didn’t heed my warning before I am asking you to reconsider reading the rest of this review if you haven’t seen the film yet.
Okay, here we go. I was at first bugged that the writers stole scenes right out of Star Trek II only to flip flop the people involved to make it their own, namely the scene where Kirk dies. When he decides to sacrifice himself to save the crew I inwardly groaned and said to myself “Really?! They’re going to go there?!”, but I did a complete 180° as it went on. Sure some of the dialogue is the same, but by reversing Kirk and Spock’s places it gave the classic scene a whole new meaning. It’s such a well written and heartfelt moment that seeing Spock lose his composure in such a way nearly brought me to tears myself. When Spock screams “KHAAAAAAN!!” it was not a forced moment; Spock had completely lost himself in his emotions and was now in a full on rage after finally admitting openly that he considers Kirk his friend. I felt like standing up and cheering when he took off after Khan and chased him through San Francisco on foot so he could kill him out of a basic need for revenge. It’s one of my all-time favorite Star Trek moments now, right alongside Spock’s death. How fitting.
With a non-stop barrage of kickin’ action (the space jump between ships, the Vengeance’s assault on the Enterprise, the San Francisco chase scene), wonderful performances, great character moments and at its heart a commentary on post 9/11 America, Star Trek: Into Darkness goes for broke and ends up being the movie that all others released during the summer of 2013 are going to be compared to. It’s fun, dark, emotionally exhausting and supremely entertaining all at the same time. I absolutely loved it and can’t wait to see it again. That’s the greatest compliment I could ever give a movie. Bring on the next one!
4 out of 5