In early 2007 J.J. Abrams accepted the offer from Paramount to direct the latest entry of the then-dead universe of Star Trek. The last iteration of the series was Star Trek: Enterprise which ended in 2005 on the channel UPN, of which Star Trek: Voyager had previously aired on. The last feature film in the franchise was Star Trek: Nemesis, which was a disappointment both critically and commercially. So with the general public having forgotten about Star Trek, Paramount took a risk and decided to hit the reset button with an origin story of the original crew (something the original series didn’t even do). When released in 2009, Star Trek became one of the surprise hits of the summer, eventually earning more than $385 million and taking the place as the highest grossing Star Trek film in the franchise. So it came as no surprise when a sequel was announced.
No sooner was the sequel announced, speculation ran rampant about what the new film was about. J.J. Abrams and Co. tried to keep secret many of the plot details of Into Darkness, especially when it came to the baddie of the film. Almost immediately Kahn’s name was thrown around, but producers continuously reiterated it was not going to be him. After saying the villain would be a character who appeared in the first season of the original series, rumors and assumptions took hold. But in the end, it was Kahn. The events of the previous Star Trek film saw the creation of an alternate timeline, a clever plot device that allowed for a re-imagining of the Enterprise crew without potentially disappointing hardcore Trekkie fans. In Into Darkness, we see more of the effects of the alternate timeline, as the events that befall the Enterprise crew involving Kahn aren’t exactly as they occurred in both the first season episode, Space Seed, nor Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn. For a 1/3 of the film, Kahn is known only as John Harrison. However, Khan’s backstory is the same as in the original timeline. He was genetically engineered to be more powerful and eventually led an uprising in the Eugenics War almost three centuries ago. His crew was cryogenically frozen and banished on the Botany Bay starship, where in the new timeline, he was later discovered by Admiral Alexander Marcus who enlists his help to build weapons and starships before betraying him. And thus Khan plans his revenge, setting up the rest of the film for an eventual showdown. While not entirely a copy cat of Wrath of Kahn, Into Darkness does share simular moments. In Wrath of Kahn, Spock sacrifices himself in the engine room to fix the warp coils, while in Into Darkness, it is Kirk who (nearly) dies to fix the warp coils. There is also the call-to-the-heavens of Kahn’s name. While Ricardo Montalban’s Kahn was more suave and sweaty (his oily pecs permeate the whole film), Benedict Cumberbatch plays a more devious and desperate Kahn. Comparing the two versions is akin to comparing apples to oranges, however the new Kahn does seem more unhinged. In a movie titled Into Darkness, he is the only thing dark about the film (and just barely). Whereas Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight explored some really dark areas, especially for a PG-13 film, Into Darkness was more like Into Slight Dimness. The film was actually a light affair, with comedy throughout, and almost nonstop action pieces. Even in the end when Captain Kirk gives his life to save the crew, the viewer knows that it isn’t really the end for Kirk. Hell, even after Spock’s death in Wrath of Khan, it wasn’t until the end of next film, The Search for Spock, that Spock was brought back. The lack of dark material isn’t a bad thing; it’s actually refreshing considering the trend of dark, realistic films as of late. However some of the story did seem a bit rushed.
And this leads me to some of the nitpicky things I noticed. For starters, when Kirk and crew procede to Kronos to first kill, then capture Khan, it is never explained why Khan is hiding out on Kronos. It was believed by the Enterprise crew that he was seeking refuge in an abandoned area of the planet, but Klingons soon arrive leading one to believe they are involved in Khan’s plan. However, Khan kills the Klingons and then surrenders to Kirk leaving the Klingons to not be seen again for the rest of the film. Whatever role they may have played is not revealed, unless it was just to simply have them in the movie for fans to be excited about and to possibly set up the villains for the third film. Another thing that nagged me was Spock and Uhura’s relationship. Their relationship was first developed in the first film and continued to this film. It’s been some time between the two films and it’s immediately made apparent that they care for each other. So it thus seems confusing when Uhura becomes upset with Spock for showing no emotions when faced with his near-death experience on the volcano planet at the beginning of the film. I understand that Spock showing little emotion in day-to-day interactions is different than accepting death with no emotions, but why is Uhura surprised by this? One would think that after dating Spock for so long, she would know Spock well enough to realize that emotions aren’t his strong-suit It’s not enough to ruin the film, nor enough to complain about; just something I picked up on.
Overall, Star Trek Into Darkness was the most fun I’ve had this year at the movies so far. A perfect balance of drama, comedy, and sci-fi action, it definitely was light years ahead of Iron Man 3. And yet, I mostly found myself looking forward to see what J.J. Abrams will do with Star Wars. If he can breathe new life into the Star Trek universe, he can definitely improve the Star Wars franchise. Then again, practically anyone could after the disappointment of the prequels.