Star Trek: Into Darkness review
Joan Marie Verba

(Yes, there are spoilers, so don’t read this if you don’t want them.)

Before this movie was released, I read an article that said the studio and production staff wanted this movie to appeal to more than Star Trek fans. This is understandable, and it can be done (Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home managed it). However, though this movie did have elements that definitely appealed to the long-time Star Trek fans, it also had some discontinuities where it was not…quite…Trek.
Even so, I felt this movie was better than the 2009 one (and I found the 2009 Star Trek to be satisfactory). ST:ID avoided silliness such as the 2009 scene where a large beast chases Kirk across a snow-covered plain and into a cave, or Scott being beamed into a water tube.. Star Trek: Into Darkness is serious throughout, and that’s a strength.

From the publicity before the movie, I also feared a couple of developments, which, fortunately, did not appear . The first was the statement that ST:ID was set mostly on Earth. Maybe if someone timed it, there were more minutes spent on Earth, but to me, the bulk of the movie seemed to be in space, where it belonged (you know, the “Space…the final frontier…” sort of thing?). Roddenberry deliberately avoided Earth in the original series, and Star Trek seldom went to Earth even after that. The second was the movie poster showing the Enterprise descending into a planetary atmosphere. When I saw this, I groaned inwardly, thinking that they were going to go for cheap dramatics and destroy the Enterprise yet again. Well, they didn’t. Good for them.

There’s also been some complaining about ST:ID being a remake of  Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. So what? The 2009 Star Trek was a remake of The Wrath of Khan (you know, the bad guy wants revenge for losing his wife and picks a member of the Enterprise crew as the primary object of his revenge?). For that matter, Star Trek: Nemesis (which I enjoyed, in contrast to about 90% of other Star Trek fans) was a remake of The Wrath of Khan, with Data in the place of Spock. I find it contradictory for fans who didn’t protest those films copying Wrath of Khan to complain now.

The movie starts with Kirk disobeying the Prime Directive by (a) saving a planet from destruction and (b) allowing the Enterprise to be seen by a non-spacefaring culture. As a result, he’s demoted. Really? How often did Kirk violate the Prime Directive in the original series and get away with it? And since when is it a violation of the Prime Directive to save a planet from total destruction? Seems to me that the Enterprise did that a lot (in both original series and in TNG), and why? Because it was the moral thing to do, that’s why. Once you’ve saved the planet from total destruction, you’ve already artificially changed the course of history, so allowing the planetary residents to see the ship is a negligible event. Kirk should have demanded a hearing and hired Sam Cogley to advocate his case.
Then there’s the matter of John Harrison. As “John Harrison, terrorist,” the character works. As Khan Noonian Singh, he doesn’t. I don’t know whether Benedict Cumberbatch (whose performances I enjoyed in Sherlock and Amazing Grace) saw “Space Seed” or The Wrath of Khan before assuming the rule of Harrsion, but he’s not channeling Khan. The personalities are entirely different. It would have been better to cast either Antonio Banderas or Lou Diamond Phillips or Naveen Andrews in the role if they wanted Khan. We needed an actor who projected the viciousness of Khan (as Cumberbatch did), as well as his egomaniacal rants and his explosive anger (which Cumberbatch didn’t). Banderas also has the advantage of having acted with Ricardo Montalban before and could capture his acting style (which Cumberbatch didn’t). It would have been far better for the character to remain John Harrison, terrorist, and say he either was genetically enhanced on Earth (remember, the technique was not lost, it was simply illegal, as we see in Dr. Julian Bashir on DS9), or another crewmember of the Botany Bay. The non-Star Trek viewers of ST:ID won’t notice the difference, of course. But the original Trek fans will.

(There’s a similar mistake with Carol Marcus. Alice Eve simply does not project the strength of character we saw in The Wrath of Khan. Sarah Michelle Gellar would have been a better choice.)

Even so, again, I enjoyed the movie overall, and thought it had some nice touches. I was glad that Uhura had more to do, although putting Chekov in charge of engineering was far above his pay grade. I would have preferred to see Sulu get more screen time than he did. McCoy and Scotty seemed just right. They also put in “Cupcake” from the previous movie as a red shirt, and he seemed to have survived the movie!

What I thought was the best of the movie was the conflict between the idea of Starfleet as a science/exploration fleet or Starfleet as a war fleet, and I’m glad the movie ended with the idea that it should be exploratory. Spock convinces Kirk that killing Harrison (sorry, the guy’s not Khan), with a drone is NOT something they should do, and Kirk agrees. This was a wise move not only because executing Harrison without a trial would be a bad precedent, but also because a drone strike on the Klingon homeworld could have started a war (whether it was in inhabited territory or not) and because it would have killed 72 of Harrison’s associates. And, the ending wrapped up the theme very well: “There will always be those who mean to do us harm. To stop them, we risk awakening the same evil within ourselves. Our first instinct is to seek revenge when those we love are taken from us. But that’s not who we are…” – Capt. James T. Kirk

Back to the story: upon the Enterprise crew leaving the Klingon homeworld, Admiral Marcus shows up with his super-ship and decides if Kirk won’t abandon his and Starfleet’s principles, Kirk (and his crew) have to go, and he (Marcus) will make sure that Starfleet goes to war. Montgomery Scott, who made his moral choice earlier, sticks to his principles and helps the Enterprise. (Speaking of Scott, there’s an astronomical error when Scott discovers the super-ship: Jupiter’s clouds are in constant motion, and the movie’s special effects department put in a still photo of Jupiter as background instead of having the clouds move, as they correctly did in the movie 2010). I wondered why Scott didn’t disable the super-ship’s weapons systems before Marcus fired on the Enterprise, but at least he was still there to help when needed. I also appreciated the realization of the factor of inertia when Kirk and Harrison arrive and slide across the floor quite a distance before they can stop. I also thought it was nice that Spock contacted his counterpart to ask about Khan. Smart move. 

When they get to Earth, they correctly say that the Enterprise is in danger if it re-enters the atmosphere, and it did show the heat of re-entry, but unless there was some sort of shielding at work, re-entry would probably have caused even more damage, if not catastrophic damage, before theEnterprise hit the cloud tops. (I was delighted to see that the Enterprisefinally got seat belts for its crew, even though some seat restraints were seen in Star Trek: The Motion Picture.)  I presume the super-ship, which was intact, survived re-entry because of shielding.

Back on the Enterprise, the warp core needed attention, and this time it’s Kirk that  sacrifices his life to fix things (though I wondered why Kirk didn’t bring any tools in with him). Spock then releases his anger in an all-out chase to get Harrison (J. J. Abrams seems to think Spock needs to have an anger release every so often). I didn’t have a problem with reviving Kirk with Harrison’s blood (though I agree with the observers who said that any of Harrison’s genetically engineered associates could have been the blood donor), because it saves us from having another movie on the order ofThe Search for Spock.  I did miss, however, Kirk saying, “Out there. Thataway!” in response to being asked where to take the ship next.

In brief, yeah, it wasn’t perfect, it had problems, but in its own awkward way, it got to where it needed to go: putting the Enterprise on a five-year mission “to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, and to boldly go where no one has gone before.” We can only hope that will be the case in the next movie.

Posted by Joan Marie Verba at 5/20/2013 1:35 PM