Let me begin by saying that I absolutely loved the 2009 film. I usually abhor “remakes” and “reboots” but Star Trek is uniquely suited to tackle the task seamlessly. There have been so many time travel and alternate universe scenarios throughout Star Trek that simply calling the 2009 film a reboot shows a serious lack of Trek knowledge. It is important to remember that the way in which they did “restart” everything is completely consistent with Star Trek canon, primarily because it wasn’t a reboot; it’s an alternate timeline!
To the uninitiated sci-fi fan and casual moviegoer looking for an entertaining film, Star Trek Into Darkness can’t be beat as an enjoyable sci-fi action adventure. It is a good enough film to entertain anyone who doesn’t outright dislike science fiction. But to those with a more Star Trek-oriented point of view, Into Darkness was a tribute to classic Star Trek while at the same time a seamless re-imagining of a rich and storied franchise universe.
At its core, Star Trek Into Darkness is about James Tiberius Kirk maturing as a Star Fleet Captain. The movie opens with a brash, reckless Kirk ignoring the Prime Directive to save Spock, his friend and First Officer. This results in Kirk losing command of the Enterprise because Spock couldn’t keep Kirk’s infractions secret from Starfleet Command, even though Kirk did what he did to save Spock’s life. The cosmic bromance between Kirk and Spock, and their difficulty in understanding each others perspective, is essentially the main theme of the film, but never manages to feel forced or distracting.
Benedict Cumberbatch is excellent as Khan. He perfectly portrays the character’s trademark smug elitism and sense of superiority, both intellectually and physically. His plan is essentially the same as his alternate timeline counterpart, played by the incomparable Ricardo Montalban, lead his eugenically enhanced people to dominance over humanity. It would be unfair to compare both actors’ portrayals of the role, so I won’t. Suffice it to say that the Khan in this film is someone not to trifle with. Cumberbatch is spellbinding in his ability to convey rage and sorrow, and I found myself hanging on every word he spoke.
Khan would never have even come close to achieving his goal if it were not for an overzealous Admiral hell-bent on starting a war with the Klingon Empire. The Klingons only served as a backdrop in this movie, but it seems obvious the next film will involve a war between them and the Federation. The re-design of the Klingons feels a bit odd, but that is to be excepted when changing something so familiar and iconic. But even in their short stint in Into Darkness they are far more menacing and less slapstick as they traditionally tend to come across. I look forward to seeing them engage the Federation in full force!
I really enjoyed the several nods to established Star Trek canon throughout Into Darkness. The first deals with Hikaru Sulu getting a chance to sit in the Captain’s chair while Kirk is on an away mission. There’s a bit of dialogue establishing how unsure Sulu is of his own ability to command a starship, and this is quite enjoyable as any self-respecting Trekkie knows that Sulu goes on to command the Excelsior. It was a well-placed show of respect to the events of the alternate timeline.
The second tribute is when a tribble makes an appearance, this time as Doctor McCoy’s medical experiment. Now I could be completely misinterpreting this, but I see the scene where McCoy injects the tribble with some of Khan’s blood as hinting that this is the start of the tribble’s notorious rapid breeding. I’m not sure if this was actually supposed to be implied, but I can’t help but see it this way.
Another surprise link to “Original Trek” is the brief appearance of Leonard Nimoy as Spock from the alternate timeline. I never thought he’d be in this movie after his appearance in the 2009 film, but it was a pleasant surprise. He serves as a reflective mirror onto which this new timeline’s Spock can look into himself. It is just plain cool to see the original Spock discusses his crew’s encounter with their Kahn, further placating and easing the angst of the more grumpy Trekkies.
The last nod to the alternate timeline is pretty much the entire last 3rd of the movie. It becomes a near direct reflection of Star Trek II, including the blowing up of Khan’s ship. In a clever juxtaposition of Wrath of Khan’s classic scene where Spock is dying in the radiation chamber with Kirk watching helplessly, this time it is Spock who watches Kirk die, and it is Spock who dramatically yells “Khaaaaaaan!” Of course, Kirk doesn’t really die in the end, but it was still a great scene.
One thing that surprised me about this movie was how it allowed me to accept the fact that this new timeline’s Spock is clearly more emotional than the original, or, more aptly, he more freely expresses emotions. At first I wasn’t sure how to feel about a Spock with emotions, let alone overt public displays of affection between himself and Uhura like anger, fear, and grief, but all that has changed. Spock is, and always has been, half human, but the original Spock always acted purely Vulcan, at least in terms of how he expressed or didn’t express himself. This new Spock more accurately conveys the internal struggle between Vulcan emotional purity and human emotional chaos in a way that makes perfect sense. Spock should be at odds with himself, if only to add some actual depth to the character. Is it jarring to see? Yes, but it is surprisingly effective.
As with the first film, all the characters are spot on as far as the portrayal of classic characters by new actors. The special effects are second to none, conveying a sense of technological grandiosity that the Classic series never really reached due to limited technology of the time. There is one scene where the camera swings towards the saucer section of the Enterprise and zooms through the view screen into the bridge that is absolutely breathtaking.
Star Trek Into Darkness is an exceptionally entertaining film in no small part because of true-to-form portrayals of iconic characters, as well as a surprising number of direct links to the original timeline. Along with a good story, excellent directing (aside from a totally gratuitous underwear scene that actually feels awkward), and brilliant special effects, Into Darkness is nothing short of a celebration of Star Trek for fans both old and new.