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Star Trek Into Darkness Review: A Mix of Fresh and Familiar
Star Trek Into Darkness is the first sequel to be fully set in the alternate reality set up by JJ Abrams in the first movie. Now you’d think, since they went to all the trouble to sever these films and characters (minus Spock Prime) from the main Star Trek Universe, that they’d go and do something completely different and new. I’m not looking for drastic character changes, I actually love the way the new actors manage to capture the essence of their roles.
Despite leaving the canon behind, it still generates a massive pull on the creative minds writing and directing the stories, to the point that there’s a certain scene that’s a mirror image remake of a scene from one of the original movies, complete with a certain word screamed so loud that they did hear it in space.
Now while it sounds cheesy and like a big gimmick (which it might be, since this is Hollywood) it’s also marvelously acted and a real tribute to the old Enterprise crew that most of us love so much. I frowned when I saw it coming, but the performance makes it work. For me, anyway. And I think the new series needed a moment like this to cement the audience’s emotional attachment to the new cast.
Star Trek Into Darkness opens with a scene of the Enterprise crew dodging Starfleet’s Prime Directive in order to save a planet’s indigenous people from a volcano’s destructive wrath. It’s got the very typical Kirk and Spock banter, and it brings you nicely back into their universe. Captain Kirk just can’t seem to keep his crew out of trouble, and Starfleet brass are none too amused at the actions of the Enterprise, despite the fact that they saved an entire planet.
It seems like the command team of Kirk and Spock might be split up, until a surprise attack on the fleet captains throws them back together again. The person responsible for the attack, John Harrison, flees to an uninhabited region on Kronos, the Klingon homeworld. I was excited to get a look at the “new” version of Klingons. It’s definitely a cool alien look, one that fits in with what we think a Klingon should be without slavishly adhering to what we’ve seen before. I’m curious as to whether the Klingons we saw will be the standard Klingon or a variation on the race. Either way, I liked them, though honestly I wanted to see them on the screen for a longer amount of time.
Harrison, once found, is supposed to be eliminated via a long range photon torpedo, but they violate their orders, capture Harrison and bring him back to the Enterprise. They put him in a cell and he becomes a sort of Hannibal Lecter to Kirk’s Clarice Starling. The story of John Harrison and why he’s done certain things is not quite so clear as Starfleet Command would have the Enterprise crew believe. And while he might be a madman and a terrorist, Harrison manages to get Kirk to listen by doing a crazy thing: Telling the truth.
Benedict Cumberbatch does a great job as John Harrison, who is also known by another name: Khan. Whether Cumberbatch can equal or surpass Ricardo Montalbán as Khan Noonian Singh is up to each viewer. For my money, I think he did a great job in the role, but he needed more development as a character. Cumberbatch’s Khan doesn’t have the depth of the original series villain, but I think he could, if given time to develop. There’s some talk of his motivations, but no real development beyond a certain point. He definitely sold Khan as a dangerous physical enemy, and his obsessive hate is alive and well. It’s just not pointed at Kirk in this movie. I feel Khan’s presence in the movie is more like an introduction to the character and that we’ll definitely see him again later on.
Some reviewers and fans have questioned whether this is a “Star Trek movie” or just an action movie set in the Star Trek Universe. If you look at it just story-wise, then maybe that’s true.
There’s no mistaking the action movie roots here. But Star Trek is about more than the story, it’s also the journey of the characters during that story, and this is where the movie succeeds. Each of the main crew has a problem in need of resolution during the film, and these moments are well done and fitting to the characters.
JJ Abrams is set to move on to Star Wars next, so it’s likely he won’t helm the next installment of Star Trek, which sets up an opportunity for a director to take the series in a new direction (I resisted the ‘Undiscovered Country’ joke there. You’re Welcome.).