I just saw Star Trek Into Darkness. As an avid Trek fan, I have a few thoughts about the movie. I actually went into the theater with a notepad and a pen and scribbled illegible curvy lines in the dark, just to remember the things that stuck out to me the most. There are massive spoilers in this, so if you’re interested in seeing the movie, you may want to look away. I’ll keep the biggest ones until the end of this, but still…
Are you gone?
So where to begin? Star Trek Into Darkness is loosely a Star Trek film. Anyone who has seen the first in the reboot saga (Star Trek, or ST09) would probably have guessed that. While set in the Star Trek universe (to be fair, it’s an alternate timeline), there are a number of things that make it very un-Star Trek like. Like ST09, there is a lot of action, a lot of quick camera shots (most action scenes have about a second between cuts), a lot of lens flares (oh gods, the lens flares), and the one thing that actually bothered me most, a lot of weird aliens in the place of more traditional Trek species. (For example, a bald dude with a reverby almost robotic speaking voice, and a woman with a weird brown scaly face, both of whom are Starfleet bridge officers on the Enterprise. Don’t get me started on the San Francisco bar scene…) There are also more aliens who have completely black eyes like Scotty’s little dude. They kinda creep me out, but I digress.
These are very superficial points, but the film is very superficial. On the surface it’s gorgeous. The special effects are absolutely beautiful. I was amazed at the landscape shots of future London, and I spent too much time trying to place myself into the perspectives of future San Francisco. The Enterprise still looks like a shiny Apple Store, though I’m actually not really all that against it. I think it fits well with the visuals from this rebooted universe, previous canon be damned. Now, that’s all on the surface. The plot of the movie is simple. It’s a bit too simple, actually. Given that the first movie did most of the required character exposition, I had high hopes that this second film would be a plot driven masterpiece a la The Empire Strikes Back. I guess that’s a bit of a tall order, but a guy can dream, right? Well I was let down. I’m going to be vague to begin with, but important plot points will be revealed soon enough. If you still don’t want the movie spoiled, go away.
Okay, so like I said it’s a fairly simple plot: it starts out with a terrorist attack on a secret Federation Archive (early 21st century theme), which in turn leads to a more personal attack on Starfleet Command that acts as motivation for the characters’ mission. The Enterprise crew go out chasing the bad guy, John Harrison, and they eventually succeed in capturing him on Qo’noS… only to have Admiral Marcus, head of Starfleet Command, show up in his badass super-secret ship and order them to kill him on sight, as per their mission orders. Long story short, there’s some manipulation, Kirk & Co begin working with Harrison to stop Admiral Marcus and succeed in doing that, before Harrison reveals he’s actually a bad guy (surprise!) and tries to kill Kirk & Co. He doesn’t, Kirk saves the Enterprise, and the movie ends. Harrison’s motivation was explained somewhere in the film, but I was too busy admiring Benedict Cumberbatch’s rich baritone voice to really take in what he was saying. The plot is a bit twisty and sometimes I was confused as to what was going on and why, but towards the end I found it incredibly predictable. It doesn’t help that– time for a big spoiler— it was a re-imagining of the ending of The Wrath of Khan. It had its own unique twist though, but I also called that before it happened. Oh well.
The characters are fantastic. Like ST09, they have wonderful chemistry together. The less prominent characters are more one-dimensional, often making references to their original counterparts, but I do really enjoy how this saga was cast and how the rebooted characters were written. Kirk’s super-humanity plays off Spock’s cold Vulcanity (?) as an effective foil, especially towards the end. Scotty shows up sooner than 45 minutes in this time, and acts as the lead of his own subplot before plots converge near the climax. A certain Dr. Carol Marcus makes an appearance; Trek fans know where that’s going. Here’s a short list of thoughts on these folk.
- Spock is very stiff, as any Vulcan would be. He prattles on about regulations and logic and ethics to a fault. Toward the middle of the film it got a bit annoying, but he shows emotion at the end. Oh boy does he. His Vulcan anger is powerful.
- Kirk is just as cocky as always, but has a terrific fall from grace in the start. Like Kirk Prime, he never learned to face death and like The Wrath of Khan, he does. Just not in that way. More spoilers later.
- Uhura is way too emotionally invested in Spock. I’m surprised Starfleet doesn’t forbid workplace relationships because the tension between her and Spock at times is too much. She was actually kind of a bitch during an away mission, but things get better.
- Bones is Bones. He’s chock full of old-timey sayings and southern charm. Also, he yells at Spock: “Dammit, man, I’m a doctor, not a torpedo technician!” which I believe is also callback to Star Trek VI, given that Spock and McCoy modify photon torpedoes in both films.
- Chekhov is relegated to Chief Engineer. He’s just as excitable as in ST09 and spends most of this one in Engineering running around trying to fix things because…
- Scotty resigned due to ethical reasons. Scotty is awesome in this film and that’s great because I love Simon Pegg. Like I said, he has his own plot for a little while and I loved seeing him get a ton of screen time. His Scottish is a little weird though, and he says ‘cannae’ a lot. Throwback to Canadian James Doohan’s Scotty, I suppose.
- Sulu, for a good chunk of the film actually, is the Enterprise’s captain. He gives John Harrison a badass surrender speech at Qo’nos. Also, possibly another reference to Star Trek VI, having Sulu sit in the big chair.
- Carol Marcus is British for some reason, and also the daughter of the film’s secondary antagonist, Admiral Marcus. I’m a fan of Alice Eve so I hope she comes back for the inevitable sequel.
- Admiral Marcus is Robocop. He’s head of Starfleet as I mentioned, but he’s also a militaristic, unethical man. More on him soon.
- Admiral Pike is back and walking with a cane. He gives a great humbling to Kirk in the beginning, but recognizes his value shortly after and brings him a long as his first officer. Then he dies. Poor Pike. At least he didn’t have to suffer the prison of a beeping wheelchair his Prime counterpart did.
- Then there’s John Harrison. He’s not that strong of a character, but dammit if Benedict Cumberbatch didn’t act the shit out of him. Massive spoiler warning. He turns out to be Khan. Yeah, that Khan. I was disappointed that the rumors I’d read during production turned out to be correct, though the first half of the film basically set him up to be a superhuman. He easily manipulates Kirk against Admiral Marcus after being captured but I feel like Kirk was going along with that plan too. After all, the Enterprise crew was working on a backup plan all along…
That brings me to the rest of my random thoughts and plot points absolutely chock-full of spoilers. If you’re still here and you haven’t seen the movie, it’s your loss. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
- The film opens with the Enterprise trying to save a species from extinction via volcano. They cite the Prime Directive in not revealing themselves to these creatures, yet are also directly interfering in their fate by stopping this eruption. Surely someone must have realized that. When compliance with the Prime Directive goes to shit, Kirk & Co. get in trouble, so that’s good, I guess. At least Pike has ethics.
- The volcano scene was just one of many visually striking scenes. That lighting. So pretty. It made Revenge of the Sith look like Plan Nine from Outer Space.
- During the scene of John Harrison’s introduction there is a gorgeous piano motif playing. Michael Giacchino’s soundtrack is great, but that particular scene struck me immediately. I believe the same piano plays during the final credits as well.
- On Earth, Starfleet officers wear a dull grey jumpsuit with chevron-like badges on the shoulders. They also at times wear hats that look like English police officers. I thought that looked a bit strange for Star Trek.
- As I mentioned, Admiral Pike dies at the hands of John Harrison’s shuttlecraft attack on Starfleet Command. Spock mindmelds with him to feel his feelings as he dies. Kirk and Spock are both great in that scene, with Kirk’s emotions flowing freely and Spock suppressing his.
- Kirk blows up Harrison’s shuttle, but he beams out before it crashes to Earth. Oh yeah, he beamed all the way to Qo’noS. What.
- In Admiral Marcus’ office there’s a row of model spacecraft. Enterprise’s NX-01 is in there. Thought that was interesting.
- Possibly my favorite reveal of the movie, and one of great importance to me, is that of Admiral Marcus describing John Harrison as an operative of Section 31. Section 31, for those who have never seen Deep Space Nine, is the Federation’s top secret security and intelligence arm. They operate outside the limits of Federation regulations, and their existence has Gene Roddenberry spinning in his grave. Because they’re the force behind the film’s mission, I am completely able to forgive all of its unethical and non-Trek happenings. Starfleet sure does seem militaristic in Into Darkness, but that’s because we see only a small non-representative part of the whole.
- The Enterprise has a warp core. In ST09, they ejected their “warp cores” to stop Nero’s black hole. In Into Darkness, they seem to have returned to more traditional propulsion configurations. This core however is a wide cone-like thing instead of the humming vertical or horizontal tubes of past Treks. I want to say that the warp core scenes were the parts filmed at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (a stone’s throw from me!), but I have no confirmation of that just yet. (Edit: Yes, those were the LLNL scenes, filmed specifically at the National Ignition Facility)
- I love the Enterprise’s warp effect. Like ST09 it’s quick like a gunshot, but added to this movie are a slow stretching effect beforehand and blue particle trails from the nacelles afterward. Pew pew.
- The Enterprise getting absolutely jerked out of warp was a nice effect too.
- As was the battle in warp. There are probably a multitude of things wrong with that scene (hull breach in warp, phasers in warp, falling out of warp by getting knocked out of the “warp-tube”) but I liked it. It was something new.
- The Enterprise ends up at Qo’noS. They show a broken moon in space colliding with a planet. Possibly a reference to Praxis, or that planet wasn’t actually Qo’noS at all. Who knows how far shuttlecraft can fly?
- Also, the name of the planet appears onscreen as “Kronos.” It’s an alternate spelling, I guess, but I was hoping they’d use the real one.
- Klingons make an appearance. Briefly. Kirk’s shuttle is pursued by a D4 Bird-of-Prey, harkening back to the original Trek films once again. The Klingons themselves weren’t too different. They had forehead ridges and spoke with the same guttural language we all know and love. They got trounced by Harrison and his super death ray though. Pew pew. No doubt a secret product of Section 31.
- When Harrison surrenders to Kirk, Kirk gives him about a hundred punches to the face. That wasn’t very captain-like.
- Enterprise jerked out of warp because of sabotage! I had a bad feeling Dr. Marcus was involved.
- Big close-up of the Ferry Building in San Francisco. Glad some things never change.
- Dr. Marcus mentioned her friend Christine Chapel, who is studying to be a nurse. She had a brief fling with Kirk, apparently. I bet she shows up in the future.
- Scotty makes his way to Jupiter using coordinates (188.8.131.52) given to him by Harrison via Kirk, and finds a giant secret starship ready to be launched. From what I heard about the film, it was a lot of action on Earth, but at this point there was way more time spent in space than I was expecting. That’s good, because I love space. Space.
- Harrison, now in the Enterprise’s brig, reveals to Kirk that he’s a 300 year old super-human named Khan. KHAAAAAAAN! I didn’t like that. He’s not Indian! (To be fair, neither was Ricardo Montalban… but Benedict Cumberbatch is also not Mexican!) Oh well.
- Admiral Marcus arrives out of nowhere with his beast ship! It’s huge, and vaguely resembles the Enterprise-C. I don’t believe it was named on-screen, but it’s Dreadnought-class– designed for combat only. (Edit: The ship is called the U.S.S. Vengeance. Fitting.)
- It has advanced warp drive, so says Dr. Marcus. Or did she say trans-warp drive?
- It also has an evil looking bridge, all dark and evil-like. Its corridors are just as dim and its cargo bay has only weird spotlights in it. Definitely a villainous setting.
- McCoy has a tribble.
- The Enterprise has a hatch for “trash exhaust,” says Sulu. Star Wars anyone?
- Scotty’s scene in the
DreadnoughtVengeance cargo bay is great. Sorry about blasting you into space, security dude.
- Kirk and Khan working together to stop the Federation? Madness! It’s a trap, Kirk!
- Spock Prime makes an appearance on the view screen. Hey, future Spock, have you heard of “Khan?” Oh, you have? Oh, he’s dangerous, you say? Well, shit. But you beat him “at great cost?,” I guess that’s good then.
- At this point I was hoping they wouldn’t have Spock die again.
- Admiral Marcus gives an arrogant speech to Khan when he and Kirk get to the bridge of the
DreadnoughtVengeance. I thought it was funny; I’m sure it wasn’t meant to be funny.
- Jesus Christ, Khan crushed Marcus’s head with his hands. At least they did it off-screen, but damn, I guess Khan really is bad after all.
- The Enterprise takes a serious beating. People flying out of hull breaches, exposing superstructures all over. Pretty brutal. It loses power and starts to fall into Earth’s atmosphere, causing people onboard to start sliding all over the place. Kirk and Scotty take a run through the corridors as gravity shifts, causing them to seamlessly start to run on the walls and stuff. Pretty cool. Same tricks as Inception, methinks.
- Scotty and Kirk get to Engineering but the warp core is misaligned. (?) Someone needs to go in there and fix it, but there’s too much radiation… oh for fuck’s sake.
- And so Star Trek Into Darkness recreates the ending for The Wrath of Khan nearly verbatim. However, Kirk and Spock are reversed. Kirk, from behind the glass tells Spock he sacrificed himself because “it is what you would have done,” book-ending the movie between an earlier conversation as well as acting as a bridge to the Prime universe where Spock did just that. Then Kirk dies for real. Removing myself from my disappointment about this cheap duplication, the acting was superb and the dialogue being exactly the same at times was a nice callback. Spock goes pretty nuts afterward.
- And by that I mean, he does the scream. That scream. KHAAAAAAAAAAAN! It didn’t seem right.
- The Enterprise falls through clouds. It was a quick little effect, very well done.
DreadnoughtVengeance falls into San Francisco, obliterating Alcatraz but stopping just short of the Transamerica Pyramid. Poor Telegraph Hill.
- So Kirk is dead, but the dead tribble from earlier was resurrected with Khan’s blood. I wonder what happens next!?
- Spock has a crazy punch fight with Khan, channeling his Vulcan rage. He almost gets his head crushed too, but Uhura shows up to save the day! Looks like they’re back together!
- Bam, screen goes dark and then fades in to reveal an alive Kirk. They used Khan’s blood to resurrect him. Called it. What’s kind of cool about this though, is that in this timeline Khan saves Kirk’s life. That’s cool, right?
- Now what’s really interesting about this is that McCoy now has a superhuman blood serum that can resurrect the dead. I wonder what implications that has for this universe.
- Perhaps a jab at those who think Trek is getting too action oriented, the film ends with Kirk giving a speech at Starfleet about “remembering who we were” before all of this excitement (ie, explorers). They then have Chris Pine narrate the iconic “Space, the final frontier…” monologue before the Enterprise and her crew set off on their new 5-year mission, which is something that’s never been done before apparently. Actually, now that I write that, I’m going to take that as a jab at Enterprise for getting cancelled after 4 seasons. (mwahaha). So it looks like they might have a bit more exploration and philosophy coming in this rebooted Star Trek saga. I hope so. All of this action has me worn out.
In closing, if you’re looking for an original, philosophical, TV-Trek-like story and tone, this is not the movie for you. However, I definitely enjoyed the movie for what it was: an action packed, visually stunning, simple story of good working to stop a villain. I unfortunately am still waiting for the reboots to elevate themselves into something great. Star Trek could use a film like The Dark Knight or Empire Strikes Back and I think J.J. Abrams and company have laid a solid foundation here, so there’s definitely hope for that one day. It’s a great time to be a Star Trek fan, once again.
(Aside, I wonder what Plinkett has to say about Star Trek Into Darkness…)