To mark today’s DVD & Blue-ray release of Star Trek Into Darkness, I am reposting my original review of the film along with new and updated video links.
The latest incarnation of Star Trek is in one word, “WOW”. Another would be orgasmic. No, not in that way. Orgasmic, in a Trekkie way. The sequel to the reboot of the Star Trek franchise which entered theaters this May, offers a multitude of treats and surprises for the life-long fan that anyone who considers themselves a true trekkie will have trouble catching them all between excited giggles.
The story begins with the bombing of an apparent Federation archive in London at the hand of a Star Fleet staff officer (notably played by Noel Clarke of Dr. Who fame) who sacrifices himself in exchange for a life saving treatment for his daughter. But the true perpetrator of the attack is a rogue Star Fleet agent John Harrison (brilliantly portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch) who escapes to an uninhabited region of the Klingon homeworld of Kronos (or Q’onoS). The Enterprise and her crew are tasked to eliminate the man, a citizen of the Federation, by traveling to the edge of Klingon space and launch a new, top secret weapon destroying the area where he is hiding. This produces a serious examination of the crew’s values and those of the Federation.
Some initial reviews of the movie arrived at the conclusion that this endeavor simply did not feel like a Star Trek movie. Contrary to the criticism, this sequel is most definitely a reincarnation of which its predecessors would be proud. From the beginning, it reflected the very embodiment of the series Gene Roddenberry created. As the original 1960′s series tackled contemporary issues of the time, so does this movie. The bombing of a significant landmark in the middle of a metropolitan city killing thousands of people was clearly reminiscent of the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City. The use of new weaponry that kills from afar runs parallel to the moral entanglements the United States is currently debating through the use of unmanned drones to attack its enemies abroad including American citizens who’ve joined terrorist organizations.
But the characteristics of a true Star Trek movie don’t stop there. Into Darkness takes on the dilemmas surrounding the Prime Directive. While more prevalent in the Next Generation series, it is the United Federation of Planets’ General Order 1, the overarching policy of the Federation to not interfere in the natural, internal development of pre-warp societies or societies as yet incapable of interstellar travel. And of course, in line with the original series, Captain Kirk sent it asunder during the movie’s beginning sequence. But unlike the Kirk of the past this James T. Kirk is held accountable for his recklessness and disregard for regulations resulting in his removal from Enterprise’s captain’s chair. But in true Trek fashion events transpire that cause the death of the ship’s new captain and Kirk’s mentor, Christopher Pike. He convinces the head of Star Fleet to reinstate him so he can pursue the terrorist Harrison.
After the ethical debates over assassinating Federation citizens come to a head between Kirk and his senior officers he decides on an away-mission masquerading as traders to take the terrorist alive. But it isn’t until after the away-team captures Harrison (who actually saves the crew from 3 Klingon patrols and then subsequently surrenders) and brings him back to the ship is his real identity revealed. With mounting glee for the avid fan, Harrison tells Kirk he is actually a genetically-engineered human exiled from Earth in cryogenic freeze. Gasp! Is it really? Could it be? Did Abrams really go there? Oh yes he did… ’cause Khan is back! Just as Ricardo Montalban so perfectly embodied the role in his time, Cumberbatch made the character his own this go round.
In the original series Khan and his fellow super soldiers were found by the Enterprise. He tried to take over the ship but was defeated by Kirk and crew who left them all marooned on the next habitable planet. This time however, Khan and the others were found by another vessel, he alone was de-iced and was pressed into service designing weapons of war for a misguided, warmongering admiral. How did he force Khan? Remember the top secret missiles? In actuality, Khan’s own crew still in stasis. The admiral held the lives of his crew over him, all 72 of them. That is why he surrendered to Kirk in this version of the future, the threat of the missile launches resulting in the demise of his own crew left Khan no choice. Of course the Enterprise crew were not aware at the time their weaponry was any more than super-secret, hi-tech, big boy toys.
Throughout the movie, fans were treated to altered parallels between Wrath of Khan, other movies, the original series and this version. We are introduced to Dr. Carol Marcus. In Star Trek II, Dr. Marcus was molecular biologist and an old flame of Shatner’s Kirk and mother to his previously unmentioned son, David. In this incarnation she is a weapons specialist and the audience bore witness to the possible beginnings of their future relationship and all that came with it in that other reality.
In this reality, Kirk is the one who is irradiated saving the ship and crew, which served as both the culmination of Kirk’s maturity as captain of the Enterprise (interesting how death can do that) and the solidification of he and Spock’s friendship. Kirk was relieved of his command early on due to his recklessness, disregard for the safety of his crew and disrespect for the chair and used his luck thus far to justify his decisions. But it wasn’t until he realized, curiously enough, a type of leadership kinship with Khan and the moment his crew was put in very real peril did Kirk comprehend the value of those lives he, and he alone, was responsible for. He chose personal sacrifice to save his crew. And it was Spock’s turn to scream in utter anger and frustration as his friend lay dead before him, “KHAAANNNN!!!”, a cry originally made immortal by Shatner. Fortunately for us all, Kirk was saved when Bones realized the regenerative power Khan’s blood had on a necrotic tribble. And that trade ship the away-team used to get to Kronos, you had to listen close, but it was apparently confiscated during the “Mudd Affair”. Yep, Harcourt Fenton “Harry” Mudd, a con man who had multiple run-ins with the original Enterprise crew. By the way, did anyone else notice the broken moon orbiting Kronos? A reference to Praxis and a nod to The Undiscovered Country?
If the parallels were not enough, we were treated to vast views of 23rd century London and more of Star Fleet Headquarters and San Francisco than other Trek movies were capable of. And Abrams has discovered that the Enterprise can do much more than streak through space to far flung star systems. It’s capable of rocketing through a planet’s atmosphere and concealing itself underwater. Honestly, if it can withstand the rigors of interstellar space and warp travel then why wouldn’t be able to handle atmospheric pressure and the weight of few metric tons of water? Despite any potential skepticism some may have about that, seeing the Enterprise rise up from the bottom of the sea was just the coolest thing ever.
The movie concluded with one last moment harkening back to the core of the original series. The Enterprise and her crew were chosen for Star Fleet’s new program to send one starship on a five year mission to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before.
So it seems there will be many movies to come with this reborn franchise, its new set of actors and our beloved characters. I’ll remain optimistic for a very long run. And if it says nothing else about the quality of this sequel, this is the first movie in a long time that I considered heading back to the ticket booth, buying another ticket and watching it all over again.