I know said this in the title, but this review has huge spoilers in it. Turn back now, or go to our spoiler-free review. And go see the movie.
Still with me? Ok, you’ve been warned.
J.J. Abrams’ newest foray into our beloved franchise scored big at the box office this weekend, raking in over $70 million, well deserved. The film starts out in the beginning of a mission, with Chris Pine’s Kirk staying true to his origin and violating the Prime Directive. After saving a decidedly pre-warp civilization from the destruction of a super volcano, Starfleet Command reprimands Kirk and Admiral Pike once again commands the Enterprise. The reassignments of Kirk and Spock seem to blow up (beginning of pun!) the status quo in the Star Trek universe, and their world is rocked by the literal explosion (end of pun!) in Starfleet Archives in London.
An officer, whose daughter is dying, receives a miracle cure from a mysterious man who then forces the unnamed officer to destroy this seemingly benign Starfleet installation. This is when the nods to the various series’ begin, and they are awesome. At a meeting of top brass in response to the explosion, Harrison attacks as Kirk begins to suspect a set up, and manages to stop Harrison before he massacres the commanders, but not before the death of Admiral Pike, which Spock experiences with the admiral.
Restored to the captaincy of the Enterprise, Kirk gets a briefing from Admiral Marcus, head of Starfleet. As the briefing begins, Marcus walks to a desk with several generations of starships on it, one is unmistakably the Enterprise NX-01, cementing the series in this movie’s continuity. Marcus then claims that Harrison’s target wasn’t an archive of publicly available material, but rather a front for a division known as Section 31. While anyone who has just come into the series can figure out that this is a sort of CIA organization for Starfleet, the background goes much deeper and confirms Abrams’ commitment to the franchise.
There have only been a few direct references to Section 31, in episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space 9 and Enterprise. The episodes centered around the station’s chief medical officer, Dr. Julian Bashir, and a mysterious man known as Luther Sloan trying to recruit the doctor. Enterprise’s episodes centered similarly around one character, this time weapons officer Lieutenant Malcolm Reed. Section 31 has shown to be shadowy and dangerous, and various characters from the other series’ have been assumed to be or retconned to be agents or affiliates of the Section. Established by its eponymous section of the Starfleet Charter, Article 14; Section 31 is considerably enhanced in the new timeline, mainly in response to the threat from the Narada and destruction of Vulcan in Star Trek (2009).
Nodding to the extreme state of hostilities between the Federation and the Klingon Empire that existed in Star Trek: The Original Series, Marcus assumes that war with the Klingons is inevitable, interestingly close to Kirk’s position against helping the Klingons in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. Travelling to Qo’nos, where Harrison is hiding out, Scotty is relieved of his duties over his objection to using enhanced torpedoes for the targeted killing of Harrison. It’s impossible not to make the connection between Kirk’s orders and the current controversy over the United States’ use of drones, a burden Kirk has to quickly resolve as he nears the Neutral Zone.
A mysterious new science officer, Carol Marcus, joins the Enterprise, the first hint of the inspirations for the film. Those who have seen Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan remember that Kirk and Marcus had a relationship in his late academy and early career days, but parted ways before he could find out that Marcus was pregnant with Kirk’s son. Whether the new movies will explore this remains to be seen, but it helped to fuel the fires of debate over the identity of John Harrison; Khan Noonien Singh or Gary Mitchell. There was a lot of evidence both ways, but in the end sequel mirrors sequel, and Harrison turned out to be Khan.
Since we’re dying for more Original Series stuff, we get a look at the Klingons, with their look slightly updated and their ridges (at least one) adorned with metal. Some may see this as looking too different, but there have always been different-looking Klingons from Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Lieutenant Worf; the smooth-foreheads of The Original Series, General Chang and Azetbur of The Undiscovered Country, and even the briefly seen Klingons in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. We also have another brief Spock-on-Spock cameo as Zachary Quinto’s Spock tries to assess the threat Khan poses to the Enterprise.
With the mirror to the original movies established, the investigation into Section 31’s shipyard in orbit of Jupiter is tempered by the knowledge of Khan’s ambition and treachery. Explaining that he believed Admiral Marcus to have killed the crew of his sleeper ship, the S.S. Botany Bay, Khan seeks vengeance against a world he sees as having harmed him twice: once when he and his crew of genetically enhanced humans were forced to flew at the end of the Eugenics Wars, and secondly when he was discovered and awakened by Marcus, only to be used and manipulated into developing advanced weapons systems.
After learning that Kirk captured Khan, rather than killing him, Marcus intercepts a crippled Enterprise in his advanced Dreadnought-class ship, the USS Vengeance. The confrontation between Kirk and Marcus is more proof that Abrams has a longstanding respect for the franchise. The scene of a rouge admiral preparing for war and using shady tactics to obtain illegal weapons in the name of protecting the Federation has happened before, in (sadly) one of the weakest Star Trek films. Bear with me here, I promise this will all make sense.
I know only the most hardcore of fans will have watched this one more than once, but Star Trek: Insurrection dealt with Picard in a situation similar to Chris Pine’s Kirk’s predicament. While the surrounding movie was too fuzzy, gimmicky, and campy; the core story was very compelling, and Abrams put it to good use in Into Darkness. Marcus puts the proper dark edge Admiral Dougherty lacked in Insurrection, and Kirk’s Enterprise suffers far more than Picard’s did in the final battle.
Plus they were fighting, essentially, for Earth, not Narnia. Also, no “briar patch” puns. (Sorry Jonathan Frakes. I love you, I really do. I just don’t love whoever wrote that line.)
In a final nod to its predecessors, Into Darkness twists the ending, with Kirk being the one who enters the core to reestablish warp power, knocking out Scotty with a punch so the engineer won’t stop the captain’s suicide mission. This nicely parallels Wrath of Khan, in which Spock nerve pinches McCoy to gain access, then mind melds (Vulcan, Mr. President, not Jedi) with the doctor to preserve his katra.
Kirk has no way to preserve his katra, and there is a scene when Spock rushes to the reactor to find his captain, that doesn’t go line for line, but retains the essence of the Wrath of Khan scene. Goodies included: “You’ll flood the whole compartment!” “Ship…out of danger,” touching of the glass as Kirk dies, and of course the iconic “KHAAAAAN!!!!” uttered this time by Spock. The only thing about this scene I had a bit of a problem with was that it could have been more intense if we didn’t already know that Khan’s blood can be used to reanimate a necrotic host (yay Tribble!). Maybe there could have been a Search for Kirk? Maybe not, I defer to J.J. on this one.
After Marcus and Khan are defeated and the Vengeance is destroyed by falling into the San Francisco Bay, taking out much of Starfleet Command’s headquarters (a horrifying homage to the gentler landing of the Klingon Bird-of-Prey in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home). Kirk reciting the monologue (albeit, the Star Trek: The Next Generation, or at least post-Undiscovered Country, version) was a very nice touch to the ending, and gave us the understanding that the Enterprise had, in fact, been detailed to the five-year deep space mission by Starfleet Command. The movie ends with Kirk paying tribute to those who lost their lives, both in the battles and Khan’s attacks on Starfleet installations. To drive the point home, the producers added a card at the end reminiscent of the dedication to the Challenger shuttle crew at the beginning of The Voyage Home; this time the card was a memorial for those who have lost their lives to terrorism.
All in all, the movie was amazing, and I for one will be seeing it again. I personally wished they had extended the film by 30 or so minutes so that the story, especially about Khan, didn’t feel so compressed, but I understand the choices they made, and the film still stands as one of the finest in the franchise. While I’m not comparing this review to Into Darkness’ quality (I’ll let all of you do that,) I did have to cut and slash some things out of this to keep it under 2,000 words.
The characters and actors continued to impress, between the fascinating Spock-Uhura relationship, Chekov and Sulu’s development beyond their normal duties, and Bones’ cantankerous nature; it’s nearly impossible to find any acting points that I didn’t like. I’m interested to see where J.J. and his team take Kirk and company next, though I do worry about his praise for Christopher Nolan ending the Batman saga after three movies. Please, Mr. Abrams, don’t make the next film the last. We want more. More is better, especially at this quality.
So how did you like Into Darkness? Are you a giant geek (like me), who picked up on the minutia? Or are you a casual watcher who just has an opinion on the movie? That’s fine too, nobody’s hating on your opinion. So have at it in the comments, let us know what you think.