Star Trek Into Darkness
Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Benedict Cumberbatch, Anton Yelchin, Bruce Greenwood, Peter Weller, Alice Eve, Leonard Nimoy
(Paramount; US theatrical: 17 May 2013 (General release); UK theatrical: 9 May 2013 (General release); 2013)
Right now, it’s just a disgruntled din, but by the end of the weekend, one assumes it will be an outright Trek geek uproar. Fans of the famed Gene Roddenberry space opera have already expressed a degree of difficulty with J. J. Abrams’ update/ reimagining/ commercialization of their beloved ‘60s sci-fi staple, and with the money mandated sequel, Into Darkness, ready to invade theaters this week, the problems are only going to multiply. You see, the filmmaker has decided to tread on some very sacred ground, soil so cinematically adored that to mess with it at all requires all kinds of reprimands and repercussions. If you haven’t already guessed by the title, let this SPOILER WARNING be your final caveat. You see, Abrams has decided to do a literal second helping of motion picture Star Trek, taking on that most heralded of holy grails, Khan.
Yep, Benedict Cumberbatch is the Ricardo Montalban for those who are way too young to have heard of “Space Seed”, let alone the original TV interpretation of the character. While the Trek geeks, yours truly included, loved that the post-Motion Picture pitch saw the genetically engineered superman return to take on Kirk and his comrades, The Wrath of Khan has become something more than a successful continuation of a then still up in the air film franchise. In fact, you can say it saved Star Trek from being a one and done anomaly. With the death of Spock, who would later be resurrected both in front of the lens and behind it (Leonard Nimoy was lured back to the role with the promise of a directing gig) and the establishment of a firm movie mythos, the Enterprise was on its way.
And now, J. J. Abrams is fucking with the entire Khan conceit - big time. No, he really hasn’t changed the character much. He is still an uber-warrior with an insane amount of pride and a desire to do unto others what he believes they did unto him and his entire DNA-tweaked clan. But in this case, Khan is seen as a terrorist, someone getting back at Starfleet for using him and his sentient combat skills. Unlike Wrath, which offered a brawny, bare-chested version of the aging exiled character going toe to toe with his nemesis Kirk, we get a younger, mostly spry take on the villain, a viable update considering that almost everything else about Abrams’ take centers around reconstructing the Trek universe and shooting it off into its own parallel plane.
The story starts right after Kirk (Chris Pine, again) has been made Captain of the Enterprise. He screws up one of the Prime Directives while on an alien world and is demoted. Serving under Admiral Pike (Bruce Greenwood) he is privy to some classified information surrounding an attack on Starfleet’s London Headquarters. Before you can say 9/11-Boston Marathon bombing, the San Francisco offices are raided as well. All clues lead to a rogue officer, John Harrison (Cumberbatch) and Kirk is given the order to destroy him by his sitting superior, Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller). The only problem? The fugitive has sought asylum on the Klingon home planet of Kronos, and any violation of their territory will be viewed as an act of war.
Gathering back up the crew including Spock (Zachary Quinto), Dr. McCoy (Karl Urban), Uhura (Zoe Saldana), Sulu (John Cho), Chekov (Anton Yelchin), and Scotty (Simon Pegg), Kirk decides to capture Harrison instead of killing him. Arriving on the planet surface, he witness the man singlehandedly wipe out legion after legion of Klingon warriors. Eventually, they discover that he is actually Khan, a super-being that it over 300 years old. Marcus, anticipating a need to turn Starfleet into a military organization, thawed out the frozen fiend, utilized his superior intellect, and then, when he realized he couldn’t be controlled, labeled him for termination (along with 70-plus of his tribe). As an act of vengeance, Khan wants to see Starfleet fall and will do anything to fan the flames of war.
Kirk is shocked when Khan surrenders. He’s even more mystified when he agrees to help the Enterprise fend off Marcus and his massive Star Destroyer, the Vengeance. Turns out, however, that it’s all an elaborate ruse, a way of getting Khan command of the lethal vessel while destroying Kirk and his crew. In a bid to save his ship, our Captain does a space dive into the Vengeance, only to be sent back to a dying Enterprise when Khan no longer needs him. Knowing his crew will more than likely perish, he goes into the radioactive core to address an engineering issue…and dies. Yes, like the original Wrath, a main character kicks it because the reactor needs realigning, and only a human, or human like extraterrestrial can apparently do it.
So Kirk dies, Khan gets his ship and that’s it, right? Well, not really. You see, our baddie has blood that can rejuvenate dead cells. We see Dr. McCoy reviving a lifeless Tribble with it. So while Kirk is frozen to keep him fresh, Spock takes off to get more of Khan’s revitalizing DNA. They battle it out over San Francisco, Uhura steps in to help her man, and, eventually, Khan gets his ass kicked and Kirk is saved. The film ends on a note setting up a return visit from the villain, as he and his sleeping clan are not destroyed, but stored away for safe (?) keeping. Oh, and along the way, that famous moment where William Shatner scrunches up his mouth and yells, “KHHHHHHHHHAAAAAAAAAAAANNNN!” at the top of his lungs is echoed here, except this time, it’s an emotion filled Vulcan doing the shouting.
As a combination of homage and deconstruction, it borders on the brilliant. It turns what is already an amazing bit of mainstream movie magic into something akin to a masterwork. It’s like David Lynch’s take on The Wizard of Oz, otherwise known as Wild at Heart - all the same pieces are in place, with their recognizability used to same something new and novel. Abrams knows he is going to piss off the fanboys with this defiant story stance, and he apparently doesn’t give a shit. He goes full throttle with the connections, even offering up familiar line and gestures during Kirk’s climactic death scene (the only missing dialogue? The whole “you have been and will always be… my friend.”). Ricardo Montalban’s Shakespearean readings may be missing, as are the quotes from Moby Dick, but Cumberbatch makes up for it in the dramatic thespian department. When he promises to walk over “the cold corpses” of the Enterprise crew to victory, you believe this bastard would really do it and enjoy it!
Naturally, by more or less rewriting Wrath of Khan, In Darkness asks to be skewered by Trek nation, and savaged it has been. Many of the dismissals take on that familiar “How dare they!” drawl while failing to address the stellar action set-pieces and special effects work involved. A few even find fault with ANYONE deciding to tackle Khan and his considerable cache of cool. As with most things on the Interweb, such fetishism borders on the insane. Abrams, when given the reins to Trek by Paramount, more or less warned you he was going to do whatever the Hell he wanted. Heck, Spock and Uhura are busy making cow eyes at each other as an established couple and you’re bellyaching over the return of a minor character made mythical by a movie some 30 years old? Really?
Of course, many have also dismissed the movie for reasons having nothing to do with a certain beloved foil. They, instead, point out character flaws, superficial tone shifts, and plot holes, using that always helpful critical tool know as ‘assertion as fact.’ The truth is that 2013 has already seen one pretty great action epic, Iron Man 3, but Star Trek: Into Darkness exceeds even that film’s fantastic scope. Not only does J.J. Abrams take on the material, but the entire precedent that created in the first place… and if this is what he has in store for Star Wars, all we can say is bring it on. That franchise needs an infusion of fun, stat. Let’s just hope the director doesn’t diddle with the canon of classic characters George Lucas left us with over the last few decades. If he does, the pandemonium will only grow louder, and louder, and louder.