I saw Star Trek Into Darkness yesterday. There is a plot twist of sorts in the movie, which a friend of mine spoiled for me, although I don’t think it detracted from my enjoyment. But be warned, I will spoil it in this review.
Let me begin by stating that I–alone of everyone who saw it, as near as I can tell–didn’t much care for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. I thought the first Star Trek movie was better, even though it was 50% exterior shots of the Enterprise doing nothing. Wrath of Khan was lame because the titular character was a completely over-the-top cartoon villain, constantly quoting literature for no reason.
I mention Wrath of Khan because this movie is practically a remake of it. Benedict Cumberbatch plays a criminal who turns out to be none other than the alternate-universe Khan. In the beginning, his Khan isn’t that different from his Sherlock Holmes–he’s a brooding man in black who hangs around London. But he does a good job as the film goes on–in my opinion, better than Ricardo Montalban did in the role.
Anyhow, in the first part of the film, Kirk is relieved of his command of the Enterprise for violating the Prime Directive like he always does. This lasts for about ten minutes until the criminal-not-yet-known-as-Khan kills the new Enterprise commander and Kirk is reinstated and sent on a mission to bring him to justice, by firing a mysterious new kind of photon torpedoes at him.
Alas, it develops that Khan has gone to a Klingon planet, and a Federation ship cannot go there without risking war. Even so, one Admiral Marcus tells him to do it anyway; war with the Klingons is inevitable. So, Kirk and the Enterprise and a mysterious new crew member named Carol head off. Except for Scotty, who resigns because he doesn’t like the look of the new torpedoes.
They arrive at the Klingon planet, send a message to the fugitive that they will blast him with torpedoes if he does not surrender, and are then attacked immediately by (what else?) Klingons, who are in turn attacked by a mysterious hooded figure who is obviously Khan.
This is my favorite scene in the movie: Khan is not shone close-up or center frame, but appears silhouetted against a large glowing orange background firing his weapons at the Klingons and taking them down with ease. When they are all disposed of, he turns his attention to Kirk and asks “how many of those torpedoes are there?” When the reply comes: “72”, Khan immediately says “I surrender.”
It’s a great scene, and very unnerving. Here you have this obviously highly-capable villain who could easily take on the three people sent to capture him, and yet he is surrendering to them. Normally in these action-adventure flicks, it’s the heroes who get captured by the villains at this stage of the game.
Unfortunately, the film goes downhill after that. There are revelations that Admiral Marcus has been lying, trying to start a war with the Klingons, that Khan’s people are in cryogenic pods sealed in the torpedoes, that Marcus revived them for his war… bottom line, Marcus is a jerk, but Khan is ruthless and willing to harm innocents in his mad quest for vengeance. After many explosions and lots of running, falling and punching, it all gets sorted out, with the heroes none the worse for wear.
Spock gets overly-emotional at the end. It’s out of character, as is the romance between him and Uhura. Dr. McCoy also does something unbelievably stupid when he neglects to save a sample of Khan’s miraculously regenerating cells. They are an incredibly useful for medical purposes, and yet he barely pays them any mind? Too often, the script uses clever one-liners at the expense of characterization. There is also a pointless cameo by Leonard Nimoy, reprising his role as original Spock.
Star Trek used to have a lot of talking, punctuated by the occasional fight. These new movies are mostly fighting punctuated by banter. It may be a bit higher-quality banter than you’d get in most sci-fi action movies, but still that’s what it is.
It’s a mildly entertaining film. Kirk is a good hero, and Khan is a good villain. It’s a shame they don’t get to interact more, because what scenes they have are very well done. I felt like there was more verbal sparring between Shatner and Montalban in the original than there was between Pine and Cumberbatch in this one. If they had just remade the original more faithfully, shot-for-shot even, with this cast, I think it would have been better.
As the original Khan, literature student that he was, might have been moved to remark: “it is full of sound and fury and signifying nothing.”