Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) is the second installment of J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek reboot, following Star Trek in 2009. The film brings back the all-star cast in the newly altered Star Trek universe, where anything goes.
The 2009 Star Trek film gave a breath of life to the decrepit Star Trek franchise. Mix together a cast with great chemistry, that goes to the absolute core of the original characters, with an exciting and unprecedented story line and a great action blockbuster is formed. While many devoted Trekkies were scandalized by Abrams’ complete dismantling of the entire Star Trek universe, it opened many doors for new — and equally as important — familiar stories. The first film excited and shocked audiences, and the second film makes use of its most valuable tool: reinterpretation.
Many criticize Star Trek Into Darkness as being a mere remake of A Wrath of Khan, but to believe so is to miss the whole point of the first film. Changing time as we know it opens the door for anything. It was entirely possible that the Enterprise would never encounter Khan in this new timeline, but isn’t it exhilarating that even though time was altered so significantly, this epic encounter still exists? It’s almost as if the confrontation is fated, an idea that I imagine Spock would seriously disagree with, yet this theme can now be considered due to Abrams altered timeline.
The film exhibits scandal from the very beginning, at least it does for Trekkies. The crew of the Enterprise is on planet Nibiru, inhabited by a primitive alien race, and they plan to drop a device into the planet’s volcano to make it dormant, which would alter the natural course of life on Nibiru — a overt violation of the Prime Directive. This violation of the most important regulation in Starfleet is highly shocking, but it develops Captain Kirk’s (Chris Pine) character: a brazen young Captain without accountability. One of the film’s transformations is that of Captain Kirk, from egoistic impulse to selfless leader.
A similar transformation is scene in Spock (Zachary Quinto). Quite possibly after Vulcan’s demise in the previous film, Spock has made even greater effort to stifle his human half. Even after Kirk saves Spock from volcanic doom, Spock struggles to make any emotional connection with Kirk. After relationship trouble with Uhura (Zoë Saldana), experiencing Admiral Pike’s (Bruce Greenwood) dying moment, and experiencing that same moment with Captain Kirk, Spock’s human half surfaces in a shriek of absolute anger, an homage to A Wrath of Khan.
This film’s brilliant villain, Khan, is played by Benedict Cumberbatch. His peculiar countenance lends to being a villain, and it’s backed up by an incredible performance which includes subtleties like sitting up perfectly straight and speaking with arrogance — after all, he’s better at everything. Khan’s climactic (though, to some, anti-climactic) identity revelation brings much scrutiny. Because of the way Khan’s character was introduced in the Original Series, The Wrath of Khan is filled with a heavy intensity. To viewers new to the franchise, Khan’s identity does not mean as much, but it is still packed with superhuman and eerie mystery which keeps viewers invested. The meaningful part of this entire film is that it tells the same story in a new time; while details change, a new generation can participate in and appreciate an older story.
The film’s brilliance culminates in a few wonderfully shot scenes. These scenes focus on four different characters and their facial expressions, which are meaningful in that they express emotions seemingly opposite of what those characters embody. The first is Kirk; as Admiral Pike is chastising him for lying in his report, Kirk slips into a state of vulnerability. The camera stays on his reddened face, peering into his deep blue eyes which show a softened quality hardly ever seen from his character. The magnificence of that shot is that Kirk retreats inwardly instead of acting aggressively. The next scene showcases Pike. As he lays dying before Spock, the camera again stays on his face, which is usually strong, sure, and fearless, but what the camera shows is terror. It’s a terror that is shocking, especially on a face that’s never shown such fear. His eyes are absolutely moving, even to stoic Spock. Thirdly, as Khan explains how he and his frozen crew became part of the picture, the camera yet again stays on his face. As he tells his story, about trying to save his crew — his family — the anger takes over his face, flaring his nostrils and bringing tears to his eyes. The camera doesn’t move away from his face, letting the viewer fully appreciate this surprisingly show of emotion from this ruthless killer. This scene denies any sense of one-dimensional villainy for Khan. The last scene is for Spock, at his transformation in the film. He’s speaking with Kirk as he lays dying, again expressing his vulnerability. Spock, who has only lost his composure over his mother’s death and Vulcan’s demise, is clearly emotional. His colleague — and friend — lays dying and can’t control himself. The camera, again, stays on his face as tears fall from his eyes, a particularly stark sight from anything ever expected from Spock. That, followed by the iconic “KHAAAAAAN!”, express a side of Spock never seen. These four scenes are the magic of the film, taking four characters and turning them inside out in ways never experienced.
This film is an exciting and captivating story — all up until its coda. After Kirk’s death, the film is aimless and wraps up much too quickly. The story could have benefited from the way A Wrath of Khan ends, which would have been more emotional, as well as quite the cliff-hanger for any sequel. Along with those criticisms fall the characters of the rest of the crew. Uhura, who has the potential of being a strong and badass character unfortunately falls into the role of “girlfriend” for Spock. Even though she has a big scene with the Klingons, the majority of her actions are motivated by her being with Spock, not for the good of the order. Karl Urban, who portrays Dr. McCoy exactly, along with Anton Yelchin, as Chekov, received little roles in this film. Even John Cho, as Mr. Sulu remains mostly secondary in this movie. These characters have the potential for more than just comedic relief, something that Simon Pegg’s Scotty was able to achieve. Scotty in the first movie was only humor, but he basically saves the day in this film. Perhaps the rest of the crew will get more screen time and plot lines in the next film.
Star Trek Into Darkness is the first voyage into Star Trek’s new alternate universe. It brings the Enterprise together with a familiar villain in an entirely new light. With plenty of action, lens flares, and Michael Giacchino’s fantastic soundtrack, Star Trek Into Darkness brings a story and villain back to life in an entirely new light.