This post will contain spoilers. All of my Star Trek movie series posts have contained spoilers of some sort, but I have tried to not completely ruin key plot points and sought to at least introduce some ambiguity into how things came to pass. Aside from kvetching everytime the Enterprise gets wrecked and the crew surviving, I think I have been pretty good about that.
But now we are on to Star Trek: Into Darkness and there is just too much there to dig into for me to be vague or use adjacent metaphors to get my point across.
Also, just to put a bit more text between that warning and some actual spoilers, I wanted to point out that the whole reason my wife and I started down this Trek film festival was because HBO Max sent me an email declaring that they had ALL of the Star Trek movies available and, since we have HBO Max, it seemed like an opportunity.
Now, I blame myself for having just read the headline and not the fine print, but HBO Max only has the FIRST TEN Trek films available. Since the reboot, which I argued last time isn’t a reboot but an alternate, parallel timeline that the films themselves recognize, was not on HBO Max, I had to go find the first film on Netflix.
But Netflix only has Star Trek. To get to Star Trek: Into Darkness I had to go to Amazon Prime, who had me covered. (And, for the record, Star Trek: Beyond isn’t on any of the three services, so I might have to kick start the PlayStation 3 to watch it on BluRay.)
Anyway, on to the film.
There is a LOT to unpack here and I am not sure I grasped it all and could relay it all if I could.
Once again, on the surface, the script is kind of weak and, once again, the film rises above that largely due to cast, effects, sound track, and the shear audacity of not just grabbing onto a parallel Trek universe, but then re-imagining one of the classic Trek stories through that lens.
Last warning about spoilers. The next paragraph is it. Don’t look down.
Star Trek: Into Darkness is the retelling of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
Okay, maybe you knew that. I mean, I think they had Benedict Cumberbatch over enunciating the name “Khan” in the trailer back in the day. But the twists start right away.
Because of the events in Star Trek, the Federation freaks out a bit and starts scouting for other threats vigorously, leading to Admiral Marcus finding and reviving Khan Noonien Singh years before Kirk and the Enterprise should have found him back in the original series.
I base that timeline on the fact that in the original series Kirk had risen up through the ranks to eventually command the Enterprise on its five year mission, while here in the parallel universe the script yadda yadda’d him into being captain of the Enterprise while still a cadet… though we don’t know how delayed he was getting into Star Fleet in the parallel, but Kirk seems much younger than his prime timeline counterpart.
Also, somewhat as an aside, Star Trek established that star ships are built on the planet (Kirk drives by one under construction on his motorcycle) and flown into space, so atmospheric flight was at least implied, something that comes up in the first few minutes of the film when we find they are using the Enterprise as a submarine to break the prime directive because of course they are.
Khan’s life takes on a new trajectory… one without literary allusions in his speech apparently, just a lot of deliberate enunciation in ways that force him to make his mouth move in strange ways… as he is recruited to create super new military weapons for Admiral Marcus, who also happens to be the father of Dr. Carol Marcus who, back in Wrath of Khan, was the mother of Kirk’s son and a research scientist, but in this timeline she is a weapons scientist who looks good in a bikini and who cannot quite ditch her British accent even though her father is played by Peter Weller, whose flat American prairie accent is a harsh contrast. Also she is friends with Christine Chapel who apparently slept with Kirk then left Star Fleet for a medical career, so maybe she ends up having Kirk’s kid? I don’t know, but I like the hook into a different series of events.
Anyway, Khan feels used, being manipulated as he is by Admiral Marcus, who has 72 members of Khan’s crew, still in cryo-sleep, to use as hostages to assure Khan’s good behavior. Khan isn’t having it though, smart guy that he is, and he tries to destroy his work and kill the Admiral before escaping to the Klingon home world of Kronos, which is about two minutes away in warp if the movie is any guide.
This seems to play straight into Admiral Marcus’ plan because he wants to use the new toys Khan made him to go to war with the Klingons, so Marcus sends Kirk, who is still wearing the rank device of a Star Fleet captain despite never having graduated so far as we have seen and having had his ship taken from him for violating the prime directive, and the Enterprise to kill Khan by firing 72 special torpedoes at him from the edge of Klingon space. This will start the war Marcus wants.
Spock talks Kirk out of this, they decided to fly to Kronos in a smugglers ship they impounded during the “Mudd incident,” which certainly implies a Harcourt Fenton Mudd character alive and well somewhere.. and Cyrano Jones as well, since we see a tribble… and they team up with Khan, fight Klingons, and get back to the Enterprise, where Admiral Marus shows up in his shiny new Dreadnought class ship, which dwarfs the Enterprise, and harsh words are exchanged, shots are fired, and then they fly in warp for about a minute before falling out in combat above Earth.
Khan and Kirk and Scotty go to take down Admiral Marcus, but then Khan looks out for Khan and sends them back to the Enterprise, which is heavily damaged and falling into Earth’s atmosphere uncontrolled until, in the greatest juxtaposition in the history of the franchise, Kirk runs into the reactor reactor, fixes the core alignment by kicking it repeatedly, after which the Enterprise, falling into cloud cover, recovers and appears broken but alive burning on thrusters out of the clouds again.
Spock rushes to engineering to hear Kirk’s dying words… needs of the many and all that… causing Spock’s eye to drip a tear even as I could feel my own eyes getting moist… then shouts, “KHAAAAAN!”
Meanwhile the Dreadnought, with Khan running it by himself, has been sabotaged and it too falls into Earth’s atmosphere. But Khan wants to get to Star Fleet HQ in San Francisco where we briefly see that Alcatraz is still a tourist attraction until the Dreadnought crashes through it, leaving a wreck in its wake. Oh well. But we do see that there are still cable cars in 23rd century San Francisco, though their ability to climb halfway to the stars is undocumented in this context, with ships from the stars literally raining down on the town.
A running fight through the city between Spock and Khan ensues, but you know the Enterprise crew has to win. The next film isn’t Star Trek: Khan Takes Over Everything after all.
In the end, we also avoid a whole Star Trek: The Search for Kirk sequel because Khan’s super blood brings Kirk back to life, the same way it did that tribble on McCoy’s desk, which I guess says something about Kirk. (Also, that was the second plot point to establish the effectiveness of Khan’s blood as a miracle cure, so they were making sure they had that fully established I guess.)
All of this sounds completely forced and awkward and even when trying to quickly summarize the film aloud it comes across like the whole thing should be an unmitigated train wreck, with any ability to suspend disbelief being the first car off the rails.
And yet… and yet… as with the previous film, it seems to somehow come together through sheer force of will, acting talent, great special effects, and a score that breathes extra life into every epic visual. I don’t care that there is about 90% less lens flare than Star Trek, this should not have worked. I cannot imagine it looked like anything but unmitigated garbage on the page. But we don’t get to see the script up on the big screen, we see the finished product, and the finished product was a winner.
Now that I have seen two of the reboot films, I have to start ranking them, I am going to call it this way.
- Star Trek: Into Darkness
- Star Trek
That’s the way I am calling it on this re-watch. I feel like J. J. Abrams was following the Rob Gordon guide to mix tapes from High Fidelity.
The making of a great compilation tape, like breaking up, is hard to do and takes ages longer than it might seem. You gotta kick off with a killer, to grab attention. Then you got to take it up a notch
Now there is one film left. Star Trek: Beyond will be the last review/summary in the series, but I am sure I will have something to say after 13 films.