Review : Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013)
"In our darkest hour, when our leaders have fallen, a hero will rise."
Released (UK) 9th May 2013, Rated 12A. Runtime: 132 minutes (2 hours, 12 minutes).
Official Synopsis: After the crew of the Enterprise find an unstoppable force of terror from within their own organization, Captain Kirk leads a manhunt to a war-zone world to capture a one man weapon of mass destruction.
Blue Corner Review, by Pete
Added May 9th, 2013
For someone that grew up as a fan of Star Trek, and falling on that side of the Star Trek/Star Wars ‘fence’ despite the lack of a gritty feel, I initially had very mixed feelings about the JJ Abrams-powered reboot, particularly given the age of the cast. Overall, however, I was won over with the solid casting choices and appropriate blend of ‘knowing nods’ with a new direction. Allowing the Trek canon to be updated as part of the time-travel fuelled reboot story led us to believe that what came before would not necessarily come again to pass, although with Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan being arguably the most popular of the original films, it seemed inevitable that Khan Noonien Singh would eventually be allowed to rear his head once again in this updated take on the Trek universe. Given that Star Trek: Into Darkness was by far my most anticipated big film for the year, it seemed equally inevitable that the weight of expectation was in danger of crushing whatever followed.
A year or so on from the original we catch up with Kirk (Chris Pine) being true to form and ignoring both risk and regulation in order to make the decisions that he feels are right to get the job done. Having become Captain of the Enterprise at the end of the first film, several years earlier than would have occurred in the original canon, from the outset it is made clear that we are going to be watching the making of the James Tiberius Kirk that we knew before – how this new Kirk grows into the chair given to him before he was really ready. The downside here being that the first half hour essentially becomes a needless rehash of the last film – Kirk gets knocked down, pep talk from Admiral Pike (Bruce Greenwood), ends up back in the Captain’s chair through blind luck.
Following two acts of terrorism on Earth soil, with the second resulting in the death of Pike, Kirk makes the apprehension of John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) his sole focus – supported by Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller), the Enterprise is swiftly dispatched to Cronos (or, as it should be written, Qo’noS /pedant mode) to bring back the Federation’s Most Wanted, regardless of the cost. At a time of an uneasy peace existing between the Klingons and the Federation, that potential cost couldn’t be higher, yet provocation appears to be the underlying aim of Marcus – Kirk being instructed to identify Harrison’s location on Cronos and fire a barrage of the Federation’s newly developed photon torpedoes at his position. As a general rule of thumb, going near to the Klingon home world let alone firing at it would not be something that would be taken lightly, although the introduction of weapons of mass destruction on-board the Enterprise – transforming this research vessel into one of war – is not something that the crew are comfortable with.
Whilst there are some nice touches with regards to showing how Starfleet has been forced onto a more military footing following the destruction of Vulcan in the original film, with the previously secretive Section 31 (operating using methods that go against the fundamental beliefs and values of the Federation they aim to protect) having been brought to the fore in this timeline and allowed to both influence and shape policy accordingly, technology introduced in that same film – namely transwarp – does render some story elements as being somewhat pointless. Being able to transport light years away with pinpoint accuracy would suggest that there was no need to hunt down Khan to start with, just as a war with the Klingons could presumably be won by simply teleporting a raft of armed torpedoes to strategic destinations.
The early stages, whilst doing a good job portraying Kirk’s unrefined gung-ho approach since having been put in the chair, did highlight a rather bizarre chain of promotion/demotion that seems to exist, although arguably this has always been the case in the Trek universe anyway – for every Captain Picard saving the universe numerous times over, there is always a raft of Admirals somehow ranked above them. There’s a strong focus on the Kirk/Spock bromance, as expected, conveying their perpetual, tumultuous battle between Emotion and Logic, although Bones sadly left out of much of the banter as are most of the primary crew – Chekov probably only featured in a handful of scenes throughout the entire film. Alice Eve is introduced as a new Enterprise crew member, meaning that former Kirk love interest Dr Marcus is brought into this new timeline under the guise of being the daughter of the joint villain of the film – the war hungry Admiral Marcus. Compared to the fleshing out of Khan within the first two thirds of the movie, which perhaps explains the lack of screen time for much of the central Enterprise crew, Marcus feels more of an afterthought to bring the female cast count up slightly – as many of people pointed out during the release of the trailer, it also appears that she may have been drafted in order to try to sex up the film a tad (gratuitous underwear scene for no reason, as featured in most trailers too? Check).
There was no real surprise with Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) being finally unmasked as Khan, although the way the character was brought into this new Trek universe was interesting, providing a new dimension to the fan favourite. Originally introduced in the Star Trek TV series as a genetically enhanced criminal revived after centuries held in suspended animation, the initial iteration of Khan and his crew were left by Kirk on an uninhabited planet to give them the chance to form their own civilisation – this planet, however, brings nothing but death to many of Khan’s people, resulting in his revenge-fuelled outing in the second movie. Here, it is Admiral Marcus that has instead discovered and revived Khan, using his unique advanced abilities to further the development and creation of Section 31’s weaponry, ships and tactics in exchange for the supposed safe release of the rest of his still-suspended crew. This less literary proficient take on Khan has had time to grow within this new universe – although free from the vengeful focus against Kirk, with his issue now instead being the Federation itself, the same piercing maniacal menace still exists, albeit tempered enough in the early stages to allow Cumberbatch space to both thorough revel and excel in the role. There’s no doubt that he positively steals every scene that he’s in, with any interaction with Kirk and Spock resulting in their two characters being positively dwarfed by his shadow – arguably coming across as cartoonish even by comparison.
Part of me feels that the borderline plagiarism of scenes from the Wrath of Khan for the later stages of Into Darkness has clearly been intended as homage, with the reversal of the key points presumably having been considered a novel twist, but the rehashing of this material was something I ended up finding somewhat derisory – perhaps because I was wanting the final acts to go anywhere but there. For anyone that made the mistake of watching the initial teaser trailer who had also seen The Wrath of Khan, seeing that brief shot of a hand being held up against the glass was enough to know that the infamous death scene was going to be back, and that this time around Spock was going to be on the other side of the screen. Yet my real issue ended up being with the final stages being massively rushed – having had time spent building up Khan and the conspiracy story arc, we go from the defeat of Marcus, Kirk dying on-screen and the destruction of the USS Vengeance to the capture of Khan in around ten on-screen minutes (and there’s no indication that Kirk’s now a vegetable despite having been dead without oxygen for what was presumably a substantially extended period. Genetically modified superhuman Khan – earlier able to take out an entire squadron of Klingons by himself – is apparently no match for a pissed of Vulcan by the end of the film, suggesting that this one-on-one brawl was simply the easiest way to wrap things up, although in true ‘save it for the sequel’ style it’s made clear that this is one villain that the scriptwriters want to be able to call upon again in future.
Had the 2D screenings been a bit more regular there would have selected – unfortunately, with that not being the case, the Real 3D post-production instead won out and, as appears to always be the case, I honestly do not thing that there was a single element that was improved by being slightly 3D-ish, rendering it entirely pointless. The rumour prior to filming was that the studio forced J.J. Abrams into including 3D in order for him to be given the green light for filming – the sooner the fad of forcing these films into 3D dies out yet again, just as it has every other time this technique has reared its ugly head, the better.
Disappointed, but I’m hoping that it might grow on me upon a second (and maybe even a third) viewing just as the first managed.