Review : Star Trek Into Darkness
Chris Pine and Bruce Greenwood as Kirk and Pike
This review contains massive spoilers for the entire film. Seriously, it will ruin it for you, turn back now.
“Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no-one has gone before.”
So speaks Captain (re-instated) James Tiberius Kirk, for the first time in this reboot – reminding us that after two films, we still haven’t begun to scratch the surface of the Enterprise’s endeavours. If the first film was about forming the team, this film was about norming and storming, to borrow some business parlance. The crew of the Enterprise under James T. Kirk are still not the finished article, still bickering, still circling each other, and still not prepared to face down a real enemy without making it out by the skin of their collective teeth.
John Harrison / Khan Noonian Singh is a formidable villain played by a formidable actor, so it’s understandable that he casts a large shadow over the film’s narrative, leaving subplots and character development to wither and die. In aping Wrath of Khan to the point of parody Star Trek Into Darkness has been forced to submit to this bargain – when Khan is around, you don’t want to see anything else on screen.. The team dynamics, humour and character worship from Star Trek are sacrificed in favour of the Epic Battle. This is not Finding Nemo, this is Moby Dick. Is it better? It’s different.
Cumberbatch’s Khan is nothing like Ricardo Montalban’s. There is no playfulness or eccentricity. Harrison will not stab at anything from Hell’s heart because he is not quite mad enough yet. He is vicious and angry and can and will pop a man’s head like an overripe melon, but still not quite mad enough. “Is there anything you would not do for your family?” he asks Kirk in their first face to face scene. We know there is not – and those of us who saw the Japanese version of the trailer with Kirk and Spock’s hands against glass knew where this particular plot point is going, but we needed to know how Kirk would get there, and what difference it would make to him and the crew. Cumberbatch is brilliant. He’s just brilliant. He can make us believe he’s a hardened terrorist, and then a weeping, wounded freedom fighter, and then a murderous psychopath, and he doesn’t even break stride whilst doing it. The fact that he survives to the end of the film, albeit in cryo, gives a glimmer of hope that he will return.
When you remove Khan, Into Darkness is simply a love story between Kirk and Spock. Only in the last few scenes of the first film do we see them truly start to warm to each other, and so we needed to rattle through the development of their friendship, seeing Kirk save Spock’s life by ignoring the Prime Directive, seeing Spock chastise Kirk for the very same, and seeing them both face death and the loss of each other. Barely even attempting to hide the love between them by the last ten minutes, Spock almost pushes his ‘girlfriend’ Uhura to the floor trying to get to Kirk in his last moments. He cries, he screams, he moves through the seven stages of grief in about 30 seconds and then lets all that Vulcan rage out on Khan’s face, risking his own life in an insane kamikaze mission. With this and the cute scene on the shuttle where he shows thinly veiled jealousy of Carol Marcus when Kirk gives her the slightest attention, it wouldn’t surprise me if future generations will see this film and wonder why they didn’t just kiss already.
If Star Trek was Spock’s film, showcasing Zachary Quinto’s immense talent, then Into Darkness is Chris Pine’s film. Without the pressure to carry off his rebel without a cause comedy routine he is allowed to be emotional, to show his range and make us feel. When he sees Pike, dead after Harrison’s attack on Starfleet you can see pain at the death of his father figure, regret that he didn’t get to see Kirk live up to his high expectations, anger at himself for not speaking up sooner about his theory on Harrison’s next move. In Star Trek Kirk storms onto the bridge and attacks the crew rather than let his idea about Nero’s ship go unheard. Cowed by his demotion, he has less conviction in warning the assembled officers that Harrison will target them, and Pike pays the price. When he cries openly and reaches for his friend Spock he shows us a Kirk with no barriers and no front. He shows us Kirk’s heart, which Shatner took a lot longer to do.
It’s a shame that the rest of the crew are more or less relegated to the background of Into Darkness, but needs must when you have the franchise’s best villain making a shock return. Bones is mostly used for humour, Sulu gets to foreshadow his own stint in the Captain’s chair, and Chekov ends up in a red shirt, running around shouting in a comedy accent and Scotty…is in a red shirt, running around shouting in a comedy accent. Zoe Saldana has more to do in this installment, trying to broker a Klingon alliance(good luck with that) and to psychoanalyse Spock (good luck with that too).
Alive Eve as Carol Marcus is a good attempt at bringing in a female character with a purpose other than exciting Kirk’s genitals, though it was one of her scenes which left a bad taste in my mouth and was the low point of the film. There was absolutely no reason whatsoever for her to be shown in her underwear. No reason whatsoever. The plot did not require it and the character did not require it, which makes it gratuitous, which makes it sexist, which makes it old fashioned and an embarrassment. Three people sat down and wrote that here, Carol takes her clothes off and Jim looks at her. Not only does this show a blatant lack of respect for Alice Eve, it shows a lack of respect for Star Trek’s entire audience. There are matter transporters and aliens and warp speed, so why shoehorn in such a dusty and pointless shot? We know Jim likes women, we have seen that he likes Carol because he leers at her when she comes aboard the shuttle. And now we know that JJ Abrams, Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof have a serious weak spot in this franchise, and it’s the ability to do what Star Trek has always done – exceed expectations in representation of gender and race. Seriously -why?! Just stop with this nonsense.
Carry On Kirking aside, Into Darkness is about as perfect a sci-fi action film as you can get, but that is not 100% a compliment. At times it feels too perfect, too structured if you will. The crew all get their hero moments, once again, but they can feel slotted into the larger story as if Uncle JJ couldn’t bear to leave them out. These are minor niggles, though, in what is another truly excellent Star Trek film. The action sequences are the best you will see. The fight scenes are the best you will see, The effects are – well you get the idea. Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise now have their five year mission, and hopefully a third film to round off what will surely be this decade’s defining sci-fi trilogy.