Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) Director: J.J. Abrams
After the success of the first film in the modern Star Trek reboot/alternate reality/Kelvin timeline series, producers at Paramount and J.J. Abrams signed on to create a sequel: Into Darkness. In this sequel we see most of same cohort of actors reprising their roles: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Simon Pegg, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Bruce Greenwood, and the late-great Leonard Nimoy, as well as some new faces including Benedict Cumberbatch as the newly reimagined classic villain: Khan.
In the year 2259 we find the crew of the Enterprise conducting business on a remote planet called Nibiru inhabited by primitive native “Nibirians” but the Nibirians are about to be destroyed by a massive volcanic eruption. Kirk decides to violate the “Prime Directive” by exposing this primitive civilization to advanced technology, thereby preventing it from evolving organically but also saving it from annihilation. Kirk and McCoy run through the blood-red jungle in order to distract the aliens while Spock is lowered into the volcano to detonate a cold fusion device and prevent eruption. Spock is saved at the last moment.
Back on Earth, Kirk is demoted for violating the “Prime Directive” and Spock is transferred to another ship (the “Bradbury” –perhaps a nod to Ray Bradbury?), meanwhile a Starfleet Commander named John Harrison has gone rogue, launching a terrorist attack, killing Admiral Pike and then fleeing to the planet Kronos, home-world of the Klingons. Kirk and Spock are reinstated on the Enterprise with orders to kill Harrison via a collection of 72 long range torpedoes. “Scotty” objects to the presence of strange torpedoes on the ship and he promptly resigns when overruled and Chekov replaces him.
When the Enterprise crew arrives on Kronos, Kirk and crew are immediately attacked by Klingons but they are saved by Commander Harrison who then surrenders himself to the Enterprise when he learns of the torpedoes. He asks the crew to open the torpedoes revealing a collection of cryogenically frozen humans. Harrison is then imprisoned and reveals himself to be none other than Khan Noonien Singh, or simply “Khan,” Kirk’s infamous nemesis in the original series. Khan is a genetically engineered superhuman who was recently awoken from chryo-sleep in order to develop advanced weaponry.
It turns out the new Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller) is behind the rise of Khan. He arrives in the USS Vengeance and demands Kirk deliver Khan to the fleet, but Kirk refuses and instead races for Earth hoping to expose Marcus –it is also revealed that Marcus’s daughter, Kirk’s future lover, is on board the Enterprise. Marcus now becomes the enemy of the Enterprise. Kirk and Khan invade the Vengeance together while Spock communicates with the elder Spock from the previous film who offers a warning: Khan cannot be trusted. Sure enough, Khan takes over the USS Vengeance and kills Admiral Marcus in a brutal killing.
The climax comes when Kirk succumbs to radiation poisoning to save the Enterprise in a reversal of fate from Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan, and both ships dramatically crash into San Francisco where Spock and Khan engage in na ridiculous, CGI-filled battle but Spock is ultimately saved by Uhura (the two characters have a flirtatious romance throughout this series). She appears and stuns Khan, Khan’s blood is then used to save Kirk in a deus ex machina -a frequent trope in the Star Trek universe. For some reason, Khan is frozen again rather than destroyed and all is restored. Admittedly, the second half of this film was a major let-down.
Once again the visual effects in this Star Trek movie are extraordinary however the flare cinematography effect leaves a near constant glare on the screen, a problem that is apparently corrected in the next film. There are many other problems that have been pointed out by die-hard Trekkies, including some by J.J. Abrams himself. And while entirely different from Ricardo Montalban’s brilliant portrayal of Khan, Benedict Cumberbatch delivers a captivating performance as the newly spawned Khan, who is now a dark, sinister, and calculating individual. Some have pointed out that Khan is actually explicitly a non-white Sikh character according to Star Trek lore, and George Takei lamented the introduction of Khan into this series (I have to agree). Perhaps it would have been better to simply create a new villain rather attempt to resurrect one of the essential classic Star Trek foils. Another piece of criticism for the film is how all the old Star Trek characters now seem cartoonish, almost as hyper or perhaps silly caricatures of themselves who have been placed into ridiculously break-neck paced scenes rife with explosions and blinding levels of CGI. In all, Into Darkness is an enjoyable albeit flawed and ceaselessly explosive romp through the Star Trek world of the imagined future.