By Dan Metcalf
Clipper Film Correspondent
Star Trek Into Darkness (Paramount)
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence.
Starring Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Benedict Cumberbatch, Anton Yelchin, Bruce Greenwood, Peter Weller, Alice Eve, Noel Clarke, Nazneen Contractor, Amanda Foreman.
Written by Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof, based on the TV series created by Gene Roddenberry.
Directed by J.J. Abrams.
Like many other Trekkies, I was skeptical that anyone could improve the Star Trek franchise simply be re-booting it (as J.J Abrams did in 2009). Boy, were my concerns laid to rest by one of the best films of the year that also happened to cement Abrams as among one of the best and brightest filmmakers of our day. With the bar set so high, could Abrams top his original Star Trek success? The answer is, yes..and no.
Chris Pine is back as Captain James Tiberius Kirk, the young man in charge of the U.S.S. Enterprise. His first officer Spock (Zachary Quinto) gives Kirk a lot of trouble by following Starfleet regulations, which ends up getting Kirk demoted to first officer, as his mentor Admiral Pike (Bruce Greenwood) takes over command of the famed space vessel. When a mysterious terrorist named Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) blows up a facility in London, Starfleet command meets in their San Francisco headquarters, where Harrison (not his real name, by the way – spoilers to follow), attacks the meeting, killing many of the commanders.
The main result of the second Harrison attack is Kirk getting command of the Enterprise back, along with a mission to travel into Klingon territory and obliterate Harrison, who escaped there. The man in charge of Starfleet is Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller), who assigns Kirk to blast Harrison to bits using some sort of new high-tech photon torpedo. Joining Kirk and Spock on the Enterprise are his regular crew, consisting of Dr. “Bones”McCoy (Karl Urban), Lt. Uhura (Zoe Saldana), Mr. Sulu (John Cho), Mr. Chekov (Anton Yelchin) another science officer named Carol Marcus (Alice Eve), who happens to be Admiral Marcus' daughter (if that name sounds familiar to you, then you may have already figured out the “spoiler”). Staying behind is Montgomery Scott (Simon Pegg), who refuses to take the new torpedoes on board the Enterprise over his concerns about their secretive, lethal nature. On their trip to the Klingon planet, the Enterprise suffers some sort of radioactive core faliure, leaving the ship crippled in the Neutral Zone and vulnerable to attack since it can't achieve warp power.
Instead of firing the torpedoes, Kirk leads an expedition to the Klingon planet, where they encounter several enemy ships and troops. They are nearly wiped out until Harrison shows up and kills off most of the Klingon attackers, exhibiting super human strength and near invulnerability. Harrison surrenders to Kirk, who takes him back to the Enterprise.
Okay, it's not really a spoiler...yet.
Suffice to say that Harrison is not Harrison, but a man who had been condemned to death back in the 1990s for leading a group of genetically-superior people in an attempt to take over the world. He and his people were banished to outer space inside a ship where they were frozen in cryogenic slumber. “Harrison's” ship had been recently discovered floating in space, and among all the frozen inhabitants, he alone was thawed out. Using his superior intellect and strength, “Harrison”gets back to his old, evil ways, hence the recent Starfleet attacks. If you haven't figured out who “Harrison” is from all these loud hints, you are not a Trekkie, so just sit back and enjoy the film. If you have figured it out, sorry for the spoiler (even though you were properly warned).
So, Harrison in Khan. There, I said it. Yep, the same Khan from the “Space Seed” (Episode 22 in the first season of the original TV series) and the inspiration for what many Trekkies consider the best Star Trek movie ever (1982's Star Tek II – The Wrath of Khan).
Back to the story.
By taking a landing party to the Klingon planet, Kirk disobeyed Admiral Marcus' orders (remember, he wanted Kirk fire the torpedoes, not capture Khan). Well, guess who shows up in a newfangled star destroyer, ready to blow the Enterprise to Smithereens unless Kirk turns Khan over to him? Without spoiling too much, suffice to say it's someone important who wanted to use Khan to provoke a war with the Klingons and therefore use his new weapons of mass destruction.
A battle between the Enterprise and the new super destroyer ensues. All hope seems lost, except for the cunning teamwork of the Enterprise crew. Khan eventually gains control of the super destroyer, and chases the Enterprise all the way back to earth, where someone must make the ultimate sacrifice to bring the ship's radioactive power core back online, or the ship and the entire crew will burn on re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere (sound familiar?). Khan has one more trick up his sleeve, and rams the super destroyer into San Francisco, killing thousands. After the crash, Spock must chase Khan down, or risk allowing the super villain to get away and try to kill again.
Before I get into any of the obvious knit-picking over what should be considered proper Star Trek canon, let me say most assuredly that I loved Star Trek Into Darkness. Some have taken issue with Abrams' borrowing (a lot of) of Khan lore, but it is important to remember that the new Star Trek universe is parallel to the original series, and not beholding to the same rules. It's Abrams' clean slate, and it should be seen as a whole new series of events, despite similar circumstances with the same characters. In other words, relax...it's only a movie, and a pretty darn good one at that.
I was sincerely impressed that the actors who took over the roles made famous by Shatner, Nimoy, Kelley, Doohan, Nichols, Takei, and Koenig were able to make them their own without doing some sort of dinner theater-like impersonations of them. Adding to that fresh take on the crew of the Enterprise is that Star Trek Into Darkness allows for some very real character development, no small task for a sequel of such great quality. There is also a substantial amount of humor in the movie, and several inside jokes for Trekkies, as the characters often poke a little fun at Star Trek culture.
I haven't even mentioned the effects and action in Star Trek Into Darkness, both of which are right on par with (but not better than) Star Trek (2009). Some have seen fit to criticize Abrams for seemingly taking Rodenberry's “Corvette” out for a joy ride, thus ruining the Star Trek franchise. To me, Abram's takeover has been a fantastic and exciting joy ride, and I can't wait to see where it goes next. I also can't wait to see what he does with the Star Wars franchise.
The one quibble I have with the movie is Benedict Cumberbatch, who despite giving a fantastic performance as Khan, is not exactly the personification of a Sikh (okay, neither was Ricardo Montalban, but at least he had the hair for it). Hey, I wouldn't be a true Trekkie is I didn't find something to complain about.
If you enjoyed Abrams' first Star Trek, you will more than likely enjoy Star Trek Into Darkness just as much. So, boldly go where you may have gone before and enjoy it. I sure did.