Thursday 16 May 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness spoiler-filled review

After watching Star Trek Into Darkness for the first time last week I posted a spoiler free review, tip toeing around the details, while generally smothering it with praise. I have now seen it a second time, and actually enjoyed it even more this time around; viewing it aware of all the twists and surprises let me step back a bit and admire some of the really clever things the film-makers did. What follows is a completely spoilerific review, if you haven't seen the film yet I strongly advise you read no further, as there are some brilliant surprises, which certainly made my first viewing that much more enjoyable. So I shall continue after the jump, and the following poster sized gap. Avert your eyes if you wish not to be spoiled:

Ok, still here? Shall we begin ...with the rumour that just wouldn't go away: Surely this John Harrison chap is actually Khan? Yep, you're right, he is. I was really quite hoping they wouldn't use Khan; it seemed too obvious, too likely to be a repeat of what we saw before. Well I shall eat my words! The use of Khan here was inspired, the discovery of the Botany Bay happens off screen (surely coming our way as a comic book prequel some time soon?), and by the time we meet Khan he has been at large in the 23rd century for the better part of a year. This alone gives us a very different take on Khan, he knows Kirk's world, he has already mastered it, and in many ways he has the upper hand, as he also knows all about the Vengeance, Admiral Marcus, Section 31, etc. Even by the time of The Wrath of Khan, Khan-prime didn't have that kind of knowledge, because he had gone straight from the 20th century to his marooned existence on Ceti Alpha V. I wouldn't think nuKhan could be accused of two dimensional thinking; he's had too long to get used to the future.

Khan, quite at home in the 23rd century
As I said in my first review, Benedict Cumberbatch absolutely steals the show. I really look forward to seeing him talk about how he approached the character on the inevitable home video extra features, because his delivery is an interesting combination of feeling very much like Ricardo Montalban, yet also a lot more menacing. The most interesting thing about the new Khan perhaps is how we, and Kirk, can sympathise with him, even admire him - I felt this came across best in the space jump scene, in particular this one little look Kirk shoots at Khan that seems to be almost in awe of his prowess. This film, finally, shows us the potential of Khan, not just a frozen dictator lost out of time, or a madman on a vendetta, but the skilled, dangerous, and powerful intellect we've heard about but not properly seen before. Plus we are left with the possibility Into Darkness is just the start of exploring the character, with the Raiders of Lost Ark style ending, the door is left wide open for his return. Tantalising (not least because of the potential return of his brilliant theme in the soundtrack!).

The bickering couple at the heart of the film
Of course it's not all about Khan, this film is really focused on the continuation of Kirk's path to command, and his relationship with Spock. In the real world and in-universe alike, Kirk seemed to zip into the Captain's chair way too fast in the last film. This comes right back at him this time, with a very quick fall from grace and return to captaincy at the beginning of the film, which is then re-earned by his heroism later on. I was quite surprised how much was built on the last film, which seemed to end with all the crew in place, ready for the every day Star Trek adventures we know. That wasn't quite the case though, as Kirk and Spock are still getting to know each other, and Into Darkness is very much about cementing that relationship. This comes to a head with what I imagine will be one of the more controversial aspects of the film, the rather direct homage to Spock's death scene in Wrath of Khan - Turned on it's head so Kirk dies, and then brushing over the need for a Search For Spock with the handy Khan miracle cure. I admit, both times I watched it, I laughed when Spock screamed "Khaaaan", but, I like that it was there. Spock's Khan scream made more sense than the original Kirk one, and is also a reflection of where nuSpock is in regard to his emotional control. It sort of makes me wonder what it is that made Kirk and Spock so close in the prime timeline, without the massive emotional events that have shaped nuSpock's character and relationship with Kirk.

Spock was also the biggest surprise for me in the film, Spock prime that is. His cameo was a real thrill, and I'm glad I had no clue it was coming. Did it add much to the story? I'm not so sure, I suppose it gave younger Spock some motivation to prepare to act against Khan. But it also seems to open a bit of a pandora's box when it comes to using Spock prime's knowledge.

All the other characters are basically supporting roles. McCoy gets a pleasing amount of screen time; while his relationship with Kirk or Spock isn't the core of the story, he is a constant voice questioning both characters (and anyone else he interacts with). He gets some good moments, but I can only hope he gets even more next film around, as Karl Urban is just perfect as McCoy.

Uhura gets her moment on Qo'noS
Uhura is again mostly defined by her relationship with Spock. She has her moments though, I especially liked her Klingon scene. I do really like that nuUhura has capabilities more in line with Hoshi Sato in Enterprise, than the mere telephone operator of TOS.

Scotty gets a good little side plot, his resignation from the Enterprise seemed a little forced perhaps, but he's a stubborn sort of character so I can go with it. Plus it meant he got lots to do later on finding, and then on board, the Vengeance. I like that we have Keenser still, but I wish he had more to do than simply been a sidekick. Let's have Keenser help save the day rather than just being bossed around next time please.

With Scotty off the Enterprise for most of the film Chekov steps in as chief engineer. Perhaps not making the best use of engineering personal in-universe, but definitely giving the character more to do story wise - He filled Scotty's boots pretty nicely, with the same kind of manic panicked approach to sorting out engineering. I'm curious what will be done to give Chekov something to do next film, as he seems easily the most expendable of the ensemble.

And finally from the recurring Enterprise crew, Sulu has some nice little moments setting up towards becoming a captain himself. I really hope they don't rush him towards the Excelsior too quickly in the films to come, but I do like this nod Sulu's readiness to take command. I wonder if John Cho would be interested in continuing the role on TV; could what we see in Into Darkness be the first foreshadowing of a nuExcelsior TV series once this film trilogy is done?

What next for these two?
On top of the regulars we have Carol Marcus joining the crew. She doesn't really have all that much to do, but her interactions with Kirk were quite enjoyable, knowing where that's likely to lead, and indeed she seemed to slot into the crew pretty seamlessly. I look forward to seeing what the comics do with her on the way to the next film now she's on-board for the foreseeable future.

Away from the Enterprise we have Admiral Pike back. I'm really sad to see his character killed of, as I love him and his relationship with Kirk. The impact of his death scene was worth the sacrifice though - I cry every time I watch Kirk's dad die in the first film, and I expect I will every time with Pike in this one.

There's also the other Admiral, Marcus. He's a bit of stereotypical evil Admiral type, and I struggle to comprehend his motivation. Sure he's Section 31 and a bit obsessed with the coming Klingon war, and sure he knows Khan is dangerous, but does that really justify murdering so many people on the Enterprise? I was really pleased to have Section 31 at the core of what happened in this film, it's nice to have that sort of connection to the rest of the Star Trek universe, not just as a little reference, but a major driving force in the film (if you know what the little reference means). Section 31's sense of morality has of course always been a bit warped, but they always seemed to do what they felt was ultimately best for the Federation, as demonstrated by Marcus's desire to defend against Klingon attack with the Vengeance. But something drove him beyond normal Section 31 paranoia, his fear of Khan maybe? I found his part in the film a bit too generic bad guy, but he had a role to fill in forcing Kirk and Khan to work together, so I suppose he served his purpose.

The beautifully battered Enterprise
The Enterprise gets quite a pounding, to put it lightly. We got some beautiful shots of her as a result; the spiralling to Earth shots have to be some of the most stunning in any part of Star Trek. There are some, interesting developments in the design of the Enterprise, she apparently has a side shuttlebay now, and weirdly, loads of torpedo tubes along the sides of the engineering hull, like cannons in a navel vessel. Can't say I'm especially fond of that development. I do quite like the new warp core though, it's not quite as clean and elegant as what we've been used to, but it looks powerful, and technical.

As with any other Star Trek film, it's easy to go looking for flaws, continuity hiccups, weaker characters, and such. They all have them, but few Star Trek films, and even fewer big budget action spectaculars, have at their core the strong character arcs, the nuanced villain, and dedication to honouring, while evolving, what came before, that we see in Into Darkness.

Once again the film ends with the familiar crew, plus Carol Marcus, ready to go explore strange new worlds. I am left wondering where they will go next, and how many threads will be picked up again with the next film. I can't wait to find out.


Unknown said...

One thing bugged me, the Enterprise never fires a shot. Great review.

8of5 said...

I didn't notice that, but I can believe it, she never really had a chance from the moment the Vengeance attacked. Poor Enterprise. They sort of fired the torpedoes, just, via the transporter...

ety3rd said...

Sorry, "side shuttlebay?" Can you elaborate?

Dan said...

Please, please, PLEASE be right about a nuExcelsior series!

I enjoyed the hell out of this movie, and agree that as much as I worried when I found out it was Khan, there's no re-hash here (except maybe of the "Admiral goes bad and wants a Klingon War" ideas from TUC). I think the Prime Spock cameo gives a context that really makes this a SEQUEL to Khan Prime's story rather than a remake.

Ktrek said...

I personally did not find much, outside of the special effects, to enjoy about this film. It plays out more like a two hour video game than it does a Star Trek film. The character development was minimal and I think using Khan as a character was pure lack of creativity and a cop-out. I wanted to love this film but I found myself rolling my eyes at the absurdity of some of the scenes. In the theater I attended it was about 3/4 full and not one laugh in the entire theater. Nobody cried when Kirk died and nobody applauded when the film ended.

I was hoping that this would be so much better but it's just another popcorn movie with very little story and a whole lot of SFX. I enjoyed the SFX but I have to have a story that makes sense. I came away with nothing more than a headache and a desire to hope JJ leaves Star Trek alone and passes the baton. I dread even thinking how he will corrupt Star Wars now.

8of5 said...

Elaboration on side shuttlebay: Mudd's ship is seen launching from a hatch at the side of the engineering hull, rather than out of the big doors right at the back of the ship.

In reply to Kevin: People applaud at the end of movies?? I certainly had plenty of laughter at the funny points in both viewing I went to.

Find Star Trek comics, toys, statues, and collectibles at!