WARNING: This post contains major plot spoilers and assumes you have already seen Star Trek Into Darkness. For a perspective with only minimal spoilers, see my formal review.
One of my favorite things to do after a movie, especially an event movie like Star Trek Into Darkness, is to discuss the plot details with friends or family who saw it with me. As an experiment, I am going to try for the same kind of informal rambling in this post.
I enjoyed the nod to legendary science fiction author Ray Bradbury, who passed away last year. The vessel Spock is temporarily reassigned to is the USS Bradbury. While this movie takes place in the alternate Star Trek universe’s 23rd century, my trusty Star Trek Encyclopedia tells me that there was also a USS Bradbury in the Prime universe’s 24th century, mentioned in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.
One of my favorite little moments in Star Trek Into Darkness is when, though the Vulcan has essentially cost him his command, Kirk tells Spock that he will miss serving with him. He is searching for an emotional reaction from his friend. Finding none, Kirk leaves in frustration. This reminded me of so many other scenes in the Prime universe’s Star Trek where Kirk tries to goad emotion out of Spock. The frustration specifically brought to mind Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, when Kirk tells him, “Spock, you’re talking about the end of every life on Earth. You’re half-human. Haven’t you got any @!#?@! feelings about that?”
As the dying Admiral Pike is suffering, I found it very moving when Spock seems to calm his last moments through a mind-meld. It shows the Vulcan’s compassion. It is also possible that I read too much into this scene, though, for when Spock speaks of it later, it seems more like he was curious as to what emotions Pike was experiencing. However, this could also have been Spock covering up his true intent.
With Khan’s help, Starfleet has enhanced Scotty’s transwarp beaming innovation from the last movie (a direct result of Spock Prime cheating the timeline, I might add). Khan is able to beam from Earth to the Klingon homeworld of Kronos. The implications of this on the Star Trek universe are tremendous and only barely examined in the movie.
If people can beam such vast distances across the galaxy, starships are no longer needed. In fact, the entire mission that Admiral Marcus establishes for Captain Kirk and the Enterprise is rendered moot. The 72 torpedoes and any number of weapons of mass destruction can simply be beamed to Kronos from Earth.
There is no need even to beam an invading army over, when Starfleet can just beam over torpedo after torpedo until the Klingons are obliterated or surrender. Of course, there are ethical implications of waging war in such a manner, but that still does not resolve the existance of this technology. Even if only used for peaceful purposes, beaming to various planets across the galaxy from Earth renders starships functionally obsolete.
Main engineering looks much more believable in Star Trek Into Darkness than it did in the previous film. It actually looks like something that might be aboard a real starship. Incidentally, I understand that he is a genius in this universe, but why is Chekov next in line as chief engineer when Scotty resigns? Sure, he has shadowed him, but is no one else more qualified that actually works in engineering?
I love the updated look for the Klingons in this movie. They add a menacing edge to the style first introduced in 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture. J. J. Abrams and company have certainly planted the seeds here for a third installment to feature the Klingons. With the many references to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan throughout, it is interesting that this movie also partially parallels the conspiracy of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. In that film, a Starfleet Admiral (and others) attempt to frame Kirk in order to provoke war with the Klingons. Will the Federation of this alternate universe have to endure the full-scale war with the Klingons that the Federation of the Prime universe managed to avoid?
There are a couple of nicely executed in-jokes. The first is Scotty in a bar complaining about Kirk, including a reference to his hair. Though, to my knowledge, nothing like this ever occurred in the Prime universe, it mirrors original Scotty actor James Doohan complaining about Kirk actor William Shatner in our real life universe. Then, there are the scenes where Sulu obviously becomes enamored of the captain’s chair. In real life, actor George Takei, who portrayed the original Sulu, often laments that Sulu was not made a captain prior to Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (even blaming poor Shatner, of course).
Why is it such a big deal in this universe when someone “takes the con” in the captain’s absence anyway? For example, Sulu makes a point of saying, “This is acting captain Sulu.” Is Kirk otherwise on the bridge 24 hours a day? Does the poor man never sleep? On the old series, it was not uncommon for someone else to be in the captain’s chair for awhile. Unless the captain was truly incapacitated, this person was not referred to as “acting captain,” even if Kirk was off ship.
I wish Alice Eve had been given more to do as science officer Carol Marcus in this film. I love that the character was established, though, and I hope she will be given a more substantive role in the next installment. Her scene with McCoy is decent, at least. In this movie, McCoy helps Marcus defuse a torpedo. In Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, McCoy helped another science officer modify a torpedo. I guess that kind of work really does take a surgeon’s hands.
Perhaps due to his lack of a positive father figure growing up, this universe’s Kirk seems to personify the womanizing reputation unfairly bestowed upon his Prime counterpart. Though I like when they show Kirk’s charm, I hope the other aspects can be toned down in the next film. After all, he has gained some maturity by the end of this adventure.
The Vengeance reminded me of a sinister version of the Enterprise-E from the later Star Trek: The Next Generation movies. I thought for a moment there was going to be a plot twist related to 24th century starship designs being acquired from the Prime universe in some fashion.
I love that the Vengeance is Dreadnought Class, as this reminded me of Franz Joseph’s Star Fleet Technical Manual, though the movie design differs drastically from the three-nacelle ship listed as “under construction” in that classic reference. How I loved that book!
I am a huge fan of Leonard Nimoy, so it was great to see him on the big screen again in the surprise cameo. However, the continued presence of his Spock Prime in this alternate Star Trek universe does a disservice to the core characters. The Spock of this universe (i.e., the one portrayed by Zachary Quinto) should have been able to arrive at the same conclusion on how to defeat Khan without having to consult Spock Prime. Instead, what should have been a dramatic victory for his character is weakened by an unnecessary cheat.
Spock Prime even notes that he has vowed to avoid revealing potential future events. Then he goes on to cheat and do just that. The Spock Prime character needs either to die or make his way back to the Prime universe. At the very least, he needs to get an unlisted number on New Vulcan. Otherwise, this is an easy out that will plague future installments.
All right, time to address Kirk’s death scene, which, of course, is an inversion of Spock’s death in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Combined with making a method to bring back Kirk obvious in two earlier scenes, this undercuts what otherwise would have been a much more powerful sequence.
Though I knew there was no way Kirk would remain dead, I still found it an emotional scene. The characters did not know that Kirk would ultimately be resurrected, so I viewed the moment through their eyes. Sure, they have not served together as long as the Kirk and Spock of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, but that bond is already there. Spock obviously feels much pain in losing Kirk. Pine and Quinto turn in remarkable performances, though I fear their efforts are lost because of the remake feel.
Kirk of the Prime universe admitted in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan that he had never faced death until he lost Spock. “I’ve cheated death. I’ve talked my way out of death and patted myself on the back for my ingenuity,” he told his son, David Marcus. Now, the Kirk of this alternate universe has not only faced death, he has actually embraced it through the ultimate sacrifice. This experience will surely change him, which is one of many reasons I am looking forward to the next movie. Also, shall we take bets on how far into the third installment before Kirk utters some variant of Spock’s “I’ve been dead before” from Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country?
As I watched Chris Pine as Kirk die and literally go into darkness, I was reminded of watching William Shatner as Kirk die in Star Trek Generations. Even Kirk’s death slump is reminscent. I almost expected Kirk to say, “It was . . . fun. Oh my-” as his once and future final words.
I suppose it is appropriate that a movie exploring when it is okay to break the rules contains its own cheat. Using Khan’s blood to resurrect Kirk is not unlike Superman turning back time at the end of the 1978 movie to save Lois Lane. Yes, it works as a dramatic moment within the context of the film, but it does not serve future adventures well.
McCoy synthesizes Khan’s blood, which calls into question as a plot contrivance the notion of Khan needing to be taken alive, since the doctor already had a small sample remaining from his tribble experiment. Now, any character who is nearly or recently deceased, short of having been disentegrated, can be brought back to life. How will they explain not using this capability in the future?
One of the reasons establishing this alternate Star Trek universe was so important in the first place was to ensure more drama than a traditional prequel would allow. In the Star Wars prequel trilogy (Episodes I-III), for instance, the audience knows that Obi-Wan Kenobi will always survive. After all, he is guaranteed to be around for Episode IV: A New Hope.
In this alternate Star Trek universe, Abrams established early on in the last movie, by killing Spock’s mother and destroying Vulcan, that nothing is sacred. Any character can die. We no longer know their fates. Some of that uncertainty is destroyed with Khan’s miracle blood.
In any event, Kirk is now Khan’s “blood brother.” Does he now possess some of Khan’s superhuman strength and capabilities?
In some ways, this movie is reminiscent of Star Trek Nemesis, the final film voyage of the Star Trek: The Next Generation crew. Nemesis also borrowed heavily from past Trek movies, particularly Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Star Trek Into Darkness, while guilty of some of the same lifts, seems more genuine in its approach. Maybe that is because the nods of Into Darkness to previous Treks seem respectful. They also work in-universe, for these are the same characters on an altered timeline, after all. It makes sense that variants of the same events might occur. This is essentially an alternate history of the future.
For the third installment, whether it involves war with the Klingon Empire or some other plot, it is time for a completely original story that allows this Enterprise crew and this creative team to shine on their own merits. No Spock Prime, no direct remakes of previous scenes. Just a brand new adventure.
Until then, I am going to enjoy Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness. They have brought back beloved characters that I once feared forever lost. They have restored life to Star Trek.
Images courtesy of and copyright © 2013 Paramount Pictures. All rights reserved.