Star Trek Into Darkness (2013, JJ Abrams)

Into-darkness

Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

After Starfleet command is attacked by a terrorist, Captain Kirk and his crew are sent on a mission to hunt him down…

At the end of the film, Kirk recites what he calls the captain’s oath. Chris Pine, therefore, becomes only the second actor (after Leonard Nimoy) to read the famous Star Trek narration in a movie: “Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Her five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds; to seek out new life and new civilisations; to boldly go where no one has gone before…”

Regulars: James T Kirk is on mission at the start, trying to protect a planet from oblivion without revealing his efforts to the natives. However, he disobeys this caveat in order to save Spock’s life. His actions lead to him losing command of the Enterprise, but after his mentor, Pike, is killed he gets it back so he can find the murderer. Once Kirk realises Admiral Marcus is the bad guy, he teams up with terrorist Khan, but then has to sacrifice his life to save the ship… On that first mission, Spock goes down into a volcano to stop a catastrophe. Once Kirk has rescued him, Spock pisses his captain off by submitting a contradictory report. During the crisis, he calls his older self from the previous film and asks him about Star Trek continuity. He outsmarts Khan and tricks him into destroying his own ship, but is then devastated when Kirk dies – it puts him in a blind rage, and he goes after Khan for revenge… Dr McCoy is on that opening mission with Kirk, and later helps new science officer Carol Marcus to open a mysterious torpedo. He does the research on Khan’s genetic ability to regenerate and uses his findings to resurrect a dead Kirk… Uhura is still in a relationship with Spock, but it’s not going well. She gets to use her communication skills when she confronts the Klingons on their own planet… Scotty works out how Khan escaped from San Francisco (he used the trans-warp technology Scotty was given in the preceding movie), then objects so much to 72 strange torpedoes being aboard the Enterprise that he resigns. Kirk later calls Scotty while he’s in a night club to apologise, admit he was right, and ask him to investigate some coordinates Khan has mentioned; Scotty ends up hiding on Marcus’s super ship… It’s Chekov who replaces Scotty as chief engineer (“Go put on a red shirt,” Kirk tells him) and he later saves Kirk and Scotty as they dangle off a balcony… Sulu gets to be acting captain while Kirk, Spock and Uhura are off the ship.

Guests: Doctor Who’s Noel Clarke plays Thomas Harewood, a pensive father who Khan manipulates into helping him. It’s a good performance, especially when you bear in mind that he has only seven words of dialogue. Khan is played superbly by Benedict Cumberbatch, although it’s 67 minutes before we learn the character’s true identity. (Why he’s no longer Hispanic, as in the timeline established in his first two appearances, is not addressed.) Bruce Greenwood returns as Pike, who’s now an admiral and gets killed off. Peter Weller plays Admiral Marcus – anyone who’s ever seen a film before could guess he’s the baddy – while Alice Eve appears as his daughter, Carol.

Best bits:

* The bonkers colour scheme on Nibiru, the planet at the beginning.

* Kirk and McCoy escape the natives by leaping off a cliff into the sea. (I first saw this film in 3D and IMAX – this moment made my stomach lurch.)

* The Enterprise is underwater!

* McCoy admitting that Spock would leave Kirk to die if their situations were reversed.

* Every single lens flare.

* The natives now worship the Enterprise.

* CGI London: St Paul’s Cathedral and a fuckload of skyscrapers.

* The mournful piano music during the Noel Clarke sequence.

* Kirk in bed with two women. Who have tails.

* Kirk admitting he’ll miss Spock after the latter is assigned to a different ship – and Spock’s inability to respond.

* The attack on the conference room.

* Spock mind-melding with a dying Pike.

* Scotty resigns (as does, in solidarity, sidekick Keenser).

* Kirk learns that Uhura’s having problems with Spock (“My God, what is that even like?!”)

* After McCoy has said both, “You don’t rob a bank when the getaway car has a flat tyre!” and “You just sat [Sulu] down in a high-stakes poker game with no cards and told him to bluff!”, Kirk tells him, “Enough of the metaphors, all right. That’s an order.”

* Sulu warning Khan: “If you test me, you will fail.”

* Spock and Uhura’s argument, with Kirk caught in the middle and chipping in.

* During a chase, Kirk flies his shuttle through a very narrow gap between two buildings by turning it sideways (surely a deliberate reference to a similar moment in The Empire Strikes Back).

* The atomic-winter feel of the Klingon planet.

* Khan saves Kirk, Spock and Uhura – then surrenders when they confirm they have 72 torpedoes on board.

* Uhura standing on tiptoe to kiss Spock.

* Kirk and Khan’s confrontation through the glass.

* McCoy: “Don’t agree with me, Spock. It makes me very uncomfortable.”

* A cute CGI shot zooming in on the Enterprise, through the window and onto the bridge.

* McCoy’s arm getting trapped in the torpedo as it counts down to detonation. Carol says, “Shit,” and simply pulls out some wires.

* The space battle at warp speed.

* Kirk: “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Spock: “An Arabic proverb attributed to a prince who was betrayed and decapitated by his own subjects.” Kirk: “It’s a hell of a quote.”

* Kirk and Khan’s space flight.

* Khan kills Marcus by squeezing his skull (is he a Blade Runner fan?).

* Kirk and Scotty running down a corridor, which due to changing gravity conditions is rotating.

* A dying Kirk talking to Spock through a glass door – the key scene from The Wrath of Khan reversed, of course.

* “KHAAAAAN!”

* The Tribble squeaking into life.

TV tie-in: The use in the plot of a Tribble – an animal that looks like a fluffy ball of fur – meant that I chose the Deep Space Nine episode Trials and Tribble-ations for the final example of television Trek I rewatched for this process. Made for the franchise’s 30th anniversary in 1996, it’s a brilliant bit of postmodern fun. The DS9 regulars travel back in time and interact with the crew from the original TV show. The period sets, costumes and lighting schemes are a joy; the script is genuinely funny and smart; and new footage is seamlessly cut together into old clips.

Review: Choosing to revisit classic villain Khan – and essentially remake both TV episode Space Seed and movie The Wrath of Khan – has certainly put some people off. But Star Trek Into Darkness is a very entertaining two hours, full of life and vim and vigour. Like its immediate predecessor, it’s built on the rivalry, friendship and affection between James Kirk and Spock. Even more so than the last time, in fact. Actors Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto are both really excellent, and the emotional journey their characters go on – especially the usually uptight Spock – is touching and believable. The whole movie zips along and has many pleasures. It looks superb, there are tons of great scenes and witty lines, and Benedict Cumberbatch is fantastically menacing as Khan. But it’s not a total triumph, with three chief problems. The female roles are perfunctory: Uhura is mostly defined by being Spock’s girlfriend, Carol Marcus is forced to strip off for salacious reasons, and neither character has much impact on the story. Secondly, the pace sags halfway through and there’s a dull run of scenes where characters simply tell each other back-story. And finally, the moment when Spock phones his older self from the first film and asks him about Khan is dramatically tiresome. You can argue it *is* what Spock would do, but it feels like an enormous cheat. Overall, this is flawed but still tremendous fun.

Eight trade ships we confiscated during the Mudd incident last month out of 10.

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