Star Trek Into Darkness: A Movie With Potential

I just saw “Star Trek Into Darkness” yesterday and absolutely had to do a review of it! Star Trek has never been quite my thing, but I grew up watching The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Enterprise with my dad, so I’m kind of…used to it. I’ve also come to enjoy sci-fi myself, and since the Star Trek franchise is so popular, it’s nice to have some knowledge of it so I can talk with people about it. And then of course there’s the fact that the new movie has one of my favorite actors in it–Benedict Cumberbatch. Wanting to see him in the role of a villain clinched my decision to see it.

And one last thing before I get to my actual review: I’m reviewing ST:ID on it’s own merits as a movie, and not on any kind of comparison with the original Star trek series. I went into this movie with practically no experience of the original series and without even having seen The Wrath of Khan (which I’m watching as I write).

‘Spose I should also mention, MAJOR spoiler warning. DO NOT READ THIS if you have NOT SEEN the movie.

Overall, I liked this movie. But also overall, I felt that it could have been more. The whole time I was watching I felt like the movie needed to come to a great climax–but it never did. There was no great resolution to the problem, no sense that anyone was really in much danger of anything.

For those who haven’t seen it but still want to read a spoiler-filled review, I’ll give a little plot summary. Kirk violates the prime directive and so has the Enterprise taken away from him. However, he gets to remain on the ship as first officer to Pike as captain. Pike and Kirk are summoned to a meeting with Admiral Marcus and all the other captains and first officers because an emergency has come up: a Starfleet officer, one John Harrison, has by some means caused an explosion at an archive. This turns out to be a bluff, and Harrison comes to attack the gathered Starfleet commanders. He manages to injure several and kill Captain Pike before Kirk damages his helicopter (?) to the point that Harrison must transport himself away. Admiral Marcus sends Kirk, Spock, and the rest of the Enterprise crew on an off-the-record assassination mission to the Klingon homeworld Kronos, where Harrison is hiding out.

With some hectoring from Spock–and with the passage of time–Kirk decides that it would be wrong to kill Harrison without at least putting him on trial, though he harbors what seems to be an extreme hatred for him due to Pike’s death. The search-and-destroy mission then becomes a find-and-capture one. Once he finds Harrison, however, Kirk discovers that he’s not quite who he seems. He’s actually Khan Noonien Singh, one of several 300-year-old superhuman war criminals, who had been woken by Admiral Marcus from his cryogenic sleep to help build some dangerous photon torpedoes. Khan decides to try and save his cryogenically frozen friends by hiding them in the new torpedoes, sabotaging Marcus’ secret weapons program, and stealing the torpedoes. Kirk’s interference caused him problems initially, but because Kirk, who as Khan notes has a conscience, refuses to hand the prisoner over to die at Marcus’ hands, Khan has an extra opportunity to retrieve his friends and wreak vengeance. As luck would have it, Kirk and company keep him from making  use of this opportunity and stick him back into his cryogenic sleep. Some villain he is!

Yes, Khan is a superintelligent superman, but he is alone and has limited resources. His comrades are cryogenically frozen, and since he cannot wake them, he must work alone; also, what he needs he must steal, which puts him at a distinct disadvantage. Not to mention the fact that though Khan has a great amount of strength Spock still manages to hold his own against the man and (with Uhura’s help) drag him back to the Enterprise to be re-frozen. The limited damage that Khan does–blowing up an archive and crashing into San Francisco–as awful as is any loss of human life, does not seem to be on a movie-worthy scale, world-endangering scale.

When all is said and done, he’s just not a very formidable villain or even a great threat. If he had managed to unfreeze his “family,” as he called them, then Khan certainly would have been able to do a great deal of damage and been much more of a threat. The problem is he never really had the chance to be. He was so easily defeated, like so many monsters of the week in a shonen fantasy anime.

Now, it’s possible that this movie is just a prelude to later problems with Khan–perhaps he will once again be brought out of cryogenesis (maybe even with all of his companions) and more greatly endanger the universe. But no clue was given that any such events might occur in the future. No little ending scene, no talk about how dangerous Khan could be. Nothing. Just a peek at Benedict Cumberbatch’s handsome face once again sleeping peacefully in his cryo-tube. To be more effective and successful plotwise, I think this movie needed that hint to the future. It frustrates me personally that there was none in part because the trailers hyped the villain up and because of the movie’s subtitle. “Into Darkness” suggests a kind of impending doom or danger that will hang over our heroes heads for a long time. Though Khan’s actions have some long term effects, we don’t really see them. At the end of the movie Kirk and crew just take the Enterprise on a five-year exploration mission (though I will grant you there is a short memorial service scene). Steven Greydanus over at Decent Films expresses this idea better than I can in his review.

I only hope that somewhere in the next few movies (I assume there will be more) that Khan reappears, and then this movie, though to me seeming to be a bit of a failure standing on its own, will not be quite so much of a plot disappointment.

Other than this weak plot, however, I found the movie to be very enjoyable, and it contained quite a bit of small, humorous moments that I’m surprised more people didn’t laugh at. To be fair, the movie’s run in theaters is almost over (finding a theater to see it in was like pulling teeth!) and there weren’t that many people in the theater. But how can you not chuckle at this: when Kirk and Khan are getting ready to try and infiltrate Marcus’ ship by flying into its airlock, they have to wait in the Enterprise’s airlock to be let out. Khan prepares himself to be sucked from the airlock by crouching down and Kirk, after a moment of hesitation, follows suit. I know the explanation sort of takes the humor out of this, but can you not see why this is funny? Because Kirk is trying to save face in front of Khan, even at such a dangerous time?

And nobody laughed when Scotty was struggling to switch from his Scottish vocabulary to say “small” instead of “wee.”

And then all of Bones’ metaphors were funny, and Spock’s dialogue was snappy. This little exchange here, for instance:

Captain Pike: Are you giving me attitude, Spock?

Spock: I am expressing multiple attitudes simultaneously, sir. To which one are you referring?

But who am I to be griping? The acting was good, the humor was good, I liked the fact that Spock got to physically show some human emotion (because I’m a hopeless Romantic). My only disappointment on the acting front was Benedict Cumberbatch didn’t get to do nearly enough. But maybe sometime in the future.

In summary: the plot fell flat because it set itself up to have a grandiose villain and then swept the rug from under his feet. It didn’t live up to its own hype. As an introduction to Khan, however, it could work. Most of the acting was good, but Benedict Cumberbatch’s talent was not utilized to its fullest extent because the way Khan’s character was written didn’t live up to the hype. Still, the movie was fun, with good acting and little humorous moments to balance out the drama. I give it 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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4 comments

  1. medievalotaku · July 3, 2013

    I have to agree with your assessment of the film: very enjoyable to watch, but they could have done more with the plot. We can only hope that the movie makers continue excelling at what they do best in this series and create better stories.

    • Nami · July 4, 2013

      I certainly hope so, for I do love a good story. That’s one of the interesting things about movies, isn’t it? There’s so much that goes into making them–acting, directing, writing, to name only a few–and performance in each area can serve either to enhance or bring down the quality of the film. As in this case, I think the plot drags the movie down a bit, but doesn’t make it irredeemably unwatchable (does that phrase even make sense? oh well). It just grates on my English major nerves. =)

  2. Who · July 3, 2013

    I feel exactly the same; Cumberbatch was totally wasted in this movie. He’s every bit top-notch and did his best to elevate an extremely thin and poorly written character to make it convincing as an evil superhuman, but that character could have been much better and effective with a better writing team, and it didn’t feel there’s any darkness for the Enterprise crew; the subtitle is so laughable. The movie’s marketing is a total miss as it hyped a sidelined villain as a front and center character, hence the disappointment from the audience. I don’t know what’s the deal with the next movie, but if the current writing team is doing the next one as well, I wholeheartedly hope Cumberbatch won’t involve in the next movie again; not worth his talent.

    • Nami · July 4, 2013

      Or at the very least, if Cumberbatch *is* in the next movie, hopefully the plot will be much better! And I see it as a waste of the other actors’ talents, too–Zachary Quinto in particular seems to me to be very talented (although maybe that’s just because I like Spock).

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