Welcome to the second installment of our Spoiler Forum, a place where all you Invaders can discuss a movie’s twists and turns without worrying about spoiling the surprise for those who haven’t seen it yet. This week, we’re discussing Star Trek Into Darkness, the much-anticipated follow-up to J.J. Abrams’ 2009 reboot of Star Trek.
Our own Daniel Sarath had much to say in his spoiler-free review of the film, praising the performances and direction but lamenting the way that the script simply aimed to re-hash the successful portions of the previous film. While I agree that the story took few risks and was comparatively dull – it probably won’t keep non-Trekkies engaged in the way the last movie did – Abrams is clearly a master of spectacle and knows how tip his cap to Trek fans while also delivering the massive CGI-driven thrills that put the popcorn-munching masses in the seats.
But enough small talk – let’s get down to the nitty gritty…
Warning! Star Trek Into Darkness spoilers follow! Read at your own risk!
The Wrath of Cumberbatch
The golden-throated Benedict Cumberbatch delivered one of the best performances in the movie as the terrorist villain John Harrison. The big reveal, however, was that “John Harrison” was an alias for Khan Noonien Singh, the genetically-engineered super-warrior originally played by Ricardo Montalban in the Star Trek TV episode “Space Seed” and the fan-favorite film Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
Or maybe it wasn’t such a big deal: the Internet speculated that Cumberbatch would be playing Khan long ago, and it’s handled somewhat clumsily in the context of the film. The character’s shred of backstory is excellently conveyed in an emotional monologue, but his impact is dulled by a byzantine scheme involving a warmongering admiral and the lack of nuance in his one-note megalomania. Still, you had to be pumped for the inevitable “KHANNNN!”
Musical (Crew) Chairs
For all of his nods to Trek lore (tribbles!), Abrams loves to play with our preconceived notions of the Enterprise crew members. Star Trek Into Darkness had Sulu temporarily taking command of the ship; Chekov being promoted to head engineer after Scotty quits; and Uhura, of all people, saving the day by capturing Khan, halting Spock’s vicious and decidedly non-Vulcan-like beatdown.
The Scotty subplot was definitely my favorite, not only for the comic timing that Simon Pegg brings to the role (apparently he even goes clubbing with his little green companion) but also the excellent payoff when he helps Kirk infiltrate the Vengeance.
“Those Who Cannot Remember the Past Are Doomed to Repeat It”
The famous George Santayana quote sums up the second half of Star Trek Into Darkness almost too perfectly. First, you have the obvious callbacks to Star Trek II, including a major character sacrificing himself to save his crew – except this time it’s Kirk taking one for the team instead of Spock. You also have the return of Leonard Nimoy as Spock Prime in a winking cameo that’s just a bridge too far for me.
I understand that the reboot needed a strong link to the Trek of the past to help fans accept an entirely new cast. However, Nimoy’s appearance here only calls attention to the sequel’s lack of originality, as if acknowledging that it wasn’t enough for the filmmakers to copy the beats of other successful modern blockbusters (including their own) – they were apparently also desperate to borrow their biggest twist from a superior Trek movie released over three decades ago, only to remove all of its emotional impact by promptly bringing Kirk back to life.
Ok, Invaders, now it’s your turn. What did you think of Star Trek Into Darkness? Did you think it was a clever homage, a craven rip-off, or something else entirely? Are they going to keep Khan and his buddies in cold storage forever? And what about that brief, tantalizing glimpse of Klingons(!) in combat with Federation forces?