Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)
After a prodigious marketing campaign and a great deal of internet speculation about one specific character, Star Trek Into Darkness was released to broadly strong reviews and solid box office returns in early May 2013. Finally, all the questions that had kept fans and website pundits endlessly theorising, were answered. For a second time running, Paramount Pictures managed to produce an action-filled blockbuster which still offered a strong plot, with complex and adult themes, explored by well-rounded characters. Batman Begins seems to have set a trend of framing material from a traditional pulp background, within broader intellectual parameters. Star Trek: Into Darkness managed to do this while cleverly re-imagining iconic material from its own lore. However, as with any substantial franchise movies, not everyone was satisfied or pleased. Many fans railed against the new Kelvin Timeline and continue to do so.
After breaking the prime directive whilst rescuing Spock (Zachary Quinto), Captain Kirk finds himself demoted to first officer and the command of the Enterprise is returned to Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood). A Terrorist attack by a former section 31 agent, John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), sees him promptly reinstated. Yet Kirk's propensity for headstrong decisions and his obstinate refusal to accept "no win" scenarios quickly puts his crew at risk. He soon finds out that there is more to John Harrison than meets the eye. And is the new science officer, Carol Marcus (Alice Eve) the daughter of Starfleet Admiral Marcus, to be trusted?
There are strong moral themes explored in Star Trek Into Darkness. Seeing the emotional growth of Jim Kirk is very intriguing as he learns first hand that there are direct consequences to his devil may care attitude. Spock also struggles with his human and emotional heritage, but this handled in a subtly different fashion to how it has been in the past. All other major characters are given roles to explore and broadly they work. Checkov seems to come off worst in this instalment but Simon Pegg's Scotty has improved no end. The friendship that exists between the classic trilogy is strengthened remains the foundation of the story. Spock’s brief interaction with his older self is intelligently explored and as ever a highlight of the movie. His love interest works surprisingly well with Uhura (Zoe Saldana). McCoy has as ever a monopoly on dry quips and Karl Urban delivers them with aplomb. His casting is truly sublime.
It is fair to say that a familiarity with the existing canon helps in getting the most from Star Trek Into Darkness. Where The Hobbit movies diluted their source material to make them accessible to a wider audience, Star Trek Into Darkness does the opposite and is aimed squarely at fans first. Although Benedict Cumberbatch fairs well as Khan there should have been a further exposition of the importance of character and his place in History. As it is, the situation does lead to some gaps the plot. Also references to Section 31 and its significance are glossed over. Perhaps, like so many movies these days, the narrative was pruned to accommodate a focus on action. There are certainly lines in all three trailers that are not in the final cut of the movie.
I believe the movies greatest asset is its ability to turn existing lore completely on its head, yet it does so in a manner that isn't disrespectful or undermines it. Towards the end of Star Trek Into Darkness the plot parallels some very iconic scenes from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Yet because we know what happened in that context, it cannot be replicated in this new time stream. Writers Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof manage to come up with an innovative new spin on proceedings. They succeed in raising a wry smile and touching an emotional nerve simultaneously. It is this approach along with the traditional focus on character and story that elevates this second movie above standard multiplex fare.
It would be wrong of me not to mention Michael Giacchino's score, which is exceptionally good. The main theme that was introduced in the 2009 movie is back and works well with multiple arrangements. It stands on its own two feet and is the equal of Jerry Goldsmith's classic motif. It is also beautifully interwoven with Alexander Courage's original Star Trek theme over the end credits. The piano piece London Calling, played during the introduction of Thomas Harewood (Noel Clarke) and his sick child, is beautiful and underpins the silent montage perfectly. This is how cinematic scoring should be done and demonstrates its clear contribution to the movie.
For those looking forward to a major Klingon subplot, there may be some disappointment. Their involvement with the proceedings is brief but action packed. They have also been subject to a makeover of their traditional iconic appearance. It is changes such this as well as alterations to the Enterprise's design that purists balk at. The fact that director J. J. Abrams does not claim to be a fully-fledged fan boy but simply has a grounded appreciation of the franchise, has both positive and negative aspects to it. It gives him freedom to experiment but the potential to tread on toes as well. Yet all these matters of debate are mainly window dressing for core fans to argue over. Overall, I do not think any harm was been done to the central themes we expect from Star Trek.