Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Movie: Star Trek Into Darkness

"There will always be those who mean to do us harm. To stop them, we risk awakening the same evil within ourselves. Our first instinct is to seek revenge when those we love are taken from us. But that's not who we are... When Christopher Pike first gave me his ship, he had me recite the Captain's Oath. Words I didn't appreciate at the time. But now I see them as a call for us to remember who we once were and who we must be again."
The second installment in the reboot of the Star Trek franchise is thrilling, fast paced, and absolutely terrific if you don't mind the fact that the movie tries to do too much in too little time. Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, and Karl Urban return as James T. Kirk, Spock, and Bones McCoy respectively and they've got a big problem on their hands.

The movie opens with the crew on a mission to the Class M planet, Nibiru, where Kirk and the Enterprise discover a bronze-age civilization on the verge of annihilation due to an imminent volcanic eruption. The Enterprise has been hidden underwater in one of the planet's oceans and Spock, Uhura and Sulu are sent via space shuttle to detonate a cold fusion bomb. However, the mission goes wrong and Spock is trapped within the erupting volcano. Instead of leaving Spock to die, Kirk takes the spaceship out of the ocean in front of  the astonished and frightened Nibiruans, as he goes to rescue Spock, thus breaking the prime directive.

When they return to Earth, Starfleet Command learns of the violation through First Officer Spock's report and Kirk sees his captaincy suspended and he is demoted back to the Academy. Admiral Pike, who is Kirk's mentor takes over command of the Enterprise. Meanwhile something sinister is developing in London, England. The Starfleet archives are destroyed by a massive explosion and all of Starfleet's high ranking commanders are ordered to a special meeting. This meeting includes Pike, Kirk, Spock, and Admiral Marcus.

While Kirk is questioning the logic of a terrorist attack on the Starfleet archives, the meeting is attacked by a gunship and Pike is killed. Kirk takes down the gunship, but the unknown attacker escapes.  Admiral Marcus takes Kirk into his confidence and tells him the complex bombed in London,was not an archive, but rather a secret installation, called Area 31. The terrorist who masterminded the attack is a rogue Starfleet agent, John Harrison. They learn that Harrison has beamed himself to the Klingon planet of Qo'nos, a place Starfleet cannot go without risking war with the high-strung, war-mongering Klingons.

Marcus gives Kirk permission to go to the edge of the neutral zone, locate Harrison on Qo'nos, and fire seventy-two long range, newly designed missiles at Harrison. Kirk is reinstated as captain of the Enterprise, with Spock as his first officer, along with a newly arrived second Science Officer, Carol Marcus. When the new torpedoes are loaded on board the Enterprise,Chief Engineer Scotty refuses to sign off on them, believing they could be dangerous to the crew since he can't detect what is inside them. After reluctantly accepting his resignation, Kirk assigns Pavel Chekov to engineering.

Meanwhile Spock expresses his doubts to Kirk about killing Harrison, believing that he has at the very least, the right to a trial. Shortly after arriving at the edge of the neutral zone, the Enterprise's warp core is mysteriously disabled. Kirk also comes to the conclusion that it is wrong to kill Harrison and decides instead that they will take a captured Klingon shuttle, land on Qo'nos, and take Harrison and return him to Starfleet to be tried. However, they are quickly detected on the supposedly abandoned sector of Qo'nos and forced to land. Uhura, who speaks Klingon unsuccessfully attempts to negotiate with the Klingons.  As the Klingons prepare to kill them, the Klingon's come under attack and are wiped out almost entirely by John Harrison. He agrees to surrender after he is sent a message by Sulu that unless he submits, they will fire their entire payload of advanced long-range torpedos at his location. When Harrison learns that there are 72 torpedos, he immediately surrenders.

In the Enterprise brig, Harrison tells Kirk that his real name is Khan Noonien Singh and that he was awakened from a 300 year cyrogenic freeze to be used by Admiral Marcus to develop advanced weaponry in a war against the Klingons. He gives Kirk a set of space co-ordinates and tells him to investigate the location. Khan also tells him to open one of the torpedos. Kirk contacts Scotty and convinces him to check out the co-ordinates while McCoy and Dr. Marcus investigate the torpedos.

When they open one of the shielded torpedos on an abandoned planetoid, they discover that it contains a frozen person. Khan tells Kirk that these are his people - genetically altered to be superior in every way to humans and that they left Earth 300 years ago to find a planet to colonize. (Khan of course is referring to the Botany Bay which was supposed to have left Earth in 1996.) Kirk then comes to the realization that the warp core was sabotaged and that the Enterprise is a pawn in a much larger game. The Enterprise's foray into Klingon space was to be the way to draw the Klingons into war by Admiral Marcus.

Meanwhile Scotty has discovered an secret military installation at the co-ordinates provided by Khan. Admiral Marcus suddenly appears at the edge of the neutral zone in the massive USS Vengeance, a ship with advanced weaponry. He demands that Kirk turn over Khan, but Kirk refuses and in an attempt to outrun the larger ship,  the Enterprise manages to jump into warp drive. However, Kirk is unaware that the USS Vengeance has the capability to fire while warping and the Enterprise is now severely disabled only a short distance from Earth.

Kirk must now deal with two villains; the traitorous Admiral Marcus who is attempting to turn Starfleet away from its mission of exploration and into a military entity, and the ruthless Khan whom he knows will murder anyone who stands in his way including all those whom he considers inferior to him and his seventy-two genetically altered super-humans.

From the moment the movie opens, Star Trek launches into warp drive action with the events on Nibiru. Viewers barely have time to recover when there are two terrorist attacks, thus setting the stage for what is a high intensity, heart pounding action movie. Although the acting is superb, the action sequences amazing, and the special effects believable and interesting, the plot was difficult to follow if you didn't know much background about Khan and his gang and their history in another universe with Kirk and Spock. And for me that was the main flaw that left me feeling that something was lacking - we weren't treated to enough of a backstory. The movie skipped over this, giving viewers just enough to follow along, fed on a diet of high-octane action scenes and special effects. The story is a great one, having it's genesis in an episode from the original TV show, entitled "Space Seed". We don't learn how Admiral Marcus came to find Khan, only that he is using him for his war plans. We know little about Khan and his group of super-humans.  We aren't given much background on Marcus and why he wants to turn Starfleet from an organization that focuses on exploration, to one that is militarized nor why he gave up the Starfleet ideals he lived by. We aren't told why there are seventy-two cyrogenic pods (for those who don't remember, there were originally eighty-four). If this is an alternate reality, we need to know this back story. And maybe Abrams might have made two movies out of the Khan story rather than cramming so much into one movie.

Into Darkness reverses the climax of the Wrath of Khan, with Kirk making the ultimate sacrifice instead of Spock. And like the Wrath of Khan, this sacrifice works in Into Darkness because in both movies, friendship, loyalty and sacrifice are truly what matter. The James Kirk of Into Darkness is much different that the Kirk of the first movie.

In this alternate reality of Star Trek, Kirk finally begins to grow as a person. Yes, he's still a lothario; he works hard and plays harder. But Kirk starts to change. At the beginning he is removed from his command because Admiral Pike tells him that he doesn't respect the captain's chair. He's gotten to the position of captain because he's a risk taker and he's been lucky. But he doesn't deserve to command.
"Do you know what a pain you are? You think the rules don't apply to you. There's greatness in you, but there's not an ounce of humility. You think that you can't make mistakes, but there's going to come a moment when you realize you're wrong about that, and you're going to get yourself and everyone under your command killed"
However, gradually Kirk comes to understand that Pike was right and that he's not God's gift to the Starfleet. He is no longer the reckless daredevil without a conscience we saw at the beginning of the first movie; instead he's thoughtfully and apologetically a risk-taker - when he needs to be. "I have no idea what I'm supposed to do! I only know what I CAN do!"

Spock too, grows in this alternate reality. He chooses to feel anger, pain, fear and loss, something the Spock Prime (in the first movie) suggested he try. The chemistry between Spock and Uhura isn't quite there yet. This is unexplored territory since there never was a relationship between the two in the original series. Instead the first series was replete with instances of Christine Chapel's (who was McCoy's assistant) unrequited love for Mr. Spock. (I suspect Christine Chapel might make an appearance in the next movie since a reference was made to her in this movie.

Benedict Cumberbatch gives a phenomenal performance as Khan Noonien Singh, a super human whose body contains remarkable regenerative abilities - something suggested at the beginning of the movie and utilized at the end. Cumberbatch plays Khan with deadly intensity and a calculating coldness that dominates the entire movie and is in stark contrast to Kirk's human warmth and bravado. But Khan suggests to Kirk that he's no different than Kirk asking him, "My crew is my family, Kirk. Is there anything you would not do for your family?"

There are plenty of themes and references in this movie but the dominant reference is to the US military response to terrorism. The scenes showing the crashing of the USS Vengeance into San Francisco are a reference to the 9/11 tragedy and the Starfleet bombing in London to the London subway terrorist bombing of 2005.

There were plenty of puzzling things in the movie; a tribble when they haven't yet met them, a long distance call across to galaxy to Montgomery Scott in a bar on Earth, the Enterprise able to submerge, the fact that NO other starships come to the aid of the Enterprise, and the use of Khan to save Kirk when there are seventy-two frozen bodies on board that can do the same  - are just a few. I am left wondering if there will lasting effects on Kirk, after he is treated with Khan's blood.

I'm not sure whether Gene Rodenberry would be happy with J.J. Abrams approach to Star Trek - somehow I think not. I'd like to see a more coherent plot for the next Star Trek. All the other ingredients are there to make a really great movie, because Star Trek is really great concept. And Space Seed was one of the best stories from the original television series.

The original Khan Noonien Singh was played by actor Ricardo Montalban.

Enjoy the trailer for the movie and definitely go see it, even if you're not a trekkie:

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