Warning: Profound spoilers below. If you don’t want to know major plot surprises, stop reading now. If you’re one of those who just CAN’T enjoy a movie if you know what’s going to happen before it happens (I’m not), I guarantee my poor telling can’t match what you’ll see in the extended journey of adventure the movie provides. Reading any further will cheat you out of the serious delights in store.
For the visual effects alone – the starships, the battles, hell, just the new version of going to warp – I would like this movie. But the visual effects played a very distant fiddle to the story. And a very good story it was.
A familiar story? Yes. But in this alternate-universe Star Trek setting, it takes on fresh life, with all the gritty brilliance of Daniel Craig’s rebooted James Bond, or Christian Bale’s rebooted Batman. Hollywood seems to have discovered a way to – occasionally – make sequels better than the originals.
I’m jumping around here because there’s just too much to like about this movie, and I can’t possibly describe it all without a word-for-word retelling of the entire story:
The interplay between Kirk and Spock, as they take in turns the saving of each other’s lives, is wonderful. In a totally believable “guy” way, you see the love between the two. Spock’s tears, as he stands watching Kirk die, bring incredible depth to the character, making him more than the laughable half-alien he was in early TV Trek.
The vulnerability of Kirk-Pine is very different from the swagger of Kirk-Shatner, one side-effect of which is that we get a believable explanation of why the CAPTAIN of a star ship would lead an away team.
I kept hearing this name from a couple of friends – Benedict Cumberbatch, Benedict Cumberbatch – and thinking “I’m not sure I even want to know this asshole with the too-British name.” But … he was good. Damned good, amazingly good, incredibly good.
Something I said to friends afterward: “You know how I’ve said Sam Elliott’s mustache should have its own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame? I feel the same way about Benedict Cumberbatch’s voice.” His voice is indescribably rich, and the way he uses his mouth and face when he speaks … amazing. He also manages an unusually powerful portrayal of both the calm ally and the fantastically dangerous enemy.
In the quiet theater, I laughed out loud, a quick burst of “Ha!” when I figured out who he was just a moment or so before he told us: Khan.
But you BELIEVE he’s Khan, brilliant schemer and dangerous adversary. Even separated from his crew and fleeing capture, you can see him as an emperor, momentarily dispossessed of an empire but totally possessed of the ability to win one.
The two villains, the one a Starfleet Admiral and the other a 300-year-old genetically-enhance menace, worked very well. Peter Weller’s performance stopped just short of scenery chewing, and provided a believable explanation for the freeing of Khan.
Think of the dual villains as a multi-stage booster rocket, the megalomaniac and too-confident Starfleet admiral providing the initial thrust, burning out but simultaneously igniting Khan skyward. The firing of the third stage – with Khan and his genetically enhanced supermen free to bring their full ruthless potential to bear on an unready galaxy (with, thanks to the admiral, an advanced and massively militaristic ship) – is what Kirk and crew have to stop.
The business about Spock screaming Khan’s name as his friend Kirk dies inside the radioactive engine room chamber after saving the ship, I felt the hint of a protest welling inside me. Was there a cheat in this? A too-easy something the writers threw in because they couldn’t think of anything better? But it wasn’t like that at all. It WORKED, joining the new Star Trek universe with the old one as the changed timelines bled into each other with believable hints of alternate-universe symmetry. (Carol Marcus, daughter of the villainous admiral and the mother of Kirk’s son in the old universe, was another little bit of old-universe-new-universe interweaving, an unheralded delight for observant fans.)
I’d like to go on and on about the writing and the other actors, but I could write about 2,000 words here and not get it all out. I’ll just say this: I loved the acting; every single actor gives you your money’s worth. Special kudos to Simon Pegg for Scotty, the bright but slightly comical chief engineer struggling mightily in several scenes to make things come out right, and to Zoe Saldana for her Uhura, playing through a delightful lover’s spat with Spock at a moment of high tension.
Finally, a little side note: Less the fault of this movie and more a general plot device in science fiction, I am occasionally disturbed by the use of “genetically enhanced supermen” as villains. It’s part of the stock in trade of movie-makers, used many times in the Star Trek universe alone, but it builds on the mythos that “enhanced” must mean bad and never better.
As someone who truly believes humans-as-we-are lie a great deal south of where we must be intellectually to survive, I don’t rate our chances as very high unless we DO build some brighter versions of ourselves. And yet the fictional trope is that the bad traits are enhanced – ruthlessness, greed, ambition – and never the good ones. The murderous superman is a believable creation of human science, while the good, wise, compassionate superman can only come from outside, from mythical Krypton.
Speaking of which, guess who’s hitting the midnight show of Man of Steel on June 13? Oh, yeahhhh.
After I see Star Trek: Into Darkness at least once more, that is.