SPOLIER ALERT! For those that have yet to see this, or Star Trek II (1982), then read no farther! I would also strongly suggest a viewing of that original sequel (aka The Wrath of Khan) beforehand, although the films are mutually rewarding when seen independently of each other, in whichever order.
Okay, now that I’m no longer liable for any bad tempers of Trekkie neophytes… WOW. What a follow-up! I sort of expected him to be Khan, but despite not seeing it for an entire week after wide release, I still didn’t know for sure. I wasn’t digging Cumberbatch’s performance overly so until his big revealing monologue, but how gratifying it was to finally hear… especially knowing that Kirk and Spock are in such imminent danger and they’re relatively clueless; although nothing as such is clearly defined for those that don’t know of his dastardly destiny from Wrath of Khan‘s alternate timeline. Being such a fan of the 2009 reboot and the direction this series is already going in, part of me wishes I hadn’t seen the original series prior to this, as I suspect it would make for a very different viewing experience at varying points of the film. This is definitely the new generation’s Wrath of Khan, practically and ideologically, succeeding where another few space saga sequels in recent years came up short.
Strong a film as this may be in it’s own right, it definitely reaches a point of near imitation (from my memory of the original from a single viewing, about two years ago). However, imitation is the most sincere from of flattery, and when done well enough it can even surpass the source material. I will not dare say such a thing here in public forum, fearing wrath of the originals’ fanboys, but this movie really delivered in every way I had hoped. Comparable to Walk the Line and it’s parody Walk Hard, I actually prefer the spoof over the original. Despite Walk Hard‘s flaws and some shallow humor, there’s something to be said for a movie that can not only function well as a standalone, but then exceed it’s own inspiration at times. When Dewey Cox concludes his final number in the packed theater, there was an incredible joy I found that was never expected, making such a sweet ending taste twice as good. Into Darkness‘ iconic moments comparable to those in Wrath of Khan are done so well in their own unique respects that I never saw them coming too far ahead of time (particularly the Khan reveal and the radiation chamber), but they were so structurally perfect and almost obvious in hindsight, the film could not reach such a level of success without them.
Okay, so all of the ‘original vs remake’ hullabaloo aside, this is a great movie. Maybe I’m just a sucker for this younger crew because I’m closer to them in age than Shatner & Nimoy’s former posse, or maybe it’s because Bones always talks in idioms, but the soap opera is sometimes even better than the space opera. “You just put a brand new poker player at a high stakes table, gave him no cards and told him to bluff”. Love. The story hits a lot of the same kind of structural checkpoints that the ’09 predecessor did, at least until things really pick up with Khan, but it never feels stale. I still have no clue what Scotty’s little dwarven alien sidekick is, but that’s fine, we’ve got at least another one of these movies lined up already. As the primary cast had been signed into three-picture deals, unless those get renewed I suspect the third and final installment of this ‘new original series’ trilogy will trigger the beginning of the inevitable Klingon war. How good did those guys look?! Talk about a tease! I’m not well versed in the majority of the older Star Trek anthology, but I suppose it’s a moot point, as now that they’ve taken care of the legendary Khan, perhaps this new crew can finally venture into uncharted Star Trek territory and explore strange new storylines, boldly going where… you get the idea.
One could argue it’s too close to the original, but even so, the sci-fi nature of this series gives such concepts as parallel realities and personal destiny an allowance for appropriate replication. Had it been done poorly, one might scoff at simply “copying & pasting”, but this is quite the opposite. After one viewing, my biggest gripe was with the Admiral’s gonna-die-soon monologue, as it felt very one-note (even for a pissed off warmonger). Abrams’ style of action immediately following any emotional exchange between characters also becomes a bit predictable, although I suppose that’s just efficient action filmmaking, so I can’t cite him there. His trademark lens flares only took me out of it once, during the blonde’s heartfelt plea to her Admiral father from the Enterprise, but it was so utterly blatant that time I honestly believe it was his own little wink at the audience.
VERDICT: Into Darkness rises above being simply fan service or just an homage to The Wrath of Khan, making the same kind of mark that it’s counterpart did 35 years ago. It may be harder to appreciate the significance this time though, I suspect, because the 2009 reboot was already so good to begin with and had set the bar remarkably high… not to mention the series is now heavily action driven. As both a nod to the past and a promising follow-up for a series with a bright future, Star Trek Into Darkness is a rare case of having your cake and eating it too, so I can’t wait to return for another slice. Beam me back up, JJ!