Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness - Out of Lens Flare

It's hardly a secret that since Christmas I've dived back into Star Trek, mostly the 24th Century adventures of The Next Generation, New Frontier and Voyager. But like a lot of lapsed fans my return to this franchise was mostly down to JJ Abrams and his reboot in 2009. Now his sequel is out.

Like many a Star Trek before me, and no doubt countless afterwards, I'll say that Into Darkness is a great science fiction action film that just happens to be Star Trek. From this point forward Spoilers Ahoy!

Like its subtitle-less predecessor, Into Darkness is all about the action, but thankfully not about lens-flare. It keeps the characterisation of the old-Trek bang on and there's a lot of great callbacks to the old series, some subtle and some not so subtle.

It made me grin that Section-31 – a division of Starfleet introduced in DS9 – not only got a mention but were one of the driving forces for the story. Not only is John Harrison a rogue agent, but the entire department up to no good, and Kirk's left dealing with the two opposing sides. They also reinforce what we already now about 31, but build on some of the hints that were given, not just in the shows but in the expanded universe of books as well.

Orci and Kurtzman really have something about rogue elements, first their Mission: Impossible III and now they even manage to bring it into Star Trek, though Section-31 have always been a bit different to the rest of Starfleet. Still, Admiral Marcus is trying to do the old chess game to start a war he sees as inevitable, and it's far better for him to be leading the charge for Starfleet then the Klingons getting the drop on them. When it all falls apart because Kirk doesn't do what he expects – more down to Spock and Scotty's objections then his own choice – he gives it all up for some scenery chewing villainous ways that Peter Weller pulls off perfectly.

Of course then there's the less than subtle call backs. Yes, just like most people predicted Eggs-Benedict Cucumber-patch's John Harrison is really Khan Noonien Singh, a secret kept for about half the movie. The makers of Into Darkness deserve praise for refusing to reveal it so long ago when everyone worked it out. I have to admit, I'd gotten so used to the denying I was expecting it to be Gary Mitchell or someone similar, a Starfleet officer gone rogue – Oh God now I'm doing it too – but not much more than that. That said, I always liked the idea of this being Khan, that the second film is once again a big personal villain for Kirk, it's a nice symmetry, something the writing team clearly embraced. Khan is also finally made into a proper super human, his speed, strength and agility outstrip anything seen in Wrath or Space Seed. Watching him take on squads of Klingons was a high point of the movie, though between this and the Worf Effect I'm really starting to think the Klingons have got some really good PR, because they can't dish out a decent beating to anyone.

It was good seeing the Kirk/Khan relationship done from a different angle too, forcing them to work alongside each other, even if it is temporary. Of course Khan is pulling off a Xanatos Gambit during the whole thing, but Kirk figures that out, well, figures out that he probably is anyway. It says something the Kirk is caught in the machinations of two different people, with barely a clue what is going on, and still manages to foil them both. But then that's exactly the type of man Kirk is, there's no such thing as a No-Win scenario.

Alice Eve's character Carol Marcus is played well too, further reinforcing the Wrath of Khan ties. Operating under a different name so to not highlight the link to her father, the aforementioned rogue Starfleet Admiral, it's only later on - once Spock has clocked her, that you get her proper name - and you're immediately thinking about her and our lady killer Captain. We know in the old timeline that Kirk and Carol hook up, and conceive a child. It'll be interesting to see how this relationship develops with her now on-board the Enterprise instead of a civilian scientist.

The role reversal of Wrath of Khan continues with the role reversal to save the ship and crew in the climax of the film. This time with Kirk jumping into the radiation filled chamber instead of Spock, and the conversation brilliantly mirroring the original, but different due to who was saying it was great. However, this did leave me with the one callback that didn't really work. Quinto's shout of “KHAAAAAAAAAAN” not only didn't match Shatner's – after all, who could? - but it felt shoe-horned in, there to be a callback and nothing else. A few seconds of Spock just getting angrier and angrier before he bellows may have helped.

Star Trek Into Darkness is full of a old continuity nods while still shifting more towards a more action orientated sitting. All in all, it was great. Abrams keeps up his record with Star Trek, and I really do hope he returns for a third bout after he's finished playing in Star Wars. I just hope we get something a bit more traditional. I can't help but think this was laying the groundwork for the Klingons to step into the limelight, something this generation really needs. After time-travelling Romulans from the Prime universe, and now an alternate take on a very personal villain it'd be nice to get to proper politics and Federation/Klingon fisticuffs.
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