If you haven’t seen Star Trek Into Darkness and you want a totally fresh experience where you don’t know ANYTHING (and, to be quite honest, if you’ve gone this long without any even accidentally stumbling onto some of this movie’s secrets, congratulations… I guess) then DON’T READ THIS REVIEW! But please, once you have, c’mon back here and take a look at my writeup. Thanks.
(steps away while you see the movie; whistles various Star Trek themes by Alexander Courage, Jerry Goldsmith and James Horner….)
Thanks for coming back.
Star Trek Into Darkness is like a crazy, funhouse-mirror version of 1982’s Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan. And while this Muppet Babies incarnation by J.J. Abrams is very entertaining (though I saw it in 2D and really can’t see any value in paying the premium to see it in 3D), this version doesn’t reach the epic heights of pulp that The Wrath of Khan did.
But that’s okay! Into Darkness is a fun summer movie that celebrates what made Star Trek the institution that it is: its celebration of the team overcoming in the face of adversity instead of the lone wolf. And it’s a team made up of everybody, of black and white, female and male, human and alien, whatever! Just a group of beings with their hearts and minds working for the common good. And yes, the main focus is on Kirk and Spock, of course, but this movie is generous enough to give all of its mainstays their moment or two in the spotlight.
And I like how director J. J. Abrams plays around with our knowledge of the Star Trek series and movies. I’m no Trekker (or Trekkie, which is it?), but I’ve seen all of the movies and a few episodes of the each of the different series. And I chuckled seeing the lone Tribble, knowing what a pain it’ll become after they’ve begun their five-year mission. And, though a little too neat for my taste, I was amused by how Into Darkness turns The Wrath of Khan‘s ending on its head with Kirk and Spock changing places while Khan uses his disabled ship as a weapon. But it lacks the weight of the previous movie it so enthusiastically references.
The Wrath of Khan is easily the best of any of the Star Trek movies, and that’s because of Ricardo Montalban. His Khan isn’t just angry and vengeful and proud, he’s also incredibly vain; he’s an evil peacock who’s been locked away and gone psycho. And while Benedict Cumberbatch is a fantastic villain and easily gives the best and most charismatic performance in Into Darkness, his Khan is all business. There’s no time for the majestic preening that marked Montalban’s performance, and that’s one of the reasons why this version comes up short.
The Wrath of Khan also features William Shatner’s best performance as Kirk. And while nobody would call Shatner a great actor, he had a magnetism and self-confidence as an actor that worked well for the arrogant Kirk. But even his egotism met its match when he had to share the screen with Montalban; Khan easily stole every scene he was in. But Shatner upped his game, and in the process gave us one of those gloriously over-the-top moments that’ll live for a long as movies and GIFs are a part of the landscape. And while Zachary Quinto’s Spock tries to give us that moment, nobody gives good KHANNNN like Shatner.
The Wrath of Khan is not a great movie, but it’s a wonderful piece of epic cheese. And though dated, the movie still works because it gets to ride on Montalban’s magnificent coattails. Into Darkness is incredibly well made and everybody in the movie, especially Cumberbatch, does a fine job. But it’s difficult to judge the movie on its own terms because it doesn’t ever stop referencing The Wrath of Khan and become its own movie. Into Darkness, like a child, rides on the coattails of The Wrath of Khan.Follow @filmbyfelix