I don’t remember when exactly between 10pm and 11pm it was, but when I was a kid, weeknights at whichever time it was, I’d watch Star Trek. Repeats of the original series would show each night, and I’d get excited about staying up late to join Kirk, Spock, Bones and the rest of the crew on their five year mission. Today, I got to do it again.
I’ll try to keep this free of major spoilers.
Star Trek: Into Darkness was released in Australia this week, and continues on from where the previous movie (often referred to as Star Trek 2009) took us – an alternate timeline to the historical Star Trek canon. I was firmly in the crowd of people that enjoyed that movie, and to me, Into Darkness exceeds the first 2009 movie. It takes us to an alien planet to begin with, where Kirk is predictably being Kirk. No, he’s not bedding a blue-breasted Justicar, but the Enterprise is on a mission. It reestablishes the Kirk we were introduced to, one that will flaunt the rules or outright break them if he feels it warranted. Spock and McCoy have some screentime soon after.
One of the things I enjoyed about the previous movie was the depiction of the characters in comparison to their original series counterparts. There were clear tangents in both the origins of Kirk, and the state of Vulcan, that have had lasting effects. The beginning of Into Darkness calls out those differences, reminding us that they’re there, so that we see a more impulsive Kirk being impulsive, a Spock that is more emotional (and also still with Uhura), and an ever-grouchy McCoy – alright, that’s the same as it ever was. Each of the main characters from the Enterprise check in during the preamble, but then it’s off to Merry Old London for the next piece of the movie – and the inciting incident that will direct the attention of the majority of the movie.
Noel Clarke, much better known by me as the sometimes companion Mickey Smith from Doctor Who, is here. Having only seen his acting there before, it was a surprise to see him here, but the guy is cast in a very serious role. There’s some very serious acting going on from him, and while in the grand scheme it’s only a small role, I was very impressed by how much gravitas he brought to the role he played. Ah, but what are we really waiting for here? It’s hardly a secret about who would be playing the villain – all the promos around the film brought the fantastic Benedict Cumberbatch in as a real heavy player, though continued to keep his actual identity a mystery. It was suggested that he would be playing a character that was from the original series, and I want to keep the weightier spoilers away from this post, so I’ll mere say that this was accurate.
Cumberbatch himself though – I’ve seen him in Sherlock, but I’ve never seen him with the presence he has here. If you’re a fan of Benny C (and you hopefully won’t try to hunt me down and kill me for calling him that), his acting alone is worth it. This is an actor that whatever else he does, was really and truly born to play a villain. Him not playing a villain is like Jack Gleeson not playing a douchey boy king. He has such a distinctive, commanding voice, and it goes well beyond his typical ethereal gaze. I thought his action sequences were fantastic, but what a presence. There are definitely parallels between his character and Loki from Thor/The Avengers, and not just because of the rabid fandom they both inspire – however Benedict Cumberbatch is better. I’m not just ribbing a line you might’ve seen in the trailer, but he is actually better.
We have two other new notable characters, one being a new science officer aboard the Enterprise played by Alice Eve. It’s difficult for a new character to be added to the roster on the Enterprise, and even harder to make it stick. She isn’t a timid wallflower by any means, and easily holds her own. She’s a very determined character, though it’s hard to go into detail about who she is in the movie without more spoiler potential being brought up. The other new notable is an Admiral played by Peter Weller, who you may know from Robocop, as Robocop. He’s also been in a hell of a lot of TV shows, though the one I always remember him most from was the relatively unknown Odyssey 5. I can’t honestly judge his acting because of it, as I’m always going to assume he’s awesome just because he was Chuck Fricking Taggart.
As far as whether or not the direction brought to the Trek franchise by having JJ Abrams at the helm is a positive one, I believe it is. I know that there was a lot of criticism of the first movie for what it did to the existing timeline – many diehard Trek fans didn’t like the new direction that the movies took, and didn’t see it as a Trek film. Many of those were huge fans of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Deep Space 9, and perhaps even Voyager. Personally I found TNG to be more hit and miss, and from that youthful obsession, always saw the triple-play between the three most senior officers of the Enterprise to be the real bonus. I loved that Starfleet was still in its relative infancy, and it’s one of the reasons I did enjoy a lot of Enterprise also (even if the whole Xindi arc went on for way too long). The thing that was always most interesting about the original series, were the characters.
For me, TNG and Voyager (I didn’t see much of DS9) leaned much more heavily on the science-fiction trope of commentating on contemporary issues in a veiled manner. I know that there were exceptions, and I don’t doubt that the original series had the same problem at times (albeit contemporary issues that are no longer current). I feel as though these two movies are much more in keeping with the spirit of the original series, though there’s an air of the roughshod nature of Captain Archer’s run on the Enterprise where the kinks were still being worked out.
The Pine/Quinto/Urban set are obviously never going to be the exact same as the old versions played by Shatner/Nimoy/Kelley – though for me they’re pretty good. Karl Urban was once again amazing as Dr Leonard McCoy. It felt like there were more scenes involving medicine this time around, and there was some great character growth around him. Prior to watching Into Darkness, I’d watched the 2009 movie again, as well as a few episodes from the original series once more. I think it’s a telling fact that at one point, the camera panned up along his blue uniform, and I expected to see the late DeForest Kelley’s face. I cannot give Urban’s McCoy a better compliment than that.
Some of the callbacks to the previous canon are a heavy-handed, but they really are a double-edged sword. It’s impossible to reference a tribble without bringing in thoughts about the original series, but so too is it difficult to continue the franchise without mentioning something from the original lest it risk not feeling like Star Trek. There are still surprises, and it is an enjoyable movie. The real problem with the movie is that it suffers from Game of Thrones syndrome – it feels like we’ve waited an eternity for this, and been given only a thimble of water with which to quench our thirst.
Maybe that’s the sign of a good movie – that even without a cliffhanger, it makes you crave a followup. Maybe we need a new Trek series. Either way, it will be interesting to see what comes next, both with Star Trek, and with JJ Abrams attacking Star Wars in the future.