By Matthew E. Milliken
Aug. 28, 2014
Star Trek Into Darkness, director J.J. Abrams’s second entry in the rebooted Star Trek series, is packed to the gills with characters, plot threads and action. Unfortunately, the 2013 film is guilty of trying to do a bit too much.
Into Darkness is fun, no doubt. It recapitulates one of the most popular narratives in the Star Trek oeuvre: The story of Khan Noonien Singh, a genetically engineered warlord who was frozen in a cryogenic tube and exiled from Earth after the bloody Eugenics Wars of the late 20th century. Gene Roddenberry’s pioneering 1966 television show featured Khan as the villain of the week in “Space Seed,” a first-season Star Trek episode; 16 years later, the character formed the dark heart of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, which many still consider to be the best of the franchise’s dozen movies.
Abrams’s movie combines elements of both outings while adding plenty of new twists. Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch, charismatic but far paler than any man playing a character named Khan should be) and his frozen coterie of superhumans are discovered by a Starfleet commander other than the Enterprise’s James T. Kirk, and Khan’s 23rd-century machinations take quite a bit of unraveling as our heroes seek to learn just who he is and what he’s about. (As superfans already know, the movie is chockablock with dangerous newfangled torpedoes, and there are a pair of characters named Marcus, but there are no signs of the U.S.S. Reliant or the planet-shattering Genesis project.)
The film begins with an action sequence on the planet Nibiru, where Kirk (Chris Pine) breaks all the rules to preserve a primitive civilization and the life of his first officer, Spock (Zachary Quinto). The opening act sets up several character arcs by displaying Kirk’s immaturity and Spock’s refusal to engage with the emotional needs of his friend (Kirk) and lover (communications officer Uhura, played by Zoe Saldana).
A few minutes later, a Starfleet facility in London is destroyed and a gunship kills several officers at fleet headquarters in San Francisco. This prompts a furious Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller) to dispatch Kirk to the Klingon home world, Qo’noS (pronounced Kronos), with orders to kill the fugitive responsible for both attacks. But it turns out that the fugitive is not who he seems, and neither are some of the other characters who are either crewing or focusing their attention on the Enterprise.