Star Trek (2009) Stardate 2233.04: The starship USS Kelvin
investigates an anomaly and comes under attack by a huge vessel, commanded by a Romulan called Nero. Nero demands Captain Robau of the
Kelvin to come aboard his ship, the Narada. The Romulan wants to know the whereabouts of Ambassador Spock, but Robau can't tell Nero
anything except that he is now in the 23rd century, and that there is no Ambassador Spock. Nero kills Robau and continues his attack on the
Kelvin. George Kirk is now in command, and while everyone else of the crew, including his pregnant wife, is being evacuated, Kirk sets a
collision course for the Narada. Just seconds before the impact George Kirk learns that he is the father of a son he wants to be named Jim.
-- Several years later in Iowa, young James T. Kirk gets into a brawl with Academy cadets, and he meets Captain Christopher Pike, a friend
of his late father. Pike tells Kirk that he should do something useful in his life and join Starfleet Academy. On the shuttle to San
Francisco Kirk befriends the physician Leonard McCoy. Meanwhile on Vulcan, Spock has grown up as the son of Sarek and the human mother
Amanda. He is bullied by his fellow students. Yet, the Vulcan Academy of Science accepts Spock, which he declines in order to join
Starfleet. On the Academy, James Kirk modifies the no-win Kobayashi Maru scenario in a way that he succeeds. In a hearing at the Academy,
Kirk faces his prosecutor: Spock, who programmed the test. But upon a distress call from Vulcan all the cadets are activated and quickly
assigned to vessels. McCoy sneaks Kirk aboard the USS Enterprise by faking the symptoms of a disease that he as a doctor is up to treat
no matter where. The fleet sets course for Vulcan. Once aboard, Kirk learns the reason for the distress call, and with his knowledge about
the fate of the Kelvin and something he picked up listening to communications officer Uhura, he concludes that it is a trap. He urges
Captain Pike to raise the shields before dropping out of warp. At Vulcan, the fleet has been destroyed by the Narada, and the Enterprise
takes damage too. A drilling platform extends from the Narada, from where a high-energy beam tears open the surface of the planet. Pike
takes a shuttle to the Narada and leaves Spock in command, while Kirk, Sulu and Engineer Olson dive down to the platform to blow it up. Olson,
who was carrying the explosives, misses the platform. After battling the Romulan guards, Kirk and Sulu disable the platform with phaser
blasts. But it is too late. Nero drops a vessel of "Red Matter" into the drill hole, initiating the formation of a black hole
inside the planet. Spock only manages to save his father and some members of the High Council with Ensign Chekov's help at the transporter
console. His mother dies. The planet implodes, killing six billion inhabitants. There are only 10,000 survivors. Nero warps away with Pike
as a hostage, apparently heading for Earth. Kirk wants to follow them, but Spock insists on regrouping with the fleet. When Kirk continues
to cause him trouble, Spock drops him on an escape pod that lands on Delta Vega. On this planet Kirk meets Ambassador Spock from the 24th
century, who has been marooned there by Nero, just to witness the destruction of Vulcan. Nero blames Spock for the destruction of Romulus by
the Hobus supernova in the 24th century. Spock was on a mission to eliminate the supernova using "Red Matter". But he came too late, and
Romulus was destroyed. Now both ships have been hurled back to the 23rd century, only that Spock arrived 25 years later - 25 years that Nero
had to wait after the attack on the Kelvin to finally take revenge. The timeline of the past 25 years is a new one, and already the attack
on the Kelvin should not have happened. Spock and Kirk walk to a Federation outpost, where they get acquainted with Montgomery Scott. Spock
reveals a formula that would allow Kirk and Scott to beam over to the Enterprise at warp. They succeed but are soon apprehended by the
ship's security. Kirk provokes an irate reaction from Spock, upon which the Vulcan concedes that he is unable to stay in command. Kirk
orders a course for Earth, and with Spock he devises a plan to stop Nero from destroying Earth. Young Spock manages to get hold of Spock
Prime's ship aboard the Narada and blows up the drilling tether. Meanwhile Kirk finds Captain Pike aboard the enemy ship. Time is pressing,
since young Spock has released the "Red Matter". A singularity forms next to the Narada and begins to devour the ship. After
beaming out Kirk, Pike and Spock, the Enterprise barely escapes, as Scotty uses the explosion of the jettisoned warp core to propel the
ship. On Earth, Spock Prime advises his younger self to remain in Starfleet, while he himself will take care of what is left of the Vulcans
in a new colony. Cadet Kirk is promoted to captain and remains in command of the Enterprise, with Spock, McCoy, Scott, Sulu, Uhura and
Chekov among his crew.
Preface I don't like being a part of a "Trekkie" event, so instead of going to the premiere or even to the sneak preview I saw "Star Trek" (2009) two days later. It was in a small town theater with only a third of the seats occupied. Anyone who has followed my various "advance reviews" knows that I was opposed to the very idea of rebooting the franchise from the day it was announced. I still didn't exclude the possibility that, as a movie, "Star Trek (2009)" could be good, and that I could even come to like it. And I must admit that I fairly enjoyed it. After reading all spoilers I could come across I was prepared for seeing a totally new Star Trek. And not a bad one.
"Star Trek (2009)" has everything we can expect from a popcorn movie, it is very entertaining, it is visually powerful, it is of an overall high technical and artistic quality and it is still recognizable as Star Trek. I will spare my readers of the usual ramblings about what I think of the franchise reboot and its consequences until the end of this review. For now, I limit my write-up to what is in the movie itself.
Story The biggest flaw of "Star Trek (2009)" is the story. It is full of clichés like no other Trek movie before. Time travel, villains that strive to destroy Earth, a brand new Enterprise that is the only line of defense, etc., "Star Trek (2009)" has them all. The plot is a mess, even if we acknowledge that A) it is a reboot and B) some things work differently in the Star Trek universe anyway than in real life.
The whole story is built on an endless chain of totally improbable coincidences, designed to get the TOS crew (Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Uhura, Scotty, Sulu, Chekov) and only the TOS crew together on a ship named Enterprise in spite of the very different circumstances in which they meet. The first link in the chain is that the Narada is hurled back to almost exactly the place and time that Kirk would be born. The stupid climax of this development is when Scotty (exiled by his professor), Spock (dropped off by Nero to witness Vulcan's destruction) and Kirk (jettisoned in an escape pod by Spock) meet on the surface of "Delta Vega", within a range of a few kilometers! This is just the most blatant example, but all of the movie's character relationships are forged in a similar fashion, starting with Kirk, in whose immediate vicinity the Enterprise is being built in this timeline. He encounters Uhura, also in Iowa, who turns out to be Spock's girl-friend three years later. Also, Spock programs the Kobayashi Maru test in which Kirk cheats. Why does it have to be him of all people? The case of Archer's beagle (Porthos VII?) that Scotty beamed into a limbo is still a funny example (well, not funny for the dog as it seems). But the way that the same characters come together in a totally different timeline and that the old and the new timeline are tied together makes the Star Trek Universe look like a village.
To add insult to injury, no one of the TOS crew (perhaps except Spock) really earns their rank and their position on the Enterprise, the flagship of Starfleet after all. They are all promoted effortlessly. Uhura takes over the job as communication officer because she speaks all three dialects of Romulan, and she simply seems to keep this position in the end, despite her inexperience, and perhaps because of favoritism. But most obviously because it is her destiny. McCoy replaces the CMO who has been killed. The Enterprise's helmsman is conveniently ill, so Sulu can take over. Scotty suddenly finds himself as the chief engineer of a ship he has no practical experience with. And most blatantly, Cadet Kirk is promoted to captain.
Characters & acting The characters themselves generally work out a lot better than their back stories and their mutual relationships, and pretty much all of the main cast are doing a fine job.
James T. Kirk is the central figure of "Star Trek (2009)". We witness his birth on a battered shuttle while his father is just seconds away from his death on the Kelvin, we see how reckless he is already as a child. The alternate Kirk grows up to be a real asshole. His attempt to hit on Uhura is primitive, his desire to get beaten up idiotic, his cheating in the Kobayashi Maru scenario arrogant. Yet, as soon as Cadet Kirk has been sneaked aboard the Enterprise, we see this young man in his twenties already act much like the Captain Kirk we know, he only lacks the rank (which he will earn gratuitously in the end) and only the circumstances make him run around hectically (which Shatner-Kirk would have done too in this situation). Captain Pike makes a big deal of Kirk being up to a better than ordinary life, but we don't really see him make that progress. Kirk just has to become a hero. It is his destiny. In one scene he even takes place in the captain's chair, his head resting on his hand in a very Shatneresque way. So in terms of character development there is not so much about Kirk as we may have expected in a movie spanning decades. On the other hand, I wouldn't have wanted to see so much more of the alternate young Kirk anyway, a genuinely unsympathetic character who has nothing in common with how I imagine "our" Kirk in his youth. Chris Pine looks fine in Kirk's role, at least he was the right choice to portray his brash side. Unfortunately we don't (yet) get to see considerably different facets in the movie.
In the course of the movie the focus of interest gradually shifts from Kirk to young Spock. After the destruction of Vulcan, the big turning point, the story is still told predominantly from Kirk's point of view, but Spock has become the key character, also because his counterpart from the Prime Universe enters the scene and thereby sort of doubles Spock's importance. Young Spock gets enraged when Kirk provokes him (in a very similar fashion as in TOS: "This Side of Paradise"), but the destruction of Vulcan readily excuses his reaction. I was worried this scene could damage my favorite Vulcan's reputation, but now it meets my approval. Hey, I may have grabbed Kirk's neck too in Spock's place! Spock's relationship to Uhura has estranged many fans, but I think that it is handled in a decent fashion. And it works as an ironical twist, because Kirk's art of seduction has failed with her. Overall, Zachary Quinto's portrayal of Spock is a highlight of the movie. Not only does he resemble the young Nimoy (which I wouldn't have expected before I got to see him with the make-up), he also gets his facial expressions right and fortunately he does nothing like exactly imitating Nimoy's eyebrow raising, something that should remain up to Nimoy.
Zoë Saldana is a sexier Uhura than Nichelle Nichols but not mainly because of her look but because Uhura 2.0 is given the chance to play a woman and a Starfleet officer. Unfortunately there is more of the former than of the latter in her role. It appears as a bit sexist that her main purpose in the movie seems to be acting as the icing on the Kirk/Spock conflict. Showing more of her professional skills may be up to the next movie. I only have a problem with her being an expert in so many languages. She knows all three Romulan dialects, quite unlike the Uhura of TOS who did not even speak Klingon -- but that was another universe.
I dig on Karl Urban. He is the "real McCoy". The only part of his role I don't like is very first appearance in which he states, "Space is disease and danger wrapped in darkness and silence." A nice line, but we have to wonder what was so awful about his divorce that he joined Starfleet despite his space phobia. Unfortunately McCoy is not conceded much further characterization in the movie. He remains a rather plot-driven character who delivers lines as required, albeit everything is spot on.
The characterization of Scotty (Simon Pegg) is a major letdown. He does not appear until about 100 minutes into the movie, and in his scenes his main purpose is comic relief, a bit like Neelix in Voyager's first season. I don't think Simon Pegg was the right choice although I like his accent. Chekov (Anton Yelchin) is a tad more serious as a character, although his accent is overdone. I only wonder since when the good Pavel is such a prodigy. The 17-year-old ensign reminds me more of Wesley than of the Chekov of TOS. Sulu (John Cho) does not look like George Takei at all, but he gets his role right, although in the only longer scene involving him on the drilling platform above Vulcan he is hardly recognizable.
Captain Pike (Bruce Greenwood) is a very agreeable character whom I see as a leftover from the old Star Trek - the Star Trek whose atmosphere I used to like better. He represents the type of seasoned Starfleet officer that was prevalent in all five TV series and that can't be found among the space rookies of "Star Trek (2009)". Pike is the captain I would personally choose to serve under in this new continuity. Too bad that Pike ends up as admiral and in the wheelchair. Speaking of captains that deserve the trust, Robau is another one, albeit he has even less of a chance to prove it.
Eric Bana as Nero initially comes off as an overall pleasant surprise. I expected his character to be a bad rehash of Shinzon from "Nemesis" because of his similar origin, appearance and the fact that he is going to destroy Earth with his evil superweapon. We've had it all before. But underneath the silly tattooed bald head Eric Bana pulls off a refreshing type of villain, which becomes clear in the details such as his casual "Hello." when he greets the Enterprise. I also "like" how he simply kills Robau when he sees that the captain of the Kelvin is of no use to him. On the downside, Nero's motivation never becomes clear, not even remotely. His importance quickly fades away after he has accomplished the goal of destroying Vulcan, and towards the end he behaves totally predictably, just like every villain who has been cornered. But the more I think about Nero, the more I am convinced that he prevails in the end. It can't have honestly been his goal to destroy every single planet of the Federation. He couldn't honestly have expected to survive this war. In my view everything he ever wanted was to pay back the Vulcans in an "eye for an eye" fashion. And he gloriously achieves this goal. It would be euphemistic to call it a victory of the Enterprise crew when they eventually stop Nero and let him die on his ship. It is not even a Pyrrhic victory but an apocalyptic defeat that in my view.
Leonard Nimoy as Spock Prime was mainly hired in my opinion to give this new Star Trek his stamp of approval. Fortunately Nimoy's role is more than just a gratuitous cameo, at least quantitatively. His character is integrated in an adequate fashion. He initially saves Kirk from the monster on Delta Vega, to become a temporary mentor of Kirk and later of young Spock too. Nimoy seems to play the role we could expect from him, but I am very disappointed how he remains too passive and too complacent after he has watched the destruction of his homeworld. This is especially sad as he already missed his goal to save Romulus in 2387. In many ways Spock Prime, much rather than his younger ego, is the tragic figure of the movie. And it is not only because of Spock's or Nimoy's age that the character doesn't feel like the one I used to know. Spock was clearly redefined, to someone who accepts his fate instead of exploring the possibilities.
Look & feel I really dig the well-dosed humor in "Star Trek (2009)", the genuinely funny situations as well as the many in-jokes. Well, Chekov's attempt to correctly pronounce a code containing two "V"s like in "vessel" is close to being silly, but I admit I laughed so I shouldn't complain afterwards. One of the few things I don't like at all is Scotty's "transporter accident" when he winds up in a water pipe (also because we get to see a lot of the dreadful engineering set). Cliché phrases abound in the movie, but why not? Only "He is dead Jim." is missing as far as I recall. The one that probably won't grow on me is Nimoy's "Space, the final frontier..." at the end, which is too obviously designed to insinuate that the new Star Trek moves on just like TOS from here, creating an optimism that is simply inappropriate after the avoidable loss of Vulcan. Also, it reminds me a lot of the end of ENT: "These Are The Voyages".
The production design of "Star Trek (2009)" is a mixed bag. Although I still don't like its look and probably never will, I have come to terms with the Enterprise redesign, which makes some sense in the new universe, at least at its original design size of 366m. Yet, almost every room inside the ship, as well as all other technology is at best remotely like the one we know from TOS. I don't like the "iBridge" set at all, which strikes me as overly toy-like with its permanent blinking, beeping and flashing. Especially the continuous pointless animations on the screens have to drive the crew crazy after a few days on this bridge. The interior of the engineering section of the ship is in strong contrast to the bridge. It looks like the 20th century brewery that it is, rather than like any engineering we have seen on Trek before, be it TOS, TNG or Enterprise style. It is huge, dark, anachronistic and simply hideous. Probably the worst set ever used for the interior of a starship.
I already praised the high technical standard of the movie. But the best equipment in terms of lighting, cameras, editing equipment and CG software is of no use if the responsible people choose to intentionally deteriorate the shots. Like most recent action flicks, the new Star Trek movie abounds with things that whiz across the screen and can't be tracked with the eye, with unnecessary motion blur, with rapid-fire edits, with shaking or tilting cameras. This multi-leveled jitter makes the action sequences, in space as well as in live action, almost unwatchable for anyone above 20, and for anyone who is not staring at video games or music videos all day. (When I complained about not being able to follow the bar fight, my girl-friend told me: "It's easy. Kirk is black, the others are red." Yes. Black and red was all we could see.) The omnipresent anamorphic lens flares in the form of horizontal blue stripes add insult to injury. In classic moviemaking it used to be an art to avoid lens flares, but now they are obviously meant to add a false sense of realism. While I believe J.J. Abrams when he says he simply didn't do anything to avoid them, at least the ones in the space shots are artificially inserted, considering that it is all CGI. I once wrote that I may be too old for a new Trek. Well, I am definitely too old for the shitty visual "realism" that some film makers impose on the audience and that the young generation gladly seems top put up with.
On another note about the movie's general look & feel, most sets with the "bright" exception of the Enterprise bridge are too dark, and I miss the colors. Everything is more or less gray. San Francisco is gray, Starfleet interiors are gray, and even the space anomaly, something usually very colorful in Star Trek, appear in a realistic(?) gray. Only the Enterprise uniforms stand out from the prevailing gray. I also didn't like some of the visual aesthetics that seem to have been borrowed from Star Wars, such as Kirk's "trial" at Starfleet Academy, in front of an auditorium of quiescent and uniformly clad cadets in dark red and -- gray. I sadly miss the diverseness among the Federation members as it was visible in all other movies so far.
"Star Trek (2009)" is the first movie since "First Contact" with a remarkable main theme that I remembered after leaving the theater. The score is overall very fitting and never invasive. After the sad loss of Jerry Goldsmith Star Trek has obviously found a fine new composer in Michael Giacchino. The scene with the most remarkable usage of music is when George Kirk has set the Kelvin for collision course and the scene switches back and forth between the bridge and his newborn son. The surrounding noise fades out and makes way for a very sentimental music - emphasizing the emotional highlight of the film.
Continuity issues & inconsistencies Many fans, including myself, were afraid that the new movie could wind up as a major continuity buster. Well, "Star Trek (2009)" is placed into a new continuity, from the moment that the Kelvin runs into the Narada. This can readily explain why much in the movie is different than it should be. But as already mentioned, some things, like the basic character relationships, are still the same in spite of everything (and against all reason). Anyway, since there is no way of denying that the planet Vulcan is indeed blown up in this universe, it should be basically no problem to accept minor things like the different look of the ship or other technology as well. Still several basic parts of the Trek lore, as well as specific facts and events that link the new Abramsverse to the original universe, may be still subject to major continuity problems. "Star Trek (2009)" is the far biggest offender among the Trek movies and easily surpasses the often scorned "Star Trek V".
I am commenting on the numerous inconsistencies of the movie on a separate page, so here is just a selection of some obvious ones: Since when is the sky of Vulcan blue? (Well, not that it would matter any longer in the new universe.) -- Since when is the inner city of San Francisco composed of ugly gray mile-high buildings? Sure, the city looked somewhat different in any series or movie so far, but never that ugly. -- Spock Prime can see the destruction of Vulcan in the sky of Delta Vega. So Delta Vega is suddenly a sister planet of Vulcan, and not a remote colony (TOS: "Where No Man Has Gone Before"). And this just for the sake of some mindless namedropping. -- Where do all the new aliens suddenly come from and when will they be extinguished (or leave the Federation for good)? Actually, as far as I could see, every single alien aside from the Vulcans, Romulans and the Orion has to be classified as a new species. -- If no one in the Federation is aware of being in a parallel timeline until Nero's ship shows up above Vulcan, why is everything (such as the already mentioned Enterprise) so different? And why is the look of Romulans no surprise? The destruction of a single ship may change the course of history, but it would have to unfold in some fashion and not simply be totally different 25 years later. -- So a mining vessel is a behemoth equipped with torpedoes and all kinds of weapons that can take down a whole armada of several Starfleet ships or 47 Klingon vessels? -- The warp drive, the phasers and even the transporters all make annoying shooting noises (aside from looking very different). -- There is an actual window in the bridge, already on the Kelvin. -- Brewery tanks instead of 24th century technology in the engineering section. -- Starship building on the ground. -- It seems to take less than 30 minutes from Earth to Vulcan. This corresponds to Warp 65 (old scale, of course). -- The Klingon ships are called "warbirds" here. Even the often scorned Brannon Braga admitted that the "Klingon warbirds" in ENT: "Broken Bow" were an error, so why is it repeated here? -- In the end, Kirk is generous and offers Nero to assist him, which he declines. He then orders to fire on the ship. Why? The Narada was quite obviously dying. Wouldn't it have been the wiser (and logical) decision to warp away from the forming singularity like hell? The Enterprise can barely escape herself. -- Cadet Kirk is promoted to Captain. Yeah right.
The science of this movie is shaky at best. There is overall less technobabble than in most previous installments, but if concepts of real physics with a serious ring are being misrepresented this doesn't really help. A supernova definitely wouldn't threaten a planet many light years away with total destruction. And even if it posed a danger to Romulus, there would have been years to plan the evacuation. -- A black hole, created by small doses of a mysterious "Red Matter". Uhm, well... But we need to wonder why it is necessary to drill a hole down to a planet's core to completely destroy it. As we can see in the end, it is absolutely sufficient to create a nearby singularity that sucks in everything in its vicinity. Maybe not so nicely symmetrically though. -- Wouldn't the explosion of the (multiple?!) warp cores rather toast the Enterprise than push her away from the black hole? -- Spock Prime gives Scotty a formula for transwarp beaming. He needs no new hardware, no new software, only the formula to succeed.
I comment on the whole time travel dilemma in more detail elsewhere. Roberto Orci, who devised the story with Alex Kurtzman, presupposes that it is not necessary to "fix" a time travel accident because the old timeline still exists somewhere. But in *all* cases of incursions so far the starship crews went to great lengths to repair the damage, which is a clear sign that there is supposed to be only one timeline. And really, after going back and forth again, the timeline was usually restored. So the excuse that the old TOS timeline persists may not hold, unless Spock Prime, who remains passive and does not recommend his younger self either to fix anything, knows something that the fans who have been watching the series for 40 years are not aware of.
Summarizing, "Star Trek (2009)" is inconsistent with the existing Star Trek on numerous accounts. Considering that the screenplay was written and supervised by a long-time fan, I find it sad that fans are supposed to resort to the justification that it's a different universe even where it can't possibly apply. Even worse, In "Star Trek (2009)" the concept of canon appears more like an option (for gratuitous namedropping, Delta Vega being an example) than an obligation (to keep facts in line with previous installments).
Premise & prospect Caution! This is a rant.
J.J. Abrams said in one of his first interviews that he would produce "Star Trek (2009)" for fans of movies, not primarily for fans of Star Trek. I always considered myself to be a fan of movies, but when it came down to Star Trek, I was a 100% fan of Star Trek. That being said, I absolutely hated the latest James Bond movie "Quantum of Solace", and I did not even bother to watch any of the various other action or fantasy franchise reboots. So if I have to know other recent genre movies to be qualified to judge the work, I'm not even a movie fan to start with.
In any case I readily put up with some inherent weaknesses of traditional Trek movies, if only they expand the Trek Universe in a both exciting and plausible fashion, a combination that is definitely possible to accomplish. I even prefer several TV episodes over most of the movies because, in spite of the much smaller budget and other shortcomings of TV productions, they generally tell better Trek stories than the movies. In fact, most of the ten movies made so far heavily rely on motives such as archenemies of the crew or on machines that destroy whole planets. Trek episodes do not need any of that to be thrilling. In my view the better place for Trek is the television screen, but only because on the big screen it is more likely to go over the top with the action. Which happens in "Star Trek (2009)" as clearly as never before - because that is what the theater audience allegedly expects.
Much has been written about the optimistic vision of the future as one of the franchise's most important assets, and how it is being preserved in the new movie. But there is not very much left of it. Nero's incursion has left deep scars that are not going to be healed apparently because it makes the franchise "edgier". But really, what will Star Trek be without the planet Vulcan, without its inhabitants, without IDIC? How could the optimism ever return to this battered universe and this immature crew that started off as absurdly dysfunctional and that would realistically break apart any time? And since when is Star Trek so fatalistic as here? Vulcan has been destroyed in this universe. It still exists in some parallel universe, or that is how long-time fans are being appeased. As already mentioned, the persistence of the new timeline begs the question why so many crews have gone to great lengths to correct time travel accidents, in which they were always successful. Doesn't Vulcan (which is once again depicted as a xenophobic society, by the way) deserve to be saved just like Earth's humpback whales? I usually keep out non-canon Trek, but I find this dialogue from New Voyages: "In Harm's Way" remarkable in this context: "How do we know that your 'correct history' is the right one? The best one?" (Kirk) - "Because, Jim, here in your timeline, billions of people are dead [including the inhabitants of Vulcan]." (Spock). There are two Spocks in "Star Trek (2009)", but where is the one who once said: "There are always possibilities"? The one who died and was resurrected? In Abrams' Star Trek the characters are ultimately helpless. They don't manage to break out of their roles.
"Star Trek" has been labeled as "epic" by a couple of critics, and they probably meant that it brought back the excitement. Sure. I share this view, but not in a completely positive sense. An epic is usually a drama dealing with a fight of good vs. evil, it may span decades or centuries, the roles are clearly defined and the end is foreseeable. Very often in epics, events occur as predicted or they repeat in cycles of one generation. Unlikely coincidences are either accepted as part of a divine plan or, in a more modern view, they are attributed to something like genetic predetermination. An epic usually does not have the potential of moving on as Star Trek has displayed it for 40 years, with the notable exception of Star Trek Enterprise, the one series that went back in time and still went on in its own right. "Star Trek (2009)" is not only a much more radical kind of prequel than Enterprise (technically speaking), it also exhibits many characteristics of epics such as Lord of the Rings or, even more obviously, of Star Wars. Clearly the Trek movies, rather than the television series, always had something epic to them, but "Star Trek (2009)" is burdened with super villains, multiple conflicts, tragic events and, most importantly, with the concept of "destiny" like no other Trek installment before.
Just as I was citing Star Wars as the prototypical space epic, it occurred to me that there are remarkable parallels: Luke Skywalker (Jim Kirk) is hanging around on a farm with his uncle and his only pleasure is fast hovercars (classic cars and bikes). Until, one day in a bar, a fatherly friend gets him out of trouble, Obi-Wan Kenobi (Chris Pike), who actually used to know the boy's late father, a hero known as Anakin Skywalker (George Kirk). Luke (Jim) still has a long way to go to become a Jedi (Starfleet officer). He meets Leia (Spock), whose home planet is destroyed, and although Leia (Spock) initially doubts Luke's (Kirk's) ability to lead people, the boy, against all rules and all reason, becomes a fighter pilot (starship commander) in the final battle against the villain.
Sorry, I'm complaining a lot about the premise - again. Certainly "Star Trek (2009)" is not primarily meant to be an accurate depiction of a time travel and its consequences. As repeatedly stated by the producers, it is about the characters, simply because the movie outlines the characters' developments and shows how they got to know each other. But which characters? These are not the characters from the Original Series. And not just because they look different and the feel of the movie is more modern. They are alternate universe versions (and they are even aware of it!). They are meant to be different and they have to be different. That's why the movie involves a time travel in the first place. With all due respect it is pretense to call it an "origin story". In fact, it tells a decidedly different story than TOS (or than what could have happened just before TOS in the original timeline). As hard as the people in charge push it (such as with Kirk's unbelievable premature promotion), all this will not converge to the original universe. With the experiences from the Nero disaster and, most blatantly, the total destruction of Vulcan this version of Star Trek just does not have the same potential.
People repeatedly ask why I am so much opposed to the idea of the new movie taking place in a new parallel timeline, a concept that has been used more than once in Star Trek before. There is, however, a huge difference between the parallel timeline that Abrams has created for "Star Trek (2009)" and the ones we have gotten used to. Because it is a narrative switch now. In other words, it is not a temporary visit of a fairground such as DS9's Mirror Universe. Abrams' version is the only Star Trek from now, perhaps safe for ongoing novel series that may carry on in the old continuity regardless. TOS, TNG, DS9 and Voyager may still exist somewhere out there, but it is just a hypothetical possibility that some day the official Star Trek of Paramount/CBS will revisit the old universe. It is nothing more than wishful thinking of some fans that the old Trek continuity may still exist in some fashion. When the redesigned Enterprise warps away into the new universe at the end of "Star Trek (2009)", it is a point of no return in canon Trek.
Coming back to my earlier grievance about the many coincidences, as laudable the attempt is to preserve some aspects of the old universe in the new setting, the way it is done is contrived. Just imagine: Had Nero arrived only a few years earlier, then Spock could be a woman, which would have given their conflict a totally weird and unexpected twist. Don't mistake me, I would not have favored such a scenario. But isn't the destruction of a key planet in the Star Trek universe a much more extreme alteration to the basic setting than a simple sex change that could even be totally plausible given the movie premise? The people who made "Star Trek (2009)", however, have safeguarded just the presence of their seven main characters on a ship named Enterprise, as if everything in Star Trek boiled down to this simple formula.
Conclusion I was unsure whether I could put my reservations and apprehensions aside, but I was lucky and I did enjoy the movie for the most part. Being spoiled even helped me a lot. Why? Because without the advance knowledge of the genocide on the Vulcans I would have been shocked and, take me at my word, I would have hated this movie for the rest of my life.
"Star Trek (2009)" is a nearly perfect summer blockbuster movie. It is visually compelling. It is very exciting, rather than enlightening. I have to concede that it does convey some parts of the message of Gene Roddenberry though. I can even imagine he would have liked the movie, except for the destruction of Vulcan.
But "Star Trek (2009)" suffers from its contrived premise and from the reduction of 40 years of the franchise to the simple formula "Star Trek = Kirk + Spock + a wee bit of McCoy, Uhura, Scotty, Sulu, Chekov + some sort of Enterprise". It tries to be an origin movie when it can't be one because of the parallel universe setting, turning the plot into a totally unlikely chain of coincidences. It depicts Kirk as a total asshole, redefines old Spock to a total loser and fails to provide the supervillain with a good motivation. The destruction of Star Trek's perhaps most popular planet and, while we're at it, of Romulus as well stirs up the bad feeling that Star Trek has suffered an insurmountable loss, just for a little extra thrill in this one movie. The questionable design decisions (such as the built-in brewery) and the filming and editing crimes (such as the lens flares) that make everything with action in it almost unwatchable are just the icing on the cake.
Remarkable dialogue: "Who is that pointy-eared bastard?" - "I don't know. But I like him." (Kirk and McCoy, about Spock)
Remarkable quotes: "I may throw up on you." (spacesick McCoy to Kirk, and Kirk to McCoy, three years later), "It would seem self-serving to give you the usual greeting, so I will simply say, 'Good luck'." (Spock Prime to young Spock)
Remarkable appearance: This is the last time that Majel Barrett-Roddenberry acts as the computer voice. She died in December 2008. The movie closes with a commemoration of Gene and Majel Roddenberry at the very end of the end credits.
Remarkable scene: the birth of James Tiberius Kirk, while his father is on a collision course for the Narada
Remarkable shocking scene: the destruction of Vulcan
Remarkable running joke: Kirk asks Uhura for her first name in the bar. He asks again in her apartment, three years later. Still later, on the transporter platform on the Enterprise, Kirk is surprised to see Uhura in the arms of his opponent Spock, who calls her "Nyota". Nyota has been Uhura's first name in fandom for many years, but has never been mentioned on screen so far.
Remarkable silliness: The silliest moment of the movie is when Scotty rematerializes in the water pipe, followed by young Kirk's Nokia ringtone.
Remarkable music: The end credits start with a new version of the classic TOS theme.
Remarkable facts: James Tiberius Kirk was named for his mother's father, James, and his father's father, Tiberius. -- The Narada took out *47* Klingon ships. -- Uhura speaks all three dialects of Romulan in this timeline. -- Of the six billion inhabitants of Vulcan, only some 10,000 survive Nero's holocaust.
Star Trek Into Darkness Stardate
2259.55: The Enterprise is hiding in an ocean on the planet Nibiru, while Spock
is on a mission to stop the activity of a volcano using a cold fusion device, in order to save the local
population. When it turns out impossible to retrieve Spock otherwise, Kirk
orders the Enterprise to surface and beam out Spock, which is witnessed by the
primitive inhabitants and hence violates the Prime Directive. Spock, however,
reports the incident, which leads to Kirk's demotion to Christopher Pike's first
officer. In the meantime, a mysterious man named Harrison has bribed a Starfleet
officer to blow up a Starfleet archive in London, the price being the cure of
the man's ill daughter. The leading officers of Starfleet come together in a
meeting in San Francisco, which is attacked by Harrison and costs Pike's life.
Kirk can bring down the attacking vessel, but Harrison escapes to Qo'noS. In
order to eliminate the terrorist, Admiral Marcus orders Kirk to take the
Enterprise to the Klingon border and fire torpedoes at Harrison's hiding place
in an abandoned city. The crew, however, is opposed to the torpedoes. Scotty is
even relieved of duty because he sees the torpedoes, which are
impervious to scans, as a danger he can't control. Kirk eventually gives in to
the objections and embarks a captured civilian vessel to apprehend Harrison,
together with Spock and Uhura. Uhura tries in vain to convince the Klingon
patrol to provide support against Harrison, upon which Harrison kills all the
Klingons and surrenders to the Starfleet crew. The Enterprise is dead in space
due to a malfunction of the warp core, which is suspected to be sabotage.
Harrison turns out be be Khan Noonien Singh, a genetically enhanced human being
from the 20th century, and the 72 torpedoes actually hold
the cryonic chambers with his followers. Admiral Marcus appears with a huge
vessel, the Vengeance. He threatens to destroy the Enterprise, along with Khan
who helped him build the ship and the torpedoes in the first place, working for
the secret organization Section 31. Carol
Marcus, who has faked her transfer orders to the Enterprise in order to keep an
eye on the torpedoes, tries in vain to convince him to cease the attack. Her
father beams her over to his ship. Only Scotty's sabotage to the Vengeance
prevents the Enterprise's destruction. Kirk joins forces with Khan, and they
dive over to the Vengeance where Scotty opens a hatch for them. Kirk tells
Scotty to stun Khan once they reach the bridge, but Khan breaks free and kills
Admiral Marcus. Kirk negotiates a deal with Khan: the lives of the Enterprise
crew for the lives of his 72 people in the torpedoes. Khan fires at the
Enterprise regardless once the torpedoes are aboard the Vengeance, but he isn't
aware that they have been activated, largely destroying his ship as well. The
cryonic chambers, on the other hand, were removed in the meantime and are safely
stored aboard the Enterprise. The
Enterprise, however, is without power now and falls toward Earth. Kirk reactivates the warp
core but is exposed to a fatal radiation dose. Khan makes his ship crash into
San Francisco, and he escapes yet again, followed by Spock who is determined to
kill him. Dr. McCoy, however, finds out that Khan's blood cells could cure Kirk.
He puts Kirk into one of the cryonic chambers to keep his brain intact. So Khan is apprehended alive, and Kirk can be saved. One year later, the
Enterprise is relaunched and departs to a mission in deep space, while Khan is back in his cryonic chamber
again, joining his people.
Preface I am generally unable to focus my eyes on 3D movies without getting a headache. Since STID is shown exclusively in 3D almost everywhere, it took me two weeks until I finally decided I would have to see it in 3D regardless. While it did give me a headache, it was still a mostly pleasant experience for my eyes, at least technically speaking. I was surprised that I didn't have to squint frequently to get the 3D images congruent. Actually, I saw ghost images only a few times during the movie. This ease of viewing may have to do with the fact that STID comes only with mild 3D. While the effect is quite pronounced in many space sequences, the post-production 3D fails to convince me in live-action scenes that are rather flat. The movie could have easily done without the artificial 3D effects.
I did not read spoiler reviews prior to going to the theater. While there was no way avoiding the big spoiler "Cumberbatch is Khan!", which has actually been around for over a year now (although it has been repeatedly denied ever since), I still didn't know some major plot points when I sat down to watch it for the first time, which had some side effects, also for the other people in the theater as I will explain further down.
Premise J.J. Abrams' first Trek film suffered from the idea of being a reboot while pretending it was none. It tried hard to relay the message of Gene Roddenberry, but failed to do so on several accounts, most notably because it evoked the concept of destiny, as opposed to free will. STID could have profited very much from the new ground that "Star Trek (2009)" has laid, in a way that it would be compared with its direct predecessor, rather than with Roddenberry's Star Trek. Unfortunately there are countless unnecessary tie-ins from the old Star Trek, many of which are utterly contrived and some of which are plain ridiculous. The crew's destinies are explicitly said to be predetermined once again, from the person who would least claim that in the Prime Universe. STID just begs to be compared with the Prime Universe, and so I will not spare the movie of my criticism that it does not adhere to all the standards laid down in the over 40 years of Star Trek that came before the Abramsverse, the technical ones (canon), the look and feel, as well as the philosophy.
Story I like the opening sequence on Nibiru very much (which, by the way, is reminiscent of the pre-credit scenes in James Bond movies). It is a precious moment because it is the only time in the Abramsverse so far that we see the crew on a mission "to explore strange new worlds", which is what Star Trek was once about. Well, I enjoyed it until the Enterprise turned out to be a submarine. I was prepared for it but it still annoyed me a lot. Seriously, even if the Enterprise were built for it, why in the world does Kirk hide his 700m ship (if we believe in the official scale) in the ocean, against Scotty's explicit concerns regarding the corrosive salt water, when he could just stay in orbit, beam up and down and launch shuttles much more easily? The whole stunt was inserted into the story merely for a cheap "wow" effect and against all reason. I dig the scene in which Kirk and McCoy discuss the question whether they should save Spock from the volcano, with Uhura standing apart, too agitated to say or do anything. Kirk asks McCoy if Spock would do the same for Kirk, upon which McCoy says, "He would let you die." This establishes one of the main motifs of the movie, and arguably the only one that is worked out really well: the question whether Spock shouldn't overcome his Vulcan logic when it comes to saving his friends or to being loyal with them.
The next act takes place in London, where a family father is troubled about his daughter being terminally ill. I was pleasantly surprised that there are only a few spoken words in the whole act. The only thing I remember is Harrison saying, "I can save her." It has a much stronger impact without much talking and without the possible medical babble. I only felt that the music was much too loud, it seemed like it was supposed to fill in for the missing action when it should rather have been turned down to fit with the dramatic yet overall quiet scenes.
Pike's death in Harrison's attack on the conference room is another emotional highlight of the movie, although we could expect that he would die and make way for Kirk to take command again. Pike is a tragical figure as already in "Star Trek (2009)". Actually, the whole sequence of events is familiar from the previous movie: Kirk is on trial and/or is demoted for a comparably minor offense in the beginning. Then Pike, the captain of the Enterprise, is disabled (or dead this time), so Kirk takes command of the ship. And he stays in command in the end in spite of his previously attested immaturity. This pattern is the same in both movies, and it doesn't become more plausible by just being repeated.
As the plot progresses, it becomes increasingly complex, and too complex to tie all the loose ends together again in the end. And it loses sight of the actual mission. We've got: the mysterious torpedoes that can't be opened or scanned in any fashion; a villain who is hiding on Qo'noS and who could be eliminated by those torpedoes (in real life: attack drones); a Starfleet admiral who wants Kirk to use these and only these torpedoes; an attractive female officer who is unexpectedly assigned to the crew and who poses as an expert for these torpedoes; Kirk's crew members who almost unanimously protest against the use of these torpedoes. Scotty even requests to be released of duty because of them, which Kirk -unexpectedly for Scotty- agrees to. The crew's skepticism about the torpedoes is supposed to make sense only in hindsight, as prudent foresight. I find it quite distracting that everything revolves around the nature of these plot devices, rather than the question how to eliminate Harrison.
The solution to try to apprehend Harrison, rather than killing him, turns out a stupid mistake because you don't try to land on Qo'noS with a civilian ship and honestly expect to survive this stunt. Much less would you do it while the ship's warp drive is offline at the Klingon border. To add insult to injury, the chase scene with the Klingon ships through the very un-Klingon abandoned city looks much more like Star Wars than Star Trek, and Harrison eliminates the Klingons much like in a superhero movie. Agreed, he does have supernatural forces as will be explained later, but it doesn't feel like Star Trek at all. Also, I think it is quite hypocritical that the Klingons, with whom Kirk and his people have no business, are slaughtered by the dozen, while Harrison gets a chance to surrender. Sure, the Klingons would never surrender, but it is highly unethical to cause so much collateral damage apprehending just a single man, which is just one more reason why Kirk should have used the torpedoes, or any other weapons that would kill just Harrison. Or perhaps he could have asked the Klingons in advance to do the job for him? While I'm usually opposed to excessive violence, I really like the scene in which Kirk tries to beat up Harrison. Kirk hits him repeatedly, but Harrison still stands tall, and only Kirk's fist is hurting.
In the following it is revealed that Harrison is actually Khan. But this revelation has no impact on the story; it is just a message to the audience, "Look, this is still Star Trek. We've even got Khan for you." The fact that it's Khan, the generally accepted Savior of the Star Trek Franchise, remains utterly gratuitous for the rest of the movie. Benedict Cumberbatch as Khan 2.0 doesn't look at all like Ricardo Montalban. This may be explained as a surgical alteration as part of his new identity as a British Starfleet officer. Well, there are his 72 followers in the torpedoes, but these never really play a role except for being a pawn. For the story, Harrison could have been any other person, he could have been concerned about anything else, and he could have had any other reason for his crusade against Starfleet. Actually, his reason for revenge is a weak one, compared to the one of Khan 1.0 in "Star Trek II". STID enters a direct competition with the classic, and while Cumberbatch is absolutely convincing in showing Khan's attitude, the story fails to provide him with the strong motivation of having been exiled to a desert planet. It doesn't really explain either why Khan allowed himself to become a minion of Marcus. Even worse, it takes old Spock (Leonard Nimoy) to explain to young Spock how dangerous Khan is, in the arguably dumbest cameo ever in Star Trek. Seriously, why does young Spock assume that Khan is known in the Prime Universe too, other than because of a feeling that he himself is living in a second-rate universe in which events repeat in some fashion? And old Spock only corroborates this notion by speaking of young Spock's destiny once again, besides saying that Khan is an awfully bad man.
Admiral Marcus shows his ugly face and joins the long list of mad admirals in Star Trek when he appears on the scene with an outrageously huge and ugly vessel and begins to destroy the Enterprise. Only Scotty's sabotage of the ship called "Vengeance" averts the immediate destruction of the Enterprise (and is conspicuously reminiscent of what he would do to the Excelsior in "Star Trek III", in another universe, some 25 years later). It is logical at this point of the story that Kirk joins forces with Khan, as even Spock has to admit. Their space ride to the Vengeance is exciting to watch, but it is also too similar to the space dive scene in "Star Trek (2009)". Abrams' staff tried to make it even more exciting this time, but it ended up being totally over the top. When Khan and Kirk are shot into space as more or less human torpedoes and maneuver through the debris field, it too feels rather like a scene in a superhero movie than in Star Trek.
The showdown of STID, or what should have been the showdown, is very protracted. It takes about half the movie from the first devastating attack on the Enterprise until the two bad guys are eventually more or less defeated in the end. It is breathless and doesn't leave any time for the characters to reflect on what is happening, unlike it was customary in previous Star Trek movies, even in "Star Trek (2009)". The Enterprise's uncontrolled descent in the Earth's atmosphere is another scene that is totally over the top. Scotty is a pleasant exception among all the superheroes when he loses his grip of the railing. But Kirk catches his fall, which is physically impossible. And if this were not yet unrealistic enough, Super-Chekov comes and grabs Kirk's hand when he is falling together with Scotty!
So far I did enjoy the movie despite all of its plot holes, its gratuitous tie-ins and its excursions into the superhero genre. But with the scene in which Kirk saves the tumbling ship by restarting the reactor the movie has lost me. As already mentioned, I avoided reading spoilers. Of course, I knew the trailer with the hands pressed on the glass pane, but I was absolutely convinced it was red herring (and it would have been a great one). I was not prepared for STID totally ripping off Spock's death scene from "Star Trek II", only with switched roles. I anticipated what would follow as soon as Kirk and Scotty were standing in front of that glass door in engineering. I yawned. But it was still a shock that the sequence of events was exactly the same as in "Star Trek II", even the words that Kirk and Spock exchange. After the initial shock I couldn't help but giggle, followed by loud laughter. It was so dreadful, I couldn't help but to laugh it away. My girl-friend says my reaction was embarrassing, and perhaps I should be sorry for disturbing the supposedly most emotional scene of the movie in such an inappropriate fashion. But seriously: What the hell where they thinking? That it would be a nice homage? If this was the intention, it has gone completely awry. The way STID exactly repeats the events of "Star Trek II" (or rather, pre-enacts them) and thereby plagiarizes them certainly doesn't harm the original movie. But it turns STID and ultimately the whole Abramsverse into a second-rate universe that taps into the original instead of trying to find its own way. "Why think of something original if we can do the old stuff all over again, with fresh actors and effects?" Also, quite unlike in "Star Trek II", this new Kirk and Spock know one another for just one year; it just can't have emotional impact of the original even if it were not an unintentionally funny cheap rip-off.
As I wouldn't have expected otherwise, Spock screams "Khaaaan!" after Kirk's death. The rest of the movie consists of more superhero chase scenes, in which Spock develops seemingly the same superhuman forces as Khan when they jump around on and between the cargo shuttles. Although it is just another plot device and Khan 1.0 was never supposed to have such miraculous abilities, I like how Kirk's life is saved using Khan's blood cells, which has a double impact. On one hand it is poetic justice that Khan unwillingly helps save the life of his enemy; on the other hand it is a reason why he must stay alive at any cost.
Thinking about it, in the end Khan gets everything he could realistically have hoped for. He and his people are all still alive in their chambers, so they aren't worse off than at the time they were found in space. Khan has caused a lot of destruction, and he has killed his mortal enemy Admiral Marcus. Just like Nero in "Star Trek (2009)" he has achieved everything he wanted, and he has made the new universe a bit worse than it already was after Nero's destruction of Vulcan. Like in the previous movie, the happy ending is a forced one and fails to convince me as such.
Characters & acting Well, I can't really say much about Kirk in this movie, other than that he makes many decisions (some of which he has to revise) and engages in reckless maneuvers (some of which end up in even more chaos). In my impression Kirk, even rather than Khan, is the unstable element in the story. The problem with Kirk as a character is that we can't see a real development after he has been demoted and regains his command effortlessly because Christopher Pike is dead. Well, overall Kirk is not quite the asshole he still was in "Star Trek (2009)". Regarding Chris Pine, he is doing a fine job in this very inconstant role. And as hard as he may have tried, he had no chance to save Kirk's death scene that was written as being incredibly silly in the first place.
The role of Spock in STID is more daring than in "Star Trek (2009)", a movie that played safe and showed the logical Spock from TOS most of the time. He only lost his temper in the previous movie after his homeworld had been destroyed and once again when Kirk challenged him. In STID Spock is challenged by emotions on several different levels: in his friendship with Kirk (who reproaches him for putting duty over loyalty), in his relationship with Uhura (who is waiting for signal that he loves her) and with his wrath on Khan. I don't think that it's plausible that Spock can rather live with the loss of his home planet (which is only a side note this time) and of his mother, while the fight against an enemy like Khan provokes such an irate reaction in him ("Khaaan!"). But as old Spock says, it may be young Spock's destiny by the logic of the new universe. As unbelievable as this premise is, Quinto makes the best of it without appearing as a silly "mad Vulcan".
"Star Trek Into Darkness" makes much better use of its principal cast, not just of Kirk and Spock, than "Star Trek (2009)". Uhura has a good scene in which she tries to convince the Klingons that they must support her to capture Harrison, because he is a man without honor. Her effort is in vain, but it becomes clear that this Uhura is a more proactive person than her counterpart in the Prime Universe, and not just because she is fluent in Klingon. Regarding her relationship with Spock, I find it pleasant that she is not quite as passive as she still was in the preceding movie, although she could and should have been still more of a Starfleet officer and less of Spock's girl-friend. Zoë Saldana is very sexy as always (especially in the wetsuit), and in her case it never comes across as gratuitous.
McCoy's best scene is the surgery he performs on the photon torpedo, which is, of course, a homage to "Star Trek VI". It is one of the better homages of the movie because it is not so utterly obvious. He provides advice and inspiration for Kirk and Spock a bit more like in TOS, and less like in "Star Trek (2009)" where he contributed little more than occasional cues. The only thing I don't like about McCoy in STID is that he frequently uses metaphors, even after his promise that he would restrain himself. While Karl Urban's performance was overall on spot, I would have wished for him to put a bit more emphasis in the facial expression, rather than into the wording.
The development of Scotty's character is a pleasant surprise in STID. The humor surrounding everything he is doing and saying is toned down to a more appropriate level. His arguably greatest scene is when he asks to be relieved of duty, more like a hollow threat, and Kirk surprisingly accepts his request. The way Simon Pegg plays Scotty's reaction is priceless. It seems I have to revise my opinion from the first movie on this casting choice and I look forward to seeing him next time. On the downside, Scotty's relationship to Keenser is once again like master and dog.
Sulu is allowed to play captain, and he has visibly fun in his role, which foreshadows his taking command of the Excelsior in the other universe in "Star Trek VI". However, this is his only really noteworthy scene. Chekov is promoted to chief engineer after the departure of Scotty. This gives his character a bit more to do than usual but doesn't really help in his development.
Chekov is still the prodigy who knows everything, who can do everything, but who ends up running around hectically. We have to admit at latest in this movie that the new Chekov has hardly anything in common with his Prime Universe counterpart than the original (which is quite plausible, because the two can't be the same person, genetically speaking). My impression is that Anton Yelchin's performance departs even further from the original Chekov than already in the first movie, and I second that decision, although I still don't know what to make of the new Chekov.
Alice Eve as Carol Marcus is only visually a pleasant surprise. Her motivation never becomes quite clear, and the inclusion of Dr. Marcus of "Star Trek II" fame was gratuitous in the first place. Her role effectively ends half way through the movie, when she is disabled and her father is killed. I don't mind her underwear scene, the fuss about which is just more evidence for me that certain people focus their attention and their criticism on totally unimportant things and that the producers and writers gladly pick that up and apologize for such small mishaps so they don't have to admit the real mistakes in their movies.
Benedict Cumberbatch is great as Harrison/Khan. As already mentioned his acting almost fills in for the lack of a really strong motivation in his role, which is the fault of the writers. He is calm and seductive at one time, only to become violent and emotional, often when you would least expect it. This Khan 2.0 has little in common with the one from "Space Seed" and "Star Trek II". Most obviously Khan 1.0 was never such a fighting machine as version 2.0. Yet, I think I saw a few mannerisms in Cumberbatch's play that reminded me a bit of Montalban.
Admiral Marcus remains a totally unremarkable character throughout the whole movie, like most of the various previous mad admirals that appeared in Star Trek. His role as a villain is bettered by Khan's, and his relationship to his daughter doesn't play a great role (and could have easily removed from the story). Even his death, as gruesome as it may be, is nothing special (it reminds me of Admiral Dougherty's demise in "Star Trek Insurrection").
Look & feel On a positive note, there were fewer lens flares in "Star Trek Into Darkness" than in "Star Trek (2009)". The action sequences in the new movie were generally better watchable, even with the increased difficulty of them being in 3D.
The engineering of the Enterprise is still as ugly and inappropriately factory-like as already in "Star Trek (2009)". I wouldn't really have expected that to change, but except for a few less water pipes that were visible the whole set still cries "brewery". I like the industrial look of the huge warp core, which strikes me as very realistic, although it has nothing in common with anything we have seen in Star Trek so far. The arguably most questionable design choice is the Vengeance, which not only has a name that is unbecoming of a Starfleet ship but is also as huge and ugly as no Federation vessel ever seen on Star Trek. As much as I hate this abomination of a starship, I think I could set aside my anger about it but only because I was prepared to see it.
There are some more designs whose aesthetics I don't like but which are consistent with the first movie. Most obviously the unattractive military uniforms with caps that fortunately appear only briefly, and the prevalence of the color gray in the cities on Earth. The disco in San Francisco is a nice colorful contrast to the overall gray though.
Nitpicking Admiral Marcus has a starship design lineage on display in his office, which includes the Vengeance as the latest model. He has a top secret starship openly on display? -- It took just one year since the destruction of Vulcan for the following to happen: Khan's ship is found adrift in space. Marcus enlists Khan's help to develop a huge starship and all kinds of weapons. The starship is built and launched. This is absolutely ridiculous. Especially considering that Section 31 is a secret organization that so far never built ships and that would need the necessary logistics and people first of all. And keep everything secret above all, with thousands of people working on the project. And while I'm at it, you don't build your secret ship in a place in the Sol system where there's a lot of space traffic and everyone could find your huge ship yards any time. -- So Khan built those torpedoes, and he managed to keep the interior a total secret? How would he explain the empty space that he designed just large enough to hold the cryonic chambers? Agreed, he may have claimed it was for extra explosive charges or fuel, but it seems extremely unlikely that he could really keep the secret. And no one noticed that the cyrotubes were missing in the place where they were previously stored? -- Khan transports himself to Qo'noS, using Scotty's "transwarp transport" formula. This was already utterly incredible in "Star Trek (2009)", but instead of admitting their error and abandoning the idea, the writers repeat and thereby corroborate it. Well, and the Enterprise needs less than a day to travel to Qo'noS and back as well. -- The Enterprise is attacked by the Vengeance at warp and suddenly drops out of warp. This happens between Moon and Earth, 20,000 kilometers from the Moon's surface. What an incredible coincidence! Also, the plotted course would lead the Enterprise through the gap between Earth and Moon at warp? Ridiculous. If that was not the plan, the Enterprise would have had to disengage the warp drive sooner than it happened because of the attack, in order not to overshoot the destination (and I'm not even talking about generally not staying at warp in a solar system). -- As usual in Star Trek movies, Earth has absolutely no defenses. The barely operational Enterprise is all alone in the fight against Khan. -- After the extreme structural damage, the Enterprise is definitely only fit for scrap. Well, maybe it is actually a new ship in the end, but the impression is created it is still the same Enterprise (only with some modifications to the warp and impulse engines). -- Why does McCoy need Khan's blood to cure Kirk? Couldn't he simply revive one of Khan's people, who likely have a suited blood composition too, especially considering that he needs one of their cryogenic chambers for Kirk anyway? -- It looks like McCoy saves only Kirk's life using Khan's blood. What about all the other people who were fatally injured during the attacks? Is it the captain's prerogative? Where could he possibly draw a line, considering that Khan is a blood bank that could be tapped for the benefit of humanity? Read much more about the movie's inconsistencies on a separate page.
Further commentary The directors of present-day action flicks need to take care that the human actors don't get lost in scenes that are dominated by bombastic visual effects. Fortunately Abrams, unlike many of his colleagues, holds his actors in high esteem and keeps them in the focus of interest most of the time. Still, "Star Trek Into Darkness" has lost sight of the human dimension. This shows in superhuman stunts as they are prevalent in the movie. Harrison, Kirk and Spock are jumping and flying around like superheroes, mostly even without the help of any technology. I think it is a big mistake to make a Star Trek movie that is supposed to rival superhero movies. Over-the-top stunts should be left to Spiderman, X-Men, Iron Man and the likes. Star Trek should tell genuine science fiction stories.
The second big mistake of STID is that its script incorporates elements that I only know from bad fan fiction: a secret organization that builds a massive warship in no time; an extended shooting orgy in which the ships are reduced to scrap; the involvement of established characters for no good reason but a cheap namedropping effect; a totally miscarried homage in which the events of a previous movie are repeated. This is just immature. And it tells me that the producers and writers don't really want their work to be taken seriously as a new, independent direction of Star Trek. In "Star Trek (2009)" they still had the advantage (and the excuse) that the whole mess was the result of a time travel event. STID, in contrast, should have nothing to do with the Prime Universe any longer as the timelines have parted, and Nimoy's utterly gratuitous appearance doesn't change anything about it. Still, the movie pretends that it is the destiny of the crew to run into Khan, and even of Kirk to die in exactly the same way Spock does in the Prime Universe, only some 25 years later. STID easily has the most farcical script of any Trek movie, including "Star Trek V" and "Star Trek (2009)".
The perhaps most definite failing on the long term is that Star Trek has stopped exploring and is just about chasing villains (or rather, trying hard to prevent them from blowing up cities and planets). Agreed, this tendency is anything but new and was already visible in the last few movies set in the Prime Universe. The new direction of Trek movies was even ironically alluded to in "Star Trek: Insurrection": "Can anyone remember when we used to be explorers?" Yet, the old Star Trek had some 600 episodes and a few movies that were not about going to war against a villain, while the Abramsverse doesn't know anything else so far. With the exception of the brief excursion to Nibiru, the new Enterprise neither explores strange new worlds, nor does it seek out new life and new civilizations. And most obviously it only goes where previous Trek stories have gone before. The final scene of STID insinuates that this may change, but so did already the ending of "Star Trek (2009)". Personally, I have little hope that the Star Trek I used to know and to love will ever return. There may be a TV series set in the Abramsverse and perhaps it will try to recapture the old spirit. But the general setting of the Abramsverse, that you only win if you're defiant and reckless and still can't change your destiny, is a bad premise for a new TV series.
Conclusion So how do I rate STID? "Star Trek (2009)" scored six points, because I enjoyed it despite the ridiculous coincidences in the script and the fact that some general principles of Star Trek were abandoned. Well, I have to live with the latter because optional canon seems to be the new canon. I enjoyed STID too. On the bright side, it had a better development of the characters, it brought us still more action and I admit I found it a bit more exciting than its predecessor. On the downside, the lame idea to bring back Khan in such a gratuitous fashion, to rip off Spock's death scene and to try to rival superhero movies was close to ruining STID for me. I can't take a movie seriously that doesn't even want to be taken seriously. I can't speak for the viewers who may have expected nothing more than an exciting popcorn movie and who were served one, but I think fans of Star Trek deserve better. So I give it four points.
Remarkable dialogues: "Why would a Starfleet admiral ask a 300-year-old frozen man for help?" - "Because I am better." - "At what?" - "Everything." (Kirk and Khan), "Are you feeling homicidal, power-mad, or despotic?" - "No more than usual." (McCoy and Kirk, after Khan's blood has taken effect)
Remarkable quotes: "Dammit, man, I'm a doctor, not a torpedo technician!" (McCoy), "Khaaan!" (Spock)
Remarkable gadget: The Enterprise bridge has twin-shoulder seatbelts, whose segments unfold starting at the backrest.
Remarkable facts: Khan has 72 followers that are encased in cryonic chambers. -- The Vengeance is a ship without registry. It belongs to the Dreadnought class, according to Khan.
More about the Abramsverse