Amid the kids' various end-of-year parties and shows, Pierre and I finally sneaked out to see "Star Trek Into Darkness." This is the 2nd in the J.J. Abrams reboot of the original series and it's difficult to talk about without some spoilers, so beware.
I've discussed many times before about what a drag it is to have to wait for movies and tv shows to come to France because any surprises or twists are inevitably ruined. I know some people think that this is not a big deal, it doesn't mean enjoying the story less, just differently. I happen to think this is bullshit, but unless I stay off the internet for all time, I have to learn to live with spoilers.
So going into this movie, I did know the identity of the big villain and I can honestly say it didn't change my experience of watching it, so I don't feel too bad about talking about it here. (I also don't know if the filmmakers really meant for it to be a big secret, since you find out kind of early in the story).
Briefly, the plot revolves around a terrorist attack on Star Fleet that leads Kirk and Spock to hunt the culprit, John Harrison, to the edge of Klingon space. Kirk has been ordered to kill Harrison, but Spock convinces Kirk to capture him instead and bring him back for trial - not only to avoid starting a war with the Klingons, but because it's the right thing to do.
But of course, all is not what it seems. Harrison reveals his true identity as Khan, a genetically engineered super-human, who is being blackmailed by Star Fleet into helping them create advanced weapons for nefarious purposes. (Yes, I'm being deliberately vague here, but I don't want to spoil every plot point). Kirk, Spock et al. must then choose whether to continue following Star Fleet's orders or follow their consciences.
So, yes, "Into Darkness" is about James Kirk's first meeting with the villainous Khan ("Khaaaaaan!"). As you may or may not know, Khan first appeared in one of the original Star Trek episodes. As in the movie, he was a genetically engineered super-human who became too powerful and was eventually betrayed by his creators, captured and put into hypersleep.
In the tv episode, when he and his crew are found and awakened by the Enterprise, they try to take over the ship. Kirk & Co. eventually defeat him and sentence him and his followers to exile on an uninhabited planet. At the end of the episode, Spock muses that it would be interesting to return to the planet in a hundred years to see what kind of society such advanced humans could create.
A long time ago I heard that after the disaster of the first Star Trek movie (which I resaw recently and it's even worse than I remembered), the producers went back to the original episodes to look for ideas. I imagine when they saw this one, all kinds of bells started ringing in their heads. Khan really is a great, larger-than-life villain whose actions are, if not justified, at least somewhat understandable. His story practically begged for a re-visit (plus he was played by Ricardo Montalban, who still looked damned good) and "Wrath of Khan" was born.
Now I have not seen "Wrath of Khan" in a long time, but I remember thinking that it was a pretty kick-ass story, despite Shatner's scenery chewing and the cheesy special effects. The ending in particular, with Spock sacrificing himself for the Enterprise and saying good-bye to his friend Jim was genuinely moving. "Into Darkness" clearly has a lot of respect for that movie too, as it's referenced all over the place and even comes into play in the movie's climax (a reminder: the Abrams movies are on an alternate time line from the original Star Trek movies, so even in this movie, the events of "Wrath of Khan" actually occurred).
While I'm totally on board with the alternate time-line thing, which allows Abrams to pull from the Star Trek canon with being a slave to it, I'm not sure such reverence for the original movie actually works all that well. I would've much rather seen Spock figure things out for himself than have to rely on "Old Spock" for answers. That said, the reversal of Kirk being the one to sacrifice himself to save the Enterprise was a neat twist, even if we knew, because of some heavy-handed plot points, that he would not be gone for long.
Kirk's temporary death also allowed for Spock to become an unexpected action hero, which I know a lot of people have a problem with. It's true that in the Abrams movies Spock shows a lot more emotion than in the originals, but that's what I like about them. In fact, in both Abrams movies, Spock is arguably the main character, with Kirk as a prominent sidekick and that's fine with me. Why remake the movies at all if you don't have something new to say?
My main problem with "Into Darkness" is that I just did not find the story all that interesting. It's kind of predictable, there are huge plot holes, and it still felt like a lot of set up to the Enterprise's 5-year mission. That said, it was a hell of a lot of fun to watch. The pacing is good, the performances are all solid, Cumberbatch is a magnetic presence and the action set-pieces are spectacular without devolving into the empty CGI-itis that other recent action movies have come down with.
I'm still looking forward to J.J. Abrams next one, which I hope will break away even more from the shadow of the original. The characters, the setting, the special effects have all been brought up to date. Now take us where no one has gone before.