Sorry for the long review, but I wanted to throw in my two cents.
For me, the choices characters make, or the questions they are asking is most important in my enjoyment of a movie. I think ďStar Trek Into DarknessĒ has plenty of choices and questions worth seeing play out on screen, and to ponder after itís done.
In the wake of the destruction of Vulcan, Admiral Marcus wonders if they should make a deal with the devil to help make sure the Federation can survive any attack that will come their way. If he does, the population will have a good chance to see a future without major threats, but their ideals may fall by the way side as survival trumps morals. If he doesnít, all that may be left of the Federation is their electromagnetic and subspace signals telling the universe how high-minded they were, while ruthless threats rained down on them. There is no easy answer. Trying to balance physical and ideological survival is a difficult game. Marcus decided they just faced a very close call, and it was time to play. I canít really say I blame him. Khan basically said it himself. Federation citizenís are so morally strong they canít bring themselves down to the same level as their enemies to find ways to outwit them. But if you have access to a monstrous mind that you can control, and use for your protection, the chance at survival may be too great to pass up.
Kirk has to ask himself if he should ignore his gut, or let the opinion of others override what he feels is the right course of action. He most likely views this as a sign of weakness. How can you lead if you canít make a solid decision? Heís smart, courageous, so what that he doesnít know everything. So far, following his gut has kept everyone on the Enterprise alive for six months, saved a primitive civilization, and the Federation outside of Vulcan. Why should he bother with the opinion or ideas of others when heís good enough to save the day taking everyone else along for the ride? He has to decide whether his imperfection, his inability to solve every problem with his mind alone, is a sign of weakness to run from, or a fact of life that gives purpose to the talented crew that he leads.
Vulcan culture is centered on the idea of controlling emotion. Since the destruction of Vulcan and loss of his mother, it seems that Spock has been obsessed with the idea of controlling the emotional pain associated with death. How do you stand the sadness and fear that precedes your death, or that grows in others when you pass on? Heís tried distancing himself from Uhura. Heís risking his life trying to find out if peace is possible just before death. He wonders if anyone else has found it, when he melds with Pike, only to find more of the same.
While these are the big ideas that I enjoyed most in ďStar Trek Into Darkness,Ē there are lots of smaller storylines that help the bigger picture. While Kirk initially takes the chair for granted, believing it should rightfully be his because of his perceived greatness, Sulu and Chekov are more cautious when they are put in positions of authority. Sulu is initially in awe of command, and is unsure if heís ready. But when pushed, he rises to the occasion. Chekov is initially afraid of being made chief of engineering, but heís willing to admit his uncertainties. Kirkís subordinates are building themselves up to meet the challenge of command. Compare this to Kirk who has to deconstruct himself to settle into command. Scotty and Spock are putting their faith in the rules to act as a shield from dangers without and within, compared to Marcus who views the rules as the thing to be protected. Iím sure Spock knows that stopping the volcano on Nibiru is a drastic interference in the destiny of the planet, but after watching Vulcan die, he probably canít stand by and watch more death, especially on a planetary scale, if he can stop it.
Beyond the story, most of the visuals and performances are top notch. I have to join in with the praise for Benedict Cumberbatch. His best scenes are expressing the desperation to be free with the rest of people put in cryofreeze, and of course taking over the Vengeance. I loved listening to him basically say everything is a weapon, including the air you breathe, so one way or another everyone will submit to his will. In 30 seconds itís clear why Admiral Marcus needed Khan to advance Starfleetís weapons, and why it was impossible to keep this genie under control.
Chris Pine also succeeds in portraying a much wider range of emotions for Kirk in the second movie. Sadness over losing his father figure in Pike, fear during his death scene, the disappointment in losing the Enterprise, and many moments of humor. My favorite scene is the ďIím Allowing ItĒ brig confrontation with Khan. About once every week Iíve experienced that slow burn of contained rage in front of people you respect, and then the gradual release toward an explosion before the one you despise.
The space battles were amazing. The Enterprise cart wheeling out of warp knocks me out of my chair every time I see it. The Vengeance was a badass design. Iíd love to see a fleet attacking Klingons in some future movie. The new warp entry effect, especially in 3D, shows off the speeds and distances of interstellar travel.
No, the movie isnít perfect. My biggest problem is a tired, but I believe valid complaint. At a Star Trek convention a few years ago, Anthony Pascale from TrekMovie said what he, and most of us thought. Why go through the trouble of creating a new universe, just to revisit Trekís greatest hits. It does annoy me that Khan was brought into this story to add weight and danger to a story that was good without him. By having two villains in Marcus and Khan, spending half the movie trying to figure out who is doing what and why, neither is given the screen time needed to really dig into the characters. We all know Khan is a fascinating character who can provide a window into the best and worst of humanity. We only get quick flashes of the true depth of the character in ďSTIDĒ because by the time heís free to be himself, the movie is close to ending. Admiral Marcus could have been more than a stock evil government official, doing bad things with good intentions. While I am disappointed that the villains don't have too much depth, they did serve their purpose, moving Kirk from a know-it-all, to an observant leader.
In most political discussion, there are good and bad points on both sides of the argument. But in "STID," the bad guys are for increased military action to protect the Federation. The good guys are for just being explorers. This is too simplistic for a thorough discussion of how to keep civilization safe in the face of unimaginable threats. The story shouldn't try to answer the question. There is no easy answer. All of the points should be presented. Let the viewer decide where and why they stand on a particular side, and consider the issue from a new perspective. My favorite movies of last year, "Life of Pi," "Sound of My Voice," and "Cabin in the Woods," held up a mirror to the audience, so we could ask why do we believe what we want to believe, or why do we enjoy the things we do? It's good that this movie tried to be about something more than just blowing stuff up real good. Next time, take another step toward a more complete, less preachy look at real world issues. Yeah, I know, Trek has been traditionally preachy. But this is a new world.
On a less serious note, I can't figure out any logical reason for the Enterprise to hide in an ocean at the beginning of the movie. I understand transporters are useless near the volcano because of extreme heat and electromagnetic interference. Did the Enterprise have to come to Spock's rescue from the ocean? Couldn't it have descended from orbit, stop right above the volcano to beam Spock away, and still be seen by the inhabitants? Speaking of the people of Nibiru, I'd love to see a side story that jumps ahead 3000 years when they become interstellar explorers, and find out what their ancient god really was. A few billion people are going to have a really bad day. Thanks Captain Kirk.
There have been a few complaints about the movie that I believe can be explained.
How can a volcano kill an entire civilization? Look up supervolcano. If you live in Wyoming, maybe you shouldn't.
Why go after Khan to save Kirk's life, when you have 72 other genetically engineered people onboard? Was it confirmed that everyone had the same genetic enhancements? We know for a fact the Khan's blood can fix damaged or dead cells. It's possible that they all have the same abilities, or everyone could be slightly different. Or maybe Khan enhanced himself after being thawed and given access to Section 31 knowledge and technology, which would give him healing blood now, when he didn't have it originally. Basically, in the middle of a life and death situation, I don't have a problem with the crew working with certainties instead of assumptions.
Why beam not beam Khan and Spock up during their fight, instead of beaming someone down? One scene in the movie hurts my argument. Someone needs to stand still, have a constant velocity, or when a genius is at the controls, a constant acceleration to be safely transported. Spock and Khan were constantly changing position during their fight, even jumping from one platform to another. Yes, Carol Marcus ran across the Enterprise bridge while being transported to the Vengeance. But Spock's mother died because of her change in velocity. The movie breaks the rules of transporters in the Carol Marcus scene using an advanced, fully operational ship, not this one, when the Enterprise is literally in pieces.
"Star Trek Into Darkness" is easily my favorite movie so far of 2013. As a person with a bit of an ego, and unwillingness to admit my mistakes, Kirk's journey hit a nerve with me. I've never been much of a Kirk fan because he's been presented rather smug, knocked down on occasion, just to be rewarded in the end. It was good to see greater respect for the minds of others and the responsibilities of the chair grow within this version of Captain Kirk. The story itself is fun to follow as the mystery of why Starfleet was attacked unfolds, leading to troubling choices made under difficult conditions. The answers to what-would-you-do are not easy or pleasant. Is "Star Trek Into Darkness" my favorite Trek movie? No. It ranks third on my personal list behind "Wrath of Khan," a great tale about consequences catching up with you, and "The Motion Picture," the closest Trek films got to exploration. But it's a hell of a lot of fun with enough character and social questions to ponder long after the movie ends.