Normally when I review a movie I do my best to make it spoiler free. But with the new Star Trek movie I found that I can’t say what I want to say about it without going into an examination of the plot. So this will be a review with major spoilers. If you have not seen the movie yet I strongly urge you to not to read past the spoiler section beyond the neutral zone below.
Having said that I will do a little bit of non-spoilery comments first before delving into the main section of the review.
The movie is of course a follow-up to the successful reboot of the franchise and is set in the alternate universe where Vulcan got destroyed. The tone of the movie is very much in line with the previous movie, i.e. loud, brash, fast-paced, loud, noisy, in-your-face, shouty and is also a bit loud. I should add that it’s a bit noisy.
Joining the cast as villain John Harrison is Benedict Cumberbatch, from BBC’s Sherlock. He is seriously badass. He chews the scenery, splits it out, chews it some more and generally steals the show. Benedict is good value.
And that’s kind of all I can say before delving into the spoiler section. But it’s an entertaining movie and if you liked the last one you will probably like this one too.
So on to the spoilers.
Spoiler neutral zone.
Ok, you’re still here. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Before I start I need to say that I did enjoy the movie very much. I make this clear now as I will make quite a few negative observations about some plot points below. But overall I liked the movie.
To cut a long story short the big plot twist comes half-way through and we discover that John Harrison is genetic superman Khan from the classic series episode Space Seed and of course Star Trek II The Wrath of Khan. This was a plot development predicted by some long before the movie came out and credit to JJ Abrams for obfuscating the character’s identity enough for it to be a surprise.
The movie is not a remake of The Wrath of Khan (hereafter referred to as TWOK) but it does borrow a lot from it and there were numerous references, as there are to the other movies
My first reaction on walking out of the cinema was something like:
“Wow! All the best bits of Wrath of Khan, repackaged for the 21st century!”
This thought was closely followed by:
“Hmmm… All the best bits of Wrath of Khan, recycled for a new audience. How lazy. They’re trying to ride on the coat-tails of greatness to give the thing some gravitas.”
Closely followd by a third thought:
“Yes, it will take me a little while to get my head around this one.”
I actually did like all the Khan stuff that started seeping in shortly after they captured The Batch. He starts his speech in the brig about who he is and where he came from and I knew where it was going, “No way! He’s going to say he’s Khan!” And he said the word. “Khan”. I think some dude sitting on my row of the cinema kind of gasped right then.
Before I forget, another big link back to TWOK was the presence of Carol Marcus in the movie, as played by British actress Alice Eve. In the earlier movie we discover that she and Kirk had a son called David. This time around she is a Starfleet officer. Oddly I liked how she had an English accent for no reason whatsoever while her father, Admiral Marcus, was clearly being played as an American. At the end of the movie Carol seems to have joined the crew and I do like it when they add a new member, like they did with Savvik in TWOK.
But back to TWOK plot homages.
One big surprise was a brief cameo by Leonard Nimoy as the so-called Spock Prime from the original version of the Star Trek universe. The scene with the two Spocks was very clever, because Quinto-Spock is asking Nimoy-Spock for clues and Nimoy-Spock refuses to spell things out.
But there is a subtext there and the audience knows the only way to beat Khan is for a sacrifice. There’s a foreboding thing happening right there that I liked. It’s clear that a price has to be paid, as in the earlier movie where of course Spock goes into the radiation chamber to save the ship.
And before you know it they do the whole radiation chamber scene but with a switch so that is Kirk who saves the ship and dies and Spock who is outside touching the glass. Thats a fun little twist I would not have predicted.
Of course as soon as Kirk walked into the chamber I was thinking “McCoy injected Khan’s blood into that dead Tribble and we know is blood has regenerative properties”. Still, it was a fun scene, although see my objection about it being recycled greatness.
So Kirk dies and then Spock shouts “Khannnn!!!” Ah! I didn’t see that coming. (From reading the forums a lot of fans are a bit annoyed about this. But if they are lifting chunks of the earlier movie then why not lift that line as well.)
The other villain of the piece is Admiral Marcus (played by Peter Weller) who is running the secret Section 31 black ops outfit. Back on the TV show Enterprise I believe the same actor played a character in, guess what, Section 31! Lazy! Plus when Peter Weller turns up you know he’s a bad un. The revelation of him being the villain was as surprising as a big unsurprising thing slapping you in the face.
Another observation, Marcus’ secret badass starship was just too evil looking, all black and non-Starfleet-y. The crew were also a bit evil looking and were not even wearing proper Starfleet uniforms. I think it would have been a bit more interesting and conflicting if this crew had been wearing standard Starfleet uniforms because then you’d be thinking that Kirk is firing on his own people.
The whole reason for Marcus doing all this is that he believes that war with the Klingons is inevitable and he has been using Harrison/Khan to develop badass weapons. There’s actually an interesting idea there but the boo-hiss way it is presented makes it all a bit one dimensional.
Earlier I discussed some scenes lifted from TWOK, but there are numerous other instances of homages/recycling:
1 Scotty sabotages the bad ship from inside. He did the same thing to the USS Excelsior in ST III, thus allowing the Enterprise to escape Spacedock.
2 The bad ship eventually crashes in San Francisco Bay. The stolen Klingon Bird of Prey did that at the end of ST IV
3 Admiral Marcus is preparing for war with the Klingons and is willing to sacrifice the Enterprise and it’s crew. That’s a bit like Admiral Cartwright and the conspirators in ST VI wanting to keep hostilities going.
4 The face-off between the Enterprise and the bad ship felt a little like the one in Star Trek Nemesis (the tenth movie which had Tom Hardy as the clone of Picard, back in the days when Tom Hardy was kind of unknown).
5 Kirk and Khan have to cross over to the bad ship to fight Peter Weller. That strongly reminded me of Kirk and Spock going to Nero’s ship in the 2009 movie.
6 Also the fight on the flying platforms at the end reminded me of the fight on the planet drilling platform in the 2009 movie.
Now for a couple of annoying technical issues:
First of all after attacking Starfleet headquarters Khan/Harrison teleports out of his ship to the Klingon home world in a split second. Really? Seriously? The have technology to do that? Then why bother with spaceships at all? That’s a very sloppy plot thing to do as it negates the premise of everything else you are portraying. Also why go to the Klingon home world at all? It seems like he’s just hiding out and has no reason to be there. It just seems like and excuse to include the Klingons at last.
The other annoying technical issue is when the Enterprise is flying back to Earth from Klingon space. The Enterprise is in warp for just a minute or two at most. The Marcus Bad Ship catches up and shoots them out of warp. Guess what, they’re back at Earth. In two minutes! Again, this sloppy plot development is just lazy. It’s there for the convenience of getting back to Earth for the showdown.
Now that I think about it Carol Marcus runs to the bridge to warn Kirk about the capabilities of her father’s ship. It appears the head of a super secret black-ops outfit tells his daughter what he’s been doing at work. Again, lazy.
Another plot hole. If Khan’s blood can save Kirk why not try the blood from one of his buddies?
But hang on a minute. Magic blood? That means in the future every time a character dies the audience can shout “just use Khan’s magic blood!” at the screen.
I suppose that all sounds negative, but lazy writing and the resulting plot holes can usually be fixed with a little thought. But there was much about the movie I liked here are a few examples:
1 – When kirk meets with admiral Marcus after the attack on Starfleet headquarters we see models of spaceships on a table going from a Gemini capsule (I think) through to the Phoenix (from First Contact), the Enterprise NX-01 (from the TV show Enterprise), a weird ship glimpsed in a picture in the first movie, the Kelvin from the 2009 movie, the current Enterprise and finally to what I assume is the Evil Bad Ship.
2 – After Harrison is captured and taken on board the Enterprise McCoy wants to take a blood sample. Harrison is in the brig behind what looks like glass but is some sort of forcefield as McCoy has a little circle gadget that he uses to make a hole in the force field.
3 – I really liked seeing Carol Marcus in a classic 1960s Starfleet uniform. Sorry, but seeing her run down the corridor in those boots… =sigh=
4 – When Kirk tells Chekhov to put on a red uniform I thought “Chekov is not long for this world!”
5 – Scotty goes to investigate what’s at a set of coordinates and finds himself approaching a super secret facility in orbit of Jupiter. The shots of Jupiter are suitably stunning and I like how a real planet was used in the movie. Last time out Saturn got a guest appearance. Look out for Mars in the next movie I think!
6 – The Batch doing The Acting, chewing the scenery, hissing lines like “I will walk over your cold, dead corpses!” like he means it. Worth the price of admission right there.
7 – Nice to finally see some Klingons. Well, one anyway.
But back to the whole Khan rehash/tribute/homage/recycle. I seem to recall after the 2009 movie came out there was a lot of speculation about what the next movie would feature and I’m pretty sure Khan was mentioned frequently. So with that in mind it is perhaps best that they got it out of their system.
As this movie ends the Enterprise is finally heading off on its five year mission. One assumes that will be the setting for the next movie and it’s interesting to speculate what the story will be about. I would not want to bet against Klingons appearing.
Whew! That might be the longest review I’ve written.