The Wrath of Harrison
J.J. Abrams’ next chapter of the storied deep-space franchise, Star Trek Into Darkness, is a complex but richly satisfying story as well as a wonderful testament to friendship, resiliency and sacrifice that captures the iconic Captain Kirk in his darkest hour.
Countless screenwriters have found their inspiration in exploring the emotional aspects of their lead characters with varying degrees of success. In the first film of this series, Kirk’s origin story explains his personality defined by an “any means necessary” or “go with your gut approach.” Both methodologies are severely challenged in this latest tale that shows the continuing evolution of the Enterprise’s central figure.
At the onset of the tale, the USS Enterprise is in the middle of an important mission to cool down a volcano that if it erupts, could destroy the planet. When a malfunction occurs and one of the main characters is close to certain death, it creates the film’s initial dilemma – expose futuristic technology far ahead of its to undeveloped primitives or let a key crew member die?
The ultimate decision costs Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) his ship as he is removed from his command and he is demoted and Spock (Zachary Quinto) is reassigned to another command. Upset that instead of keeping the matter between them in-house, Kirk fumes that Spock’s incessant logical thinking neglects the fact that he saved human life. But Kirk is offered another lifeline by his mentor and restored commander of the Enterprise, Rear Admiral Pike (Bruce Greenwood) who goes to bat for the embattled officer. “I believe in you Jim,” Pike passionately tells his friend in a key scene. Pike’s faith in not only his ability but ultimately in him helps give Kirk the confidence he needs to stand up to any force in the universe.
His resolve will meet maybe his most formidable foe in the form of the mysterious, Commander Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch). Steely-eyed, determined and with an unknown agenda, he seeks and finds a weak spot which enables him to deliver a crippling blow to the Federation. Once a valued member of the inner-circle, Harrison uses that knowledge with a follow-up attack that restores his command of the Enterprise and him out to avenge his mentor, who falls during the attack.
Spock is also altered by the experience and coupled with an earlier episode that has also has caused much consternation with his lady love, Uhura (Zoe Saldana) reveals that his lack of emotion is not just in his DNA but ultimately a choice that dates back to the destruction of his planet Vulcan in the first film. While he and Kirk continue to butt heads over their stylistic and personality differences, ultimately they need each other and are stronger when they work together.
After the attack on the senior officers of Starfleet, Harrison’s whereabouts are discovered and Kirk volunteers to go into the Klingon airspace of Cronos to retrieve him – all while NOT starting a war with their rivals. While Spock is a science officer, another one Carol Wallace (Alice Eve) hitches a ride aboard, inquisitive about the potentially harmful weaponry stashed aboard the vessel and providing yet another mystery in this cinematic puzzle.
After a daring firefight in Cronos where Kirk and a small crew including Spock and Uhura are overwhelmed and nearly captured, Harrison decimates the Kligon unit and surrenders himself to Kirk. Filled with rage and loss, Kirk beats the unaffected Harrison until HIS arm is tired in a rare loss of composure. While on the surface, this is a open-and-shut case, things are never what they appear on the surface.
Screenwriters Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof create an impressive tale that is successful at slowly divulging details on a need-to-know basis that continually surprise the audience while methodically moving the narrative along. Mystery and conflict are central themes in the story and they have the perfect foil in Cumberbatch, who seamlessly blends both elements with stunning effectiveness. He mentally plays into Kirk’s blind spot of arrogance by showing him that he is not the Enterprise’s but HE has them under his hypnotic spell.
Abrams has an amazing feel for this world and the characters that populate them, giving each room to breath while reinforcing what we already know and credibly managing to move it forward. The actor who benefits the most is Cumberbatch, who is a revelation. Known mostly for his work with BBC dramas and most recently for his wonderful performance in Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, he is engaging super-villain in the best cinematic sense. Cold, calculating and highly-intelligent, he is deliciously evil and clearly flummoxes and unhinges both Kirk and Spock. He forces Spock to inquire with himself to implore If he can defeated.
Star Trek Into Darkness is a wonderful and thrilling ride which makes one wonder what direction the franchise will take if Abrams decides not to come back for future episodes. Until that day comes, savor this delightful summer popcorn tale that will give audiences pure pleasure and much-needed bang for their buck!