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Priding herself as a 'Jack of all Trades," Ashleigh has always been one to expand her horizons and try to be that person to help someone accomplish something. A singer, a writer, a counselor, a designer, a consumer of culture; there are few things that she doesn't consider herself interested in. With a degree in psychology and a background in graphic design under her belt, Ashleigh is currently expanding her life-repitoire with a career in app building; distributing apps and producing content on Apple and Amazon's digital newsstands. An L.A. girl through and through, unless it comes to the Dodgers. You can send them back to Brooklyn, for all she cares. Go Angels.

Star Trek: Into Darkness – Is this Alternate Universe all it’s cracked up to be?

Star Trek Into Darkness - Credit: Paramount Studios

As a long-time fan of many of the elements utilized in the creation of the latest addition to the Star Trek franchise, it’s difficult to come into this review of the second film of this new era objectively.  Speaking as a J. J. Abrams fan, I was instantly pleased to hear that he would be taking on the latest installments to the Star Trek world, and it has been exciting to see how his creative perspective, albeit rather ADD at times, navigates a world that is decades old and already rich with multiple eras of canon.  As a Zachary Quinto fan, I’ve been extremely proud to watch him step into such an iconic role, and excited to see how his notoriously expressive and vivacious persona fits into a role that is just as notoriously enigmatic.  But as a Star Trek fan, I’ve been nervous every step of the way.

Before I get any further into this, I need to warn you all: I’m about to get deep into the beefy plot of this movie, and as someone that thoroughly respects the creative process and enjoys the experience of watching a story unfold, I’m going to tell you all right now to stop reading this if you have not already seen the movie.  I’m telling you:  Watch this movie spoiler free.  It will make it INFINITELY BETTER.  Do not go into this movie with preconceived notions, do not go into this movie with a chip on your shoulder, and do not go into this movie expecting to see something specific.  Just go watch it, and let the excitement do the talking.  Then you can come back to this article and see for yourself if you agree with me or not.  Seriously.  Please do that.  I would love to see what you have to say.

Coming off of the first movie from Abrams and company, I had high hopes for the second film.  J.J. made it very clear to his audience that he was not making these movies for Star Trek fans alone: he wanted them to be loved by everyone, and he definitely accomplished that with the first film.  He put together a cast that is impossible not to love, and delivered an action packed sequence that was worthy of every syllable of the phrase “summer blockbuster,” all while keeping true to the mood of the original series, and achieving the stamp of approval from the ones that matter most: Nimoy and The Shat.

credit: Paramount Pictures

When we first got a title for the second film, I was instantly curious.  “Into Darkness” did not resonate an immediate reference for me, and I began to wonder what sort of angle this film would be taking.  I didn’t want to know, though.  After years of mental anguish over “Lost,” I knew better than to speculate anything when it came to something with J.J.’s name on it.  So I waited patiently, and when it came time for the movie to premier, I found myself happily seated in a theater in the heart of London, popcorn in my lap, breath slightly hitched in anticipation over a movie that I had been waiting for from the moment the last one ended.

Note my surprise when I realized that the main plot of the movie would open with a terrorist attack on: the heart of London.

It was extremely jarring to me, after a delightful opening sequence where Kirk not only saves the life of his First Officer, but those of an entire alien race, to have the story instantly brought back to reality, to a tone that did not match with the original series at all, to something that so many of us can unfortunately relate to: an attack on our home turf.  We are then introduced to whom we assume will be the “Big Bad” of the movie:  John Harrison.  At first I was astronomically confused as to who this guy was.  I had no recollection of that name in my memory banks, and I was instantly weary that Abrams had decided to start inventing villains in a world that was already established.  There’s only so many new elements that can be introduced into an Alternate Universe story arc, after all.  Further added to my confusion over our villain’s identity, I also became confused over his intent:  he appeared, afterall, to be a doctor of sorts: someone who could cure the ailing child of a man, so long as he agreed to help him with his terrorist plot.  It was twisted and unconventional, and rubbed uncomfortably at the tiny, Star Trek purist that sat in the back of my mind that was whispering: ‘this isn’t right.’  Above all, though, it set the tone for the movie immediately, and the title ‘Into Darkness’ suddenly fit very well.

credit: Empire Magazine and Paramount Pictures

Our heroes take off after this villain, and it is at this point that we are introduced to the Klingons.  Now, given the fact that we still do not know who this John Harrison character is, I suddenly become very excited over the prospect of this guy being a Klingon loyalist.  The Klingons are vastly interesting, and having them appear as an overwhelming presence this early in the series would have been a really cool plot twist.  Regardless of their point in the movie, though, it gives us the opportunity to see Uhura be a bad ass, and I had a moment of pride over watching the single female character in the movie strut her stuff and have a purpose in the film.  She eventually ends up needing back up from the boys, but hey.  She had her chance to shine.  And  uhhhh, did anyone else think she was super hot while chatting with the super-aggro Klingons?  Noted.

We eventually learn that John Harrison is none other than Khan, and you can probably imagine how abruptly my jaw came unhinged at this revelation.  Beyond any kind of plot hole, change in lore, or canon ignorance that came along with this character reveal, I was just impressed that Abrams and company were able to keep that story arc under wraps so successfully.  The Wrath of Khan is arguably one of the most beloved installments in the Star Trek franchise, and while it is one that J.J. had to address eventually, it’s still shocking to me that he approached it the way that he did.

credit: Paramount Pictures

Khan was all but reinvented: his identity repurposed to one that would better fit the plot of a movie targeted to a multi-genre audience.  Gone was the savage, war-hungry Napoleon archetype that Star Trek fans have come to identify with Khan.  Instead we were given a cold and calculated man, who has no earthly intentions except to get back at the man who is responsible for his race being lost in space (which, by the way, would have been himself if the original series had anything to say about it… by I digress).  Furthermore, gone was the grudge that he had with Kirk: In this world, Jim is still an ankle-biting ass hole with too much to prove, and the 15-year penance that Khan sought to deliver after being unceremoniously marooned in space was instead aimed at the acting admiral.  The little Star Trek purist in the back of my mind was now standing up and waving her little arms wildly at this revelation.  If Khan wasn’t trying to kill Kirk, then what the hell was the point?  How was this going to end?

Luckily this movie has devolved into being Star Trek: Into Darkness: The Wrath of Kirk instead of actually being The Wrath of Khan, otherwise these plot changes would seriously make no sense.  Without giving too much away, the eventual teaming up of Khan and Kirk in the effort to destroy a common enemy ends up being a surprisingly good plot twist, and the distrust and overall weariness of Kirk every step of the way pays appropriate tribute to the Kirk of yester-year.  It’s good to see the guy starting to grow up, even though his reckless ways come back to bite him in the ass later on.

credit: Paramount Pictures

Aside from the reinvention of Khan, there are far too many other bizarro references to the original lore to mention, but one that I was surprisingly excited about was the presence of Carol Marcus.  In the original Wrath of Khan film, Dr. Marcus is introduced very briefly as a lover from Kirk’s past, and the mother of his only son.  In this film, however, we’re treated to their very first introduction, and while they never come together as a couple, it feels as though she’s here to stay, and I’ll be very interested to see how they treat their relationship.  Will they keep her as the eventual mother of Kirk’s only child?  It seems that she should be, as her purpose in this film had absolutely nothing to do with her character’s purpose in the original film.  If they keep anything from Carol’s lore in this new series, I hope they at least keep that.  Besides, Alice Eve was a refreshing addition to the series, and I golf clapped for J.J.’s ability to once again seamlessly integrate another female character into what is, very notably, a sausage fest.  The little Star Trek purist in my head, while highly confused at this plot change, was okay with it.

The big game changer at the end of the movie, though, was one that neither my inner Star Trek purist (the one that was at this point now banging against my skull) nor my outer J.J. Fangirl could ignore, however.  Most pop culture lovers, regardless of if they’re big consumers of Star Trek trivia, know of Spock’s epic sacrifice for Kirk and the crew at the end of Wrath of Khan.  Spock dies on that ship, with a scene that leaves the dynamic duo crumpled up against the glass in the the engineering room; Spock dead with his fingers lingering in the vulcan salute, and Kirk pressing his fingers regretfully against the lifeless imprint.  The movie ends on a reflective note, with Kirk describing Spock as the most human soul he ever knew, and as a new planet is born, Spock’s dead remains are blasted onto its newly formed surface.

credit: Paramount Pictures

Now, seeing as how you are this far into my review, I can only assume that you’ve already seen the film, and know what has happened.  You know that the ultimate sacrifice was given.  You know that the vulcan salute was pressed against the glass.  You know that both of their bodies were pressed against it as well; one dead, and one grieving.  However.  This time it was Kirk, not Spock.

As a long time nerd-culture enthusiast, I heartily accept the concept of Alternate Universe.  It’s what makes this new series so much fun for me.  I have seen an out pouring of rage from Trekkies and Trekkers alike, all flabbergasted that such a pinnacle moment in their fandom’s fabric was reinvented in such a way that bastardizes the truth of their beloved characters.  However.  I can’t for the life of me figure out how this succeeds in tarnishing anything.  Kirk’s death succeeds in instilling the most human reaction I’ve ever seen out of a vulcan (or anyone on that ship’s bridge, for that matter) in Spock, and the anger and fury that he elicits in his attempts to rebuke Khan and avenge Kirks death are extraordinary.  I would gladly take this retelling of that scene over the original one; if only for the superb emotion that is delivered by Zachary Quinto.  A vulcan with a heart?  Who knew.

We get Kirk back in the end, thanks to an ingenious discovery by McCoy (he’s a doctor, damnit!), and once again I am reminded of J.J.’s skill at presenting every character in his cast as a hero.

credit: Paramount Pictures

If there’s one thing that I could caution people against, it’s this: DON’T BOTHER SEEING THIS IN 3D.  It’s all post-production special effects, and it’s not worth the elevated ticket price.  The show is just as stunning in 2D, and you won’t have to squint at the screen through darkened horn-rimmed glasses.

Biggest scorers, as far as I’m concerned, were Zachary Quinto and Benedict Cumberbatch, who both gave stellar performances, both haunting and realistic, despite the fact that they play futuristic humanoids who struggle to grasp the concept of appropriate emotional response.  Chris Pine once again proves that he was the perfect choice for our cheeky captain, and Karl Urban as the sass-tastic Dr. McCoy just makes my heart feel warm and tingly.  Seriously, his delivery of some of Bones’ iconic lines in that slight southern drawl is disturbingly good for a Kiwi.

All in all, I would say that this latest installment in the Star Trek series is a grand slam.  It’s familiar in a very creepy, bizarro kind of way, and regardless of if you’re a long-time fan, or someone who just wandered in for the hot blond (whether that be Chris Pine OR Alice Eve’s characters), it’ll leave you wanting to go home and pick up the original series.

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