They were right to subtitle this film “Into Darkness” because frankly, most of it is depressing.
So the movie starts with Kirk and McCoy violating the Prime Directive. The one guiding principle of the Federation is violated in the beginning of the movie, which as a Trek fan, made me wonder if the screenwriters even like Star Trek. They have apparently decided to save a primitive species from the destruction of their planet by freezing a volcano. Kirk and McCoy have stolen a sacred scroll and are being chased by the planets inhabitants.
At the same time, Uhura, Sulu and Spock are inside the volcano, with Spock being lowered to the set off a charge. The shuttle becomes damaged and they are forced to leave Spock in the volcano.
Kirk and McCoy jump off a cliff into the ocean, where the Enterprise is waiting. A ship that is designed for space travel and high orbit is hiding under water.
There is a magnetic field preventing beaming, which makes sense. Kirk argues with Spock, who tells him not to come to his rescue because there would be no way to conceal the ship. Kirk ignores him and takes the ship close enough to beam him out. Spock had prepared himself to die and when he is rescued, they argue about the Prime Directive. Kirk, being an ass, thinks it’s no big deal. The indigenous species, however, abandon their sacred scroll and start drawing and worshipping the Enterprise.
After the opening scene, we are introduced to a couple waking up in the morning. They travel to a hospital to watch over their sick daughter, who is dying of a degenerative disease. The husband is confronted by a man who claims that he can save her.
Kirk is called to Starfleet headquarters by Admiral Pike and dressed down for falsifying his report. Spock was honest with his log and Pike is furious. A special tribunal is called led by Admiral Marcus and Pike is not invited. He cannot advocate for Kirk and informs him that the Enterprise has been taken from him and that he is being sent back to the Academy.
In London, the man who spoke to the father earlier is extracting his blood and placing it into a vial. He gives it to the father, who after giving some of it to his daughter, sees improvement in her condition. The father goes to a building and takes his Starfleet ring off and places it in a glass of water causing a massive explosion.
Pike confronts Kirk in a bar and tells him that they have given the Enterprise back to Pike, which makes me wonder how the command and control structure of this Starleet works. Kirk recommends keeping Spock, but Spock has been reassigned. Pike is keeping Kirk on as his First Officer because he still believes in him. Pike is called to an emergency session at the Daystrom Institute. Kirk confronts Spock and cannot get the Vulcan to understand the consequences of his report. Spock explains that he cannot lie and Kirk, who has yet to take responsibility for his actions, has the nerve to still be angry.
Admiral Marcus informs the collected group that the target in London was a Starfleet Data Archive and that he received a communique from the father who says he was forced to commit the act. Kirk speaks up and tells them bombing, what is essentially a library, doesn’t make sense unless it’s the start of something else. Marcus doesn’t understand. Kirk explains that protocol; those pesky things that he doesn’t follow; dictates that in the event of a situation like this senior command gathers at Starfleet command.
A ship shows up outside the conference room and begins firing into the room. Kirk uses a fire suppression hose to tether the attacking ship through the deflector array and Spock moves a critically injured Pike out of the room. The attacking shuttle is damaged and Kirk can see Harrison in the cockpit beam out before the shuttle hits the ground. Spock mind melds with Pike before he dies, for some reason. Kirk cries over his dead father-figure and vows revenge.
Scotty calls him the next day and, conveniently, a portable transwarp beaming device was used to transport Harrison to the Klingon home planet Kronos. Kirk requests command of the Enterprise back in order to pursue Harrison into Klingon space. Marcus explains that it is inevitable that Starfleet will go to war with the Klingons and that the archive that was bombed was a secret branch of Starfleet Intelligence called Section 31.
Back Story: Section 31 was first introduced on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine as a secret organization not affiliated with the Federation, but designed to stop threats to it with no official sanction. Unlike the Cardassian Obsidian Order of the Romulan Tal Shiar, Section 31 does not officially exist. They operate in the shadows and perform acts that the Federation could never officially support. During the Dominion War, Section 31 infected Odo with a virus designed to kill his species The Founders. Section 31 installed a puppet governor to the Romulan empire to soften negotiations. Section 31 allowed Dr Phlox to be kidnapped from the NX-01 Enterprise in a joint operation with Klingon intelligence to create a cure for a virus affecting the Klingon species. Most of its actions take place on the fringes of Star Trek canon.
Marcus explains that Harrison is an agent of Section 31 and that they are creating weapons to defend the Federation from the potential Klingon threat. He tells Kirk that they have developed a new long-range photon torpedo and that he is to park at the edge of the Neutral Zone, find Harrison, kill him with the torpedoes and come back home.Spock is reinstated as first officer and they load up the ship and prepare to leave. Spock objects to the unilateral decision to execute a man without trial by firing weapons onto another, populated planet and the moral implications in doing so. All valid flipping points!!!
Kirk, of course, ignores him and they get to the Enterprise with new Science Officer Carol Wallace on board and run into Scotty, who vehemently rejects signing for torpedoes that he cannot scan. He can’t detect what’s in the torpedoes and because of that, refuses to authorize them being brought on board. Kirk and Scotty argue about how the military cannot compel him to sign for potentially dangerous ordinance which prompts Kirk to order him to sign for them. To his credit, Scotty tenders his resignation and leaves the ship.
Kirk appoints Chekov as Chief Engineer in a move that makes no logical sense in that I know that all department heads on a Starfleet ship have deputy’s, who are supposed to take over if something happens. So why would you make the Operations officer, a bridge position, Chief Engineer less than twenty minutes after your Chief resigns? Where is the Deputy Chief Engineer? Kirk has a First Officer (Spock) in case something happens to him, is that the limit of this timelines thinking about command structure?
Kirk addresses the crew en route and takes a pause before disregarding his orders and stating that he will take a command team to the planet to capture Harrison and bring him to trial, rather than fire the torpedoes. Wallace continues to scan the ordinance when she is confronted by Spock and her secret blown. Carol Wallace is actually Carol Marcus.
Back Story: This is when things start to get sticky. Carol Marcus was a past lover of Kirk’s in the established timeline (Read my article on Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan). She gave birth to Kirk’s son David and went on to create the Genesis device stolen and detonated by Khan Noonien Singh.
Carol Marcus is the daughter of Admiral Marcus. As she is asking Spock to not tell her father that she is there, the ship lurches out of warp. According to Chekov, the core overheated and a coolant leak forced him to stop the ship. Kirk decides to take his away team to the planet using a confiscated freighter, leaving Sulu in command. (Take note. As soon as Sulu gets up and sits in the command chair, another officer takes his place at the helm, but Kirk needs to assign Chekov to engineering.?) Sulu contacts Harrison.
Kirk and the shuttle crew are attacked by Klingon ships and attempt to escape. They are confronted by more Klingon ships and forced to land. Uhura attempts to negotiate with the Klingons, which results in a fire fight that Harrison ends by taking out the Klingons. Harrison takes out the Klingons with speed and precision. After asking the number of torpedoes and Spock’s answer of 72, he surrenders. Kirk starts punching him and Harrison shows no emotion.
Harrison is escorted to the brig and Kirk calls for Bones. Uhura is ordered to contact Starfleet.
Harrison wants to know why they aren’t moving and informs them that he knows that the warp core has been sabotaged. He gives Kirk a set of coordinates not far from Earth that he needs to investigate and explains what is significant about the number of torpedoes that he has on board. He tells Kirk to open one of the torpedoes. Kirk contacts Scotty on Earth and asks him to check out the coordinates Harrison gave him.
Kirk then gets with Carol Marcus to open one of the torpedoes. Marcus and McCoy fly down to a nearby planetoid and open the torpedo, discovering that there is no warhead in the torpedo, there is a person stored inside.
Scotty travels to one of the moons of Jupiter and comes upon a secret starfleet shipyard, where he follows a group of ships into the hanger.
Kirk and Spock confront Harrison after they discover that the person in the torpedo has been cryogenically frozen for over 300 years. He explains that he was genetically engineered and bred for conquest. He and his people were condemned as criminals and they set off from Earth. He explains that the destruction of Vulcan caused Starfleet to search distant quadrants of space for threats and his ship was discovered.
Admiral Marcus revived him and used his genetically engineered intelligence to create weapons. He says his name is Khan.
Back Story: That’s right kids, John Harrison is Khan Noonien Singh. If you want to know who Khan Noonien Singh is, read my article on Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Hell, so much of this movie is Star Trek II, I’m tempted to just tell you to watch it again instead of this one, but the action beats in this film are really good.
Khan explains that Marcus has been using him to design warships, using the threat of harm to Khan’s people as leverage. He sent Kirk into Klingon space to fire those torpedoes on an unsuspecting planet and crippling the Enterprise so that they couldn’t escape the area and the resulting incident would lead to war between the Federation and the Klingon empire and Marcus could be rid of Khan and his people as well. (Not a particularly bad plan though, as evil plans go.)
A ship is approaching at warp and it isn’t Klingon. The ship is Starfleet and twice as large as the Enterprise. It is the Vengeance.
Marcus talks to Kirk as his ship scans the Enterprise. Kirk explains that he is going to Earth to turn over Khan. Marcus demands Kirk hand over Khan so that he can kill him and his crew. Kirk stalls while trying to determine if they can go to warp.
Chekov doesn’t advise it, but Kirk decides to go anyway. Carol tries to warn him, but the Vengeance catches up and knocks the Enterprise out of their warp field. Carol tries to plead with her father, but he beams her off the ship and Marcus gives the order to destroy the Enterprise. Kirk begs for the lives of his crew.
Marcus targets the Enterprise and tells Kirk that he was never going to spare the crew. Suddenly, the Vengeance’s weapons systems and shields shut down. Scotty contacts Kirk to tell him that he’s on board and he needs help. Kirk leaves Spock in charge and convinces Khan to help him board the Vengeance. Bones is injecting Khan’s platelets into a dead tribble for some reason while they are fighting for their lives. Sulu moves the Enterprise into position for Kirk and Khan to be jettisoned from the trash chute (trash chute, oy.)
Kirk and Khan are flying blind, but eventually end up on the Vengeance. Khan leads them to the bridge while Spock contacts original Spock to discuss what he knows about Khan. Original Spock warns that Khan is the most dangerous foe they have ever faced. Kirk, Scotty and Khan make their way to the bridge and take out the bridge crew. Marcus monologues like all villains do and Khan attacks them, crippling Carol and crushing Admiral Marcus’ skull. Khan proposes a trade.
Khan resumes his attack on the Enterprise and Spock detonates the torpedoes crippling the Vengeance. McCoy assures Kirk that Khan’s crew is still alive and in stasis, even though Khan believes that they are dead. Now comes a new problem, main power has failed and auxiliary power is down. Spock orders everyone to abandon ship as the Enterprise is caught in Earth’s gravity and is tearing itself apart. Kirk and Scotty make their way to Engineering and are saved from falling off a platform by Chekov, who looks like he’s 98 pounds soaking wet.
The Enterprise continues to fall into Earth’s atmosphere. Sulu is trying to keep the ship from breaking up while Scotty explains that the core is misaligned. Kirk disables Scotty and enters the warp core to re-align the core. Kirk is starting to feel the effects of radiation sickness as the ship continues to list. Kirk gets the core re-aligned by, I kid you not, kicking the warp core.
Back Story: This is the exact same scene made iconic in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan when Spock sacrificed himself to save the ship from the detonation of the Genesis device. With main power failing, there was no way to get the warp drive back online without entering the warp core and repairing it manually.
Power is restored and Sulu tries to halt the ships descent. He succeeds and the Enterprise is able to stabilize itself. Scotty calls for Spock to come down to Engineering where they see a dying Kirk. Here are both scenes.
The rebooted scene with the death of Kirk.
The original scene from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
The Vengeance is crashing as well and Khan cannot stabilize it, so he sets course for Starfleet headquarters. The ship crashes into San Francisco bay and a pissed off Spock beams down to the planet to capture Khan who has survived.
Spock chases Khan through the streets, eventually ending up on a garbage hauler. Kirk’s body is brought to sickbay and McCoy is distraught until he sees that the dead tribble he injected is alive.
Spock and Khan fight ship to ship as McCoy tries to relay to Spock that thy need Khan alive in order to save Kirk. Uhura beams down and attempts to stun Khan. Spock is about to beat Khan to death when Uhura tells him that they need him alive.
Kirk wakes up on a hospital bed, alive. Khan is put back into cryogenic sleep along with his crew. Kirk speaks at a ceremony a year later re-christening the Enterprise. Kirk makes his way back to the bridge and the crew begins their five-year mission in deep space.
Action beats aside, what always seemed to bug me about this film is the heavy-handed way they seemed to want to shove Trek canon into your face. The first film in the reboot was accused of not really being a Star Trek film, so it feels like the sequel decided to double down on all things Trek and with few exceptions (the mention of the Mudd incident) they all seemed to heavy-handed. The Klingons, Khan, Carol Marcus and Section 31 all seemed added in for no reason other than to try to claim some Trek cred. My opinion aside, check it out for yourself and tell me what you think in the comments below.