The new trailer for Star Trek Into Darkness does something no previous trailer for J.J. Abrams' sequel has attempted: it actually conveys the plot of the film. Paramount has overseen one of the most cryptic publicity campaigns in recent memory and gotten an astonishing amount of a mileage out of "Is Benedict Cumberbatch's villain John Harrison really Khan?"
Away with the teases! The new two-and-a-half minute clip makes it abundantly obvious that John Harrison is not Khan. Still, the mano a mano battle he engages in with Kirk in Star Trek Into Darkness may have a connection to other bits of previously established Trek lore. Let's take a deep dive into the trailer and try to piece together what we can expect from the movie, and just what the heck Harrison's after.
To start off the movie, London is in for a devastating terrorist attack. The franchise has never taken us to the U.K.'s capital — much of time spent on Earth has previously been in Federation capital San Francisco or New Orleans, home of the Sisko family's creole restaurant on Deep Space Nine.
What's interesting about this shot is that it shows a Union Jack waving overhead. Since the early 22nd century, Earth has been ruled by a single world government, so it's a little odd that the Brits are still waving their own standard. It may be, however, that all of the old nations now serve as constituent states of the world government, which itself is a constituent of the Federation, hence why the Union Jack and the Federation flag are waving side by side. In the Original Series, Uhura mentions in one episode that she's from the United States of Africa, so maybe some of the pre-world-government jurisdictions are still in place.
London looks like it's the site for a big conference of some kind, or that it's home to a big spacedock or starship repair facility, hence the next shot.
This is the facility that John Harrison bombs. It looks like a much, much larger version of the Enterprise's shuttle bay, so it's probably a docking facility. Maybe it facilitates Starfleet personnel getting to their ships in orbit, or maybe it's the landing site for visiting dignitaries. Either way, Harrison wants to see it up in smoke.
Whatever his objective, Harrison's blast takes a major toll on the London skyline. Thankfully, though, St. Paul's Cathedral (on the lower right corner) is spared. If it could survive the Blitz, it can survive whatever Harrison doles out. Apparently, the completion in 2012 of The Shard, the tallest skyscraper in Western Europe at 95 floors, must kick off a major building boom throughout the 21st and 22nd centuries. This cityscape is packed.
Harrison drinks in the devastation he unleashed. An admiral of Starfleet Command says that Harrison was one of their "top agents." A top agent — not a top captain, or Starfleet officer. That, plus his penchant to wear black and his affinity for terrorism, subterfuge, and urban warfare could mean that he is, or was, a member of the black-ops intel organization Section 31.
For you non-Trekkers, Section 31 is a group of spies and "agents" who aggressively work to protect the Federation against perceived threats by using brutal tactics that run counter to every utopian ideal the Federation holds dear. Section 31 was first introduced on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and later appeared in its infancy on the prequel series Star Trek: Enterprise. On DS9, Section 31 tried desperately to recruit Dr. Julian Bashir (Alexander Siddig) to their cause because he was genetically enhanced — gifted with super-intelligence and tremendous physical abilities. It definitely seems like John Harrison has had some modifications to his genome because of his ability to make impossibly high leaps and crash through glass barriers. The original Star Trek Into Darkness synopsis called him a "one man force of destruction," indicating that he's somehow superhuman. and he himself says stuff like, "I am better...at everything."
So, what if he's a genetically-enhanced superbeing who's been working for Section 31 and feels that Starfleet Command's leadership are essentially traitors for allowing the destruction of Vulcan to take place in the 2009 film and not do what needs to be done to step up security on Earth? Launching a terrorist attack on London could be a way to show how vulnerable Earth is and Starfleet Command look ineffectual and impotent. Like Section 31 always does, Harrison can act like everything he's doing is still serving the best interests of the Federation...even when he's killing Federation citizens.
Oddly enough, in the trailer Starfleet Command doesn't even seem that interested in tracking Harrison down—it seems like that's up to Kirk, who takes the initiative himself—which, again, keeps with the tradition of Starfleet not really worrying about keeping Section 31 on a tight leash. Star Trek Into Darkness could be a philosophical inquiry into Starfleet's mission statement: Are they committed to exploration, to seeking out new life forms and new civilizations, or are they a military force ready for war? Do they have to choose between one or the other?
NEXT: We now know who Peter Weller is playing. And how could Alice Eve not be eye candy in this movie?
We've gotten glimpses of Starfleet Command before — most notably in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country — but never quite like this, with the Federation's most notable admirals and captains all convened in one place. Of course, having them all convened in one place, means that if you take them out, the Starfleet leadership goes with it...
So Peter Weller is not playing a villain, or the real power behind John Harrison or whatever. He's a Starfleet admiral. Odd that he's wearing the delta logo, even though the delta should really just be the symbol of the Enterprise at this point in the mid-23rd century, not the symbol of Starfleet as a whole, like it will be later following Kirk's legendary exploits.
I had thought it odd that Abrams would cast Weller in Star Trek Into Darkness, since the Robocop star had already played a character — a villain no less — on Star Trek: Enterprise. There, he was a militant isolationist, someone who felt that humanity shouldn't venture out into the cosmos nor interact with aliens. In fact, he was kind of a segregationist who believed that humans and aliens should be very much separate, and not exactly equal either. I was hoping that Weller might be playing a version of that character in the new movie, but he seems to be fulfilling the Tyler Perry role this time: someone who's around for a few minutes of screentime to deliver exposition and then is never seen again.
You'll notice that Weller's admiral is wearing a uniform that's nearly identical to the one that William Shatner's Kirk wore when he was the chief of Starfleet Operations in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. That J.J. really has an eye for Star Trek lore, even though he keeps saying he was always more a Star Wars fan than a Trek enthusiast.
Despite being merely a science officer Alice Eve's Carol Marcus can obviously kick some ass. She accompanies Bones and a redshirt to subdue Harrison at one point in the film. The fact that Bones needs to use a hypospray to knock out Harrison adds to the mounting pile of evidence that this guy is superhuman.
But Carol Marcus is also there for eye candy. Because this movie, like its predecessor, needs a gratuitous underwear scene.
Whatever Harrison's up to, the Enterprise sure ends up taking a beating. Luckily, Constitution-class starships are capable of atmospheric flight. Watery crash-landings are another matter.
Follow Christian Blauvelt on Twitter @Ctblauvelt
[Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures]