Friday, May 17, 2013

"Star Trek: Into Darkness" (2013) A Spoilery Review

The latest Trek film from Abrams and Co. is all it was supposed to be: exciting, visually stunning, moving, creative, and entertaining. It continues the trend in “new” Trek of exciting adventure along with the traditional Trek idea of delivering a serious message. Instead of just another sequel, reboot or remake, the filmmakers have perhaps invented a new category of film: the riff. Instead of retelling the second story from the first sequence of films, they took its themes, characters, and a few of its plot points and remixed it all into something new. A bit like cinematic jazz.

“I have no idea what I'm supposed to do! I only know what I CAN do!”

The theme this time around is Kirk’s continued journey towards becoming the great leader we all know him to be, in the context of a society threatened by terrorism. The missing ingredient that he has to obtain is the ability to distinguish between the right and wrong decisions of command; something that is far, far more intricate than simply seeing good and bad.

We open in the midst of an exploration mission of the Enterprise, a test run for the five year journey that the original series entailed. As Kirk is prone to do, they are in the midst of testing the limits of the Prime Directive. It seems that the planet they are observing is about to be destroyed by a volcano. Rather than sit by and watch that happen (as any objective, scientific observer would do) Kirk has decided to do good and save the planet and its primitive inhabitants. In doing that he has placed his first officer, Spock, in mortal danger. The “correct” thing to do according to Star Fleet directives would be to let Spock die. Kirk decides to risk influencing the primitive culture and save Spock, inspiring a new religion in the process.

Back on Earth, he is stripped of his command for his actions. At precisely that moment, an act of terrorism is triggered against Star Fleet leading to much of the command structure being destroyed. Kirk quickly figures out where the terrorist is hidden and requests permission to do good again—to take out the threat against Earth.

Kirk’s problem is that, for all his smarts, he is too dumb to embrace humility. He thinks he can solve any problem. He fails to consider that he may not have the whole story, or that an antagonist could be smarter than him, could be playing him. Everyone around him sees the dangers he is blind to, but he won’t hear any council.

He even plays the “the enemy of my enemy” card, to his detriment. In this case the enemy is a wonderful parallel of Kirk. They share many of the same motivations. Every bad thing that happens in this film seems to be born out of the motivation to save loved ones, to do good. Again and again Kirk tries to be the hero, only to place his crew—his family—in danger.

Ultimately this is something Kirk does learn, that he lacks the ethical foundation to distinguish between good and right. It comes a bit too late, however, as we get the inevitable remix of the most famous scene in Trek history. The differences are there, though, and in this case the switch is: (a) good, because the way it is done helps our most important bit of character development along in a stronger way than the original version did, but (b) bad too, because we never imagine that the film will commit to the moment the way “Wrath of Kahn did. In fact, if we have been watching the film closely at all we know that it won’t. The foreshadowing is so forced it feels out of place. You can’t fault the film, though. Audiences could not handle a death of that magnitude anymore. They couldn’t really even back in the 80s, and “Search for Spock” revealed.

Overall “Into Darkness” is great. One of the better, if not the best, Trek yet.

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