By Ed Sum
Star Trek: Into Darkness is a film that will no doubt have many fans wanting to make comparisons once the spoilers are known. By now, nearly everyone knows who the true villain is. This movie’s title card is enough to suggest the tone and direction. It’s to explore what drives men to do what they do. Sometimes that territory needs to be ventured into. And just where should the line be crossed?
The Prime Directive may be more than just a mandate to not interfere with fledgling civilizations, but in how culture gets developed. The intro is very Indiana Jones when Kirk and Bones are running away from some primitive tribe for reasons unexplained. Part of it may well do with causing a distraction so Spock can enter a volcano to save this tribe. But the plan has a few problems, and Kirk has to violate the Prime Directive to save his science officer.
In a plot that develops in one direction, the swing it makes is not necessarily politically driven. Some viewers may well read plenty of left-wing messages into this piece, but the way this film ends speaks for itself. Gone are the colorful suits the Federation that the classic and later TV series defined. When on duty, the standard red, blue and yellow are seen, but as for when they are presenting en masse, for the public to see, some viewers may well wonder what’s with the drab dark grey? Could J.J. Abrams version be a look in the mirror darkly? The first movie established the Spock from the original series universe does in fact exist. He chose to stay out of interfering in this canon’s timeline. As for what that means in this reboot as a whole, even this universe’s Spock is perplexed.
In this film, it does successfully live up to the title card’s namesake. It’s look into darkness is that of Joseph Conrad territory. It skims the surface of what could have been theatrical literature, but Abrams is not known to pull off those type of punches in the cinematic front. He tends to save that for his television productions, namely Felicity and Lost. With this small-screen format, the characters come through as more developed than any cinematic iteration.
And therein lies the issue. Will people like who Benedict Cumberbatch’s character truly is? He does a decent enough job of being a terrorist of the highest order, but to call him Kahn is a far cry from who he was from the original series. Fans who have read Greg Cox‘s “The Eugenics Wars: The Rise and Fall of Khan Noonien Singh” book one and book two, and seen the episode “Space Seed” will find that this character has tons of back story that can easily be told. To simply introduce him with barely ten minutes worth of exposition to define him is more of an understatement than a cheer. And were those recreated favorite moments from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn really necessary?
Ricardo Montalbán really made the character his. Kirk would not have yelled so angrily if it was not for his calm delivery of how he killed everyone. His charisma made Kahn debonair and alluring. Cumberbatch’s version is more heavy-hearted and detached. He is a seething beast waiting to be unleashed. While this version is still cold, cunning and ruthless as ever, expertly played up by Cumberbatch, this is not a character many will want to cheer for, or even like. He is quite literally a one man band, just waiting to unleash his super soldiers on an unsuspecting universe. This reworking of this character may work for some viewers, but not for others.
If this movie was edited differently, it could have been a tale about Spock’s heroic journey. The Kahn subplot would have come out as more vicious since its scratching more upon this Vulcan’s psyche than Kirk’s. After all, the film did start with Kirk running away and Spock in the heart of a volcano. His pointy ears must indicate something, and when he does feel his human side fully emerge, everything that happens next is rushed. His anger is just as deafening and maybe that’s the darkness that writers Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof are trying to let out.
Every character has a dark side they must control. If it doesn’t get restrained, then the aftermath that results from it may well be a tragedy of what it means to be human. The fall from grace is not about pride, but rather about humility. The character of Spock is worth exploring more than Kirk, reboot notwithstanding.
The only shame is that no one really dies in the Star Trek universe. You have to be wearing a red shirt for that.