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by Sara Foss

Thinking It Through

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Watching “Star Trek Into Darkness”

By Sara Foss
Tuesday, June 18, 2013

I love Spock.

These new “Star Trek” films have their flaws, but my love of Spock makes it easier for me to ignore them. Sure, I like the rest of the U.S.S. Enterprise’s crew members, but Spock is my favorite. Whenever he wasn’t on the screen, I was like, “Where is Spock?” And then I would start noticing the flaws of “Star Trek Into Darkness.”

“Star Trek Into Darkness” has a slam-bang opening that finds the Enterprise on a primitive planet set to be a destroyed by a volcano; Spock (Zachary Quinto) manages to save the planet by detonating some sort of cold fusion device, but in the rescue mission that ensues, Capt. James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) chooses to violate the Prime Directive, which forbids interfering with developing cultures, and save Spock’s life. As a result, he loses command of his ship. However, he regains it after a rogue Starfleet agent named John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) bombs an agency building and nearly kills the entire Starfleet leadership team when the group meets to discuss how to respond to the attack. Kirk initially vows to hunt down Harrison and kill him, but is eventually convinced to arrest him and bring him in alive so that he can stand trial. Naturally, things do not go according to plan.

I really enjoyed the first half of “Star Trek Into Darkness” which reunites us with the beloved characters of the 2009 “Star Trek” movie, which was also directed by J.J. Abrams. That film successfully rebooted the “Star Trek” franchise, while also paying homage to it; for example, we were introduced to a new, younger Spock, but Leonard Nimoy made a highly entertaining cameo as his older self, and treated to the sort of debates and clashes of personality that made the classic TV series and film adaptations so thought-provoking and fun. (I suppose that this would be a good time to note that I am not a Trekkie or a Trekker, but that I like “Star Trek” quite a bit.) There was a lot of action, but what distinguished the film was the way Quinto and Pine and the rest of the cast (Simon Pegg, Karl Urban and Zoe Saldana are quite good as Scotty, Bones and Uhura, respectively) played off each other and engaged in the occasional discussion of ethics or philosophy.

I found “Star Trek Into Darkness” most interesting when it focused on the relationship between Kirk and Spock and delved into post-9/11 ethical issues, such as whether extrajudicial killing is ever justified, and least interesting when it became a loud, comic-book style action film, which is what happens in its second half. Like “Iron Man 3,” “The Avengers,” and countless other big summer blockbusters, “Star Trek Into Darkness” becomes a violent spectacle, throwing its characters into peril and treating the audience to scenes of the villain and hero duking it out. Despite being brilliant men, Spock and Harrison (whom we now know is SPOILER ALERT! DO NOT READ ANY FURTHER IF YOU DO NOT WANT TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS! Khan) find themselves pummeling each other in midair while standing on some kind of spacecraft.

This is pretty standard stuff; I watched Tony Stark battle some forgettable supervillain atop scaffolding just a few short weeks ago. Perhaps this is simply a genre that requires lengthy scenes of explosions, fist fights and gun battles at the end, but if we’re going to be treated to numerous comic-book style films every year, it might be nice if one or two of them attempted to break the mold and offer something different. Because the formula is getting boring.

Cumberatch is good as Khan, but I did find his character confusing because he looks absolutely nothing like Ricardo Montalban, who played the original Khan. The true nature of Cumberbatch’s character was kept secret prior to the film’s release, and I wasn’t sure the big reveal quite lived up to all the hype. Over at Criticwire, Matt Singer wonders whether Cumberbatch would have been better off playing a totally new villain, rather than a well-established villain, noting that as a storyteller Abrams is fond of mysteries, even if the subject of the mystery is seldom as interesting as the mystery itself. Singer writes, “... this entire movie’s twist is built around a reveal that should be self-evident. To make it work, Abrams and his team had to essentially de-Khan Khan — strip him of all his physical trademarks and tics. But if someone is so divorced from the source material of what they’re doing that their connection to it has to be explained in a big dump of exposition, is it really that big of a deal? At that point, why even do it at all?” (Click here to read the rest of the piece.)

“Star Trek Into Darkness” is at its best when it keeps things small and intimate, rather than big and loud. When Spock experiences emotions, it’s very moving, as is his commitment to Kirk. When Kirk saves Spock’s life in the film’s opening scenes, Kirk asks Bones whether Spock would break the rules and do the same for him. “He’d let you die,” Bones says.

At the end of the film, Spock proves Bones wrong. It’s heartfelt and touching and worth sitting through all those boring explosions to see.

Got a comment? Email me at sfoss@dailygazette.net.

 
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