{film} into darkness

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I did a quick spoiler-free post here. This will have “spoilers!” (yes, you heard River Song correctly my Whovian friends.)

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Kirk (Chris Pine) has a thing or two to learn about being a Captain of a Starfleet ship. There is protocol, one. Another: honesty and transparency in filed reports. We’ll be unamused by the irony of this one later. His risks involve rule-breaking and we can hardly fault him choosing love/friendship over an impersonal order. Kirk not only represents a human element in character and station, he fights for it. He often comes across as so given over to human emotion/desires that we are to be pleasantly surprised that he is quite calculating/intelligent. He is a great character.

Of course, one of his greatest traits is also one of his worst flaws. He can run with the emotional in less healthy ways, like vengeance. Arrogance is a bit of a problem as well. Kirk is uncomfortably volatile at times. We like that he can be hard to anticipate, it produces the right sort of tension—for the audience, not his superiors. He weighs risks with his gut rather than his mind; and we have to trust his gut. [aside: tests have shown that people who trust their gut suffer less from buyer’s remorse. it is a fallacy to think that the gut is anything less than a refined-since-birth-decision-making part of your brain.] As Pike (Bruce Greenwood) worries, perhaps Kirk’s ‘gut’ is too young, and he’s been placed into his position too soon.

I’m still warming to Chris Pine, but it was a great moment for him when sitting at the bar receiving grace. The character shouldn’t wear humility well, but for those necessary glimpses, Pine was convincing. Our theater audience was completely still. The film moves to humor and we can breathe. Then we are launched into dread and the spectacle of a firefight. –was it just mean or did anyone else notice that extraordinary delay in responders?–

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The villain, we believe, is one of Starfleet’s own, an agent gone rogue. And we aren’t wrong in the sense that this mystery man is employed by the powers-that-be. Our particular anxiety is that he represents only his own interests; and what we know of them makes us uncomfortable with how they do not align with our own. Of greater threat: he is physically and intellectually superior; he observes fewer boundaries; and seems unstoppable. Furthermore, he is in some ways a victim of the same terrible power that has targeted the USS Enterprise. The dilemma is hardly an either/or. And each character (good and bad) removes themselves to answer for their own beliefs, rather than uphold or defend a national rhetoric.

The villains are those gone rogue, acting in their own interests, but then the heroes are portrayed in pursuit of their own conscience as well. And this isn’t to say that any of the aforementioned interests do not consider those for whom they feel responsible (nation, brethren, crew). In the end, it is whomever has the greater moral solution, that gets the gold star, and neither militarization nor vengeance gets that star. Primarily because certain sacrifices are unwarranted, no place is made for their consequence: loss of lives (often collateral) being a big one; betrayal is another. It is telling who elicits feelings of betrayal and why. Some such conflicts can be resolved given time and communication: Uhura/Spock; Kirk/Pike; Kirk/Spock; Kirk/Scotty… Others cannot be resolved because self-sacrifice is out of the heroes’ hands. They are not going to die for a worthy cause, but for the egotism of a tyrant (read Marcus).

Kirk shares sympathies with varying perspectives throughout the film and he is able to institute whatever stop-gap is deemed necessary from crossing those lines that the film’s villains have. The crew helps. They come with their own experience and sense of reason. They, too, calculate the cost and when it comes down to risking another’s life instead of their own, that seems to be the line to withdraw into any other solution. The relationships become strained in the shifts of power/authority, but they bear up and it all balances out—after all, they are their own. Kirk isn’t the only [action] hero with a skill-set all his own.

Star-Trek-into-darkness-zoe-saldana-as-uhura-33015492-637-692Uhura (Zoe Saldana) is pretty badass and more than a device to elicit sexual tension and/or a power struggle between alpha males. They’ve cast another intelligent, decisive young woman to model underwear with a raised brow and little more. Uhura and Spock’s relationship continue to be a fascination; as is the bromance between Spock and Kirk, sigh. The relationships between the crew members gives not only the film an endless supply of humor, but a lot of heart as well.

I continue to be impressed with how well this new cast have come to inhabit characters created long past and yet still allow themselves to be known. The sets and costumes undergo a similar presence. Old jokes and references to Star Trek past are nice smiles and anxious moments in the present—and they are actually more than a quaint nod to Trekkies. For instance, the “red shirt” was employed in a way that increased a sense of Chekov’s (Anton Yelchin) peril.

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Star Trek: Into Darkness was/is an exhilarating ride. Its humor and action sequences replete with suitable quantities of chase, fights, crashes, and explosions entertain. The drama of maturing the captain and his crew as individuals and in relationship foster an even greater affection for the franchise. Action films, at their crux, need only artfully timed effects and quips to satisfy the viewer. It needs nothing else to recommend what our heroes and villains look like. It is a nicety when they work a bit harder. It is a sweet strangeness when an action film, a genre characterized by violent conflict, to use its own terms as a conflict. –what is the purpose of the USS Enterprise? –on what terms (policy) do we interact with foreign entities? –what kind of vicious cycles have we found ourselves in and seem to perpetuate upon increasingly shaky justifications? We harbor both villains and heroes and this is an excellent source of conflict for an action film already rife with internal conflicts to confront.

Our villains may rise up from among us, but they are made (engineered) into their presented state by those who are given over to fear and anger, as well as a hunger for prestige that can only seem to be articulated in terms of war. “Power corrupts and Absolute Power corrupts absolutely” (Lord Acton). And when this happens, the film reminds us of an equally time-worn truth: that we have moral compasses within ourselves and amongst our community of persons [who are also not sheep]. It is evidenced in the powerful legacy of those heroes who are created by the people from among the people—spoken of in terms of service and rescue and self-sacrifice. It is no coincidence that the dedication at the end of the film is made to post-9/11 veterans.

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—————–Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013)——————

Directed by J. J. Abrams; written by Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci & Damon Lindelof, based on “Star Trek” by Gene Roddenberry; music by Michael Giacchino; director of photography, Dan Mindel; edited by Maryann Brandon & Mary Jo Markey; produced by Abrams, Kurtzman, Orci, Lindelof & Bryan Burk; Paramount Pictures. Starring: John Cho (Sulu), Benedict Cumberbatch (John Harrison), Alice Eve (Carol), Bruce Greenwood (Captain Pike), Simon Pegg (Scott), Chris Pine (Captain Kirk), Zoe Saldana (Uhura), Zachary Quinto (Spock), Karl Urban (Dr. McCoy), Peter Weller (Starfleet Admiral Marcus), Anton Yelchin (Chekov).

PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence. running time: 132 minutes.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. What a great, insightful review. I can always count on you to make me think…and to jealously wish I saw things the way you see them. Well done!

    I was worried prior to the first film that I might not be fond of Chris Pine, but the opening sequence with him won me over and I am really enjoying him as Kirk. Some of the complaints I’ve read regarding Into Darkness, which are legitimate takes, surround the implausibility of having Starfleet entrust such a big responsibility to someone so young, untested and averse to following the rules. I can see that…but then again this is Star Trek. If Kirk isn’t piloting the Enterprise, it would be hard to consider it a wish marketing move on the part of Paramount.

    I don’t mind Kirk’s volatility. It gives us a foundation from which to see him grow. Hopefully in the next film we will see a move forward in maturity while maintaining some of that tempestuous spirit that makes him James T. Kirk.

    As I’ve gotten older I’ve grown increasingly fond of films that show strong emotional bonds between male characters. Books too. Once I got out of my own self-centered teens and twenties and Mary and I got past the focusing solely on us and “our love” phase, I began to realize the importance of having male friends that were more than just “buddies” to hang out with. I like to see that being explored more openly in regards to Kirk and Spock. I’ve read complaints that it feels forced, after all it took years to build that up in the television series and films…or at least that is one perception. I read a response in which the commenter pointed out that in the first episode Spock was calling Kirk “Jim”, implying a friendship that has already developed between the two.

    At any rate, this is something I appreciate in these films. I like that even more in regards to the Lord of the Rings films. There continues to be a tendency to either have films/books where guys have superficial relationships with one another or a seeming need to somehow see some latent homosexuality in close, intimate male-male relationships and I think both are a real shame. I’ve learned in my own life that you can have deep, intimate bonds with members of your own sex without it being a sexual thing. To me, seeing things like that cheapens the realm of friendship and also should be seen as an affront to the homosexual community. After all, I truly believe that same need for intimate male-male relationships is necessary between all men and why should those relationships have to be viewed in light of a sexual relationship? I generally find those opinions to be the mark of an immature, if not shallow, individual.

    I’m really enjoying the relationship between Uhura and Spock and hope they continue to build on that. I hope they don’t give into the temptation to make some big off again, on again storyline, or a love triangle, or anything stupid like that. It would be nice to see the writers acknowledge that for many, relationships last a lifetime.

    I was supposed to see this film again last Saturday night, but the theater’s sound crapped out and we got our money back. I hope to see it at least one more time on the big screen soon.

  2. L says:

    thanks!

    I do think Chris Pine carries off the swagger of Kirk, most definitely. Tempestuous is a great and most fitting word. I thought the first film was plausible enough in why he was given the ship. And while this film questions his youth, it only serves to reaffirm the earlier decision that Kirk is (despite or because of his age) perfectly suited for the job.

    I really don’t get “forced” between Spock/Kirk. It doesn’t read in the chemistry, nor the interaction. And while the friction was a point in the first, the second has time passing and some of the cause of that earlier friction dealt with. Also: has no one just suddenly connected with another? I have, and a lot of it has to do with the place/time. I love their friendship. It was a wonderful moment when the two and Uhura were hashing it out. I like that Kirk and Uruha could commiserate a bit; be friends there too. Maybe it is optimism, but I think they will go with the “lifer” relationship with Uhura/Spock. Young people (on up) have really responded to these on some of the sit coms in recent years. for instance, on How I Met Your Mother, Marshall/Lilly are very much loved and championed.

    there is a use for homo-eroticism, which is not to be read in sexual terms as too many do. It is about portraying an intimacy that runs deep into the core of each person. The same interactions can be used between women, but will not be read as sensitively as when they occur between men because of our expectations of gender and sexuality. And it is all tied up in our inability to talk about or portray love without the sexual. Thus the explicitness of many a sex scene between “true partners..” I could go on. It really is annoying to me. You are so right: such misreads denote an “immature, if not shallow, individual.”

    I think we will try to see this again in the dollar… saving up to see Man of Steel!!

    1. I’m with you in that it doesn’t feel forced to me. As you point out, a certain amount of time has passed in the film. And even during the film there is a year gap in time. Also, as you point out, I’ve made some instant connections in my life. My best friend Jeff is a perfect example. Once we really hit it off it was like we had grown up together. Early on in our friendship we ended up driving to Chicago together to see a Neil Gaiman reading. We barely knew one another and were both a bit nervous about that much time together. We started talking the moment we entered the car and didn’t stop, including meals, until we were in Chicago. By that time we were far into being “kindred spirits”, as Anne Shirley would say.

      I believe as a society we have grown, just not enough, past the idea that men cannot share an intimacy, even so far as being able to touch/hug one another, without it being a sexual thing. I believe as human beings we are wired to have a physical connection with one another and a huge percentage of that connection is not sexual, even between partners. So it annoys me, for example, when people insist on sexual connotations between say Frodo and Sam, never acknowledging that a man can have that kind of selfless devotion to another without it being sexual. Sure, its puerile fun to make the jokes, but unfortunately I think sometimes the jokes stem from guys who remain uncomfortable with the idea of being able to truly connect on an emotional level with a male friend. I find that sad, especially as I believe we need these kind of relationships in order to be emotionally healthy and have the best experience in life.

      1. L says:

        yes. and I love your pointing out the truth of how so much of our touching even between partners is an affection born of our need to remain connected, an area where unions suffer because the only affection exchanged is a sexual discourse that ends up with each party feeling demeaned (and certainly robbed). but we fail to be able to articulate these things under warped ideological restraints. that, or we do articulate them, we just rarely see it played out in media that serve only to perpetuate said unhealthiness…we keep each other down with those hideous guffaws.

thoughts? would love to hear them...

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