The new Star Trek film takes us in a very different direction to the dystopia that the title, trailers and teasers could lead you to expect.
The focus is a hunt for the perpetrator of a terrorist attack on Earth. This leads the brave crew of the starship Enterprise into a murky world of black ops, assassinations and secret super-weapons.
The lush special effects and stunts move way beyond anything possible in the original 1960s series. But despite this, their biggest battles are with their consciences.
Director JJ Abrams’ previous film, Star Trek, killed Captain Kirk’s father and first officer Spock’s mother. It also destroyed most of Starfleet and one of the Federation’s most iconic planets.
The sequel shows a society torn over how to respond to this destruction.
Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto seem made to play Kirk and Spock.
And it’s a pleasure to watch their rivalry developing into friendship in the first half of the film. So it’s a shame that Abrams crams 20 years worth of character development into as many minutes at the end for some contrived set-piece sequences.
The character of Carol Marcus is played by Alice Eve. In the original films she was a visionary scientist and the mother of Kirk’s son, so her
character should be a big deal. But she doesn’t get to do much.
It is great to see some of the other supporting characters developed, although it’s a shame that Uhura’s expanded role is mostly as Spock’s girlfriend.
Still Abrams has made Trekking fun again. Into Darkness is the most transparently political Star Trek film since The Undiscovered Country from 1991.
This also showed Starfleet riven with conspiracies and on the brink of war. It was a heavy handed call for peace and cooperation after the fall of the USSR.
This is about the aftermath of the “war on terror”. Kirk talks about going back to “who we once were and who we must be again”.
It almost feels like he’s replying to the recent Batman and Transformers films that made a virtue out of torture and militarism.
Star Trek has always projected the self-image of a liberal wing of the US establishment.
In the 1960s James T Kirk was John F Kennedy in space.
He represented a confident but ultimately benevolent superpower, throwing its weight around for the supposed common good.
To make Kirk relevant again Abrams has reinvented him as what he wishes Obama could be. Kirk is an Obama trying to lead a recovery from a time of darkness and defeats.
Whatever the prospects for the real world ruling class, Star Trek’s appeal endures because of its rare vision of a future that’s worth looking forward to.
So the Enterprise sets out again on its much-delayed five-year mission. Its horns blaring out that old optimistic tune—Let’s hope it’s still got a long way to boldly go.