Thursday, June 06, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness: to boldly go where no superpower has gone before

Each month I publish a film review, for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). Stretching back to 2005, some 80 plus films later, here is the review for June, of Star Trek Into Darkness.

Star Trek Into Darkness
A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

Into Darkness is entertainment, a high-paced, non-stop journey from space’s final frontier, through earth’s orbit, to probe the darkness we call evil. The result is an adrenaline laden few hours, that combines action, special effects and a complex weaving narrative.

Earth is under threat. Initially it appears to be a lone criminal, masterminding a series of terrorist attacks against the Federation. Enterprise and her crew chase the fugitive into Klingon territory, risking a war, uncovering an evil that is found to lie neither in the lone bomber, nor in an alien species, but within Star Fleet itself.

This is the second installment in a re-fit of the Star Trek cinematic enterprise (puns intended). In reprising Star Trek, director J.J.Abrams (Mission Impossible III and Star Trek (2009)), is able to draw on a long history, a wealth of material, from multiple TV series to eleven full length feature films.

This includes a familiar cast, household names of Kirk, Spock, Sulu, Uhura, Bones and Scotty. They provide a continuity around which new characters – Carol (Alice Eve), her father, Admiral Pike (Bruce Greenwood) and the fleeing criminal (Benedict Cumberbatch) – can be easily introduced. The result is a richer narrative, one that is familiar, faithful, yet fresh.

This history also allows Into Darkness to offer a series of narrative puzzles. It is here that genuine can Trekies linger, pondering the references to the birth of Khan (referencing the Wrath of Khan), the death (also the Wrath of Khan) and resurrection of Spock (The Search for Spock).

Going back to the future requires finding a new cast. We meet a young Kirk (Chris Pine), struggling to understand a young Spock (Zachary Quinto). This provides one theological lens, the potential richness of the cross-cultural journey. Into Darkness explores how relationships can bloom as time is invested and action encountered together. The temptation is always for what is dominant to demand change. Yet Kirk is a much reduced leader without the emotional passion of Bones or the logic of Spock.

Another theological lens is the exploring of terror. Into Darkness allows the Star Trek franchise, which began in 1966, to provide a mirror, a contemporary commentary on the politics of life post-9/11. The Federation response in the movie is typically militaristic, the aggressive embrace of new technology in response to terrorist violence.

Intriguingly, in the off-screen life of director J.J.Abrams another response is being explored. In real life, Abrams, is involved with The Mission Continues, a charity begun to encourage veterans into community service. Into Darkness is dedicated to America’s war veterans and the founder of The Mission Continues, Eric Greitens, appears in the film’s finale.

Imagine if community service rather than military aggression was the response to terror? Might this in fact be humanities ultimate final frontier? A way of moving out of darkness rather than into darkness, a very different way of boldly going where no super power has gone before.

Rev Dr Steve Taylor is Principal, Uniting College, Adelaide. He writes widely in areas of theology and popular culture, including regularly at

Posted by steve at 07:38 PM

1 Comment

  1. One of the things I love about Star Trek is the cross-cultural element. In the opening scenes you a picture of “interference” with another planet’s beings, their culture and their progress. I love the theme of exploration, learning and discovery.
    And I also love that idea of community service in response to terror (as opposed to a military response). That’s pretty cool.

    As a recent convert to Sci-fi and Star Trek (particularly The Next Generation), I really enjoyed this film, and enjoyed your review too thanks :).

    Comment by Lani — June 24, 2013 @ 3:50 pm

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