Thursday, June 13, 2013

Film Review: Star Trek: Into Darkness (J.J. Abrams) 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness

All franchise reboots are put into a tricky position when it comes to addressing their audiences.  On the one hand they want to attract younger, new crowds who want to see an origin story mixed with some action; on the other hand they need to include enough reference to the originally successful narrative in order to not alienate the true fans.  This means that you usually get a mixture of coming-of-age set pieces with some awkward familiar catch phrases hanging together with a quest that introduces an arch-villain that has usually been defeated in an earlier, classic episode.  ST:ID has all of the above turned up to 11 (cliché alert).

The original Star Trek series created by Gene Rodenberry was a political statement.  By showing the future in detail, you got to make assumptions and critiques about the present (i.e. 1960s America).  Rodenberry was clearly a progressive optimist who thought that America would eventually transcend its racism and settle the score with Russia (by including the ‘Russian’ character Chekov).  The new film is a lot more pessimistic…

The story begins with Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) saving the life of Spock (Zachary Quinto) and therefore teaching his First Officer a valuable lesson about loyalty and ethics.  This goes awry and ends with Kirk being removed from the Enterprise and learning a lesson about the value of taking orders.  We then see a rogue Starfleet spy (Benedict Cumberbatch) committing an act of terrorism in London in order to gather the Starfleet leadership together in San Francisco so that he can try and murder them in order to teach them a lesson about retaliation and justice.  Kirk then gets given his ship back and goes to try and find Harrison, who is hiding in Klingon airspace.  Any clash between Starfleet and the Klingons will start a war so Kirk must try to arrest Khan without disturbing the locals.  During the mission all of the familiar characters say all of their catchphrases at least once.

J.J. Abrams vision of the future is not so progressive.  In his future, disenfranchised individuals who feel betrayed use terrorism to make statements; America (and the world) is on an imminent clash of civilisations against the Klingons; dance music in bars still sounds suspiciously like what the cool kids listened to in 2012…and woman are still used as sex objects.  There is a single shot of semi-nudity that is so gratuitous that the director had to publically apologise.

There is an interesting moment in the narrative that explores whether it is ethically sound to fire rockets at an uninhabited area of the Klingon planet in order to kill the terrorist.  If it is uninhabited, why not launch a strike from a safe distance in order to kill your target?  This discussion has clearly been directly influenced by Obama’s drone strike policy.  Spock makes the case that all criminals should get a fair trial, whereas Starfleet command want to destroy him.  hmm…

By including all of the references above, the film is still following standard sci-fi genre conventions by reflecting the values of the present in a narrative set in the future.  America and London are both shown in the film as prosperous, corporate paradises, with skyscrapers as far as the eye can see and everyone dressed in business suits looking busy – this subtle suggestion shows that they are both resilient to minor economic downturns and will financially grow exponentially into the future.  That is until an ideological enemy crashes into your financial district, presumably flatlining your economy.  But it only takes a year to rebuild in the future…

1 comment:

  1. I am glad they decided to take another go at StarTrek. The first one was pretty good, but was it just me or did Kirk get the crap beaten out of him a few times in the movie lol? I have yet to watch the new one, but that will change rather soon. Nice review.