Roger often says I gush over the idea of friendship. Maybe I’m a sap but friendship matters to me. Growing up, there were a group of us that were inseparable. It was a bond of brotherhood that connected us. And it leads to one of the most distressing things about aging. That brotherhood plays second fiddle to our families. And look, I get it: family should come first! But I admit that I long for that sort of friendship again; that Kirk/Spock magic. Even when I think it exists in my life, I find I put more value into it than others and that stings badly. (I’m not making a blanket statement, I do have good and dear friends, but some of them live too far away to see regularly.) So I have to wax nostalgic for a thing that I may never have again and that’s a bitter pill to swallow. Luckily, there’s Star Trek, though depressingly few of the new movies, and they give us a reminder of the bond that existed between friends. I’m reminded of Edith Keeler’s line in City on the Edge of Forever, when she speaks of Kirk and Spock “…at his side, as if you’ve always been there and always will.” This adventure tests the two friends against one of their most deadly adversaries.
Into Darkness gives us a story in two parts. There’s the renegade, John Harrison, who commits an act of terrorist and must be caught. Kirk has a moral dilemma and Spock is his anchor. Then there’s the battle against Khan the head-crusher, who brings death to Jim. This causes Spock to react emotionally. The two friends level each other. Kirk is gut instinct, Spock is logic; together they can overcome any obstacle – even death. The movie is an action-packed ride, full of service references to the original series and never stops being exciting for a moment. One thing I always loved about what the 2009 reboot did was that it kept everything intact from classic Trek right through The Next Generation and beyond, while still managing to reboot the franchise through a clever plot device that kept all of Trek lore together. Unfortunately, the problem with Into Darkness is how much it falls apart on close scrutiny. Why would Khan’s name need to be hidden? Khan is a reasonably common last name; I’ve worked with a dozen in my own life. The only time Khan’s name is said in full is when Current Spock makes contact with older Spock. I always wished Old Spock gave his input only to find out the real villain was a different Khan! Maybe Akbar Khan. (Why Akbar? Sherlock Holmes; symmetry is everything. How apt with Cumberbatch playing Khan? Even the “72 torpedoes” reminded me of Hound of the Baskervilles when the word “hound” makes Holmes take the case. Upon hearing the number of torpedoes, Khan surrenders. Very Sherlock!) It’s very clear his identity was reserved for the audience only but it makes for a silly moment in the movie as Khan announces his name like it matters! The other issue is that Bones learns he can bring someone back from the dead using Khan’s blood. Interesting because that sound like 300 years ago, when Khan was genetically made, they must have effectively cured death. So, why need anyone die now?
That said, none of that stops being fun for a second! There are a metric ton of references for the fans. The Daystrom Institute (The Ultimate Computer) and Section 31 (Deep Space 9) get some honorable mentions as do the Gorn (Arena), the Tribbles (The Trouble with Tribbles), nurse Chapel (classic Trek) and those are nothing next to Carol Marcus who, we know from the original Star Trek II movie, is the woman Kirk had a son with. And I wouldn’t be content without one of McCoy’s “doctor” quotes; “I’m a doctor, not a torpedo technician!” The movie is immensely enjoyable but it’s not until we get the ending that things really hit home. Recalling the original Khan movie, Khan is killed before Kirk learns about Spock’s death. The battle has completed and the epilogue focuses on the loss of a friend. “You’d better get down here. You’d better hurry!” In Into Darkness, Kirk dies before Spock goes hunting Khan. This is an interesting way of handling it but prevents Spock from killing Khan and gives us a very satisfying ending. And it has got to be said, the fury Spock unleashes is extremely cathartic even to a non-violent viewer. It also harkens back to the start of the movie when Khan chastises Spock for not being able to break rules; how would he be expected to break a bone. Yet Spock shows no reluctance when the time comes because at the heart of Spock there beats a very human heart. (Sorry old friend, half-human!)
The bond between Kirk and Spock has long been the magnet that drew me to Star Trek. Spock’s loss has a poetic quality made more palpable by the similarities to the original movie. “This is what you would have done.” Too right. Spock saved the ship in the original, Kirk saves the ship this time around. But it’s not about saving the ship but the bond between two brothers. You can feel the chemistry through the series and it’s a tragic shame that we don’t have more movies with this cast. Karl Urban’s McCoy is fantastic, Quinto’s Spock is the most logical choice and Pine’s Kirk manages to capture the swagger of Shatner with style. Cumberbatch is a strange actor but I like basically everything he does, so I can’t complain about his Khan. But if I boil Into Darkness down into what resonates with me, it’s how far one friend would go for another. “I want you to know why I couldn’t let you die…” “Because you’re my friend.”
I think that’s why Star Trek matters to me; why it matters to so many people. It’s a reminder of what friendship is. It’s a reminder of a brotherhood and a bond and a promise. Why do we go the extra mile for some people? Why will we always do it, even when it hurts? Because they are our friends and they’re worth it. May they always live long and prosper. ML
The view from across the pond:
I’ve now watched every Star Trek movie apart from Star Trek: Beyond (stay tuned!) and my favourite was First Contact. Into Darkness comes a very close second. I have to admit that’s not in itself a guarantee of excellence, because nearly all the Star Trek films hit a consistently low standard, but this one was enormous fun, a roller-coaster of action and excitement, with a cast I have grown to love very quickly, against my expectations.
To enjoy this to the full, I had to try to switch off the part of my brain that was trying to impose some logic on what I was watching, the boring, Vulcan part of the brain, which was saying things like this:
How did they get that enormous ship under the water in the first place without being seen? Even if they did that at night, could they guarantee not to violate the Prime Directive, which is apparently so important that Kirk has to be demoted because he didn’t let the whole population of a planet die, along with his first officer? If everything has been thrown around the ship, how is the tribble still sat there? Wouldn’t the Earth have some kind of defence system to destroy something that’s about to crash into the planet? Why is Khan the only hope to save Kirk, when there are another 72 super beings on board the Enterprise?
To be fair, the answers to some of these questions might have been there, and I might have missed them, but the point I’m making is that this film is best enjoyed if you just allow yourself to be swept along on the tide of action set pieces without worrying too much about the details. There’s nothing particularly inventive happening here. This is basically a remake of The Wrath of Khan, but it’s superior in just about every way imaginable. I think we could have done without the reversal of the death of Spock scene, which perhaps crossed the line in terms of mining the past too much, but at least the resolution to the death was far superior than we had to suffer in The Search for Spock, with that absurd child-Spock nonsense. I loved Benedict Cumberbatch’s interpretation of the character of Khan, far more menacing and devious than the original, and that’s saying something, although it was a little disappointing that just about all the major problems here were solved with violence rather than with intelligence. Interestingly, Spock was surely going to kill Khan if Uhura hadn’t turned up at a key moment. Even more interestingly, Khan wasn’t the primary villain for a large chunk of the film. There was a more frightening one, and it’s something Trek has always done very well: a representation of the corruption of power. It’s perhaps a little strange to see this happen so much in a franchise that has generally given us a utopian view of the future, but if an admiral features strongly in a Star Trek story you can pretty much guarantee that he will be up to no good. Years of watching most of the different iterations of Star Trek have taught me that 95% of admirals are idiots, and the other 5% are evil. The battle between the Enterprise and this latest rogue admiral was by far the highlight of the film, because they were so much the underdogs, facing off against the most powerful man in Starfleet, in charge of the most powerful ship. It was great stuff, and I loved Kirk and Khan’s flight through space between the two ships, having to navigate between debris, while Scotty had his own problems to deal with. The one thing this film does best is excitement.
I want to end with a mention of Leonard Nimoy, who makes a cameo appearance here, an unintentionally melancholy moment as he appeared so elderly and frail on that viewscreen, just a couple of years before his passing. Nimoy was arguably the man who was most responsible for the success of Star Trek, his performance as Spock capturing the hearts and minds of more than one generation of viewers. I never used to think the original series of Trek was worth bothering with, but the last few months have proven to me that I was wrong, and Leonard Nimoy is a big part of the reason I was wrong. How fitting that his final film role was as Spock, in one of the most entertaining stories Star Trek ever told. RP