First off, a disclaimer: I’m a Star Wars guy, not a Trekkie, but I’ve seen all of the original cast Star Trek movies several times, and I have a lot of respect for the … even-numbered ones. But I thought J.J. Abrams’ first “remake” of the Trek franchise was phenomenal, a wild ride that saw Captain Kirk and company wrestle with Romulans, time travel, and rebuilding a franchise that had languished. Bring back the cast from that first outing, and throw in Benedict Cumberbatch as a villain, and I’m down.
The sophomore update provides just as much flair for the dramatic as the first, beginning with another “chase,” as Kirk (Chris Pine) and McCoy (Karl Urban) avoid capture by primitive natives with a deep sea plunge. But soon we’re dealing with more than Kirk’s foolhardy recklessness: he breaks the Prime Directive (basically, “do not interfere”) by saving Spock (Zachary Quinto) from dying in a volcanic explosion. Spock doesn’t understand why Kirk would save him and break the rules, and we’re dealing with their tension through the explosive finale of the film. The stage has been set for rules, community, and friendship to be picked apart onscreen.
Without much down time, the film flips to the terroristic attack of “John Harrison,” who will take down Starfleet’s command, and lead the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise on a Zero Dark Thirty-in-space mission. Things get complicated when Kirk refuses to kill Harrison once he’s captured, and Starfleet Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller of Robocop) arrives on the scene with authority to kill everyone in his way. If you haven’t seen the movie, and don’t want it spoiled, stop reading!!
The movie is definitely more of a popcorn feel than the introspective take of Iron Man 3. This was clearly a “popcorn flick” for me, with flashes of nostalgia for the old school Trekkie: Tribbles, the reversal of fortunes from Wrath of Khan/Search for Spock, Alice Eve as Dr. Carol Marcus. The action is intense, and over-the-top (the deep space Tron ride of Harrison and Kirk?) effects are amazing. I’m definitely a fan of the Spock versus Harrison/Khan battle, and the humor flashes back to a time when movies could be fun and not as dark.
But this is dark. Khan is TICKED and his level of vengeance reflects Ricardo Montalban’s violence in the “original.” His takedown of Marcus is sickening, even though we see it coming. Spock’s rage (Vulcan-side, what??) is intense, personal, and credible. (A friend of mine who isn’t up-to-speed on the old movies, later said, “I couldn’t believe they would kill him off! Didn’t they want to make more of these?”) We feel like there’s a chance (however small) that this could “off” a major character, and we’d see Abrams re-work the ongoing mythology.
Where does this leave us? If we’re willing to pull back the shade and compare to our own lives, it seems to ask two questions. One, how beholden are we to the rules? Are we so inclined to follow the information we’ve been provided even if it means sacrificing someone or something we love? Two, how do we define friendship and how far are we willing to go for that friendship? Jesus said that a person couldn’t show any greater love than laying his/her life down for their friend(s) (John 15:13). And then he went out and died for his friends (and everyone else). But both Kirk and Spock share dialogue and life experience, trying to sort out the two questions. What’s worth dying for? What’s worth living for? And who determines that for us?
Looks like the Enterprise has another five-year mission to figure out the answers.