Faith & Film: Star Trek: Into Darkness

“Star Trek: Into Darkness” is a terrific summer movie. It’s a big movie, with great special effects, a gripping plot, and a breathless pace. It features a cast of familiar characters, still growing into their roles. There is a menacing villain. If that weren’t enough, there is a Biblical theme, including death and resurrection.

In a way, “Into Darkness” is a remake of the 1982 “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn.” “Wrath of Kahn,” like “Into Darkness,” was the second film in the series. Once the characters were established for the first time on screen, they need to journey into darkness with a powerful, frightening villain. In 1982, Kahn was memorably played by Ricardo Montalban. In the current film, British actor Benedict Cumberbatch (of BBC’s Sherlock) makes Kahn his own. It’s ironic that the values that make Cumberbatch a great Holmes also make him a great villain: he is highly intelligent, logical, yet aloof and cold.

The story involves the SS Enterprise’s search for Kahn. After killing several important folks on earth, Kahn escapes into space. Captain Kirk and his crew pursue him. After Kahn is captured and the ship turns back to earth, there is an unexpected power failure, causing a delay. Then all hell breaks loose.

I won’t divulge the rest of the plot except to say that it involves many turns of events (of course), betrayal, treachery, heroism, even love!

As visually exciting as the movie is, it’s comforting to be with familiar characters that many of us have known for more than 40 years. The international characters are all part of the action: Kirk, Spock, Bones, Uhura, Chekov, and Scotty, who is responsible for most of the comic relief. It’s good to see them all. All of the new actors give fine accounts of themselves: they are much in line with the actors who preceded them in the TV and movie series. Yet, they make the characters their own.

Of course, the brash, reckless Kirk and the cool, logical Spock are the two main characters. Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto spar with each other well. And, as in “Wrath of Kahn,” the meaning of Biblical love is played out: there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. We see this here in a surprising, emotional fashion. If you remember “Wrath of Kahn,” you’ll recognize a clever twist in the most dramatic moment.

Director J.J. Abrams does a great job here. He respects the long Star Trek tradition, created by Gene Roddenberry. The special effects are state of the art, yet, even in 3-D, some of the boulders floating around space resemble the sponge rocks of the low budget TV show. And the action and special effects never overshadow the human drama. The inter-racial, international crew of the Enterprise is very much a family. It’s hard for young viewers to understand how revolutionary that was in the world of 1960’s television.

It’s been announced that Abrams has been chosen to direct the new Star Wars movie. He’s a great choice. Did I catch a couple of references to Star Wars, including the famous cantina scene in the first movie? Abrams respects tradition, and builds upon it. Furthermore, as he demonstrated in his brilliant/frustrating TV series “Lost,” he is interested in myth. As much as so many have tried in vain to create myth, only a few succeed. Abrams, like Roddenberry, recognizes the role of myth in giving meaning to life.

My only beef with “Into Darkness” is that it seems about 10 minutes too long. Despite a space ship’s spectacular crash landing into Alcatraz and the San Francisco Bay, the movie seemed to be pushing it by this time.

The film concludes with a touching tribute to the 9/11 victims and first responders. The movie is dedicated to them. The people behind “Into Darkness” really seem to grapple with the fine line between keeping peace and, only when necessary, resorting to violence. I appreciated the thoughtfulness in the context of a huge summer movie.

A friar told me he hadn’t seen the movie because he wasn’t a “Trekkie” and thought he would miss a lot of it. I encouraged him to go, saying there was plenty for everyone. So I encourage you all to go, have a great time, and leave with something to ponder.

Tom Condon, OP