A friend loves at all times, and kinsfolk are born to share
No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
J.J. Abrams’ second installment of his rebooting of the Star Trek franchise starts off in the middle of an exciting in cident. While Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) and “Bones” McCoy (Karl Urban) are on the planet Nibiru being chased by natives with white-painted skins, Spock (Zachary Quinto) is in the depths of a volcano that our heroes have discovered is about to explode, wiping out all life on the planet. Captain Kirk has already violated the Prime Directive of not interfering with the life of a newly explored planet by sending his friend to stop the eruption. Now, as the volcano is about to destroy Spock, he lifts the Enterprise from the depths of the sea under which it had been hidden and goes to the rescue of his friend, thus placing the ship and crew in jeopardy, as well as violating a Directive not to show his ship to the inhabitants. The natives, having seen the ship, are left behind creating an image of what they believe is a god, perhaps calling to the viewer’s mind the delightful film about Australian Aboriginals, The Gods Must Be Crazy.
Spock’s logical mind leads him to condemn Kirk’s reckless rescue, and back on Earth at Starfleet’s HQ in San Francisco Kirk’s mentor Rear Admiral Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood) is so upset that Kirk is removed from command, becoming instead the Admiral’s First Officer, and Spock assigned to another ship. Then comes an attack on a secret Starfleet installation in London, followed quickly by an attack at Fleet HQ on the high-ranking officers Pike has gathered to discuss the London attack. The perpetrator of the London raid, John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), is piloting the attack helicopter. Kirk is able to shoot it down, but Harrison escapes, and Kirk’s father figure, Pike, dies from his wounds. After the funeral Kirk, bent on vengeance, is all too happy to accept from Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller), the assignment to go after the killer, who has been tracked to an abandoned planet in Klingon territory, even though there is the danger of igniting a war with the hostile empire. Kirk’s orders are to take aboard a set of 72 long-range prototype photon torpedoes and fire all of them once they have pinpointed Harrison’s location.
This marks a radical departure for the Enterprise and its mission—from peaceful exploration to a military mission of destruction. Chief Engineer Scotty is so upset by this that he resigns rather than obeying Kirk’s order, and all through the trip Spock raises the issue of the wrongfulness of killing a man rather than bringing him back to stand trial. (Sound like a familiar issue?)
Matters turn out very differently from what is expected, with Harrison revealing that his real name is Kahn, the same master villain played by Ricardo Montalbán in what many fans believe is the best of the Star Trek movies, The Wrath of Kahn. And those 72 torpedoes include capsules containing the cryogenically frozen bodies of Kahn’s old crew. Like Kahn, the crewmembers were the result of experiments leading to the development of a super race of human warriors. Soon we will learn that there is not one villain, but two, the second aligning himself with Kahn because of what he sees is an impending war between the Federation and the aggressive Klingon Empire.
Although the film at times seems in danger of sinking to the level of a clone of action thrillers such as Die Hard—lots of blasting, fist fights, and survivals of falls that normally would incapacitate or kill—it is saved by the cast well chosen to portray the younger versions of our beloved Star Trek characters. The series emphasis upon the relationships of the characters continues, with Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto totally convincing us that they are the young Kirk and Spock. And we even have Spock romantically involved with Lt. Nyota Uhura (Zoe Saldana), although for some reason that relationship is under a strain for the moment. We also learn that Spock’s seeming lack of feeling is due not entirely to his half-Vulcan heritage but also to the trauma of seeing his native planet destroyed: it hurts too much to allow one’s feelings to surface.
People of faith might want to discuss the emphasis upon technology as savior, this being central to the majority of science fiction stories. Although it is just two centuries in the future, there seems to be no remains of organized religion in the world of Star Trek. (Although Scotty does plead with Kirk, “For the love of God, don’t use those torpedoes!” ) I enjoy the series, but by now I am a bit tired of Scotty and others pushing buttons while they talk some engineering jargon about something that will save the ship from being blown up by their enemy.
Note: Spoiler follows. It is interesting to see how a half-century makes such a difference in cultural change. Back in 1951 when Klaatu, the alien hero of The Day the Earth Stood Still, was killed by panicked American soldiers, his robot carries his lifeless body back into their spaceship and rejuvenates him so that he can emerge and give his attackers their last warning, “Shape up and stop preparing for war and fighting, or else.” Before he blasts off he tells the heroine, who had befriended him, that his rejuvenation is temporary, that he will die soon. The scriptwriter was ordered to insert the latter part because the old Hayes Office (the censoring board established in the early 30s) ruled that because only God could create life, the bringing back to life of Klaatu would be usurping God’s role, and therefore his revivification must be temporary. When Kirk is killed and Bones brings him back to life via a transfusion of Kahn’s “super blood,” there are no such religious qualms (except maybe for Bones telling Kirk that he was “barely dead” ): a good thing in that all the other Star Trek episodes would have to be discounted.
Besides the depiction of the warm relationships of Kirk and crew, I appreciated the move toward maturity of Captain Kirk’s character that is revealed in his speech at the end of the film: “There will always be those who mean to do us harm. To stop them, we risk awakening the same evil within ourselves. Our first instinct is to seek revenge when those we love are taken from us. But that’s not who we are… When Christopher Pike first gave me his ship, he had me recite the Captain’s Oath. Words I didn’t appreciate at the time. But now I see them as a call for us to remember who we once were and who we must be again.” Would that all of our present leaders could see the wisdom in this.
1. Of the many Enterprise crewmembers, which do you like or relate to the best? What seems to be a prime quality binding them together? Where in your experience do you see this loyalty displayed? How are the Star Trek stories really those of a family?
2. How has Kahn, in his speech below, captured the nature of Spock?
“Mr. Spock. The mind of the Enterprise. The fearless genius who ensures a calm force of intelligence guides their every mission. But look deeper and you will see an outsider who does not belong, a man of two worlds. This tears him apart, the constant battle between what he thinks and what he feels. What does he do? Does he follow his head, embracing logic and the pa
th of reason? Or does he follow his heart, knowing the emotions he cannot control may destroy him?” How is Spock actually an example of what Victorian literature regarded as the divided man, torn between reason and feelings?
3. How does the conversation between Spock, stuck in the bowels of the volcano, and Kirk show their basic difference? Spock: “We must maintain the Prime Directive… “ (This is his argument for not raising the Enterprise from its hiding place and coming to his rescue.) Kirk: Nobody knows the rules better than you, Spock, but sometimes exceptions have to be made! “ How is Kirk’s attitude similar to that of Christ’s in regard to the Sabbath and ceremonial cleanliness rules of his people?
4. In contrast to the above, Spock says, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one.” What painful truth do you see in this? How is this especially so in military operations?
5. What is Admiral Marcus’s reason for teaming up with Kahn? How is his assumption that war with the Klingons is inevitable a self-fulfilling one? (Any bearing in the current debate over “the clash of civilizations” in regard to our relation with the Muslim world?)
6. How has Marcus succumbed to the ends justify the means argument? Compare this to our use of and embracing nuclear arms.
7. What do you think of some of the characters objecting to the miniaturization of the Enterprise and its mission? What about Spock’s remarking to Jim that they ought to capture Kahn and bring him back for trial rather than killing him?
8. From Kirk’s initially starting his mission as a quest for vengeance for the death of his mentor, what does his closing speech reveal about his growing maturity? How is much of our national feelings and reaction since 9/11 followed a path similar to Kirk’s?
9. What do you understand the “darkness” is in the film’s title? Do you think it refers more to that of outer space or to the inner space of the heart? Why?