I just got back to seeing Star Trek: Into Darkness. I’m going to divide my thoughts into it into two posts, this one will be spoiler-free, the other will contain spoilers and talk more about the film itself. What this review is concerned with is what the direction JJ Abrams is taking means for Star Trek’s power as a means of affecting positive change and providing social commentary for the current times.
I don’t need to spend too much time talking about what a groundbreaker, game changer, etc etc, that the original Star Trek was. I’m sure most people familiar with Star Trek already know. Star Trek dealt with the issues of the 1960s by showing us a future where we had transcended the troubles caused by these inequalities. Star Trek therefore became a fulcrum for bringing us closer to that idealistic future, rather brilliantly.
And, in 2013, we still need that. An interracial kiss on television might not make headlines now, and the idea of people of different races and genders being respectful, egalitarian, equally capable, and professional together at work isn’t mind-boggling to most folks. But we haven’t run out of social problems that could use the Star Trek treatment to spark conversation and bring about the changes that will make that future closer to reality.
Star Trek: Into Darkness, in some parts, tried to rise above its overly dumbed-down calling to be an enjoyable, mainstream, entertaining popcorn flick. Using previously established canons in the Star Trek universe, the film flirts with possibly opening up discussions about the importance of protecting uncontacted Indigenous people from destruction of their traditional homelands, or the ethics surrounding governments employing extrajudicial killings, and what the costs are of a society on the fast track to militarization on the part of trigger-happy officials. But these are all, at best, sniffed then discarded, or at worst, used cheaply for some half-hearted plot advancement that goes nowhere.
The ultimate problems that I had with Star Trek: Into Darkness, are that while Star Trek in previous incarnations had some silly moments and was imperfect, it was still excellent for promoting conversations, and in many ways, it transcended its time for a better future. This Star Trek, however, doesn’t spark conversations about the problems of today, or show earth as having reached a better tomorrow through the transformative power of progress. It is full of shiny, techno-baubles, but with no indication as how we stopped killing and squabbling long enough to create them and utilize them. With a script (and casting!) mired in racism, sexism, and no introspection at all, this Star Trek functions more like the world’s most expensive, shiny, shallow TED Talk than anything else.