Geek Film Review: Star Trek Into Darkness Breaks The Prime Directive

The action-packed Star Trek Into Darkness begins with a mad dash, a swirling, red-fueled explosion - and a lesson: sacrificing your own life, or abandoning your sworn duty, is always right provided the cause is just. An attack upon Starfleet, Captain Kirk's loss of his command - and an Earthly betrayal - are enough to propel the crew of the Starship Enterprise into action.

Red Alert: Spoilers ahead

Directed by J.J. Abrams, Star Trek Into Darkness incorporates all the action scenes, special effects and humor necessary for a summer blockbuster, while effectively maintaining the focus on the beloved characters: Kirk, Spock, Bones, Scotty, Sulu, Chekov and Uhura. There is enough action to satisfy the Trekkie newbies and just enough homage paid to the original Star Trek television series to make hardcore fans blush. A joyfully clever twist on what is - still - the best Star Trek movie ever, should satisfy all. 

Abrams allows each character his or her moment moment to shine. He unabashedly tosses Tribbles, Klingons, red suits and Mr. Spock all into the pot even as he constructs a version of the series able to stand on its own.  

The Dark Side Of Trek

Into Darkness begins on the lush world of Nibiru then ventures to the dark, barren Klingon homeworld of Kronos before jetting across London and San Francisco - and Jupiter. As is appropriate to any Star Trek movie, the center of the action always returning to the bright retro-future beauty of the Enterprise itself. Abrams' journey is pure, escapist fun that is not without its faults. Into Darkness avoids many of the probing questions on the human condition that the original Star Trek series so loved to tackle.  The story is surprisingly muddled. If there is a message here, it is lost amongst the frenetic pace and boisterous effects.

Despite its departure from Trek's original plotlines, we can forgive this new film for not posing the deeper questions. We love these characters and want to follow them on their many adventures. The original vision of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry's technology-drenched, optimistic worldview of the future may simply have won us over. Even if the present cultural zeitgeist does periodically push us onto the darker side, Star Trek's vision of smart people creating amazing technologies that ultimately lead us to the stars and possibly salvation, seems always welcome.

Among the stunning visual battles and non-stop action, some of the best moments of Star Trek Into Darkness are tender human moments. Those that reveal the budding - and sometimes acrimonious - relationships still being formed aboard the new Enterprise. Kirk and Spock. Spock and Uhura. Scotty and the warp core. Each actor more closely subsumes their role in this latest Star Trek iteration. Chris Pine is Kirk. Zachary Quinto is Spock. Zoe Saldana is Uhura. The film places them all in peril, and forces each of them to save the other. The bonds of a lifelong friendship and wholehearted commitment (and a long line of potential sequels) to one another are forged.

Stumbling Off The Enterprise

Where the movie fails is when the focus shifts to characters not on the Enterprise. Khan is a bit too superhuman, Klingons are easily bested in a fight, Starfleet is an inexplicable tangle of unstated relationships, and the beautiful people of 23rd century Earth are essentially bystanders to the action. All is forgiven, however, as each successive scene raises the stakes: from Spock inside a volcano to Kirk piloting his shuttlecraft on Kronos, to Sulu righting the Enterprise before it crashes and burns back on Earth. 

Despite the film's scale and speed and fights and explosions, Star Trek Into Darkness ultimately reveals the indelible rise of geek culture. The Enterprise - and all of Starfleet - is overflowing with smart, highly technical, amazingly skilled men and women ready to build, repair and imagine as their life mission. Best of all, unlike in the original series, in today's version the highly intellectual Spock and the brain-enhanced Khan get all the best action scenes.

In the future, smarts and focus are rewarded. Through intellect, bravery and a can-do attitude - all pure geek -  all obstacles are overcome. Theirs is a world of magic-like technology, blistering focus and an eager embrace of faraway worlds, beings, and cultures. We are the better for it. Violating the prime directive (through sacrifice and the abandonment of sworn duty) from the start of the film, signals that this new Star Trek crew won't always adhere to the rules and conventions long-time fans have come to expect. That's OK. They have proven themselves worthy of piloting the Enterprise. In the grand pantheon of Star Trek, Into Darkness is among the best of the bunch.

(See also: 10 Great Sci-Fi Films That Got The Future All Wrong)

(See also: Geek Film Review: Iron Man 3 Reveals It's A Tech World After All)

Images courtesy of Paramount