There's a thing that makes me very sad about Star Trek Into Darkness.
It's not the perfect geek storm of an opening gambit that evokes not only the old-school, boldly-going adventures of the crew of the starship Enterprise, but also, hilariously, Raiders of the Lost Ark. It's not how Zachary Quinto somehow manages to make Spock more plausibly divided in his half-human, half-Vulcan skin than Leonard Nimoy ever did. It's patently not the pure nerdvana of Benedict Cumberbatch as Into Darkness' villain, whose performance will be remembered, fondly and with awe, for a long time.
None of these things make me sad. On the contrary: They flood my brain with endorkins.
I'm also not at all sad that, once again, screenwriters Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof, along with director J.J. Abrams, have ingeniously crafted a Star Trek movie that works equally well for neophytes and devotees. The needs of the many on both sides of that divide are catered to with care. The movie doesn't stop for the in-jokes: Either you see them because you're a honking huge Trekkie, or they're completely invisible.
No, I'm sad because this is a Star Trek for our times. It's our times that make me sad.
The 1960s Star Trek series sprang from an era of social upheaval — the civil rights movement, political assassinations, the sexual revolution, the Vietnam War — but it embodied the hope of the time as well. Today, we have plenty of trouble, yet seemingly little hope. And there's little hope in Into Darkness either.
No spoilers, but the main track of the plot, the what's-really-going-on stuff, could be said to represent what happens when hope and a spirit of adventure and optimism get sidetracked into selfish ambition. This is a story about terrorism as an act of egotistical will, of military opportunism, of false-flag provocations, of honest patriotism twisted for evil.
There's a conscious pulling back from the old-school Star Trek spirit of adventure, in fact, for that Raiders-esque opening is immediately followed by the Enterprise's recall to Earth and a dressing down of Captain Kirk (Chris Pine). Kirk's foray onto that planet ended in a situation in which he broke the Prime Directive, Starfleet's highest law meant to protect pre-spaceflight civilizations from all knowledge of a larger galactic culture. But the William Shatner Kirk was always breaking the Prime Directive, and never got called on it.
What seems like a paradigm-shifting thing turns out to be a sci-fi example of what's happening all around us today, where the more powerful you are, and the more damage you do, the less likely you are to be held to account for it. Kirk's crime turns out to be breathtakingly tiny in the grand scheme.
I enjoyed Into Darkness immensely, but I'm not sure I could call this a summery, popcorny sort of film. There are too many echoes of 9/11 for it to be truly escapist fun. And if there's hope to be found here, it's only in moral and ethical stands taken, which leave some characters in unpleasant places they'd rather not be.
Still, that's but a tiny bit of hope, for which I'm not sad.