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A title like Star Trek Into Darkness may not be the most promising for those looking for an uplifting or inspirational film. Despite the name, this second of the newest Star Trek films does not take viewers quite as far into “darkness” as did the 2009 Star Trek. Sadly, that standard leaves quite a bit of room for error, and Into Darkness uses it with foul language, immoral behavior, violence, and sexual content.
Unlike the previous Star Trek film, Into Darkness manages to squeeze out several positive and, yes, uplifting messages on friendship, sacrifice, and evil’s corrupting power. But, as with too many other productions, the filmmakers failed to learn these lessons themselves or apply them to the film, allowing Into Darkness to be overtaken by more evil than good.
Now a captain and leader of the starship Enterprise, Jim Kirk, the playboy goofball from Star Trek, appeared to have earned the responsibility of command at the end of that film. It becomes quickly apparent in the new installment, however, that taking responsibility is still not one of Jim’s strong suits. According to his commanding officer, responsibility ranks with humility among Jim’s most wanted (i.e., desperately needed) traits.
But for Jim, rules seem like suggestions which are often, in his opinion, inadequate or downright wrong for the situations in which he finds himself. The latest, a stunt by which Jim disobeyed a Prime Directive in order to save the life of his first officer, Spock, has landed Jim in hot water with the powers that be. For Jim, breaking a few rules to save the life of his friend is nothing to be ashamed of. The trouble is that the rule he broke for the lifesaving was not the first or only one that Jim has disregarded in his short time as a captain.
Thanks to his wild ways and irresponsibility, Jim is demoted and the Enterprise stripped from his command. Jim is saved from further disgrace by his mentor, Captain Christopher Pike, who convinces the Admiral to accept Jim as Pike’s first officer aboard the Enterprise.
Before Jim can seize his second chance, tragedy strikes in the form of one of the Federation’s own who has apparently gone rogue. As Jim, Spock, and the rest of the Enterprise crew set out to find justice or revenge, the troubles and betrayals amongst themselves may pose a greater threat than the enemy they seek.
“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Whatever their faults, the Into Darkness filmmakers seem to have a firm grasp on this biblical concept. The theme of sacrificing one’s life for one’s friends is the strongest of the film, featured so frequently in a plethora of examples that it almost becomes redundant. Perhaps the movie’s creators are banking on the inexhaustible, inspirational power of stories of people willingly sacrificing their lives for others.
The main characters in the movie are the most ready to perform this type of ultimate sacrifice, making them, in this one sense, truly heroic. Bravery and courage are also among their heroic attributes, as is the great love for their friends that prompts the willingness to die for them.
Yet, as Into Darkness shows, even sacrificial love can become dangerous. Kahn, the antagonist of this story, is driven by a desire to save his loved ones at all costs—including the decimation of countless innocent lives. If he could save his friends through sacrificing his own life, he would do it, but he would also sacrifice anything and everything else that is not his to give.
In a parallel exploration of this theme, Jim and Spock exchange perspectives on the idea of dying for others. Spock believes that “the needs of the many outweigh the few,” and that he should, therefore, be willing to sacrifice himself, as well as the lives or desires of one or two individuals, for the better of the majority.
On the other hand, Jim’s view is initially closer to Kahn’s, in that he advocates saving the life of a friend over the good of “the many,” who he does not know. Thus, a compelling and unexpectedly complex theme builds throughout the course of the picture, as Jim sees in Kahn the extreme harm that can come from such exclusively applied love and ethics. That said, Into Darkness is limited in its exploration of sacrifice, since none of the characters come close to even considering the higher and ultimate sacrifice of giving one’s life for an enemy.
Still, Into Darkness gives a nuanced treatment to this rich topic that belies its action/sci-fi genre and still leaves room for the film’s other themes. Among the most positive of these is one that Jim announces when he reflects on the risk of “awakening the same evil in ourselves” when trying to stop “those who seek to do us harm.” He also adds a condemnation of the desire for “revenge” in the aftermath of such harm, saying, “that’s not who we are.”
Such uncharacteristic wisdom from the usually flippant, often immoral Jim is encouraging to hear. These statements are not the only evidence of his change, as he also learns to at least give lip-service to the better capabilities of Spock in one situation, thus demonstrating a hint of humility.
Regardless, Jim’s purported change and the aforementioned uplifting themes are too little, too late to save Into Darkness from the “evil” its central character warns about. In a film that is dedicated to the theme of sacrifice, it is both ironic and sad that the filmmakers were not willing to sacrifice immoral, harmful content for the sake of producing an uplifting film.
Jim, as any viewer of Star Trek might guess, is one of the prime offenders, even though he is supposed to be a primary hero. Though audiences are not subjected to as many of his sexual or other immoral displays as in the earlier film, there is enough to be both damaging and disappointing to viewers who may have hoped this “hero” would have changed his sordid lifestyle. Instead, Jim is shown in bed with two women, engaging in apparently sexual behavior under a blanket which is flipped off to reveal the three people clad only in underwear.
No surprise, then, that Jim also peeks when a woman has him turn around while she changes her clothing. Following the recent, almost laughably predictable trend of such unrealistic scenes in recent movies, viewers are given full view of the woman in her lingerie (as Jim also looks at her), while she has this sudden inexplicable and urgent need to change her clothes in public.
Jim is also guilty of drowning his sorrows in alcohol and using foul language throughout the film. In the latter offense, however, Jim is far from alone. He is joined by almost all of the other central characters as they work to compile a shipload of profanities and obscenities. The bulk of the offensive language includes words like “d--n,” “a--,” “b--ch,” “h--l,” and the “s-word”—adding up to a conservative estimate of more than thirty-six obscenities. Nearly six misuses of God’s name round out the dirty dialogue.
The heroes of Into Darkness seem almost as desensitized to violence as they are to foul language (and as the audience will be by the end of the film). In their defense, the crew of the Enterprise does not engage in gory or cruel violence and only harms those perceived to be enemies. Many such enemies are shown being shot, but without blood or other details. Just as many or more “good guys” and innocent people are also shown getting injured, killed, falling out of ships, and attempting to flee from catastrophic danger.
[MILD SPOILER WARNING] The worst of the violence does not come from the heroes, but rather from Kahn. In watching his treacherous work, one almost gets the sense that the filmmakers were restraining themselves in how much graphic content they showed in the rest of the movie so that they had room in the ratings to allow for the gruesome violence in which Kahn engages. Thankfully, this more disturbing violence (in which Kahn crushes a man’s skull while a woman watches and screams in horror) is confined to one sequence in the film.
Of course, die-hard Trekkies will be far more interested in how much technology, action, gizmos, and space adventure Into Darkness has to offer. With the highest of production values and a director with an artistic eye, Into Darkness delivers all the action, drama, humor, and excitement that fans could hope for. The benefits of living in this era of spotless CGI are apparent in every scene of awe-inspiring space footage, fictional and real planets, futuristic technologies, action sequences, and large-scale explosive disasters.
The cast of actors also helps to render the realism of this sci-fi world through several strong performances. In particular, the two lead actors—Chris Pine as Jim and Zachary Quinto as Spock—outdo their showing in the previous film. Finally given a role and script with substance, Pine shows that he can handle far more complexity and emotion than the shallow and/or comedic characters he is usually chosen to play. Quinto does equally well with the nuanced role of the emotionally-challenged Vulcan, Spock.
Yet, while viewers are watching the stunning cinematography and strong performances, they will also be absorbing deleterious content that leads to “the deeds of darkness” (Eph. 5:11), rather than to the light. There may be entertainment to be found by watching Into Darkness, but, after the fun is over, how will you get out of the darkness and get the darkness out of you?
“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).