'Star Trek Into Darkness' — a spoiler-heavy discussion


Our official review of Star Trek Into Darkness is up, and per the usual I kept that piece as spoiler-free as possible. If you want to discuss the secrets of the film — and given that this is a J.J. Abrams movie, you know there are plenty — this is the place to do it.


WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD. Abandon all hope ye who enter here.


Where to begin.

Some have complained that the mystery surrounding John Harrison has done Into Darkness a disservice. I don't really buy that argument. Knowing whether Harrison is Khan or not isn't really of concern to normal humans. It may be important to Wrath of Khan fans, of course, but those aren't people that Paramount has to worry about bringing into the theater.

Of course, if you've seen the movie then you already know that yes, he's Khan. But I want to talk about The Scene.

To set the stage, I love The Wrath of Khan. It's easily the best of the original films, and where Star Trek: The Motion Picture aimed for Kubrickian cold, Khan was hot and hopped up. (Secondary spoiler warning: I'll be talking Wrath of Khan spoilers here too.) The film mixed a little bit of Star Wars with a little bit of submarine adventure, and capped it with a surprise that shocked audiences. To this day, it's hard for me to watch Spock die at the end of Khan and not get choked up. You knew they would never kill Kirk — he's the beating heart of Star Trek — but offing Spock seemed viable. It came two years after The Empire Strikes Back left Han Solo frozen in carbonite, and the message was clear: secondary characters weren't safe.

Wrath of Khan also executed the death perfectly. As that film starts, Shatner's Kirk has never dealt with the no-win scenario (a theme kicked off with the recreation of the Kobayashi Maru test). He's getting older and feeling his age. He's cranky. Grumpy. And then comes Khan, a menace from his past who reminds Kirk not only of past failures — Ceti Alpha V, Ceti Alpha VI; what's the difference really? — but also forces him to face that impossible situation.

And it's Spock that takes the bullet. As a result Kirk finally accepts that he can't control the fate of the universe every single time, and that even the ones he loves can die. He learns to appreciate every moment we’re given, and as he looks out over the newborn Genesis planet he’s asked how he feels. "Young," Kirk says. "I feel young."

That's some serious business. Kirk feels it in his gut when Spock dies, and it changes him. It did the same for the audience.

Which is exactly what makes The Scene in Into Darkness so frustrating. Yes, it's the Kirk death scene that bumped me so egregiously. On paper, it had to look awesome. It's the kind of high-five idea you can't help but get excited about — both paying homage to a classic moment and giving it a new spin. But there are several problems.

Just as in Wrath of Khan, we know Kirk will never die. The movie also teases the re-animative ability of Khan's blood twice before Kirk kicks the bucket. Risk factor: zero.

Thematically, the movie doesn't really set this up to be any kind of emotional payoff. Pine's Kirk will do anything he can to save his crew — and while he certainly thinks he's infallible, deciding to knowingly sacrifice himself isn't really a grand lesson learned in this particular story. (Spock was fine sacrificing himself when Kirk wouldn't let him, sure, but putting yourself at risk isn’t the same thing as refusing to let a friend follow suit.)

Instead, The Scene is about Spock learning to reveal emotion when his friend dies. But Spock already admits earlier in the film that he feels emotions. He’s just tamping them down (he did have his home planet blown up after all). That doesn’t leave much to work with. Compounding the problem is that the new Kirk and Spock haven't really had the screen time to build the on-screen chemistry that Shatner and Nimoy did. So we're left with a scene that plays "sad" because somebody dies (even if it's fake-dying), but not because there's anything larger in play.

When Spock died, it was an emotional experience. This is purely an intellectual exercise.

All that said, it was a gutsy call and I'm pretty impressed it made it into the movie. Everyone involved had to know it would infuriate some fans, and despite my problems it's certainly playing for some (at the screening I attended there were several people crying). How'd it play for everyone else?