Into Darkness With Humility

6 Jun

Peter Weller Joins ST2Star Trek Into Darkness redeemed a franchise. After 9/11 and the 2007 bank and mortgage crisis I naively thought searing reforms would put the United States and the world back on course. Trek was a certain important reason why I joined the Army, but I never did find my family. After a decade reconsidering that, I realize now I can have the fantasy, but also accept the world as it is. It took a space opera fairy tale to convince me I was misguided. What’s necessary, but unlikely, not even moral, and definitely not legal is to excise the cancer, as Spock does when he eliminates Admiral Marcus, played by Peter Weller. Yes, Weller plays the bad guy, not that John Harrison, a.k.a. Khan Noonien Singh, is a good guy. Marcus is the testosterone junkie, the disease within the organization who we trust but who violates the license we give him to avenge us against our enemy. He’s the least redeemable character in the story with the most unfavorable traits. Khan, he’s just a tool, and that’s makes his character pathetic, even if Benedict Cumberbatch out acts the entire cast. For once, William Shatner no longer in the chair, that really means something.

I wanted to hate this movie. I do hope that any future installment can pass on the whole alternative timelines addiction. Leonard Nimoy deserves a chance to have a career beyond Spock. I hoped J.J. Abrams fell on his ass, and crippled his directorial momentum going into the Star Wars sequels. I wanted the franchise to die respectfully, or for the chair to stay in the family. But, Star Trek has returned to the past and done what the original series couldn’t, that is, put the technical side, the acting, and the writing together, all in a politically relevant, entertaining package.

The new Star Trek explored the origins of Kirk and Spock in a way that had become a sure fire Hollywood formula for success with the emergence in the new millennium of several highly profitable superhero origins movies like Spiderman, Batman, the X-Men, and Iron Man.  In keeping with the times, the emphasis in both the first Star Trek reboot and the new movie, Star Trek Into Darkness, has been on rogue terrorist groups rather than on nation states or empires thus reflecting the changing times in the international system.  In the first movie Nero, a survivor of the explosion that destroys Romulus, wages a war with a small group of renegades against the Federation.  In Into Darkness, J.J. Abrams resurrects Khan from classic Trek as a product of Eugenics and makes him into a first class terrorist.  The twist in the tale being that once again the seamy side of the Federation is revealed because it is not an innocent victim of terror but instead at least partly responsible for making Khan into a terrorist.  Internal factors drive foreign policy actions.

Political correctness and the logical trap of liberal-internationalism may have compromised the story line in Trek during The Next Generation years and hampered the franchise’s creative potential.  The new Trek, even though it focuses on non-state actors, has harkened back to the era of Cold War politics and this may actually allow the development of story lines that have a rich political narrative. Romulus and Vulcan may have been destroyed but the Klingons are alive, well, and hostile. The Borg are yet to be discovered, and there are bound to be conflicts with Species 8472.

Star Trek’s heydays perhaps were when it reflected interstellar conflict between empires/nation states.  The new Trek has allowed us to go back and retrace such conflicts and thus relive some of the best moments of the show.  Let us face facts—Realism, as the late Kenneth Waltz would have told us, makes for elegant theory but in terms of science fiction also helps create some amazing plot lines. You will be assimilated G. John Ikenberry!

Every one of the beloved cast of the original series now has an actor dedicated to his/her character who can actually deliver. Chris Pine is a jerk without being a hack. But his relationship with Spock is believable and its clearer now why the two work well together. Uhura is more than a PC prop with awesome legs, but damn irreplaceable and a match for Spock. Scotty is a rip who, like Kirk, brings a stripped down attitude to solving problems. McCoy, like Spock, is a talented professional with a healthy cynical twist. Sulu is Kirk, but with more to back up the bravado. And, Chekhov is the boy wonder of the first season, logical, screwy, and more brilliant in spite of himself.

What’s appealing about the reboot is, that the old idealism, the Kennedy-esque mantras, the civil rights flourishes, and the Cold War realism is jettisoned for a cold hard stare into how the Federation works, the moral compromises and the corrupt leaders revealed. It’s more neoliberal than neorealist. Absolute benefits, in a universe where power makes us all winners, could be won for all, if bad decisions and outright evil are avoided. We need both grit and humor, pride and humility.

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