So, I saw Star Trek: Into Darkness on Saturday (yes I am restoring the colon to its rightful place) and it is starting to dawn on me just how clever JJ Abrams’ reboot of the series is.
Spoilers from now on people, beware!
Yes, really, don’t read on unless you’re sure you want to…
Into Darkness is a genius reboot of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, with the emotional focus of the earlier movie shifted entirely from Kirk to Spock. But, to begin with, it’s not obvious what Abrams is doing.
There’s a red planet, Spock’s trapped in a volcano trying to extinguish it before it wipes out the populace, and the Enterprise crew is hiding in the starship on the sea bed, and trying to save Spock against his will.
It’s a nifty copper-coloured heat suit Spock’s wearing, and the symbolic significance of it will become clear later on.
Kirk’s decision to save Spock (who, McCoy tells him, would have left him to die were the roles reversed) leads him to violate the Prime Directive – bringing the Enterprise up out of the sea in a dramatic rescue attempt in full view of the far less technologically advanced inhabitants.
For this, Kirk is stripped of his command back at Starfleet HQ, thanks to Spock spilling the beans.
But it doesn’t last for long, as rogue Starfleet operative John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) wipes out most of the High Command, including Kirk’s erstwhile captain and mentor Admiral Pike, in a terrorist attack.
But this emotional moment isn’t Kirk’s, although we don’t know it at the time.
Kirk and crew pursue Harrison to Kronos, the Klingon homeworld, and Kirk is persuaded by Spock to attempt a capture of Harrison, rather than the assassination he has been ordered to carry out.
On the voyage down to the planet’s surface, Spock is berated by Uhura, his girlfriend, for the coldness he showed towards his impending death in the volcano and his lack of sensitivity to the feelings of others.
Spock’s reply is startling. He reveals that at the moment of Admiral Pike’s death he mind-melded with him and experienced the emotions he felt as he died – hopelessness, sadness, aloneness and anger – and realised that these were all familiar to him, as he had felt them all on the day his planet was destroyed. He has no desire ever to be in thrall to them again, he tells Uhura and Kirk.
So the symbolism of Spock’s heat suit in the volcano becomes clear. Spock’s about to take his mental suit off and start to experience his own volcano of emotions, but not quite yet.
Harrison puts up a fight on Kronos, but then suddenly and inexplicably surrenders.
It’s now that we are let into the secret of the film – Harrison is really Khan Noonien Singh, a genetically engineered super-villain from 300 years in the past, discovered floating in hibernation by a Star Fleet admiral.
Oh, we know where we are now, don’t we?? There’s going to be an epic duel between Khan and Kirk, Kirk will yell “Khaaaaan!!!” as he’s marooned by Khan somewhere unpleasant, and Spock will sacrifice himself nobly to save the day, because, as he says in the volcano at the beginning, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”
Er, no! We have been gloriously wrong-footed.
Khan sends the Enterprise spinning to its doom in Earth’s atmosphere, and it’s Kirk who sacrifices his life rebooting the warp drive to save the ship.
And it’s Spock who now has to make the famous run on hearing the words “Spock, you’d better get down here. Right away.” from Scotty.
And it’s only now, after seeing the death of another human, one he still doesn’t quite understand, that Spock yells, “Khaaaaan!”
The climactic show-down – between Khan and Spock – has Spock in one of those good old-fashioned fist fights for which Shatner’s Kirk was so famous, and really wanting to kill Khan stone dead – only held back by Uhura pointing out that they need Khan’s genetically engineered blood to save Kirk.
So the earlier film – which emotionally was all about Kirk’s coming to terms with middle age, fatherhood and loss of a friend – becomes in Abrams’ hands a film about Spock coming to terms with death and his half-human heritage of emotion. Brilliantly done, and I hope you liked it too.