Re-saw STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS the other day, and for all of its wild action, enjoyable character touches (Karl Urban as Dr. McCoy steals scene after scene) and intriguing story twists, it’s —
— not about anything. At least, not anything that matters very much.
The previous STAR TREK was about how two misfits — smart-aleck troublemaker Kirk and fastidious but alienated (no pun intended) Spock — struggled toward their proper relationship with the world in which they lived and with each other. All of the movie’s major scenes and many of the minor ones dealt with some aspect of that subject, and for good reason: It’s an important subject to tell a story about.
INTO DARKNESS starts out dealing with another important subject: Kirk’s readiness to take risks including the breaking of Starfleet rules has made him successful, but as a superior officer tells him, “You think the rules don’t apply to you. There’s greatness in you, but there’s not an ounce of humility. You think that you can’t make mistakes, but there’s going to come a moment when you realize you’re wrong about that, and you’re going to get yourself and everyone under your command killed.”
That’s a hell of a good subject for a story: A self-confident man has to learn humility. His belief in himself has been his greatest strength; he’s trusted it to see him through every trouble. What does he do when it proves dangerous?
But the movie touches on ideas like that only from time to time. The main story thrust — stopping the evil Khan — distracts from Kirk’s journey to become a better man.
And it needn’t have. Khan is what Kirk could become: self-consciously superior, trusting only himself, believing that no one matters except the people he chooses to like. At some point, realizing that he could become as much a monster as Khan, Kirk would choose to become another kind of man: one who realizes that there is wisdom elsewhere than in his own gut feelings and who learns to trust people other than himself, such as his crew.
Bits of a story like this pop up from time to time in INTO DARKNESS. Kirk lets Spock sway his judgment, he lets Sulu captain the Enterprise, he proves willing to sacrifice his life for his crew.
But the movie is more about dealing with Khan and other dangers than it is about the maturing of Jim Kirk. And that’s too bad.