This post discusses plot points from Star Trek Into Darkness in some detail.
Starships and Klingons and tribbles, oh my! I’d expected that Star Trek Into Darkness, J.J. Abrams’ follow-up to his 2009 alternate-timeline reboot of the venerable franchise, with returning writers Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, could have been any one of a number of things: a confident coming-of-age for Captain Kirk (Chris Pine), a return to the tradition of space exploration that defined the original show and movies, with some unintended consequences thrown in to accomodate the tastes of modern action audiences, and even continuation of the sci-fi screwball romance between Spock (Zachary Quinto) and Uhura (Zoe Saldana). What I didn’t anticipate is that as a blockbuster, Star Trek Into Darkness would be impressively generic, but that in a summer when drone strikes and extrajudicial killings appear to have been on many screenwriters and directors minds’, it would do one of the clearest (if not deep) jobs of outlining the debates over the American drone program for a mass audience.
When we meet up with the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise again, they’re on a planet inhabited by a primitive species that’s about to be destroyed by a volcano. Spock, in a potential violation of the mission directive to explore the world, uses cold fusion to stop the explosion, but not without endangering his own life in a way that prompts Kirk to come to his rescue by means that blow the Prime Directive not to speed up that species’ technological development quite literally out of the water, or without hurting Uhura, now firmly established as Spock’s girlfriend. Their actions, and Kirk’s filing of a fudged report of them while Spock tells the truth, get Kirk demoted to First Officer under Christopher Pike, who returns to command of the Enterprise, and Spock reassigned to the U.S.S. Bradbury. But their split it short-lived after a man identified as Starfleet officer John Harrison induces a fellow member of Starfleet to bomb what appears to be an archive, an attack that turns out to be a trap to lure Starfleet’s top commanders to a single for a strategy session. When Harrison attacks that session from the air, killing Pike and other high-ranking Starfleet commanders, Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller) gives Kirk back his ship and permission to go after Harrison, who turns out to be rather more than he seems.
The details of what how they do so are remarkably noisy and remarkably forgettable. But the nature of Marcus’s commission to Kirk and company provokes the movie’s strongest throughline and most clearly-developed ideas. The question in Star Trek Into Darkness is whether or not Kirk should follow strategic detail of Marcus’s orders to, using new and advanced torpedoes, “park on the edge of Klingon space, you fire, you take him out, and you haul ass,” or comply with Starfleet rules and make sure that Harrison receives a fair trial back on earth. That Star Trek Into Darkness presents that choice at all, outlining the debate in very similar terms to the arguments about the use of drone strikes to carry out extrajudicial killings of accused terrorists outside of the United States, differentiates it from the other pop culture explorations the subject, which has become a strikingly common feature of movies and television this year, including Iron Man 3 and Fox procedural Bones.