Film Review: Darkness draws parallels between hero, villain

By Kendrick Kuo, Special Contributor

Star Trek Into Darkness
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence

 For those who have not seen the trailer, this second installment of director J.J. Abrams’ planned Star Trek trilogy centers on a villain named John Harrison. This terrorist mastermind, using a suicide bomber, detonates a bomb in the heart of London. Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise embark on a manhunt to bring the mysterious Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch, who gives a stunning performance) to justice. Then they discover a more sinister plot unfolding.

The relationship between Kirk and Spock (Zachary Quinto) remains the emotional anchor of this franchise. Spock’s friendship with Kirk and romance with Uhura (Zoe Saldana) are both complicated by his logic-driven Vulcan nature, but this makes the scenes where Spock displays authentic longing, love and grief all the more touching. The Kirk-Spock bond is less robust than in the first film, the emotional capital developed there does propel this story, too.

Kirk faces hard choices throughout the movie. He has an instinctual, risk-taking streak that audiences love, since he’s doing what we would do if we weren’t so cautious. In Freudian terms, Kirk’s id is tempered by Spock’s super-ego, which leads to the collective ego that renders the (hopefully correct) judgment.

Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine, right) confront villain John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) in Star Trek Into Darkness. PHOTO COURTESY PARAMOUNT PICTURES

But we also see a new dimension added. Not only is Kirk torn between obeying superiors and following his gut instinct, he faces the ethical dilemma of using evil for good. For those with a foreign policy background, Star Trek Into Darkness will smack of the war on terror. How do we use “frenemies”—alliances with the best worst friend (ahem, Pakistan)? What’s the legality behind drones? These questions will likely come to mind. Kirk frequently has to choose between the lesser of two evils, sacrificing one for the sake of many others.

Eventually, Kirk “earns his chair” as captain. The film upholds a model of servant leadership, as the captain always puts his crew first and thus earns their respect and loyalty. This Christ-rooted ideal of servanthood is pitted against the savage Nietzschean figure of John Harrison, who at one point in the film is described as “a superman,” a direct allusion to Nietzsche’s übermensch. Yet Harrison’s vision of life is not purely atomistic because he has a deep care for his own crew.

Kirk’s risky decisions to protect his crew are matched by Harrison’s own. Harrison himself draws these parallels during Kirk’s brief interrogation of him. However, a moral standard still exists, and audiences are intuitively aware of the difference between them. Leadership is not merely about sacrifice; it’s about the ultimate goal—the moral destination the leader is moving his crew toward.

As Star Trek Into Darkness nears its end, audiences will be pleasantly surprised time and again that the plot is not concluded. I counted at least three endings. Personally, I was glad that each soft-ending wasn’t the end since I was enjoying myself. If nothing else, I think that’s a sign of the film’s success. I was gripped by the story and sat back as Mr. Abrams brought me in for a “soft landing.”

So what’s next? Both Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness focus on heroes and villains, but I hope the third film will return to the roots of Star Trek and tell a tale of exploration. Stories about humankind (or Vulcan, or any other race) versus nature are trickier and require more skill to pull off, but in so doing Mr. Abrams could distinguish this trilogy.

Mr. Kuo is an M.A. International Affairs candidate at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C. This review is reprinted by permission from, where it first appeared.

Special Contributor to UMR

Special Contributor

This story was written by a special contributor to The United Methodist Reporter. You may send your article submissions to

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