Prime Directive? We don't need no stinkin' Prime Directive.
So sums up the attitude of one James Tiberius Kirk, captain of the USS Enterprise. Rules? Pish. Regulations? Ha! Kirk goes with his gut—and his gut can't stomach Federation rulebooks.
After being sent to an alien world to do a little clandestine observation, Kirk realizes that a primitive culture is in jeopardy of being extinguished via burbling volcano. So what does he do? He sends Spock down to extinguish the thing with some sort of nifty freez-o-bomb. The nerve. And when Spock finds himself trapped in the heart of the volcano, Kirk blows the Enterprise's cover and rescues his first officer (despite the Vulcan's vigorous protests).
"The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few!" the logical fellow insists, fountains of lava spouting all around him. No matter. Kirk has the audacity to save his pointy-eared friend.
"So they saw us," Kirk shrugs. "What's the big deal?"
The big deal (as any Star Trek fan knows) is that the Federation is forbidden from interfering with other cultures. It's really the first rule of starship captaincy. And Kirk's mentor, Capt. Christopher Pike, is not at all amused.
"I gave you my ship because I saw greatness in you," he tells Kirk. "Now I see you don't have an ounce of humility."
Kirk's promptly demoted to Pike's first officer and Spock is reassigned to another ship. But before everyone can go their separate ways, tragedy strikes. A terrorist known as John Harrison attacks the Federation where it hurts most—mowing down a number of its finest officers, including Pike. Harrison then flees to a deserted territory on a planet deep in hostile (read: Klingon) territory. "He's gone to the one place we just can't go," Scotty, the Enterprise's chief engineer, laments.
Can't? Is that what you said, Scotty? Telling Kirk he can't do something is like dangling a piece of raw buffalo in front of a school of struggling vegetarian piranhas—particularly when Kirk has a mentor to avenge. He volunteers his services to Starfleet's admiral—believing himself the mongoose best suited to hunting down this awful snake.
And the Admiral, somewhat surprisingly, gives him the green light—on the condition that he park the Enterprise outside Klingon territory and shoot Harrison from afar with a nifty array of photon torpedoes. No need to start a galactic war, right?
No problem, Kirk says.
But there is one problem with the admiral's plan, Spock points out: It's completely immoral. Federation officers don't just go around killing people (or at least people who aren't extras) without due process. Sure, the admiral gave a direct order—but in so doing, he violated some pretty important Federation precepts. And if a direct order violates what is right, Kirk would seem to have the moral authority to countermand said order and try to bring back Harrison alive.
There is a whole lotta countermanding going on in Star Trek Into Darkness—and mostly for the best of reasons. It's done to save lives, to preserve peace and even to protect a galactic sense of justice. And the movie doesn't fall into the trap of summarily suggesting that such decisions are easy. Indeed, doing the right thing is often the hardest and most costly thing to do. But the good guys here—that is, the crew of the Enterprise—reliably do what must be done, be it following Starfleet regulations or a higher sense of rightness. And they do so at often great risk to themselves.
Into Darkness shows us that in times of crisis we sometimes feel tempted to become the very things we fear. In moments of outrage and anger over violent atrocities, we seek revenge and blood, for instance. But it also reminds us that we're meant to walk a narrower path. Kirk learns this lesson as well as anyone. But we learn something about Kirk too: That when the chips are down, he'd do almost anything to safeguard his crew—the folks he calls family. Even if it means sacrificing himself in the process.
Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry was a humanist who believed technology and ingenuity were the keys to salvation, not God. And, on the surface, this Star Trek installment seems to embrace his attitudes. Overt religious references are mostly absent here … except when the Enterprise mysteriously regains power at a critical moment and one of the crew members exclaims that it's a miracle.
"There are no such things," Spock says.
[Spoiler Warning] Indeed, the Enterprise didn't get anything like a divine push. Rather, Kirk dashed into a room full of dangerous radiation to set the engine core aright—essentially a suicide mission. And Kirk does die just minutes later (only to be resurrected through the mirac—ahem, through advanced modern medical technology).
The fact that Kirk sacrificed himself for the sake of others, died, and then rose again should not strike us as a miracle, much less an obvious Christ metaphor. No sirreee.
We see evidence that that primitive civilization mentioned earlier starts fixating on the Enterprise as a sort of divine entity. Pike tells Kirk that he shouldn't use his blind luck as "an excuse to play God."
We see Kirk in bed with two lithesome female aliens (at the same time), both of whom seem to be partly undressed. (Fabric covers their breasts, but we see bare shoulders and midriffs). He shows some interest in other females who cross his path, too, including Carol, a new science officer aboard the Enterprise. At one point she asks him not to look so she can change clothes. He does though, and sees (as do we) the woman in just her bra and panties.
Spock and Uhura, the Enterprise's alpha couple, are having difficulties for much of this movie, but that doesn't stop the two from smooching. Bones throws some sarcastically suggestive come-ons at Carol. Two nightclubbing aliens kiss—touching their long, long tongues.
It's fair to say that the casualty count of Into Darkness is far lower than that of its predecessor, 2009's Star Trek. Of course, we must keep in mind that in that remake director J.J. Abrams blew up an entire planet. This go-round he only has a massive starship plow through a major city, keeping fatalities down to, say, the five- or six-digit range.
Into Darkness is a tale about terrorism to some extent. Harrison procures the help of a Federation employee to blow up a building, killing 42 people. He shoots up another building full of Starfleet officers, murdering or wounding several more. His destruction of what appears to be much of futuristic San Francisco is his version of 9/11 (only many times worse). And if that isn't enough, this genetically enhanced villain has the strength to crush a man's skull with his hands—an assassination technique he performs on one unlucky victim (offscreen, thankfully) and tries a couple of times on Spock.
But even discounting Harrison's fearsome scythe, the movie is plenty violent. Photon torpedoes detonate to brain-frying effect. We see prolonged phaser fights and fisticuffs, leaving folks bloody and bruised. People are sucked out of spaceships through open airlocks and gaping gashes blasted through starship hulls. Heroes are threatened by lava, Klingon blades and space debris. They hang from dizzying heights and succumb to radiation poisoning. A young woman slaps her father. A leg is broken with a sickening snap. Spock wrenches a guy's arm. We see part of a smoldering body.
The future, clearly, is not a more gentle, peaceful time.
Crude or Profane Language
Three and a half s-words punctuate flurries of other profanities, including "a‑‑" (said five or six times), "son of a b‑‑ch" (three or four), "b‑‑tard" (five or six), "d‑‑n" (a dozen), "h‑‑‑" (another dozen), and "p‑‑‑" and "bloody" (once each). God's name is misused close to half-a-dozen times.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Pike finds a despondent Kirk drinking at a bar. Kirk contacts Scotty in a nightclub where he and a friend are drinking, and Kirk asks him if he's drunk.
"You seem to have a conscience, Mr. Kirk," Harrison intones. But that conscience, we learn, can sometimes be manipulated.
Star Trek Into Darkness is appropriately named, its title referring to more than just the inky blackness of space or even the near-diabolical acts of perhaps Star Trek's most fearsome assailant. It seems to also refer to the ethical fog we find here—the difficulty we all sometimes have in parsing right from wrong.
Consider Harrison. He's a bad, bad man. We're told that he was once sentenced to death and somehow wriggled free. So to kill him now would be, in a way, simply carrying out that verdict. And yet, for many reasons, our heroes often hesitate to kill him—even though such restraint might cause them and the galaxy no end of harm. Is it "right" to let him live? Would it be "right" to kill him if it meant saving countless innocent lives?
The right decision isn't always obvious. And even when it is, to do the right thing often exacts a cost. We're taught that here. As mentioned earlier, the crew of the Enterprise makes some pretty good decisions, and pay dearly for each and every one. Which is why my hat's off to 'em: It may be an old cliché to say that the end doesn't justify the means, but that tired tradition does not render it any less true. Sure, Kirk's a renegade—he always will be—but far more often than not in this particular tale, he's bucking the system because the system needs bucking. Not just because he's careless or calloused.
Parents will latch onto the film's themes of loyalty to family, and the sacrifices that sometimes go along with that. Others may pluck a more political message from the film—an oblique critique of the United States' long war on terror and some of the controversial means we've used to fight it.
Christians thinking along spiritual lines may respond to the messages in this movie in even different ways than that, varying reactions which may be exactly what Abrams is stretching for amid the myriad explosions and fistfights. As I said, the questions at play here are not easy to answer, even with the help of the kind of divine guidance that's so noticeably absent in this new and dark universe Kirk so rashly and readily warps his way into.