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Tuesday, September 23, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 59.0° F  A Few Clouds
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Star Trek Into Darkness is a sci-fi tale for a post-9/11 world
A Trek for our times
Some characters find themselves in unpleasant places after defending their beliefs.
Some characters find themselves in unpleasant places after defending their beliefs.

Something about Star Trek Into Darkness makes me very sad.

It's not the perfect storm of an opening that evokes the old-school adventures of the starship Enterprise and also - hilariously - Raiders of the Lost Ark.

It's not how Zachary Quinto makes Spock seem more divided by his half-human, half-Vulcan identity than Leonard Nimoy ever did, with subtle snark and a face that gets more expressive the stiller he becomes. And it's not the sheer joy that Simon Pegg exudes in every nanosecond as Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott.

It's not Benedict Cumberbatch as the villain, the nerdy delight of which has been enhanced by months of teasing about which baddie he might play. This deliciously excruciating seduction continues throughout the film as he hurtles toward the moment when all is revealed. His performance will be remembered with awe for a long time.

I'm also not sad that director J.J. Abrams has crafted a Star Trek movie that works equally well for neophytes and devotees. There are plenty of in-jokes for the latter group, but the movie doesn't linger on them. Either you see them and laugh or snort or cry, or they're completely invisible.

I'm sad because this is a Star Trek for our times. More precisely, our times make me sad. The 1960s Star Trek series sprang from an era of social upheaval - the civil rights movement, the sexual revolution, a seemingly endless war in Vietnam - but it also embodied the hope of the times, particularly the one represented by America's space program. Today we have plenty of trouble but little hope, according to Into Darkness. No spoilers, but the main plot could represent what happens when a spirit of adventure and optimism gets sidetracked by selfish ambition. This is a story about terrorism as an act of egotistical will.

I enjoyed Into Darkness immensely, but it's too grim to be called a summer popcorn film. There are too many echoes of 9/11, some very upsetting. If there's hope to be found, it's in some of the characters' moral stands, which often leave them in unpleasant places.

Still, that's a kernel of hope.

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