Whenever you think of heroic characters in the sci-fi genre, Star Trek‘s Captain Kirk will be one of the first characters that will come to mind. He will always be thought of as perhaps the definition of what a starship captain can and should. He’s intelligent, brave, loyal, and principled. What about Spock? In a way, he’s Star Trek‘s signature character. The pointy ears, the eyebrows, the Vulcan salute, the blue officer’s uniform, they are all aspects known the world over for association for everyone’s favorite Vulcan. Though Spock is the most iconic character in the franchise, he’s some underrated as an actual hero.
In honor of Star Trek Into Darkness, this week on Most Heroic we will be talking about the heroism displayed in the JJ Abrams Star Trek movies.
Why only the Abrams films? Well, I must confess that I am a relatively new Star Trek fan. So new, in fact, that I don’t actually feel qualified to discuss the original series or any of the subsequent films. In the interest of being an honest fan journalist, I’ll only talk about the ones I’ve actually seen. I’m sure that there are many elements of the classic characters that don’t appear in the rebooted series, and I’ll be happy to write a profile for them once I’ve actually seen enough of the classic stories. That being said, let’s get down to profiling two of the most famous sci-fi heroes in the genre! (There will be no major spoilers in this column.)
Captain James T. Kirk
Thanks to the altered nature of the Abrams universe, I’m given to understand that Captain Kirk is different from his classic counterpart, but he’s still recognizable. This younger Kirk is a clearly gifted but rebellious cadet. He doesn’t have a great deal of respect for authority, but it’s not because of his own arrogance. He genuinely disagrees with some of the attitudes and practices of Starfleet and seeks to show them that they’re wrong. This is perfectly displayed with the Kobayashi Maru simulation. The test is designed to be unwinnable, but Kirk rewrites the program so that it can be won. He later explains this with his classic quote, “I don’t believe in no-win scenarios.” We later learn that Kirk defines winning in much looser terms than most people.
Though Christopher Pine’s portrayal of Kirk is shown to be more aggressive than Shatner’s, he is no less principled. We see that he has a great sense of loyalty to his crew, and he’s unwilling to put them in danger. He feels that if they’re under his command, its his responsibility to ensure their survival. Though this theme is more essential to the story of Into Darkness, it’s still present in the first film. Kirk refuses to let Spock, who until this point has been his rival, attack their enemy all on his own, and insists on accompanying him. It’s not inconceivable that Jim is doing his best to live up to the legacy of his own father, the late George Kirk. In the stellar opening of the 2009 reboot, George Kirk heroically sacrifices his own life to save the lives of his crew, including his newborn son.
Admirably, Chris Pine decided not to base his own performance so much on William Shatner, out of respect for the latter’s legacy. He also was quoted that he wanted his Kirk to resemble Harrison Ford as far as being a charming, renegade “accidental hero.”
JJ Abrams and company clearly gave a great deal of thought on how best to bring Spock to life. Qunito’s new incarnation of the character is forced to fight his dueling impulses of emotion and logic. He retains his trademark aloof and professional demeanor in this new universe, but in fact, sometimes he seems too cold and even ruthless with some of his decisions.
However, Spock is still only half-Vulcan, and the filmmakers give us plenty of opportunity to see his human side. We see that Spock is very close with his family, especially with his human mother, and he does not abide any insults on their behalf. In perhaps the largest departure from the original series, he is in a romantic relationship with Lt. Uhura, and it is clear that he cares deeply for her.
Like Kirk, Spock has little hesitation to sacrifice his own life if the situation calls for it. Even in this new universe, he still recognizes that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.
I was once told that the original trio of Kirk, McCoy, and Spock formed three different but equally necessary points of view. Spock represented logic, McCoy focused on emotion, and Kirk was the balance between the two. In this reboot, that balance is no longer present, because they built a new one. Spock remains the more logical of the two, and the one who focuses on adhering to Starfleet regulations at all times. Kirk however takes on the role of being the more emotional one. Even though their methods may be very different, they do still have similarly firm moral centers, and though they may dislike it when the other is right, they’ll both have to do in order to do the right thing and save the day.
I’m Jesse Blume and this is Most Heroic.
Next Week on Most Heroic, we will take a look at Geoff Johns’ run on Green Lantern.