Much like his 2009 reboot, J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek Into Darkness is the popcorniest popcorn blockbuster that modern Hollywood is able to pop. The Super 8 and Mission: Impossible III director has cracked the code for well-calibrated summer-movie thrills … which means that Into Darkness peaks and valleys like an amusement park roller-coaster ride. It’s fast. It’s fun. It’s frivolous. It’s essentially everything you want your summer blockbusters to be.
But will your kids dig it?
Let’s beam ourselves up, violate the Prime Directive, assume the captain’s chair of the Starship Enterprise and figure out when you can watch Star Trek Into Darkness with your kids.
Green Lights: “Is there anything you would not do for your family?”
I can’t emphasize enough how Abrams’ high-concept Into Darkness is a throwback to the summer escapism efforts we continuously pine for. It opens with a breakneck sequence reminiscent of Raiders of the Lost Ark or Temple of Doom … a slam-bang escape-and-rescue mission set IN THE BELLY OF A VOLCANO! Later in the film, Capt. Kirk (Chris Pine) must fly between two stalled spaceships … sky-surfing through A SEA OF DEADLY SPACE DEBRIS! And then there’s the battle aboard the crumbling Enterprise AS IT PLUMMETS FROM SPACE TOWARD EARTH’S VAST OCEANS!!
So yeah, there’s enough eye candy on display here to give your corneas cavities.
Abrams’ two Star Trek movies are the kinds of movies that parents who grew up on Spielberg and Lucas’ finest want to share with our kids. We want them to revel in Kirk’s cocksure heroism, to associate with Spock’s (Zachary Quinto) logical approach to complicated situations. We want them to marvel at the sets Abrams and his creative team are able to conjure – physical sci-fi stages housing some of the most remarkable action set pieces you’re able to see in movie theaters in 2013.
At its best, Star Trek Into Darkness floors us with the finest effects summer-movie audiences could hope for or expect.
There are plenty of lessons to chew over in Into Darkness, as well, though probably not as many weighty sci-fi conflicts as die-hard Trekkies are used to absorbing. Abrams has more interest in pulse-racing thrills than contemplative conundrums, and so his Trek movies often are mistakenly labeled as “dumb.”
Not true. There are obvious homages to America’s contemporary war on terror, and the reasons why peaceful nations enter conflicts with hostile enemies. (Conservative audience member will fume at what appear to be clumsy bashes of the Bush Administration.) There are aggressive acts of terrorism conducted by the film’s villain (Benedict Cumberbatch), including an explosion in the heart of a futuristic London, an attack on Starfleet Headquarters that results in the death of a key character, and an assault on a Klingon safe haven. I’ll touch on a few of these points in the Red Flags section.
But Abrams and his screenwriters spotlight admirable traits in Kirk, specifically, that bear repeating with our kids. Through his mentorship with Capt. Pike (Bruce Greenwood) and his deepening relationships with his Enterprise crew – Spock, in particular – Kirk learns how to lead by example in times of crisis, how to make sacrifices for the benefit of those he loves, and how to respect authority.
Kids who absorb those character traits at a young age are bound to live long and prosper.
Red Flags: “Shall we begin?”
So what are some things parents need to look out for? Not as much as you might have feared.
The language in Star Trek Into Darkness earns the film its PG-13 rating, including a handful of “ass” and “son of a bitch” moments, as well as two well-earned “shit” drops.
The most destructive violence is either kept offscreen (the explosion in London), or toned down for sci-fi effect while managing to stay un-bloody. The Klingon planet fight is swift and explosive, but edited cleanly with little emphasis on bodily harm. Phasers stun, apparently, but don’t blast bodies into a million bloody pieces … which, from a parent’s perspective, is appreciated. Kirk loses his cool once on Cumberbatch’s character, punching him repeatedly in the face. Come to think of it, Spock does the same later in the film. I guess the villain just brings out the worst in these otherwise noble heroes.
Star Trek Into Darkness is a thrilling ride. It’s also a little exhausting, at two full hours of high-speed action. When can your kids handle it? Let’s try to summarize.
Science fiction, as we’ve said in the column on numerous occasions, affects different kids at different ages. Because the universe on screen often comes across as far-fetched and distant, some children are able to tune out the violence and dangers because they literally belong to another world. Cumberbatch’s character doesn’t unnerve like, say, The Mandarin from Iron Man 3 because he’s quite literally an alien who your kids can’t relate to … or envision coming to our planet to cause chaos.
At the same time, science-fiction movies like Trek often talk over the heads of younger audience members, with genre language that develops the story but won’t make sense to kids who can’t keep up with the Trek jargon or understand the steady nods to Trek canon. The vengeance plot in Star Trek Into Darkness isn’t complicated. Some of the twists as the story develops can be confusing, however, and kids might enjoy the ride without actually realizing why Spock is chasing one person and Kirk is plunging into the “guts” of the Enterprise to save his crew.
Star Trek Into Darkness will appeal to kids of all ages, but will have its greatest impact on young teens. The film’s questionable elements aren’t dealbreakers. Abrams, in the back of his mind, understands that these event movies should be for everyone (without sacrificing the overall story). I think that despite the “darkness” in the title, this can be an engaging summer-blockbuster romp for several family members
As always, if you do take your kids to Star Trek Into Darkness, please let me know how it goes!
If you’d like to read previous entries in the "When Can I Watch That With My Kids?" series, click right here. Some of the films covered: Star Wars, Back to the Future, The Goonies, Hugo, The Princess Bride, The Monster Squad and Elf, to name just a few.