Of all the changes J.J. Abrams made to the Star Trek universe when he re-launched it in 2009, one of the sharpest was the decision to make half-human, half-Vulcan Spock (Zachary Quinto) and Nyota Uhura (Zoe Saldana) not just colleagues, but a couple with great sexual chemistry and some crackling dialogue.
They bickered over Uhura’s first assignment after her graduation from Starfleet Academy. Spock, Uhura’s teacher as well as her boyfriend, had sent her to the U.S.S. Farragut “to avoid the appearance of favoritism,” and Uhura protested in a scene that let her be both sexy and professionally ambitious. “Did I not, on multiple occasions, demonstrate an exceptional aural sensitivity, and I quote, ‘an unparalleled ability to identify sonic anomalies in subspace transmissions tests?’” Uhura snapped (and punned) at Spock. And the tenderness of their relationship brought out the human side in Spock, particularly after he saw his home planet of Vulcan destroyed by a terrorist. “What do you need?” Uhura asked Spock, kissing him tenderly after the attack. “I need everyone to continue performing admirably,” Spock told her, broken up. They were a partnership of equals.
But in Star Trek Into Darkness, this refreshingly grown-up relationship (at least by the standards of blockbusters) has taken a back seat to the bromance between Spock and James T. Kirk (Chris Pine). Kirk jumps between the two on every occasion. “Are you two fighting? Oh my God, what is that even like?” he asks eagerly. And when they finally bring their grievances into the open air, Kirk’s right there in a shuttle with them, like a roommate who just can’t help butting in.
Even when Uhura gets to do actual work in Star Trek Into Darkness, the movie manages to bollix up her role. When the crew gets stuck on the Klingon homeworld of Kronos, Uhura reminds Kirk, “You brought me here because I speak Klingon. Then let me speak Klingon.” But instead of allowing her to achieve victory through diplomacy, the movie first lets a long shot linger on her posterior while she talks to a group of Klingon warriors, then turns her into a damsel in distress who needs to be rescued by her male crewmates. At the movie’s climax, Uhura fires a bunch of shots at the movie’s primary villain, but it’s her boyfriend who ultimately puts the bad guy down, fueled by his anger at—you guessed it—the man’s treatment of Kirk.
There’s nothing wrong with treating friendship like it’s an important stake in an action movie, and the relationship between Kirk and Spock has always been critical to Star Trek. But it would be nice if Into Darkness acknowledged, as Iron Man 3 did this spring, that a man’s girlfriend can be as good a colleague and partner in combat as his bros.