Simon Pegg got rather a start when he first read the script for "Star Trek Into Darkness." Playing the Enterprise's chief engineer, Montgomery "Scotty" Scott, Pegg was one of the stars of J.J. Abrams' 2009 "Star Trek" reboot. But early in the sequel, which opened this week, Scotty and Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) face off over new powerful weapons that Kirk wants on the ship.
"When Scotty resigned, I was like, 'What?!' " Pegg recalls, speaking to The Washington Examiner by telephone from London. "Particularly when the ship took off and left Earth. What am I going to do in this?"
It's likely to shock fans of the franchise, too, when the Enterprise departs for its mission without its iconic Scottish officer. But have no fear: Pegg proves integral to the story's finale. "I was thrilled and delighted with how it all pans out," Pegg says, adding that the conflict between the two friends helps give the film its title. "The darkness in this film is really about Kirk's confusion and lack of experience when it comes to command," he says. "That's the darkness; he's in the dark about how to behave. It's a nice way to continue the theme of his youth, his inexperience."
Abrams and his crew have rejuvenated a decades-old franchise, but the latest entry in the series -- which focuses on the villainous John Harrison's (Benedict Cumberbatch) single-minded war on Starfleet -- will feel familiar to anyone who's watched recent politics. "I think it's very current," Pegg says. "We're dealing in an age where terrorism is a real threat and our enemies are among us rather than faceless hordes on the other side of oceans. What we're asking ourselves more and more these days is why these people do what they do and not just how and not just assuming they do it out of a pure sense of evil and chaos."
The film, of course, is set in a fictional future universe. But Pegg is more than willing to "name names" and discuss its parallels in the present.
"In the face of overwhelming militaristic might, you can argue John Harrison is in fact kind of a strange dichotomy between freedom fighter and terrorist, and the militarized Starfleet is slightly more the heavy handed aspects of American foreign policy," Pegg says. Admiral Marcus (played by Peter Weller) has weaponized the Enterprise because he thinks war with the Klingons is inevitable, and Pegg believes there's an argument to be made for his view. But, he adds, "There is always diplomacy, and there is always an alternative to violence."
That sounds like something America's own president might say -- or has said. Pegg thinks the ripped-from-the-headlines dialogue was subconscious on the part of the scripters. "Writers always tend to externalize what's going on in everyone's mind. There is a parallel with the terrorist activities of Osama bin Laden and the decision to attack Iraq. Iraq had nothing proven to do with 9/11, and yet [President] Bush used that as an excuse to start a war with those people. You can always see the Klingons as like Iraq and John Harrison the proxy for Osama bin Laden."
Admiral Marcus certainly seems like a stand-in for former Vice President Cheney. "Absolutely," Pegg laughs. "He's definitely a Republican."
The 43-year-old English actor's next film also features aliens but has a very different story line: "The World's End" follows five friends who reunite to re-create an epic pub crawl from their youth. It completes a loose trilogy of films written by Pegg and Edgar Wright, following the uproarious mixed-genre comedies "Hot Fuzz" and "Shaun of the Dead." "Epic" might also apply to this film, scheduled for release in late summer.
"We tried to get everyone in 'Shaun of the Dead' and 'Hot Fuzz' in 'The World's End,' " Pegg says. "It's definitely our most mature film that Edgar and I wrote, and our most heartfelt and the funniest.