“Spock, you are fully capable of deciding your own destiny. The question you face is: which path will you choose? This is something only you can decide.” – Sarek, Star Trek (2009)
“Look, so your Dad dies. You can settle for a less than ordinary life, or do you feel like you were meant for something better? Something special?…Now, your father was captain of a Starship for 12 minutes. He saved 800 lives, including your mother’s and yours. I dare you to do better.” – Christopher Pike, Star Trek (2009)
“Khan Noonien Singh is the most dangerous adversary the Enterprise ever faced. He is brilliant, ruthless, and he will not hesitate to kill every single one of you.” – Spock, Star Trek Into Darkness
If you haven’t seen, In Darkness, two things: one, see it, and two, don’t read this (until you have)! I don’t like playing spoiler… even by accident! With that out-of-the-way, on to the review…
For the most part, I found Star Trek Into Darkness a fun romp of a sequel and I didn’t understand the backlash. It was mainly over the obvious “misuse” of Khan Noonien Singh (otherwise known as KHAN!!!) and how this film was a ripoff of Star Trek: Wrath of Khan. First of all, a majority of the movie was an original story, partly due to J.J. Abrams expert use of alternate realities (Fringe and Lost, for example). Pike shouldn’t even be there but I’ll get to that later…
So I’ll start backwards and build up from there…remember that timeless death scene from the aforementioned Wrath of Khan…well THAT IS THE ONLY SCENE WHICH IS DUPLICATED. The only scene. Count it, one. Furthermore, the fact that it inverts not only diverges it from the original but completely separates it (making it its own).
Basically, Kirk is in the radiation chamber instead of Spock which surprised the hell out of me. The hand-to-hand is still present as Kirk breathes his dying breath and Spock’s suppressed anger (finally) has a reason to emerge from the depths of his half-Vulcan heart. This exchange was exceptional for two reasons: one, Kirk validates an overlooked empathy and selflessness he covets yet has a difficult time expressing (his bravado and swollen ego often get in the way), and two, Spock actually gets angry and stays there! Plus, who wouldn’t want to witness Khan and Spock go at it?
In the Star Trek: The Original Series, Khan’s debut episode, Kirk and Khan had an atypical Kirk vs. the Bad Guy fight scene. It wasn’t the most exciting thing in the world. Until this fight began, I didn’t even think about how nonsensical it was for Kirk to go into melee with the superhuman Khan. I know, Kirk is Kirk… but no man, a human at that can stand toe-to-toe with Khan. Once the two started combat, it only made sense…and I was seeing Spock’s true fury (once shown in Abrams first outing). Both of these men are more than human, the mythos says as much.
Regards to major themes, this movie emphasized a few heavily: death, change, and growth (as a result). First off, Admiral Pike was at center of these themes. As Kirk’s mentor, he set goals and open doors for the erstwhile captain (for a section of the movie). In “The Menagerie”, Pike was left catatonic due to an alien encounter and could only communicate through a beeping light on his specially constructed wheelchair. However, in Abrams iteration, Pike is allowed to grow into a dynamic character in both releases. He subsequently dies, by Khan’s hand, at the feature’s mid-point.
His death creates a domino effect for Kirk, Spock, and Khan. Kirk has to become a man and a proper captain on his own, Spock has to decide what he is willing to do for the people he cares about, and Khan is subject to a serious manhunt…which is what he planned for anyway. Admiral Marcus had other plans however…
A welcome change was a separation from the Eugenics Wars of Star Trek’s fabled 1990’s. The film acknowledges a 300 year cryonic sleep then amends the plotline by a Khan inclusion into the Federation; also, Admiral Marcus’ direct involvement in terrorism, murder, and his own corruption within Starfleet. Many dark themes are on display as The Vengeance served as a physical representation; not only its color but its design and advanced weaponry which looked cool, and made this battleship a real killing machine. Darkness was present throughout.
Ultimately, the film was must see. In my eyes, it easily acquits itself from any perceived wrongdoing. Khan was still brutal, calculating, manipulative, and (like original Spock stated) dangerous. Whether you like Benedict Cumberbatch or not, the man fully embodied a young Noonien Singh especially his physicality and ruthless veneer. We have a Kirk who makes mistakes and learns hard lessons from them, and what it takes to be a leader. Spock realizes the difference between discipline and apathy; as a result, he chooses to value logic as well as emotion and he takes ownership of his friendship with James T. Kirk.
All and all, this was not a poor attempt at rebooting Wrath of Khan but an alternative take on Space Seed, in movie form, and I will have to say that it succeeded. Till the next time we see Khan…
Bye for now, KS.