So, saw Star Trek: Into Darkness today and it was very good. Extremely well made, wonderfully cast and acted, with a snappy script and an okay if not exactly marvellous plot. On a scale of One to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, I’d give it a seven.
Because The Wrath of Khan kicks its ass in just about every way except action and special effects. The action sequences and special effects in Into Darkness make Wrath of Khan look like a play put on by Our Gang to raise money to save someone’s farm. In every other way, though, Wrath wins. It kicks Into Darkness’ ass in terms of story, dialogue, the comfort zone of the characters, and, most importantly, in terms of the villain character. Here there be spoilers, so if you fear spoilers, run.
Khan. Khan Noonien Singh is the bad guy in both The Wrath of Khan and Into Darkness, surprise! J. J. Abrams was really smart to engineer an alternate timeline thingy for these reboots, because it allows him to plunder the Star Trek canon at will, and then ignore it at will as well. So the new Khan is different from the old Khan. He’s still a super soldier from three centuries in the past who was genetically engineered to be superior in every way, except in the new timeline apparently remedial Earth history is no longer taught at Starfleet Academy, because no one – no one – on the Enterprise has any idea who he is when he speaks his name. It’s like Adolph Hitler showed up and no one had ever heard of him.
Ricardo Montalban played Khan in The Wrath of Khan with a seething rage and obvious intelligence that made the character awesomely dangerous. In the Wrath of Khan the wrath is personal, and it feels personal, and the plot is small scale as a result – a battle of wits between a superior human and a very flawed human captain in the form of James T. Kirk.
The Khan in Into Darkness is supposed to be brilliant, but we’re told this and not shown it, really, as we’re told he designed a lot of weapons systems and ships, and we’re told he’s brilliant, but all we’re shown is that he can kick ass just like every other movie villain ever. To be fair, the Khan in Khan is never shown really kicking ass physically, so call it a wash on technical points, but the chess match between Kirk and Khan in Wrath is a lot more fun to watch. The Khan in Into Darkness could have been named Barry for all the continuity brought to the character. Literally nothing about the character is specific to the Khan we got to know in 1967 and 1982, respectively. Benedict Cumberbatch rocks it, sure enough. His line readings are chilling. But the character never amounts to more than a tough, ruthless guy who, after we’re told how dangerous he is, ends up running away from Mr. Spock.
And the movie ends with a fistfight. Brain the size of a planet, superior genetics, and it just comes down to Spock and Khan slugging it out like … every other goddamn action movie I’ve seen in the last 10 years. Booo.
What’s really fascinating is that Abrams seems to even be aware of this, because he actually goes through the trouble of bringing Leonard Nimoy in as Spock Prime solely to offer Khan’s bona fides. Literally, Spock Prime shows up to glower and tell everyone in ominous tones that Khan is the most dangerous man in the universe – because nothing in the hour and a half that’s come before has made that clear at all.
So, I’ll take Ricardo Montalban’s hammy performance and the wonky special effects any day. Still, Star Trek: Into Darkness is a good movie, don’t get me wrong, well worth your ticket price. And if you’re not as emotionally tied to The Wrath of Khan as I am you might bond with Cumberbatch and be happy in your work. But for me, Khan 1982 would kick Khan 2013’s ass.