Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) & Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

Author’s Note:  This Article is for people who have seen Star Trek Into Darkness and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.  In other words, this article contains spoilers.  If you plan to see either of these films and don’t want major plot points revealed, you should skip this article and read something else.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

-D.G. McCabe

Star Trek Into Darkness 

Directed by J.J. Abrams, 2013, U.S.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Directed by Nicholas Meyer, 1982, U.S.

“The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few,” Spock (Leonard Nimoy/Zachary Quinto) says in both Star Trek movies where the antagonist is Khan Noonien Singh, the thawed out, murderous super soldier from a long ago “Eugenics War” which, thankfully, never happened. For those of you wondering, in the Star Trek universe this war took place in the 1990’s. According to the Original Series episode “Space Seed,” featuring the first appearance of Khan, Khan controlled 25% of the Earth at one point during this time period. He and his followers were frozen in cryogenic tubes and sent out to drift through space for all eternity, or so his captors thought.

The character of Khan is played by the late Ricardo Montalbon in the Original Series and in The Wrath of Khan, and by Benedict Cumberbatch in Into Darkness.  They both do a great job of portraying a character that is manipulative, cunning, loyal to his followers, and merciless to his enemies.  In the Original Series episode, it was not clear that Khan is evil until well into the episode, where the movies start out by showing Khan’s dark side.

Looking back I’m not sure who’s performance I prefer.  Cumberbatch is far more terrifying than Montalbon, who gives a more subtle performance.  There is more depth to Montalbon’s Khan, but more menace in Cumberbatch’s.

The two movies compliment each other in ways beyond their shared villain.  At the end of Wrath of Khan, Spock dies in a radiation chamber while saving the Enterprise (only to be revived in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984)).  In Into Darkness, Kirk (William Shatner/Chris Pine) dies in a radiation chamber while saving the Enterprise (only to be revived later in the film).

The mirror image scenes are interesting due to the different reactions from the characters. In Wrath of Khan, Kirk’s response is melancholy, but he keeps it together for the scene and the funeral (at least until his famous last line).  Spock’s response to Kirk’s “death” on the other hand, is barely restrained rage.  In fact, he gets the same line that Kirk gets in Wrath of Khan when Khan has stolen the Enterprise and marooned Kirk and his crew on an isolated world.

Overall, I like how Into Darkness compliments and juxtaposes Wrath of Khan.  It is also a notably better film than Abrams’ previous “Star Trek” (2009).  Abrams demonstrates skill in directing special effects and demonstrates an understanding of the source material, particularly in the interactions between Kirk and Spock.  I can honestly say that after watching Into Darkness, I am much more confident of Abrams’ ability to handle the intense scrutiny he will face when he directs “Star Wars: Episode VII” two summers from now.

(c) 2013 D.G. McCabe