SPOILER ALERT for those who are yet to see it this post contains massive spoilers regarding Star Trek Into Darkness.
Before the 2009 reboot of the Star Trek franchise, I, like many trekkies, had my doubts. Star trek has always been a formula that worked best amongst a small, dedicated group of fans who were prepared to spend time investing in the characters, the species and the ideals of the Star Trek universe. Attempts to push Star Trek to more main stream audiences have largely fallen flat, hence my fears. In the typically protective/churlish way of fandom I was worried that the characters I’d invested so much in were about to be trotted out and fancied up in a vain attempt to win over new fans. This franchise belonged to me and my friends and no one else was allowed to play with it…. Happily, I was dead wrong. JJ Abrams walked the tightrope between respect for such a well established and well loved canon, and the desperate need to make it fresh and exciting for a new audience, like a pro. In doing so he came up with something that was new and exciting while at the same time nostalgic and familiar. Safe to say, I absolutely loved it.
From the moment I got home from the cinema I was waiting for news of a sequel, to see where JJ would boldly go next (…apologies for that one). Rumours abounded from very early on that the next film would see the return of The Original Series’ ultimate big bad, Khan Noonien Sing and once again my doubts percolated and questioned firstly, whether anyone could play Khan other than Ricardo Montalban and secondly, whether they then could recreate the intense, personal battle between Khan and Kirk which constitutes the central drive of the film.
The Wrath of Khan, along with First Contact, is one of the few original films that did well outside of Star Trek’s traditional fan base and Khan is one of the big reasons why. As a baddy he is the perfect mix of ego, hatred, eloquence, massive 80’s hair and conviction to his own cause. He is incredibly compelling as well as being so obviously dangerous and it was this that Abrams was able to capture and update in the genius casting of Benedict Cumberbatch.
Cumberbatch’s Khan conveyed all of the same menace as Montalban’s but in wonderfully fresh new ways. Where Montalban was flamboyant and loquacious, Cumberbatch was collected, cold and disdainful. He also brought an impressive physical presence to the role, not only in his fight scenes which were wonderfully gratuitous (taking out a whole squadron of Klingons!), but also in stillness, the way he stood, the way he positioned himself in relation to other characters on screen and the very deliberate way he moved. In short he was dangerous, and that came across unmistakeably. As with the original film, this Khan was Kirk’s match and dedicated to a cause as deeply rooted as Kirk’s commitment to his ship and his crew. One of my favourite moments in the film was when Kirk discovered the man he knew as Harrison’s true identity and motivation for the atrocities he had committed. Khan’s pain transforms his whole being into something sub human, almost animalistic and makes him so much more than the standard, somewhat 2-d, star trek meanie. He is a baddy that, like the Borg of first contact, translates outside of the confines of star trek fandom and so allows the film to do the same.
This recreation of Khan is the largest of many delicious nods to fans of The Original Series peppered throughout the film. Despite criticism from some quarters, the film’s engagement with The Original Series and film were, in my opinion, two of the best things about it and yet, while the nods were there for those who recognised them, they robbed nothing from those that did not. Scotty’s spanner in the works of the superior ship, Chekov being told to put on a red shirt, the mud incident were but a few that gave me a lovely, warm, trekkie glow. This added to the fantastic re design of the Enterprise from the 2009 film which captured the aesthetic of the Original Series whilst managing to make it seem futuristic to the internet generation.
The emotional climax of the film, is undoubtedly Kirk’s sacrificing of his own life to save his crew. In the original film, the roles are reversed, with Kirk helplessly watching from behind the glass as Spock lays dying on the other side. In The Wrath of Khan this moment is the culmination of a friendship that has developed over years. In Into Darkness it is the beginning of that friendship, as Spock acknowledges the pain he is feeling and the friend he has lost. As is the theme of Abram’s two films, it is a beginning rather than an ending as Kirk is revived with a handy shot of Khan’s ‘super blood’. The bond of trust and loyalty between Kirk and Spock that was a central pillar of The Original Series is born here in this film.
While the Wrath of Khan may leave the viewer slightly more emotionally distraught as there are no handy, tribble based, save the day revelations, Into Darkness brings the characters and the audience to the point of being ready to embark on the legendary five year mission. All of the bridge crew have grown into recognisable yet updated versions of the ones I hold dear from the series and none more so than the captain who finally had to face his Kobayashi Maru. The film also raises the tantalising possibility that the awesomely atavistic new style Klingons may feature in the next film if one were to be made ( after all this would present a nice opportunity for tie ins with The Search for Spock …). All in all I adored it, I have never enjoyed seeing a film at the cinema more. A big part of that is my pre existing investment in the series and the joy of seeing that series brought back to life in such emphatic style on the big screen. However, trekkie or not, its still a bloody good film.