SPOILER ALERT *** THE FOLLOWING CONTAINS SPOILERS FROM THE NEW STAR TREK MOVIE, INTO DARKNESS *** YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!!!!!!!
(And while yes, there are spoilers, you may not be wholly surprised at them once you know them, but at the same time I hope that like me, it makes you simply grin with giddiness.)
Okay, so first off, this is a continuation of the point I brought up in my previous article, “Recycling: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly“, where I said that I’d be horridly disappointed if in this next installment of the Star Trek Reboot, Spock would once again sacrifice his life for “the needs of the many”. And yes, the point is brought up, and yes, they did tease us, especially with the, “I’m not Khan, I’m not Khan, I’m not Khan–okay, I’m Khan.” My theory and hope was that in this case, Kirk would be the one to make the sacrifice to save everyone (which isn’t hard especially when you look at clues dropped in the third trailer).
I got to see an advanced screening of Into Darkness, so without further ado, here’s Part II–how did the recycle of the Star Trek plot point of one sacrificing oneself for the good of the many hold up?
What did happen though was basically the same scenario as in the classic, The Wrath of Khan, where Khan (yes, Benedict Cumberbatch is Khan, but the Sherlockian in me friggin’ loves him all the more for it) has the starship Enterprise at her mercy, more or less dead unless (again) the warp core (once again banged up and out of alignment) is fixed. In Wrath of Khan, Spock plunges into the radiation-filled chamber to fix the core and save the ship–this time it’s Kirk who does it.
Now to the untrained eye, this may seem, dare I say, lazy, but to be honest, I ate it up. We see things happen, more or less, the same way they happened in Wrath of Khan, where Kirk goes down and finds Spock dying, and unable to open the door for fear of the radiation, he can only speak with the dying Spock through the glass door that separates them, and the scene is one of the most famous in Star Trek, indeed arguably the most poignant. In Into Darkness, with the roles reversed, it’s Spock who goes down and finds Kirk dying on the other side of the glass.
As in Wrath of Khan, there are references to the theme of one dying for the sake of many, but in Into Darkness, there are references to the idea of what it means to die, and even though in this reboot of the same famous scene, the dialogue is almost the same as the original, just with Kirk and Spock’s roles reversed, the effect is no less moving. I see it as taking advantage of the “alternate reality” established in the previous film, a.k.a. Star Trek XI and answering a fair What-If question: what if it had been Kirk instead of Spock, and how would that have played out? Not to mention the idea that in either reality, it seemed inevitable that these two friends would end up in this tragic situation.
Personally, I think they did this really well. Seeing Kirk die in this manner, some may definitely consider it an improvement on his death as depicted in Star Trek: Generations, and it reveals a very vulnerable part of him. He tells Spock that he’s scared, almost in the tone of a child, and wonders how it is Spock can just turn off his feelings when he himself is so consumed by so many at the moment of his death. At the same time, Spock is once again given another needle jab to his human side, and forced to deal with death not as the one dying, but as the one comforting the dying–earlier on Kirk makes a smart-alecky remark about how Spock needs to improve his “bedside manner”, and I think he does so quite gracefully here.
Kirk tries to tell him why it is he risked fracturing regulations to save Spock’s life earlier in the movie from a volcano threatening to erupt and consume him (the point of “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” was brought up of course), but then Spock comes to the revelation himself: “Because you are my friend.” (I think that’s when my eyes started to water.) Then Kirk, admitting his fear at the brink of death, asks Spock how he can he just turn off feelings, and Spock says, his voice breaking, “I do not know”. Their hands overlap on either side of the glass door separating them, and wordlessly they both make the Vulcan gesture for “live long and prosper” before Kirk dies. As Spock takes it in, the rage from his human side gathers in him and through angry tears he gets to let out the infamous, “KHAAAAAAAN!” yell, and from there we see Spock as we haven’t seen him before, desperate to exact vengeance on the villain who caused the death of his friend (not to mention we get to see Khan satisfyingly suffer a very painful nerve pinch, even if his superior genetic engineering keeps him from flopping down like a stricken fish).
Thankfully, I must admit, it doesn’t look as though there will be a Star Trek: the Search for Kirk, thanks to Khan’s “magic blood”, and Bones informing him that he wasn’t entirely dead. Though to the film’s credit, earlier on in the film they very smoothly demonstrate the life-giving power of Khan’s blood, so it’s not so much of a deus ex machina.
And on the subject of Khan in this movie, or “Khan 2.0”, I have to say that Benedict Cumberbatch does an awesome job, if not a better one that the original, done by Ricardo Montalban. And no offense to Ricardo (nor am I speaking from a Cumberbatch bias) but Benedict definitely brings some incredible intensity to the role that actually gives Khan’s character a little more sympathy than Ricardo’s Khan, which may or may not work depending on your preference. I for one prefer it. The cold, calculating villain is definitely great when done well, that someone could be that inhuman, but at the same time, in Wrath of Khan, Khan was supposed to have this point where on top of everything else, he blamed Kirk too for the death of his wife, but we don’t see anything that really demonstrates the love he claims to have had for her, so it’s almost a bit of a throwaway–just one more reason he wants vengeance on Kirk.
In Into Darkness, there’s a scene where Khan is being interrogated by Kirk and Spock and Khan tells them how he was in the middle of trying to save his cryogenic crew when he was interrupted and forced to leave them at the mercy of Admiral Marcus, and not only the rage but the pain too that that caused him shows when through his expression of white-hot anger tears pour down Benedict Cumberbatch’s face unbidden, and almost brokenly, he turns to Kirk and tells him that to him, his crew is his family, and then we get the line from the trailer: “Is there anything you would not do…for your family?”And if that isn’t a hint at Kirk’s eventual death scene later on in the film, I don’t know what could be that wouldn’t come across as painfully obvious. For all of Khan’s wickedness, we see he’s a fiercely loyal commander, and as Cumberbatch said in an interview, “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom-fighter”. Or something like that.
All in all, I think that this was a very cool and interesting way to recycle a plot point we know so well from the Star Trek films. If you don’t agree with me, that is entirely your opinion, but I personally think what they did worked better even than perhaps it might have looked on paper.