A Tale of Two Khans and Spock Envy: Comparing Two Star Trek II’s

Warning: This Review Contains Spoilers of Star Trek: Into Darkness

I think its safe to say the JJ Abrahms loves Spock. I mean, we all do, but after leaving Star Trek: Into Darkness I came away with an overwhelming sense of Spock envy. While the notion of Star Trek is always to follow the dynamic captain as he develops due to the guidance of his crew in a reciprocal family/mock psychological element, I am more and more convinced that Abrahms prefers Spock to Kirk. The story seems to be centered, at least in its emotion, around the Vulcan (yes, I know what I said) while Kirk is kind of a floorshow. In the Abrahms Star Trek timeline, it is Spock and not Jim Kirk who causes events to transpire while the cocksure and wild Kirk simply is forced to react to stimuli. In the case of Star Trek II and this new Star Trek movie there is no greater stimuli for Kirk to respond to than Khan Noonien Singh (nee Khaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan!!!) and luckily both films have their fair share of Khan to react to.

The classic portrayal of Khan is larger than life as delivered by the one and only Ricardo Montalban. Khan is a devious genetically advanced post-human who places himself above the morality and judgement of others (which dependent on the ferocity with which you believe in the survival of the fittest may have some logic to it) due to his superior mind and physique. No lie, Montalban’s costumes in Wrath of Khan were designed specifically to show off his superior physique and larger than life pectoral dominance. Khan however was driven incredibly mad in the original timeline of Star Trek when he was stranded with his crew and his turncoat wife on a planet which became a desert after their Kirk-imposed exile. Fantasy Island it was not. Between Kirk being his jailer and his jail becoming a death trap Khan and Kirk develop a rivalry worthy of any within all of science fiction. Shatner’s vengeful cry of “KHAAAAAAN!” is an Earth shattering staple of vows for vengeance, and more than slightly due to the fact that a rivalry between Shatner and Montalban could be nothing less than an over-the-top extravaganza of intense moments and smooth witted dialogue. Khan and Kirk in the original timeline is the epitome of the coin having two faces, and the two men are evenly matched.

This new portrayal of Khan is equally dangerous mentally but is also an incredibly more present danger as he has been turned loose on Earth and posed against Starfleet in general, rather than the singular representative of it in Captain Kirk. Benedict Cumberbatch (I suppose needing as dramatic a name as Ricardo Montalban) plays Khan differently. Montalban’s Khan is a man who lives life with passion and oozes culture through his pores while Cumberbatch’s is much more reserved and calculating in his every movement. Now that doesn’t mean that New Khan isn’t passionate but rather where Montalban burns, Cumberbatch smolders. Both portrayals are full of intensity, superiority, and Machevellian scheming.

To Abrahms’ credit, he worked hard to parallel his sequel to the original sequel in a way that was mostly consistent with his aim of “reverent disrespect” in revamping the Star Trek Universe. The movie contains many parallels in the theme of the “needs of the many” and “the needs of the few” as well as the climactic scene in the warp core in both films, Khan himself, and the addition of Dr. Marcus who in the original serves as Kirk’s rekindled romantic interest and unbeknownst mother of his secret son while in this movie she plays a distractingly attractive science officer (distracting in the sense that Kirk follows the divining rod in his pants to all destinations–a consistent character trait across any universe).

However, where things diverge quite a bit in this universe is that, while Captain Kirk is certainly possessed of immense potential and genius, he is untested and young along with his brash disregard for the rules which leads him to trouble, and has him making mistakes more quickly than he can easily recover often relying on Spock for more than support, but for his actual salvation which is unlike Kirk(with due deference to that time Spock used rocket boots to save Kirk from falling off a mountain). In this movie, Kirk is first sent chasing after Khan after an attack on Starfleet headquarters kills Admiral Pike, vowing justice or revenge…the distinction was never made too clear. From there Kirk chases Khan to the Klingon homeworkd of Kronos (where we see some great reinterpretation of what Klingons look like–we can call that one reverently respectful because it was spot on). From there on, Khan manipulates Kirk up and down the line, and while the Captain is aware of it in short order he is mostly powerless to stop him–only to react to him.

Without spoiling too much, suffice it to say the Kirk is well incapacitated in the act of undoing some great damage done to the ship on Khan’s part (this movie is not lacking in one ounce of amazing action or ‘splosions) and it is, yup you guessed it, Spock who is forced to go on a flying-car-hopping, destroyed future ‘Frisco, fist fight to the crescendo that, honestly, has made me very excited for Abrhams Star Wars movies. With all the fantastic faculties of the Enterprise’s crew behind him Spock is able to subdue the villain in a move that surely stole not only the show from Kirk but also “Spock blocks” his epic rivalry (see what I did there?). That said, Spock using the mind meld and the neck grip as part of a martial art were a nice touch–well done sir.

In the end, the movie is full of great parallel and poorly hidden yet all the while entertaining Easter Eggs and nods to the audience–including tribbles. While the new Star Trek franchise isn’t half as cerebral as the original–and has effectively become space action thriller whereas the original series was a space western–it is by no means dumb or witless. Some fans are resistant to change of any sort, but I think that Abrahms has proven the continued viability of the franchise moving forward. I won’t begrudge trying to take a stoic character like Spock and exploring him some to show the emotion under the veneer, and I also feel compelled to say that the rest of the crew are dealt with evenly and respect for their core while trying, and succeeding, to make them equally relevant. I can only hope that as the king of all outer space that he continues to make Trek movies in parallel with his newest foray into the land of Star Wars–at least one more because I really want to see how he handles a war with the Klingons.

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Written by: Brandon Melendez

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