“Better to reign in Hell, than to serve in Heaven.”
One dream of mine was to meet James T. Kirk. I dressed up as The Captain on my first day of kindergarten. I invited William Shatner to my high school graduation party. Just a couple of months ago, it made me very happy to meet William Shatner in person. I’m a Trekkie after all.
In addition to being a huge fan of cured meat products, I’ve been perhaps a bigger fan of Star Trek. I’ve got a lot of useless trivia about Star Trek stashed in my brain. Not just from the original series, but from TNG, DS9, Voyager, Enterprise, and of course, the movies.
One movie in particular I can recite chapter and verse, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Without doubt, it was the best of the movies; spun from the original series Space Seed episode, introducing Ricardo Montalban as Khan. For those that don’t understand who Khan is and what he represents to Capt. Kirk, Khan is to Kirk as The Borg are to Picard, The Joker is to Batman; Ahab to Moby Dick; the perfect pair. Great characters are often defined by their arch-nemesis.
“My name is Khan, please sit and entertain me”
Star Trek: Into Darkness is a mockery of Star Trek and Khan. Into Darkness is a blunt instrument with one-liners, pandering to soft-core Star Trek fans and those uninitiated with no sense for the classic Star Trek Canon, dare I say adolescents, who crave CGI, running, shooting, and big things blowing up.
Star Trek at its core is melodrama, meaning generally, the good guy wins but sometimes with painful consequences. The Wrath of Khan is the epitome of that melodramatic lesson. Star Trek is basically a classic Western at heart, with Capt. Kirk essentially playing the same role over and over again like John Wayne; brash, bold, respectful, strong, charismatic, an ethical man who stands on principal and has a code he lives by. And Kirk always had a girl or two stashed around the frontier, because he’s Kirk.
“I'll chase him round Good Hope, and round the Horn, and round the Norway Maelstrom, and round perdition's flames before I give him up”
I’ll start with some good news about Into Darkness. Adding Dr. Carol Marcus to the story was clever and appropriate. Dr McCoy and Scotty are still the best characters in the re-booted Star Trek story. The Enterprise under water? I’ll buy it. The fact that there was a coolant leak in the warp core happens all the time and we all know that’s bad. And for the record, I liked J.J.’s first Star Trek re-boot. I think Pine and Quinto have good chemistry and play their characters as instructed, albeit, flawed.
Pandering seems to be what passes as reverence these days in re-boots. Dropping a Mudd reference, experimenting on dead Tribbles, noting the 72 pods, a name-drop of Nurse now Dr. Chapel, or quoting lines from previous episodes or films, like “needs of the many”, might be enough for those soft-core Trekkie fans to get a tickle. But it’s simple pandering without substance or story. Too clever by half J.J.
Having Kirk kick the warp core to save the Enterprise? I’m sorry J.J., but Han punches the Falcon in order to get it to start; Kirk doesn’t kick the Enterprise, Kirk has Scotty to fix things, not a Wookie. Oh, that’s right J.J., you wrote Scotty off the ship.
And the warp core connection doesn’t look like the inside of the Death Star in Return of the Jedi. Thank you for not making the inside of the warp core look like two NOMAD devices end-to-end. Obviously even J.J. has his pandering limit.
Pandering I can deal with...
With Into Darkness however, watching Kirk, Spock, and Khan cry in the same film; getting in touch with their feelings, having daddy issues, girl-friend trouble, and an overall sensitivity to their crew, cryo-frozen or otherwise, was too much for me to deal with. Kirk and Spock have a Bromance fit for 21st Century television of sensitive men, prime-time soap operas, like Alias and Lost, not hardened, self-assured explorers capable of a 5-year voyage under the discipline of the Federation.
“He tasks me…he tasks me and I shall have him”
Khan doesn’t cry…he conquers. He quotes the classics. He is smarter than everyone else, stronger, better; mentally, physically. In Space Seed, within 24 hours of Khan awakening, he’s thinking about getting laid (and plotting ahead) as he manipulates Marla McGivers. Into Darkness’ opening scene reflects Khan in the proper light, a thinking, ruthless intellect, who plans ahead. The rest of movie simply accentuates his brutality, nothing more. Unfortunate, because Khan is so much more; more to Trekkies and more to Kirk.
As I mentioned, great heroes like Kirk need to be matched against great villains like Khan. But J.J. strips Kirk of this respect and connection. Spock takes down Khan in this movie, not Kirk. Spock will always be helpful in bringing down Khan; even rescuing Kirk is permitted by Spock; so that Kirk can exact final justice on Khan. But Spock should NEVER be allowed to bring Khan to justice. Never.
The Next Generation writers understood this Hero/Nemesis in the relationship Picard has with The Borg. Riker could only save Picard, but Picard had to beat the Borg through his will, not Riker’s or Data’s. Riker was willing to kill everyone to beat the Borg blowing up the Enterprise in the process; all Picard had to do was put the Borg to sleep. Picard’s elegant solution to a grand problem; one man takes down an entire collective.
In one final act of disrespect by Mr. Abrams, Khan is locked away like the Ark of the Covenant by “top men”, only to be potentially wheeled out in another J.J. manufactured twist in a future sequel. What’s next J.J.? Fighting the Borg and you need Khan to help you?
Khan is a warrior; a man who deserves a warrior’s death or at least the respect given to him by Kirk in Space Seed…exile; a justice worthy of the quoting of Milton. Khan should never be locked away in J.J.’s private sequel trophy vault for later parading like some circus freak.
“Not chess Mr. Spock…poker”
Kirk may have issues, in the original and the re-boot, but he’s never weak; never a hot-mess. Kirk is controlled, yet uncontrollable. Kirk is emotional, but doesn’t allow his emotions to control him, that’s McCoy’s job. Kirk is the balance between Spock and McCoy, the pure logic and the wild emotion, often surprising Mr. Spock with brilliant logic equal to his own, like defeating the NOMAD in The Changeling or teaching Spock a lesson beyond pure logic, like in the Corbomite Maneuver.
Kirk as interpreted by J.J. is wildly flawed, doubtful, almost weak; pouting when he doesn’t win. Kirk never pouted, he fought, he struggled, he persevered.
“Command of a starship is your first, best destiny. Anything else, would be a waste of material.”
Kirk is the Captain. His duty is to his oath, his ship, his crew and the hardship that goes with it. His pain makes him stronger, more resilient, equal to the task. Anything less is out of character.
Even two Red Shirts are “pardoned” by J.J.
Asked by Kirk to take their red uniforms off before their raid on Kronos, the Red Shirts are then given names?! Blasphemy! Allow the Red Shirts the dignity of being killed as nameless crewmen, that’s their job. Red Shirts are expendable crewman, nothing more. Think of them as Storm Troopers without masks…they all wear the same uniform and are killed in every movie and TV show without remorse or regret. I would be honored to be an expendable crewman!
J.J. Abrams is an Apostate!
Mr. Abrams should have taken a lesson from World Wrestling Entertainment. If a big-time wrestler coins a phrase, no other wrestler may use it. The signature “Woooo” from Ric Flair is one of those lines. So when William Shatner shouts “Khaaaaan” in Wrath of Khan, that simple word, that line, delivered only in a way that Mr. Shatner can over-act and deliver it, will be his for eternity. No other actor can have it, no other Kirk may use it, no matter how tempting.
It was apostasy to allow Zachary Quinto, in another J.J. manufactured twist, to shout the word "Khan". End of story. At that moment, I formally renounced Into Darkness as apostasy. My reconciliation? I immediately turned on Netflix when I got home and watched Space Seed followed up by quoting line-by-line the first battle scene in Wrath of Khan.
To summarize Into Darkness for the devout Trekkie like me; the loss of dignity and lack of respect for Khan, Kirk, and even the expendable crewmen is inexcusable and unforgivable. Leave the daddy issues, girl-friend trouble, self-doubt, and crying for shows like Alias and Lost.
The Big Chair doesn’t have room for weakness.
To close, there is only one line that is fit for Mr. Abrams and this apostasy: “To the last, I grapple with thee; from Hell’s heart, I stab at thee; for hate’s sake, I spit my last breath at thee!”