Dec 18 2012 4:00pm

Has Star Trek Into Darkness Revealed That It’s the Contemporary Wrath of Khan?

A theory on the plot of Star Trek Into Darkness and why existing footage proves it will be the contemporary Wrath of Khan.

A flurry of new information regarding the highly-anticipated Star Trek Into Darkness has come to light in the past few weeks: two trailers, a full 9 minutes from the beginning of the film, the supposed reveal of who Cumberbatch is playing, the actual reveal of who Alice Eve is playing, and various interviews.

Aside from the broad strokes (i.e. lots of ‘splosions) we still don’t really know what’s going to happen in Into Darkness. It might be Wrath of Khan? It might be a sequel to “Where No Man Has Gone Before” or a prequel to “Space Seed”? We don’t know.

Except... I think we do.

First off, Into Darkness is not going to be Wrath of Khan, but it’s going to borrow heavily from the conflicts and themes that inform it. The crew of the Enterprise is going to find itself up against an embodiment of genetic perfection as played by Benedict Cumberbatch. We see him smack enough people around in the trailers to know that he’s strong, fast, and able to best others in one-to-one fights. (And geez... those cheekbones...)

We also know that this embodiment has an all-encompassing grudge against the Federation and Starfleet in particular. He’s been described in interviews and press materials as a “homegrown terrorist,” he’s outright spoken of his vengeance in trailers, we’ve seen Starfleet Academy come under attack, we’ve seen (very quickly) the fleet in ruins, and we know from his uniform that Cumberbatch’s character is or was in Starfleet. And that he most likely was under Kirk’s command.

We don’t actually know if Cumberbatch was an Enterprise crew member, but nothing else makes sense from a dramatic standpoint. He can’t just show up out of nowhere. The conflict of the movie has to stem from the actions of our characters so we feel like there are legitimate stakes at play. It’s one thing to fight a terrorist who wants to blow up Starfleet. It’s quite another to fight a terrorist who wants to blow up Starfleet because of a mistake you personally made. A mistake Kirk himself most likely made, echoing the Gary Mitchell conflict from “Where No One Has Gone Before.”

Visually, the trailers make a point of matching Cumberbatch’s villain up with Kirk, giving the impression that Cumberbatch’s vengeance is personally motivated by Kirk’s actions. The second trailer furthers this by having Pike underscore the flaws in Kirk’s character that would have led him to cause such a mistake:

“You have greatness in you. But there’s not an ounce of humility. You think that you can’t make mistakes. But there’s going to come a moment where you realize you’re wrong about that. And you’re going to get yourself and everyone under your command killed.”

Whereas 2009’s Star Trek was largely about Spock finding his place and our crew coming together, Into Darkness has a dramatic imperative to put the spotlight on Kirk, to establish Chris Pine’s version as worthy in a way that is separate from William Shatner’s beloved version.

This movie is about Kirk accepting that he is capable of mistakes. And if this is the predominant aspect of Kirk’s character that we’re exploring, that then makes Cumberbatch’s antagonist the result of a mistake Kirk made, or a result of a mistake Kirk is going to make in the movie. Kirk will learn humility and grow as a leader as a result of the events in Star Trek Into Darkness.

And that means he’s most likely going to face, or even create for himself, a no-win scenario.

Pike’s speech about Kirk learning humility can be tied to this, but what really makes this theme clear are the events that take place in the first 9 minutes of the film. For the majority of this footage we watch the Enterprise crew as they try to save an indigenous, pre-warp species from a massive volcanic eruption. Spock heroically dives into the erupting volcano in order to implement the solution, citing that “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”

Kirk panics and runs through every option he can think of to pull Spock from the volcano. They have one option open to them, but it’s a massive violation of the Prime Directive. Out loud, he wonders what Spock would do if Kirk were the one in the volcano and McCoy intones, “He’d let you die.” Both of them know that McCoy is right. Spock would accept Kirk’s death, accept a no-win scenario, in service of duty and the greater good. As the last few seconds of the footage spool out, we see Spock actively applying this attitude, coming to peace with his fate as the lava rises to consume him.

We don’t know if Spock dies. But if the planet Vulcan can be eaten by a black hole in the first movie, it’s safe to assume that all bets are off in regards to previously untouchable plot elements. Spock can certainly die, even if it's not during this opening scene.

But if he does, what does Kirk do then? Does he tear the universe asunder looking for a way to bring Spock back? Does he challenge death? Is this not itself a journey into darkness? Who could possibly help him return Spock to life?

Possibly Dr. Carol Marcus, Alive Eve’s character and creator of the Genesis effect?

Possibly Cumberbatch’s character who, in the very first scene of the movie, offers to give a little girl a second chance at life?

You can spin a lot of possible plots from what we know of the movie, but overall it seems that death, Kirk’s arrogance, the vengeance that inspires, and no-win scenarios are key elements in Star Into Darkness, just as they were in Wrath of Khan. We’ll get the same situation, just not in quite the same order, and not quite with the same people.

In fact, this is most likely the ultimate point to Star Trek Into Darkness; that a key element of Captain James T. Kirk is his arrogance in the face of impossibility. That while this makes him a legendary captain, it also inspires powerful vengeance from those he fails.

Kirk will always create “Khan,” regardless of the timeline we’re in, because he wouldn’t be Kirk if he didn’t.

Chris Lough is the production manager of Tor.com. He is going to wreak a terrible vengeance on this sandwich. You just watch.

1. ChrisG
A very interesting idea, thanks. I hope they make a movie as thematically well thought out.

My immediate visceral impression from Pike's comments was that they were being to delivered to B. C. not Kirk, despite the appearance given by the trailer. (That kind of misdirection is not unusual.) I fully realize that could be wrong -- and it probably is; but the total lack of avuncular/mentoral affection in Pike/Bruce Greenwood's tone seemed off to me for the comments to be directed at Kirk, even assuming Pike was pissed off.

I don't think that Spock's death with this crew will (yet) have the emotional resonance that it needs for that to be the center of the story. I'm hoping for something else, and I'm really hoping they don't redo the Wrath of Khan Spock's death scene as the end of the trailer hints at.
John Ruschmeyer
2. jruschme
One thing that I haven't seen considered is that (novels, aside) we don't quite live in the world that produced Kahn Noonien Singh. You remember that world, right, the one with the Eugenics Wars back in the mid 1990s?

If anything, we live in a world more like that of Greg Cox's "Star Trek: The Eugenics Wars" series. There, the action is more behind the scenes of history instead of a series of open wars and a ruler named Kahn.

So, what if John Harriman is just what we've been told- a terrorist, perhaps the biggest one since Osama bin Laden. Coincidentally, he could also be an augment or something similar. In other words, the spiritual descendent of Kahn, but still that leader of a group of enhanced humans bent on world conquest. This would be consistent with the comments about taking an existing character in a new light.

Maybe we need to think less literally and think of "Khan" like "Waterloo" as in "Cumberbatch is Pine's Kahn."
Chris Nelly
3. Aeryl
The arrogance in the face of impossibility harkens back to the Kobiyashi Maru opening to Wrath of Khan as well, which was why Spock had to die at the end, to teach Kirk that.
Chris Lough
4. TorChris
You're blowing my mind, ChrisG. Pike addressing Cumberbatch is pretty interesting to think about.

Of course, now that just makes me think we'll see Cumberbatch actually put Pike in his beep-boop-beep life support chair. Which I don't want! And which makes me think further that Christopher Pike is really the Agent Coulson of the new Trek universe. Beloved and doomed.
Paul McCall
5. PaulMcCall
With all the sequels, reboots, reimaginings, etc. coming out of Hollywood. I'm hoping for something new. A forlorn hope but mine nonetheless.
6. wiredog
Someone yesterday made the observation that BC could be Garth of Izar. Which would fit.
Sky Thibedeau
7. SkylarkThibedeau
B.C. can't be Khan. He doesn't have R.C.'s Physique.
Mark Vanek
8. imp
I agree with Chris G. It makes much more sense. BC's entier crew gets killed somehow (shot with the cryo coffins?) and he blames starfleet. Kirk may just the guy they send to stop BC from enacting revenge or BC somehow blames Kirk. What would you do for Family references the death of BC's crew and how far BC will go for revenge.
Steven Lyle Jordan
9. Steven_Lyle_Jordan
I think citing the "no-win scenario" is throwing everyone off. Let's face it: Every big movie conflict is a "no-win scenario" these days, just a heap of impossible-to-beat situations that the hero always, amazingly, manages to beat.

Kirk's youthful arrogance is clearly in the spotlight here, but that actually could impact a number of older stories (remember "Court-Martial"? Or "A Private Little War"?). I don't get a "Khan" connection from these trailers, but I'd buy Garth. Either way, I'm prepared to wait and see.
10. SueQ
Whoever Cummerbatch is portraying, bring it on.
Publius 75
11. publius75
I'm most likely wrong, but I can't help thinking that Cumberbatch reminds me of Q, from TNG. Q always did wear a Star Fleet uniform, so perhaps in this timeline he actually joined Star Fleet before ripping Earth to shreds, that would give the impression that he was a homegrown terrorist.
12. David3751
Interesting ideas here - though I think 'Harrison' in a Starfleet uniform is a bit of a red herring, too. What if he stole a Starship?

Can't imagine Pike will live in this film, in fact that quote strikes me as being a warning from a death bed - and we do see a Starfleet funeral in the trailer.

If Carol Marcus features in this film, it is a YOUNG Carol Marcus (to go along with a YOUNG Kirk), and she has not, as yet become the scientist who will (or may not, depending on this series) create the Genesis device with her son. It's more likely she's in this film to be a mere love interest and get pregnant, having to hide that pregnancy from Kirk in order to save her child - maybe? It can go in any direction. She might not get pregnant, she might lose the baby (no David, no Genesis, maybe no Lt. Saavik later on, either) - it's the one aspect of all these 'threads' that I haven't seen discussed. The possibility that Kirk and Marcus have a child who is in danger.

Spock, dying in a volcano? Unlikely - but I do like the idea that his rescue might be the first real censure Kirk receives from his superiors (the dressing down by Pike?), leading some to wonder if they can trust him, if he'll make good decisions.

And where do the Klingons come in? Aren't they supposed to feature here? Will they be established as old enemies or a brand new one? Klingons played no part in Wrath of Kahn, perhaps they will only be background figures, or brought in at the end as the new trouble.

From what Abrams has said: a couple's sick child is a key point in the story. A disease being spread? JH asks 'is there anything you wouldn't do for your family?' Kahn, of course, saw his 'people' (sworn to live and die by his command) as his 'family.'

I love a quote from Hercule Poirot: 'There are too many clues in this room.'

I don't think BC's character has a particular bone to pick with Kirk - a 'terrorist' usually has a bone to pick with society. Starfleet Academy is attacked (and, looks like, mostly destroyed). A child is very sick. Kirk breaks the Prime Directive. Kirk has to stop the terrorist - is, perhaps, the only one who understands him. Perhaps because he feels some blame in the matter (his arrogance), Kirk is the one who makes the big sacrifice in this film (not Spock) - it's a little too-telling from the trailer where (what looks like) Kirk's hand and Spock's touch on different sides of a glass. Still, can't picture either of these characters being killed off (only to be revived in a convoluted plot in a following film, eh).

If JH isn't Kahn (or one of Kahn's loyal 'family'), he might as well be.
13. Jim P
I believe that the movie will pick up where Star Trek Enterprise (NX-1) left off in Season 4 with the "Terra Prime Faction" Leader John Paxton, Dr. Arik Soong's Augments somehow taking on a new rebellion a few years later.
14. Les342
Personally, I don't care what happens as long as there are more great scenes between Jim and Bones. That was my favorite part of the last movie, the stuff with the two of them. I hope they keep it up with this one.
15. Chris Pow
Chris Lough,

Thanks for exploring and putting your finger on the heart of Kirk's character and its implication in creating some of his worst nemeses. Kirkcan only be as heroic as the challenges poses by Star Trek antagonists. Well done, sir. Fascinating. But I still think this antagonist is closer to Gary Mitchell here than Kahn.
16. Baron B.
Again the writers of these Abrams Trek movies demonstrate little understanding of the source material. Kirk has "not an ounce of humility" ?? Even a casual viewer of Star Trek could tell that Kirk although supremely confident, agonized over life and death decisions. Kirk was not cocky, he was confident to the point of knowing the extent of his abilities. Their interpretation makes Kirk into a stock character from Young Guns 2. People need to stop flocking to a movie just because it's a franchise and loaded with F/X. The hype around this picture has already assured a huge box office which will encourage the production of more mindless, tasteless renditions of Star Trek by overrated hacks.
17. frump
Baron, this isn't Kirk of the source material. This is Kirk that grew up without a father. His introduction to Starfleet seems to be the first time he has met some limits. The first movie seemed to be about him learning that it isn't all about himself, and the second movie feels like its going to be him learning what some of those limits are. He feels like the same character to me, he just needs to mature and grow.
18. Man of War
B.C. did not need Montalban's physique! The new Khan proved that he was fast, strong and ruthless--especially taking on the blue shirts aboard the Vengeance. Cumberbatch's confidence as the character evokes incredible strength. As for the fight, I was waiting for this match- up for over 40 years. The fight music was weak and barely audible. I would have used some old Trek themes to get the blood going. The fighting on the barge--just an unbalanced appearance with too many cut aways. I wanted to see the rage Spock had in the 1st movie when Kirk mentioned his mother--now that was anger! I wantd to see Spock and Khan duke it out in front of the citizens. Ripped shirts, blood, body throws, swollen eyes, Tiger vs Lion- spectacular rage and Spock grabs Khan by the throat and calls on the Vulcan babarism of 5000 years ago. The End. I still loved the movie! Pon Far in Trek 3!

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