By Steven Smith
Spoilers ahead for "Star Trek Into Darkness"!
"Star Trek Into Darkness" is a really good movie but it’s no "Wrath of Khan." I don’t know if any "Star Trek" film could live up to it. When I saw it in the theater I was a wee youngling and I have to say it scared the bejeesus out of me. It wasn’t the creepy eel creatures crawling inside people’s ears, nor the gore, but it was, without the shadow of a doubt, Ricardo Montalban’s Khan. He destroyed my little psyche and earned his place alongside Darth Vader and Auric Goldfinger as one of the greatest villains in film.
See when I was kid, Saturday night had only two fun television programs to watch -- or two, rather, my parents would allow me to watch. One was the "Love Boat," which, though formulaic, had some funny moments and always gave one a chance to see what happened to your favorite TV stars after their shows were canceled. After "Love Boat" was a fun yet creepy little show called "Fantasy Island." A remake was made a few years ago with Malcolm McDowell that went nowhere fast. The schitck behind "Fantasy Island" was that the titular island belonged to one Mr. Roarke, played to perfection by Ricardo Montalban. Roarke, the mystical resort owner would, for a price, let you enact your wildest fantasy. He had a little assistant named Tattoo who provided comic relief, but on the whole Mr. Roarke basically played god, setting up fantastical worlds for his guests to live in, and keep living in until they learned something. And there was never more than a hint of who Mr. Roarke was and though powerful, he was a good guy.
As a fan of Mr. Roarke, when I saw Ricardo Montalban as a villain I was jiggered, nay, petrified. My father took me to see the movie. He was a big "Star Trek" fan from the old days so he knew Khan was an older character from the original series. But he didn’t tell me any of this, and just let me be scared.
The whole film is an elation with every emotion touched upon. I sobbed when Spock died. I remember leaving the theater mumbling to myself in a daze, “I can’t believe they killed Spock.” I’d like to think I also mumbled, “I hope they don’t blow it with Star Trek III” but I don’t think it would have helped, even with Doc Brown as the bad guy.
Benedict Cumberbatch is an amazing Khan. I get the argument about white washing, we all saw "The Last Airbender" (to our collective disdain). But he did a bang-up job. The fight against the Klingons was my favorite part of the whole film. The entirety of "Into Darkness" plays like a long action sequence, which typifies what I was missing. There are such moments of stillness in "Wrath of Khan," pauses that build and then deliver with a vengeful force. Though I really enjoyed the ride of J.J. Abrams' second installment, it mostly felt like a TV show with a bigger budget, which is really what all "Star Trek" films are. This is no knock, seeing "Into Darkness" made me want to revisit" Wrath of Khan" again, in a good way. I’m sure I'll still be scared, but I’ll really love it.