So I know I kind of attacked “Star Trek: Into Darkness” in my review of it since I thought it misrepresented itself and failed as an action flick. I did mention a few good things about it—but on a second viewing of the movie I realized there were more good things, some even more important than the ones that I mentioned before. They involve spoilers, so reading this is a no-no if you care about them.
Spock and Scotty
Both of them stand up for what they believe in and both amaze me. Firstly, the words “moral,” “immoral,” and “morally wrong” come out of Spock’s mouth in an intelligible sentence. Knock me down with a feather. Seriously. I feel like I never hear those words in movies and TV today. Secondly, the fact that Spock says that it’s morally wrong to fire on a man with torpedoes just because he’s a criminal–and he says that it’s wrong even outside the fact that Khan legally has the right to a trial. That blew me away.
And Scotty–I just thought that what he did was really cool. He didn’t want to be irresponsible and have people die, so he sacrificed his job. And even after feeling betrayed by Kirk, he still counseled him to do the right thing–he didn’t just walk off in a huff. He did what he could to mend the situation.
I also looked more closely at Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance and Khan’s character. I still think he could have been fleshed out more, but the second time around I appreciated Khan’s restrained ferocity and brutality. Those scenes where Khan fights he’s animalistic–grunts, ferocity, and all–but with the smarts to use it to get what he wanted.
And I don’t mean I liked it–I muted Admiral Marcus’ death because I couldn’t take the head-crushing, even though it was off-screen. I mean that it was effective. And it makes Khan a viscerally more effective villain than Marcus. I also say he’s morally worse (Marcus was selfish. I don’t think he was evil through and through, though). See, for the first half of the movie, I was partially sympathetic to Khan–no one wants the people they love getting killed, especially not in cold blood–while still greatly horrified by his actions. His morality at first seems simple–an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, almost a child’s understanding. But we know Khan is smarter than that, and it’s when he kills the admiral and reveals that he’s a genocidal murderer that he pushes himself past the bounds of audience sympathy. He knows what he’s doing and doesn’t care; he even revels in it. He puts into action what Ricardo Montalban’s Khan put into both action and words: “I’ve hurt you. And I wish to go on hurting you.”
And here I want to make comparisons to Sherlock (because Benedict Cumberbatch). Both Khan and Sherlock are super-intelligent. Sherlock could easily become a villain, but he doesn’t delight in evil the way Khan does–our favorite detective is just an egotistical prat and an emotionally, socially dysfunctional human being. Of course, Sherlock’s methods and actions are sometimes questionable, but he’s learning about morality, love, friendship, what it means to be a human being. Khan, if he is emotionally dysfunctional, is so in a way quite different from Sherlock. The superhuman has emotions as we clearly see and, one can assume, has normal emotional connections with his own people; he already knows about love, friendship, etc. He also knows that the people on the Enterprise experience these things as well. But he doesn’t care. He has decided that because they are physically and intellectually inferior to him, they do not deserve to exist. He knows he is exterminating living, breathing people–human beings. Khan is even worse than the Daleks of Doctor Who–their emotions were taken from them by Davros, so they cannot possibly think in a different way, whereas Khan can. Thus Khan’s humanness and intellect make him that much more evil. And one can’t argue that his intellect is decayed because it’s functioning perfectly well.
So even though Khan wasn’t necessarily an effective villain action-movie-wise because he didn’t appear enough to show his physical prowess (though when he did, boy did he), character-wise he’s excellent. Cumberbatch’s performance, upon consideration, is extremely chilling. I think that’s the main problem that I had with the movie. The trailer made you expect a louder, brasher, in-your-face threat-to-the-world villain, with the threat as an undercurrent through the whole movie. Instead, it offered an exploration of character for the thoughtful viewer (what I wish Wolverine had been), but it wasn’t exactly directed to the thoughtful viewer.*
*This is not to say that one must always be a thoughtful, penetrating viewer. I myself love watching mindless entertainment, including romcoms.*