Film Face-off: 'Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan' vs. 'Star Trek Into Darkness'

Film Face-off: 'Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan' vs. 'Star Trek Into Darkness'

May 20, 2013

Before J.J. Abrams got his blockbuster paws on the Star Trek franchise, there was no debate: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan was the best of the series. Sure, some would say The Voyage Home was their favorite because it's funny, but that's a whale of a debate that we can't possibly get into today.

Abrams' Star Trek films are a different breed, and there are certain things that are just better. Action sequences barely exist in the original sequel, while the special effects have evolved with phasers and beaming looking better than ever. There's also the uniforms: what is with the odd flap on the chest that is sometimes up and sometimes down? What purpose does this serve beyond bad fashion? Is it a way to cool off on those days when the Enterprise air-conditioning doesn't work? Come on Trekkers, I need to know!

With all of the advantages in Abrams' version, I decided to stack the deck in this Film Face-off. The categories were set before I saw Star Trek Into Darkness, giving II the best chance possible to win since special effects and action sequences have come a long way since the early 1980s.

Set your phasers to fun (because we haven't heard that enough), and let's have a Film Face-off with Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan vs. Star Trek Into Darkness. There are major SPOILERS here. You have been warned.

 

The Title

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan gives you a few things to chew on. One, you know it's a sequel because of the Roman numerals. Two, wrath is a very powerful word. Three, die-hard fans of the TV show remember Khan (the "Space Seed" episode) and were thrilled he would be making a comeback.

Star Trek Into Darkness

Star Trek Into Darkness doesn't immediately ring out as a sequel and there may be someone out there who reads the title and doesn't realize it's part of the franchise. The "into darkness" portion would lead me to believe this is about black holes, or perhaps the darkness of someone's soul.

Winner: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

I love Roman numerals for sequels. In fact, it's my favorite part of The Hangover Part II. Wrath gives me tingles, and that has nothing to do with Khan, though that does allow us to know who we're dealing with. Into Darkness really only gets points for not going with Star Trek In2 Darkness, which you know some marketing fool tried to pitch. Making Trek a verb instead of a noun is... a choice. More importantly, it seems Abrams has a problem with colons. All (even Star Trek: The Motion Picture) of the original films enjoyed the colon.

 

The Enterprise

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Those who love this ship probably have the Enterprise exiting the space dock on an orgasmic loop. It's the slowest moment of the film that isn't exactly paced at a breakneck speed. It's complete with spotlights shining on the ship, covering it from every possible angle. I believe the ship gets up to warp five at one point. Plus there is the big battle versus the Reliant, playing out like submarines.

Star Trek Into Darkness

The Enterprise is looking good and I love the starry exhaust when it hits warp drive. I don't believe they mention exactly how many warps we get up to in this film. There is a battle with the Dreadnaught, and even a warp chase. We also have the Enterprise falling out of space, while also getting huge chunks blown off of it.

Winner: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Look, I'm more of a Millenium Falcon man than an Enterprise man (strictly speaking of ships), so if you gave me an extended space dock exit with Han and Chewie behind the controls, I'd be thrilled, and that's exactly what you get with the Enterprise in Star Trek II. The submarine battle between the Reliant and the Enterprise is fantastic in concept (though I have problems with Khan's thinking as you'll see below). When the Dreadnaught chases down the Enterprise in Into Darkness, I was mainly thinking, "You can be knocked out of the warp stream? I did not know that."

 

The Villain

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Ricardo Montalban's Khan is smart, and we know this because he says things like, "It was only the fact of my genetically engineered intellect that allowed us to survive." He's terribly arrogant, strong and boastful. He puffs out his chest, literally.

Star Trek Into Darkness

Benedict Cumberbatch is John Harrison. He is a one-man wrecking crew. Harrison is very strong and very intelligent, and he's willing to directly attack the Federation, the Klingons, and the crew of the Enterprise. He is also Khan.

Winner: Stark Trek Into Darkness

Did you just throw something at your computer screen? If it still works, hear me out. Cumberbatch is a better actor. His performance as a villain is more engaging and nuanced than Montalban's. Watching Cumberbatch take a punch is cooler than watching Montalban lift up a man. The fact that they made Harrison into Khan shouldn't be held against the performance. I agree it was overkill; it didn't serve a great enough point for him to be Khan. The fact remains, for all of Montalban's Khan's supposed intelligence, he wasn't very smart. The guy couldn't shoot the Enterprise worth a darn, and he couldn't think beyond two dimensions. Plus, his genetically engineered intellect couldn't control his ego, which was only focused on revenge. Montalban's overacting rivaled William Shatner's, and that's saying something.

 

The Squirmiest Moment

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Khan has pets called Ceti eels, and he learns that their larvae can be used to slowly wiggle into the ear canals, wrap around the cerebal cortex, and render the victim extremely susceptible to outside suggestion. He does this to Chekov (Walter Koenig) and Terrell (Paul Winfield).

Star Trek Into Darkness

Kirk (Chris Pine) and Khan must shoot out of the Enterprise in an attempt to take over the Dreadnaught. There is space debris in the way, and they have Scotty (Simon Pegg) on the other side, attempting to get them through a four-foot cubic hole.

Winner: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

I was six years old when I saw Star Trek II in the theater with my dad. To this day, I don't think anything has terrified me more in a movie theater. I remember covering my ears with a pillow that night, hoping for the best. After all, if one of those larvae gets in you, you will suffer from madness and eventual death. That's not good. While boarding the Dreadnaught was impressive, and I actually let out a nervous "eek" while watching it, nothing in film history could beat the Ceti eels for "squirmiest moment."

 

The Saddest Moment

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

The Enterprise needs to enter warp speed, but there's a problem: Spock (Leonard Nimoy) risks his life because the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Kirk realizes Spock may be in danger and dashes to see if he can help, but it's too late. After a heartfelt good-bye about living long and prospering, Spock dies from radiation poisoning.

Star Trek Into Darkness

There is a problem with the engines and the Enterprise will crash in San Francisco unless power is restored. Kirk knocks Scotty out and enters the warp core, kicking something back into place. Unfortunately, he has radiation poisoning. Spock (Zachary Quinto) dashes off to be by his side, but it's too late. Oh wait, no it's not, they just used Khan's blood. Problem solved.

Winner: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

I would have never guessed that they'd simply try to reverse the most emotional moment in the Star Trek universe. It doesn't make sense to do this, and then not be willing to come close to the emotional punch of Star Trek II. It's a good concept to have Kirk and Spock learn how acting like the other can be a good thing, but it feels like they cut and pasted, removing all feeling in the process. With Star Trek II, there is only a slight tease to the possibility that Spock could somehow live again, thanks to the power of the Genesis Project. I remember crying (c'mon, I was six) and my dad not able to give me hope that Spock was OK. Now, that just doesn't happen. Not only am I older, but so is the business side of movies. You don't (potentially) kill characters that can make you more money. If Star Trek II wasn't a financial success, especially after the first, there wouldn't have been a search for Spock. That is daring.

 

OVERALL WINNER: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn over Star Trek Into Darkness, four to one

If the categories would have been Action, Fashion, Crew, Effects and Noncrew Supporting Cast, this could have gone a completely different way. You have to admit: Peter Weller vs. the blond perm known as Merritt Butrick is not a contest. Star Trek (2009) is my favorite film in this universe. When I decided to pick the categories before seeing Star Trek Into Darkness, it was to give Star Trek II a chance. I'm a little surprised (and disappointed) that The Wrath of Khan won so easily. Star Trek Into Darkness is a fun, good-looking film, except it just needed to boldly go in a new direction and stop borrowing from the past.

Categories: Features, In Theaters
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