Star Trek Into Darkness has compelled many viewers to aim their tractor beams towards 1982's Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. JJ Abrams' recent second foray into the revived franchise not only returned the genetically modified villain to our screens, but also staged a smart subversion of the self-sacrificial climactic scenes between Kirk and Spock. But how does the 1982 movie hold up today?
Three decades on, The Wrath of Khan still retains its power to stun. Not because of the spectacle, which is somewhat understated due to budget cuts forced by its predecessor's hefty price tag, but as a very personal story that hurls swathes of emotional torpedoes in the direction of Kirk. There's the resurgence of his nemesis Khan, last seen in the original TV series episode 'Space Seed' and hell-bent on vengeance; a reunion with his estranged son David and former flame Carol Marcus; and the grueling death of his friend Spock.
This is all interspersed with plenty of musings on growing old, with the movie significantly commencing on Kirk's birthday. "Galloping around the cosmos is a game for the young," he tells Doctor Bones before cracking open the Romulan ale.
His acting style is frequently mocked in popular culture, but William Shatner acquits himself very well with the tricky subject matter. His melancholic demeanour fits perfectly with the pervading sombre tone of the movie, while his sporadic outbursts of anger -including the immortal "KHAAAAAAAN" bellow - are effective. Kirk goes through so much turmoil it's a surprise that his hairpiece doesn't turn grey by the end.
It's disappointing that he doesn't share the screen with Ricardo Montalban's Khan, with the two only communicating via seething exchanges on a video link. Apparently, this was caused by Montalban's filming commitments with the TV show Fantasy Island leading to poor availability. The antagonist certainly cuts an imposing figure - with his beefed up chest, luxuriant white hair, one glove (move over Jacko) and penchant for quoting 'Moby Dick' and other classic literature.
Khan is like an intellectual snake that uncoils throughout the movie, spitting out increasing amounts of verbal venom having made his malevolent mark by putting a mind-controlling 'Ceti eel' in Chekov's ear. That moment - and the subsequent extraction - sends Star Trek into the realms of pure horror and helped earn the film an initial '15' certificate on video in the UK. This particular writer, a lost child of the '80s, remembers extreme difficulty in convincing an overprotective parent to rent it on his behalf.
Some may argue that the controlled and icy portrayal of Khan by Benedict Cumberbatch in Star Trek Into Darkness is inconsistent with Montalban's more animated and emotional depiction, but one should consider that the elder Khan has been through a great deal of torment. For example, we learn that he lost his wife while marooned on a planet and blames Kirk for this. Hence his procession of impassioned rebukes, with the following a particular standout due to Montalban's fiery delivery: "I've done far worse than kill you, Admiral. I've hurt you. And I wish to go on hurting you. I shall leave you as you left me, as you left her; marooned for all eternity in the centre of a dead planet... buried alive! Buried alive!"
Director Nicholas Meyer manages to pace the movie perfectly, allowing space for the characters to breathe and never rushing from one plot point to the next. The opening is very clever indeed, playing with the rumours that Spock was being killed off by depicting most of the regular crew perishing due to a Klingon bombardment. However, this turns out to be a mere training exercise and a sigh of relief is out when Spock and various crew members cease playing dead.
As for the ending, it's packed full of emotional resonance as Spock makes a sacrifice for the greater good by absorbing a lethal amount of radiation to allow the Enterprise to escape from the clutches of Khan. How can one suppress a lump in the throat as Spock and Kirk say their goodbyes on either side of the glass and share a Vulcan salute? It's a wonderfully touching moment, with the emotional impact heightened by James Horner's magnificent score. Star Trek Into Darkness pays homage to this moment by virtually recreating it, except with the roles reversed.
"Young. I feel young," remarks Kirk after Spock's coffin is fired out into space. Despite over 30 years passing since its release, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan also feels young. This can largely be attributed to its focus on character and relationships, rather than spectacle. In terms of its place in the franchise, this movie can very much be regarded as 'the best of times'...