Before seeing this movie, I read a tweet hoping that younger viewers would see 1982's Wrath of Khan before watching the latest prequel in the Star Trek series. Well, since, chronologically, that movie happens later in the lives of the Enterprise crew, I don't think that's necessary. Maybe fans should watch it after Into Darkness instead. However, I could have used stood to see 2009's Star Trek as a refresher course myself. I have almost no memory of J.J. Abrams first Trek venture or the relationships he created there.
While I was never a focused Trek fan, after decades of tv reruns syndicated all over, I am well grounded in the core series' relationships between Spock, McCoy and Kirk and can even appreciate variations on the original bonds (i.e. Spock and Uhura's romance), but I'd already forgotten about Kirk's dad and his mentor Pike. So, there was angst there that I couldn't fully appreciate.
The movie starts with the Enterprise on a observatory mission to a primitive civilization. They're supposed to look at how the natives live, not interfere, not allow allow themselves to be seen. They soon learn that a volcano is about to erupt which will destroy all life on the planet. With Kirk already on the ground, it's up to Spock to disable the volcano. A nervous Uhura helps him dress for the journey and kisses his helmet goodbye.
He enters its fiery mouth to do so and soon learns that in order to save the people, he'll have to sacrifice his own life. He's willing to do that. When Kirk discovers that Spock is willing to incinerate himself to stop the deadly volcano, he commands him to return to the ship. Spock refuses and limits communication with them, ready to face his death alone, to Uhura's hurt and chagrin. Kirk races to find a way to save Spock's life, though the Vulcan himself seems disinterested in that cause and cautions Kirk that he should not break the rules to rescue a friend. They should be more interested in the good of the many. Frustrated, Kirk asks his crew what Spock would do if their positions were reversed. "He'd let you die," is the answer. Kirk acknowledges the truth in this, but nevertheless raises his spaceship where it has been hidden on the bottom of the ocean floor to get Spock back safely and exposes the Enterprise to the natives (who are awestruck and immediately begin painting likenesses of the alien aircraft), forever changing the course of their development -- as they had just barely discovered fire and ruining the purpose of the mission.
Narrowly escaping that close call, back at home Kirk has been called in to see Pike and thinks that he's about to get a promotion. He finds, instead, that Spock has advised their supervisors of their crew's rule violations, unbeknownst to Kirk. Kirk reminds Spock that he risked everything to save Spock's life and he expected him to keep quiet about it. Spock reminds him that Vulcans cannot lie. Kirk counters that he's only 50% Vulcan and Kirk is trying to appeal to Spock's human side for a change. He wants him to act like a friend, not just an officer.
Pike demotes Kirk for taking unnecessary risks. Yes, Kirk is good, but that has only made him arrogant. He thinks he's invincible and is too reckless to remain a captain. They're taking the Enterprise away from him and returning it to Pike. Spock is being assigned to another ship. Kirk is despondent. Despite the fact that he's infuriated with Spock, he bids him a fond adieu and says that he will miss him. Spock is non-responsive, further maddening Kirk.
He heads out to get drunk. Pike finds him and tells him that he has selected Kirk to be his second-in-command, a show of faith that means more to Kirk on a personal level than his demotion does on a professional one.
Meanwhile, a couple keeps vigil over their dying daughter. A mysterious officer, John Harrison, offers the father a cure, giving the man a vial of blood with which to inject the girl, but it comes with a price. The father fills the girls IV with the vial's contents and watches her heartrate rise immediately. If I were him, I'd at least wait until she regained consciousness, before keeping my end of the deal, but this dad races off to do his evil benefactor's bidding immediately. He blows up one of the government's archive compounds. Hearing of the news at the bar, Pike and Kirk rush off to a special emergency meeting of commanders and first officers.
At the meeting, although he's no longer a captain, Kirk still thinks like one. There was nothing important in that archive. Why destroy it, unless the true purpose was to cause a gathering of all the military leaders, just like the one they're having, now --- just as Kirk is hesitantly putting this thought together they are fired upon by Harrison who, hovers outside in a helicopter, heavily armed. He levels a rainstorm of havoc on them, before escaping.
As they scramble around in the debris, Spock comes upon the wounded Pike. He mind melds with him, as Pike dies. Coming upon them, Kirk is devastated.
They learn that Harrison has fled to Klingon territory, where he presumably thinks he cannot be followed, since it would lead to World War if the U.S. invades Klingon land. Kirk wants to go after Harrison and begs for permission to do so. Commander Wallace says that there cannot be any more casualties, because (1) Kirk has caused enough damage and, (2) just as Pike brought Kirk into service, Wallace is the one who enlisted and mentored Pike. Wallace owes it to Pike to keep Kirk safe. So, he'll only let Kirk go after Harrison, one of their own rogue officers, if Kirk locates then torpedoes and kills him immediately, without the Klingons ever knowing he was there. That's the only way to avoid war. Kirk readily agrees. He asks to be returned to command of the Enterprise and to have Spock reinstated as his first officer. Wallace agrees.
When Spock hears the news, rather than rejoicing that he and Kirk have been reunited, he warns Kirk that it's against martial law for them to kill come upon Harrison and kill him without warning, without giving him a fair trial. Kirk says it's their orders. Spock insists that it's morally wrong. Impatiently, Kirk says that the last time Kirk did what was morally right, saving Spock's life, after Spock saved a primitive planet, Spock ratted him out and opted to follow the rules, instead. So, Spock is not in a position to tell Kirk when to defy orders, when he's such a stickler for them himself.
As they prepare to return to the Enterprise, Carol, a science officer tells Kirk she's also been assigned to the ship. Kirk didn't order a new science officer and Spock feels it would hardly have been necessary for him to do so, since Spock is there himself. However, since Carol is attractive, Kirk is not in the mood to question why she is there. This attitude seems especially foolhardy since they've all just been attacked from within. If Harrison turned on his own government, who's to say this mysterious science officer can be trusted? She simply tells Kirk that she was assigned to him by Wallace (which turns out not to have been true) and he doesn't even ask to see the paperwork, much less perform a background check.
Back at the ship, Scotty refuses to let them load the torpedoes. He reminds Kirk that it's their job to seek out new lives, not to take them. The Enterprise is not supposed to be a warship. Kirk insists that Scotty just sign off on the torpedoes. Scotty resigns, rather than do so and, to his surprise, Kirk accepts the resignation. Oh, I've felt the shock displayed on Scotty's countenance myself, when you think the boss can't bear to lose you and, with kneejerk speed, will promise anything necessary to keep you from quitting. Then, he doesn't. Abashed and stunned, Scotty leaves his beloved aircraft, Kirk and an overwhelmed and unprepared Checkov behind.
Reeling himself, Kirk feels besieged from all sides and feels the guilt he's been trying to deny. When he runs into Uhura on the elevator, he complains that her "boyfriend" is impossible. He quickly apologizes for this lack of professionalism, but once she regains her composures she tells Kirk it's not just him. What? Are she and Kirk having trouble? Kirk's curiousity is almost gleeful. Uhura says she prefers not to talk about it, as the elevator doors open and a bemused Spock stand before them. "Ears burning?" Kirk taunts him.
Once they get to Harrison's hide out, Kirk's conscience has won out. He's not going to sneak up and kill Harrison, no matter what he's done. He's going to take him back to the U.S. to stand trial. He announces his presence and gives Harrison a chance to surrender or else they will come in and get him. By following protocol, rather than following Wallace's sneak attack orders, the crew has put their lives in danger. They are far outnumbered by Klingons. Maybe he can just talk to them and tell them they are not interested in starting a war. They just want to capture a runaway American who is hiding in Klingon territory, using U.S. enemies as a shield. Kirk needs to explain this to them and asks how Uruha's Klingon is. Rusty but good she says. If the three of them go down to confront the Klingons, will she and Spock have any trouble working together? Not at all Uruha says. "Unclear," is Spock's more realistic answer, as he catches the frosty vibes Uruha is emanating.
Once the three are enroute, Uruha explodes at Spock. He wants to talk about it at another time and she says there is never a good time for him. He never wants to communicate. And it's not just her perception. Kirk is mad at him too. Kirk first says that he doesn't want to be pulled into their personal quarrel, but then rethinks and admits that yes, he's mad at Spock too.
Uruha is angry that Spock was so willing to give up his life in that volcano, to die without a thought to the people who love him that were left behind, because he just doesn't care. Spock says that when he mind-melded with the dying Pike, he felt his sense of loneliness and loss. He felt that way too, only tenfold, when his planet died and all his fellow Vulcans were killed. He never wants to feel such pain again. So, when Uhura concludes that he doesn't care, she's got it wrong. Just the opposite is true. He cares too much and has chosen not to give into that feeling, because of the anguish it may lead to. This touches her, but I don't know why.
Whether he's inherently apathetic or just wills himself to be so, isn't it the same difference? Doesn't that mean that he'll endanger hmself next time, just as he did in the volcano? Won't he always put logic ahead of love? It doesn't matter why he does it, it still leaves her (and their future together) out in the cold. Actually, it does matter why he does it. He has made a decision not to succumb to emotion which is actually a more determined form of rejection than if he simply disregarded her feelings unthinkingly. So, I fail to see what she's so doggone happy about.
They almost crash going in to Klingon territory. Since their plan to kill or capture Harrison without the Klingons even knowing they're there failed, it looks like their presence may be considered a threat, leading to World War. The Enterprise will be the first casualty. Uhura asks to go down alone, to use diplomacy to explain why they are there in their own language. Kirk allows this.
She tells the Klingons they're just there to get one of their own, not to fight. They are hostile. Kirk wants to go down after Uhura, but Spock thinks that he'll just anger both the enemy and Uhura, by interfering now. So, he respects her need to act, even if it costs her life, like he wanted her to do when he went into the volcano. And she did. Although apprehensive, she didn't try to hold him back. She wanted him to return when she realized it was a fatal mission or at least wanted him to acknowledge her with a goodbye, but she didn't try to stop him from doing his job, no matter what the personal cost . . . Now, she was ready to do the same.
The Klingons turn on her and Kirk and Spock bolt forward. Three of them against an army. Suddenly Harrison appears and singlehandedly destroys most of the Klingons. He then surrenders himself to Kirk, who pounds him furiously, avenging Pike's death. Spock doesn't stop Kirk, doesn't remind him about the "rules". Harrison doesn't fight back. He simply absorbs Kirk's blows. Finally, Uruha yells at Kirk to stop. They take Harrison aboard the Enterprise as a prisoner of war.
Kirk wonders why Harrison surrendered. The way he defeated a swarm of Klingons proved that the Enterprise crew was no threat to him. Why did he let himself be captured? Kirk talks to Harrison who tells him that his real name is Khan. He asks how many torpedoes Kirk has on board. 72 Spock answers. Khan says that they didn't just load them onto the Enterprise to use against Harrison. Those torpedoes have always been there. They were the Enterprise's true mission.
I'm a big BBC Sherlock fan. Actually, I'm obsessed with Steven Moffat, from Coupling to Doctor Who, but there's no doubt that Benedict Cumberbatch (and Freeman) make Sherlock extraordinary. I enjoy the pale, androgynous Holmes character so much, revel in his soft curls and nerdy, cerebral aspect, that I was put off by all the clamor regarding Cumberbatch's sex appeal in this film. Don't Montalban this man up, I thought. I didn't like the idea of his basic appeal, his ability to penetrate from within, being obscured by cosmetic glamour. What I've learned since is that, while you can't judge a book by its cover, a good cover never hurt a book!
Like milk, a contemporary hair cut does a body good. Curls shorn, Cumberbatch's strong facial features now stand out and he appears to have bulked up for the role. Khan is carved. His stronger physical frame is matched with a deeper, baritone vocal that not only adds menace to Khan's threats, but tinges his softer moments with a rich, if deceptive, sincerity. While Sherlock is light and swift, Khan is fast, sharp and crushing. The two characters are like comparing the power of wind against that of rock. Glory in the diversity, just makes the actor more impressive. Each word he utters is considered, polished then served to maximum effect, bringing gravitas to each scene he graces. He easily steals the show, while Khan wins Kirk's trust.
Having raised Kirk's suspicions about the torpedoes, Kirk decides to open one. That's when Spock informs him that Carol is actually Commander Wallace's daughter and a weapons expert. He checked her out, since Kirk never thought to do so. He didn't reveal this information, since it didn't seem relevant. Until now.
Unmasked Carol says she worked by her father's side, but there was always one department that he kept secret from her. When she learned about the torpedoes on the Enterprise, she stowed aboard to find out what Wallace was concealing. She uses her weapons expertise to help McCoy open a torpedo and they find a body inside. It's a living organism, but has been frozen cryogenically for hundreds of years.
Kirk confronts Khan with the news. Khan says that each torpedo contains a body. They are the last people remaining from his planet. They were his crew, his family and he would do anything to save them. Wallace unthawed Khan because his people were known for their savage war skills. Wallace wanted Khan to teach U.S. troops those skills so that Wallace could then wage war on the Klingons and overpower them, with ancient techniques. Wallace held the lives of Khan's frozen crew hostage in those torpedoes which, when fired, would kill those encapsulized within. If Kirk had actually killed Khan with those torpedoes, he would have killed Khan and all that remained of his planet. Khan was prepared to do anything to save them, just as Kirk would do for his own crew. That is why Khan attacked the military officers, because Wallace was attacking his people.
Khan also gives Kirk coordinates to investigate, which Kirk passes on to Scotty. Still sulking over his forced resignation, Scotty nevertheless, leads a drunken bender and heads off to help Kirk by locating the coordinates' location.
As Wallace's plot is unraveling, the Enterprise finds that it is in the cross hairs of an unmarked government ship, headed by Wallace. He demands that Kirk hand over Khan. Kirk refuses and says he will follow due process and take Khan back to earth to await trial. Wallace says that he will just destroy the entire Enterprise then, Khan and everyone else. Carol then reveals herself and says he'll have to choose whether or not to kill his own daughter. "Actually, Carol, I don't." He just beams her aboard his own ship and then attacks the Enterprise whose engine is weakened. The defensive shield won't last much longer.
The coordinates Khan gave Kirk lead to the bow of Wallace's aircraft. Scotty sneaks aboard and is ordered to open the door so that Kirk and Khan can enter as well. Escaping a close call, they finally get in, but once aboard Khan shows his true colors, kills Wallace and turns on Kirk. Kirk escapes back to the Enterprise with Scotty and Carol.
Spock, through time travel communication (which was explained in the last movie, but I've forgotten how or why it was accomplished) contacts his future self (Leonard Nimoy) who, perfunctorily expresses a reluctance to change destiny by influencing past events, then instantly divulges the best way to defeat Khan, offscreen. We learn that the plan is to make Khan think they have fired the 72 torpedoed and killed Khan's crew, though they really haven't. I really don't understand this strategy. Wouldn't it be better to use the 72 as bargaining chips? Perhaps, they thought if the Khan crew died, he would no longer be after the Enterprise, but knowing his lust for revenge, that hardly seems probable. Griefstricken, he's more desperate to kill all of them than ever.
But if the Enterprise gave up its bargaining power, Khan did as well. Why didn't he keep pretending to be on Kirk's side long enough to ensure the safety of his people. Unarm Wallace. Play nice and get back on the Enterprise where his comrades are, then take over the ship. Don't attack Kirk while he's still got control of everything you hold dear in the world.
Oh well. The Enterprise is disabled and can't withstand the continued attack from Khan, who has control of Wallace's ship, much longer. There's a reactor that Kirk can try to restart, but only if he exposes himself to deadly radiation in order to do so. He doesn't hesitate to go in and, literally, kick the reactor back in place, which works like a charm, but seems like a rather primeval repair job if you ask me. It's like calling The IT Crowd for technical support and having them ask, "did you kick it?" first.
The Enterprise is up and running again, but a radioactive Kirk is dying. He's behind a glass partition which can't be raised until the decontamination process is completed or else the entire ship will be infected. Scotty calls Spock to come down. Why not call McCoy, since he's a doctor?
Spock arrives and melts at the sight of his dying friend. Kirk is afraid. He wonders how Spock does it? How does he cut his feelings off and will himself not to care. Spock says that he doesn't. He can't. Right now all he feels is hurt. Kirk presses a wavering hand up to the glass his fingers spread and, on the other side, Spock places his own against it, two fingers on each side, in his familiar Vulcan vee. Just as I am thinking that he should spread his fingers to show his human side, Kirk separates his four fingers into 2 and 2, mimicking Spock's Vulcan greeting. It is the film's most moving moment. Hand to hand, with his friend, Kirk dies. Spock emits a vengeful scream "Kha-a-a-a-a-n," to match the one Kirk cried out for Spock in the 1982 movie.
Meanwhile, Khan has returned to earth to wreak havoc. Spock is prepared to go down to battle him. He turns to Uruha first and she commands him to go get Khan. Spock flees. I wish this scene had just been 5 second longer. Spock certainly had Uhura's approval, but I wanted to know if he was asking for her permission? Their exchange didn't last long enough for me to see a question in his eyes. Was he allowing himself to fully realize the love between them and saying that he would not leave, if she wanted him to stay? Was he putting their relationship above his thirst for justice, for once? I'll never know. I suppose it's enough that he pushed aside the rules and let his anger over Kirk's death propel him after Khan, rather than dispassionately wondering what military protocol demanded.
Sad to think that as the time frame in these movies meets the one in the tv series, Spock and Uruha will break up and become nothing more than the colleagues they portrayed in the tv show. That will be a sad parting.
For now, a younger Spock is off fighting Khan to the death, when McCoy discovers (via tribble testing) that Khan's blood can revive the dead. Therefore, it's imperative that Spock not kill Khan. They need to alert him. Uhura has herself beamed down, which is silly. As a language officer it made sense for her to engage the Klingons, because she is the only one who could have communicated with them. But Spock is in a death match with Khan, why not send a fighter down to him, someone with trained brawn, rather than his linguist girlfriend?
Besides, they have 72 frozen bodies on the Enterprise. Why not just heat one of them up and extract the blood needed to revive Kirk that way? Khan is not the only source of this magic claret.
They don't know this. They spare Khan's life, take his blood and resuscitate Kirk.
Khan is repodded. The lid to the cryogenic capsule closes down over him and he lives, well hibernates, to fight another day.
Kirk is rewarded with continued command of the Enterprise and, back in the captain's chair, they embark on a "five year mission to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before." It is fitting that the word "man" that was used in the original series has now been placed with the word "one."
Where should they go, Kirk asks Spock. Why their destination should be left to Kirk's good judgment, the logical (?) Spock replies.
We have such a history with these characters, having long known and loved them as well as they do each other, that the pleasure a mere look or one-liner between them gives is all that is needed for this movie franchise to live long and prosper.