Thoughts on, and a place to discuss, the plot details we can’t reveal in our review.
Yes, Benedict Cumberbatch is Khan. This is a badly kept secret, at least for those who have spent the last few months scouring the Internet for clues to the character’s identity—or, for that matter, those who simply scrolled through the IMDB cast list as of a few days ago. It’s a shame, because the manner in which the film reveals that “John Harrison” is really Khan—an imprisoned Cumberbatch wraps his tongue theatrically around the latter name—is chills-down-the-spine good. In general, the actor’s characterization of the iconic villain is a master class of regal, sociopathic intimidation. Look at the scene where an enraged Kirk tries to beat his adversary to a pulp, growing exhausted as Khan nonchalantly absorbs each blow. Unnerving stuff.
In ways both nifty and irritating, Into Darkness communes with The Wrath Of Khan. The parallel-universe angle of the new Trek films has largely just been an escape hatch for J.J. Abrams, who can deviate from the series/prior movies without retconning the franchise’s continuity and incurring the righteous fury of diehard Trekkies. But in the new film, it also sets up at least one terrific moment: Leonard Nimoy’s older Spock, who jumped to the “B” timeline in the last film, chats with his younger counterpart (Zachary Quinto). When Quinto asks if his doppelgänger every encountered Khan in his own timeline, Nimoy gives the usual spiel about not interfering with the past—before opting to let his fellow Spock know that, yes, he dealt with Khan, and that dude crazy. It’s a moment that giddily plays on familiarity with Wrath, without seeming like a cheap callback.
On the other hand, there’s the film’s revisionist spin on Spock’s death scene in Wrath, flip-flopped here so that it’s the Vulcan saying goodbye to a dying Kirk instead. That moment is not just one of the most iconic in Trek history, it’s also one of the most genuinely poignant. Re-staging it with a winking twist—complete with Quinto now bellowing Khan’s name to the cosmos—feels close to heresy. It’s as cynical as everything in Super 8, which similarly put quotation marks on the broken-home pathology of Spielberg’s early work. Let’s hope Abrams’ Star Wars: Episode 7 isn’t just a bunch of faux-sentimental callbacks to the Lucas movies.