J.J. Abrams second Star Trek movie, Star Trek into Darkness is best remembered for being the movie that lifts a lot of characters and story beats from the other Star Trek II, the one called Wrath of Khan. While the film is largely remembered for the way it claimed to not be doing that, and then doing exactly that, in the end, the issue was that the execution just didn't work in the eyes of many. One of those who was largely unimpressed with Star Trek into Darkness was the director of Wrath of Khan Nicholas Meyer. While Myer says he appreciated the homage, he felt it just didn't do anything new with the ideas. According to Meyer...
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is felt by many to be the best Star Trek movie ever made in a large franchise, so it's understandable why Into Darkness would want to pay tribute to it. And since this was the second installment of the rebooted series, it was as good a time as any to do so. However, Nicholas Meyer tells Midnight's Edge that, in the end, the new version just didn't do anything interesting with the idea, just inserted the same elements into the story in a different way.
There are a pair of different "homages" to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan in Into Darkness. The first comes in the character of John Harrison, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, who turns out to actually be Khan. The second comes in a finale sequence that sees Kirk sacrifice himself while Spock is forced to witness Kirk's death, in a moment very reminiscent of Spock's death in the previous film.
The Khan reveal doesn't work, mostly because within the context of the film, it just doesn't have any meaning. In the original franchise, Khan's impressiveness is because the character had previously appeared in the television series, so his capabilities were known. In the new movie, Spock and Kirk have never heard of Khan, so the reveal exists solely for the audience, the characters in the movie are utterly unimpressed with the name, which kills the moment.
In one way I actually enjoyed the Kirk/Spock death reversal. I liked the idea that, if roles had been reversed, the scenario in Wrath of Khan would have still played out in much the same way, that the friendship between these two characters was that strong. However, in the rebooted timeline Spock and Kirk haven't spent nearly as much time together since there was no TV series predating the films. The moment isn't really justified. The fact that Kirk is back only a few minutes later, rather than taking an entire extra film, also weakens the moment.
Of course, in the end, it's probably a good thing that Kirk was brought back quickly, otherwise, the next Star Trek reboot movie would have been an entire remake of Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, and we probably didn't need that. Star Trek Beyond was better than that.
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