When Star Trek first debuted in 1966, it’s highly unlikely that anyone involved knew that they were a part of something that would still be going strong nearly 60 years later. That is, in no small part, due to the recent efforts of J.J. Abrams whose 2009 re-envisioning of the beleaguered franchise re-energized and reinvigorated it.
And now, with Star Trek Into Darkness on the way, it seems fitting to look at what is still the greatest Star Trek film of all time, The Wrath of Khan.
An enemy of Kirk’s from the original series, Khan returns to vex the good captain once more. He kidnaps, he kills and he causes anarchy, all in the name of power and revenge. And the ultimate result of his efforts is the death of one of the core characters of the franchise. He might be the most deadly and infamous villain in Star Trek history.
What makes The Wrath of Khan work is the intensity of its villain. Played by Ricardo Montalban, Khan is driven by the betrayal he perceives Kirk has committed against him. He seeks nothing short of pure revenge, killing anyone who stands in his way. If they’re lucky. Those he doesn’t kill often suffer worse fates, tormented into doing his bidding. Khan is intense yet aloof, batting Kirk around like a cat with a mouse in its grasp.
But Khan also brings out the best in Captain James T. Kirk.
While it appears that Kirk is one step behind Khan the whole movie, there is a point that he turns it around on Khan without him knowing it. It is one of Kirk’s finest moments.
The true test of a great film is the quality of the villain. Does that villain force the hero to be his or her best, to even go beyond their best? Khan does that in spades. It is through him that The Wrath of Khan elevates itself beyond other films in the franchise.
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As it stands right now, the villain of Into Darkness is indeterminate. Several names for the character Benedict Cumberbatch will be playing have been bandied about, including Khan. Everything is just rumours at this point and nothing J.J. Abrams, a master of secrets and misinformation when it comes to his projects, says can be trusted. This is the man who previously, and rather obliquely, denied being involved in any future Star Wars films only to recently take the helm of Star Wars VII.
Including the animated series based on the original cast, there are six TV series and 11 movies that make up the Star Trek universe. As good as so much of it is, The Wrath of Khan stands heads and shoulders above the rest, not only as a great Star Trek movie or a great science fiction movie but as a great movie. Period.
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