J.J. Abrams’ sequel to the 2009 Star Trek reboot fell flat. Into Darkness’ story was ridiculous; never before has a film taken the phrase “Man the torpedoes” literally. The movie also wasted Trek’s best villain, inexplicably transmogrifying Khan from a sly, brown-skinned Indian to a mopey, pale-faced Brit. Finally, a jarring bra-and-panties scene felt like a cynical attempt to make the film’s trailer appeal to over-hormonal teenagers.
All that considered, there’s no easy fix for Star Trek: Into Darkness’s many flaws. But I would argue that a single, key change would have proven that the filmmakers at least took Trek seriously: Kirk should have stayed dead.
In the film’s climax, Captain Kirk climbs into a lethally radioactive chamber, fixes some key machinery, and saves the U.S.S. Enterprise from certain doom. The scene echoes a similar moment in Star Trek II, in which Spock sacrifices himself on the crew’s behalf. This time, it’s Kirk who succumbs to radiation poisoning. He dies with Spock by his side—the ultimate end to their space bromance.
Or… not. Just in time, Dr. McCoy discovers that Khan’s blood can (magically!) raise the dead. A quick blood transfusion, and Kirk is resurrected!
Faux-killing Kirk leverages fans’ Wrath of Khan nostalgia without actually risking the franchise’s future. And, as with Spock’s death, it was a mistake.
Imagine an Into Darkness that definitively kills Kirk—the franchise’s iconic character. The reboot could then veer into uncharted territory; as the Enterprise visited its “strange new worlds,” the audience could also enjoy a new Trek universe, free of Shatner/Nimoy baggage. What happens to Spock after Kirk’s death? Does grief overwhelm his Vulcan commitment to cold logic? Or does he banish emotion altogether to avoid the pain? Even re-hashed plot lines from the original series could prove interesting; what happens without Kirk in the captain’s chair.
Alas, as with Spock’s return in Star Trek III, Kirk’s resurrection siphons dramatic tension from the rebooted franchise. The creators apparently lack the guts (or the authority) to take big risks or make big bets.
Even worse, they’ve invented Khan’s Magic Blood—a silly plot device that can rejuvenate any key character who inconveniently croaks.