Admiral Marcus as a Well-Intentioned Extremist. He figured that the exploration-focused Starfleet would not be able to win a war against the Klingons, a war he thought was inevitable (and may or may not actually be). He was only doing what he thought was necessary to ensure the Federation's survival. It's not even really that much of an Alternative Character Interpretation—the guy just ends up tapping the Moral Event Horizon when he opts to try and murder Kirk and the entire crew merely for having Khan in their custody, along with other acts.
The Klingons themselves. The only time we see them in action is when they're defending their own homeworld; not once are they on the offensive despite the continual assertions that they're gearing up for war against the Federation. Marcus is actively goading them into a war, up to stranding the Enterprise on the wrong side of the Neutral Zone to set up a False Flag Operation.
It is not clear if Thomas sends Admiral Marcus the message saying that John Harrison is responsible for the archive bombing because it was part of Harrison's overall plan and he wanted to reveal himself or if this was Thomas's attempt to make some good out of the situation by telling Marcus who is responsible. This deleted scene suggests that it's the former.
A more minor one: Is Pike grilling Kirk for breaking the Prime Directive - or just the fact that Kirk didn't accept responsibility (and if he did, the punishment would not have been as harsh)?
In the climax, would Khan have tried to wipe out the Enterprise whether or not Kirk ordered Scotty to incapacitate him once they dethroned Admiral Marcus? After all, he doesn't seem surprised when he recovers too fast for Scotty or Kirk to defend themselves, but there is a hint of disappointment. He also has Villain Respect by telling Kirk that he likes a man who has a conscience. Perhaps he would have kept his word, or maybe not. It's left up to the viewers.
Due to the disastrous handling of the extras for the BluRay release, Paramount is now offering a new box set, which includes the IMAX scenes in the film and loads of special features. It also includes the 2009 film with all of the goodies from the 3 disc set as well. They are also working on offering a discount for owners of original Into Darkness discs as well.
Base-Breaking Character: James T. Kirk. While most will agree he had good character development over the course of the two movies, many more will debate whether said development is enough to actually make him a credible Captain, pointing out that he still lacks several of his Prime Universe counterpart's qualities. By the conclusion, a lot were arguing that it would've made more sense for Spock to be Captain instead.
Whether Benedict Cumberbatch version of Khan was an effective villain or whether he should have just been an original character.
Best Known for the Fanservice: Often brought up by critics discussing the film's flaws. Carol Marcus is in her underwear for only one short clip which only lasts a few seconds: she changes clothes, Kirk peeks, we see. Blatant Fanservice that could have been left on the cutting room floor without affecting the plot at all? Yes, no doubt. But it is only one scene, albeit one that was prominent in the trailers.
Better on DVD: Kirk's Character Arc works best when watching the two films back-to-back. Into Darkness makes several Call Backs to Kirk's previous conflict with Spock, especially when it comes to his coming to terms with his own mortality during a "No-Win Scenario." A lot of this got missed, especially considering there was a 4-year gap between the release of both films.
Was Khan's casting worth it to see Benedict Cumberbatch's acting talent, or was it pointless whitewashing of a famous person of color role that wasted the opportunity for a Sikh actor to have gotten a really big break playing a classic villain?note Despite the original actor still not being the same race as Khan's entire name would suggest. Are the detractors justified in their accusations of racism, or misguided and counterproductive political correctness or are people just overreacting? After 9/11, would it be wise to cast an actor of color to play a terrorist who crashes a flying vehicle into a populated city? Though the later point adds to the discussion about whether Khan should have been used at all.
Is the film essentially a remake of previous Star Trek films or merely an homage?
Was Kirk's Disney Death believable (setting aside how unlikely it is they would kill off a main character in the first place) or was it not?
Cry for the Devil: Khan in this movie is a monster; he admits he is, and Admiral Marcus isn't wrong when calling him a war criminal. Then we find out that Marcus used Khan to create weaponry, threatening the lives of his people, who are in cryogenic tubes, to get him to cooperate. Khan actually has a Not So Different moment when he and Kirk says they would do anything to keep their crew alive, and you can see a hint of Death Seeker when he tells Marcus, "You should have let me sleep" before killing him. In the climax, he goes My God, What Have I Done? when his threatening the Enterprise leads to Spock bluffing by firing the missiles that have his family in them, and you can tell he's running from Spock in full Despair Event Horizon mode, not even bothering to wipe out any of the Innocent Bystanders or using them as a Human Shield. His fate — to be put back to cryogenic sleep— is both karmic and fitting, as he got exactly what he wanted.
Science officer 0718, the completely bald cyborg crew member. He also has almost no lines, but with his deep robot voice, piercing blue eyes, and cybernetic implants in the back of his head, he certainly made quite an impression for a lot of people.
A franchise film swears there villain is an original character despite fan speculation that the villain will be a new version of an old favourite, then having a twist which reveals it was the old favourite villain all along. This is either Into Darkness or the Bond film Film/Spectre.
Ho Yay: Kirk and Spock. No surprise, since their friendship has been fueling shippers for years. But Spock looks genuinely distraught seeing Harrison hurt Kirk, and flat-out goes on a pre-Surak Vulcan style Roaring Rampage of Revenge when Kirk dies.
The damaged and fiery Enterprise falling to Earth in posters and trailers garnered responses along the lines of "Oh great, they're blowing up theEnterprise again." However, the Enterprise is able to get back on its feet before it crash lands. The ship that does crash, however, is the USS Vengeance, piloted by Khan.
Khan being the main antagonist.
The role reversal of Kirk and Spock during the climax.
Late-Arrival Spoiler: There's a comic coming out in October regarding Harrison's past called Star Trek: KHAN. Pretty blatant example, eh?
Like You Would Really Do It: Spock dying at the end of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan was just plausible enough that the viewers might believe it would stick (partially because, at the time, it was believed WoK would be the last Trek film). When this film plays that scenario out with Kirk dying instead, no one believes it will stick. Especially not after introducing a convenient Healing Phlebotinum.
Magnificent Bastard: Khan Noonien Singh is a superhuman with incredibly high-intelligence. Though believed to be genocidal and seeking to dispose of any race not on the same superiority level as his own kind, the tie-in comic Star Trek: Khan reveals Khan to have been a beloved and benevolent leader over his people despite being a conqueror. Preserved along with his crew for hundreds of years in cryo-sleep, Khan is awoken by the warmongering Admiral Alexander Marcus and as Commander John Harrison is forced to design the fighter starship the USS Vengeance and torpedos to go with it. Khan rebels by inciting a bombing of the secret Defense division and then mowing down several Starfleet officers, including Admiral Christopher Pike, in an ambush where he specifically targets Marcus. Khan learns his crew still lives in their pods in the torpedos he hid them in and surrenders himself to Captain James T. Kirk and the USS Enterprise. Khan then provides the info of the Vengeance and helps Kirk take it over, brutally kills Marcus and then attempts to escape and fights off Lieutenant Spock after nearly crashing the damaged ship into Starfleet Headquarters.
Comparing Khan crushing Marcus's skull with the scene in Game of Thrones where the Mountain crushes Oberyn's skull.
Pronouncing the title as written (no pause between "Star Trek" and "Into Darkness") shows up as a gag in nearly every online video about the movie.
Mexicans Love Speedy Gonzales: Inverted. The producers of this film found themselves facing unexpected criticism from the Sikh community that was really looking forward to having the film's villain, Khan Noonien Singh, played by a Sikh actor. Of course, the producers wanted to avoid Yellow Peril, but the Sikh community noted that the character is such a classic Bastard and Tragic Villain who physically and mentally outclasses any white man that it was a disappointment he was played by a British actor.
If his plot to start a war with the Klingons didn't do it, Admiral Marcus definitely crosses the line with the revelation that he never intended to spare the Enterprise or her crew, no matter what Kirk said or did.
John Harrison/Khan has several possible MEH's:
Manipulating Thomas Harewood into blowing up himself and a Starfleet institution by curing his daughter's condition.
Attacking a gathering of Starfleet officers, killing Admiral Pike in the process.
Attempting to murder the Enterprise crew after his people were returned to him (or so he thought), at a point where none of the crew posed any threat to him.
Setting the fatally damaged Vengeance on a collision course with San Francisco after believing that his crew had been killed.
Narm/Narm Charm: As is the tradition with Star Trek, there are scenes that failed for some people and worked for others.
Spock's exclamation of "KHAAAAAN!" during the finale. It's either a ridiculous moment that doesn't work or a loving Shout-Out.
Many found Kirk's dramatic failed attempt to beat an increasingly confused Harrison on Qo'noS hilarious. On the one hand, it looks ridiculous, but the scene as a whole is played for subdued laughs, so it can work.
The Klingons redesign look more like Psychlos wearing a trenchcoat.
Harrison's scream when Spock attempts the Vulcan nerve pinch on him during their fight is... not 100% convincing.
Poor J. J. Abrams gets misblamed for lying about Harrison being Khan when it was really Paramount that enforced this. That he absolutely hated lying about the unnecessary plot twist was conveniently ignored in favor of labeling him as a constantly Lying Creator. It got so bad that people mistakenly used the debacle as an excuse to presume that Abrams was lying about anything and everything leading up to Star Wars: The Force Awakens, leading to a whole lot of Fan Wank. A few years later, Damon Lindeloff admitted that they'd vastly underestimated how quickly fans could multisource theories in this day and age, and they should have just come clean when everyone figured it out.
Into Darkness is often ridiculed for being the movie that tried to capitalize on a previous film by basing almost its entire final act on it.
This film will also never live down making death trivial due to the poorly implemented tribble plot-device.
Weller: Everything he says is true: the Klingons are coming, they do need Khan, and that's that. It's just that hes going to sacrifice the entire Enterprise to get the job done, because the Enterprise started to believe Khan. But if the Enterprise had not believed Khan and had done what Marcus said, then there'd be no movie, and everything would be cool. But the great writing in this is that the Enterprise wakes the dude up and listens to his game, and then everything goes to crap. But that's the Enterprise's hubris. That's them. They screwed up, not Marcus. Anyway, sorry to go off there. I just hate that.
On the flipside, John Harrison/Khan gets a lot of this due to his sympathetic motivations to save his crew from Marcus. Throw in Benedict Cumberbatch's charismatic performance, stylishthreads, and booming voice and we've got a full blown example here.
Ship Tease: Between Carol and McCoy, when Kirk drafts Bones into helping her open one of the torpedoes.
Stoic Woobie: Dr. Carol Marcus discovers that her father is at the head of a conspiracy to start a galactic scale war, is transporter-kidnapped by him so she can't stand in the way of his attempt to murder the entire crew of a Federation ship (which she is forced to watch helplessly from his side), has her leg broken by Khan, and then watches him brutally murder her father. She holds up remarkably well given what she goes through.
There were some fans who thought that John Harrison turning out to be Khan was waytoo obvious, and theorised that he was in fact the Klingon captain, Koloth—a human-looking Klingon from the original series that was meant to be Kirk's Evil Counterpart/Worthy Opponent. One can even take this a step further and watch the film with that in mind, and the story is essentially the same and it actually works in its favor.
Even if you go into it knowing Harrison is Khan, he doesn't have the back history with Kirk that their prime counterparts had. Kirk was willing to work with Khan in this universe, and they both obviously had a beef with Admiral Marcus. Preserving this Enemy Mine through the whole plot and making Marcus the primary villain would have made an interesting twist on a classic Trek plot moving forward.
While the revelation about Harrison being Khan was a clever twist, this version of the character loses much of what made him so fascinating in the original timeline, for two main reasons:
In his introduction, Khan's entire premise was that he was an infamous tyrant and mass murderer from the 21st century whose reign of terror had made him one of history's most famous monsters—on par with Napoleon Bonaparte and Adolf Hitler. By confronting him, the Enterprise crew was also confronting the enduring specter of the brutal 21st century, and the reminder that human history had to take some really, really dark turns before humanity earned its place in the stars. But in this version, so much effort is put into ensuring that the characters don't recognize Khan that he loses that element entirely; he gets all of his Establishing Character Moments as the rogue Starfleet officer "John Harrison", with almost no time left to flesh him out as the fascistic cult leader Khan.
In The Wrath of Khan, a key element in Khan's story was that he met his downfall thanks to his pride: he assumed that his genetically augmented strength and intelligence meant that he could never be beaten in battle, so he was cocky enough to challenge Kirk to a one-on-one starship battle—even though he came from a time before starship combat, and had never been trained in space tactics. He forgot that his enhanced genes only amounted to potential, and couldn't compensate for his lack of experience, which the seasoned veteran Kirk had in spades. But in this version, Khan actually gets trained in starship combat by Admiral Marcus and he beats Kirk in a space battle because he has a better ship. Instead, he's defeated with Good Old Fisticuffs by Spock, his physical equal. His ultimate downfall has none of the thematic resonance that it originally had, and overall isn't nearly as interesting.
Enterprise vs. Vengeance. Yes the Vengeance totally outperformed the Enterprise in virtually every area, but that's no excuse not to have an actual starship battle between the two; in fact, it would have made for a great David vs. Goliath scenario, in which Kirk and company would have to come up with elaborate strategy (much like hiding in the Mutara Nebula) to overcome this monster. The fact Vengeance was meant to be a dark, militarized counterpart to the Enterprise would have made such a battle all the more fitting.
Given the character arcs of both Kirk and Spock, a surprising number of fans were actually shocked that Spock didn't up remaining Captain of the Enterprise. This ended up becoming a major criticism with those who felt that Kirk didn't necessarily deserve to be Captain.
The opening setup is about setting up Kirk's impulsiveness as a character flaw ("Damnit, Man, you just shot our ride!")... except Kirk is morally justified nearly every step of the way, and the fallout over his actions provides the perfect opportunity to take the Prime Directive apart over how incredibly flawed it is. We got a movie about how bad it is for Kirk to leap without looking when it starts with a much more impressive debate about whose lives are worthy to be saved by Federation personnel. What he actually gets in trouble for isn't because of the Prime Directive violations. It's his incompetent attempt to cover up it up by falsifying his logs and his irresponsible attitude to the whole thing, which just makes him look like an entitled prick.
In general, a fair number of viewers found the first half of the movie the more enjoyable part with Admiral Marcus as the main antagonist until Khan takes over.
Pike reveals that, after Kirk has been demoted, he's regained command of the Enterprise and wants Kirk with him on his ship, as his First Commander. Kirk is actually relieved about this, with Pike saying he's not giving up on the boy who failed to hold his own in a bar fight. Sadly, Pike gets killed a few minutes later. It would have been interesting to see the men work together again after they had good chemistry in the first film and Kirk stinging from the loss of his captaincy.
Long before the movie came out it was speculated that Khan was going to be the villain. When Harrison revealed his true identity as Khan a lot of people were not surprised.
Many Trek fans who had watched "Space Seed" knew exactly what was in those torpedoes the moment the number 72 was uttered. In addition, a large number of filmgoers who were aware of how much the film was borrowing from The Wrath of Khan caught on to the fairly evident foreshadowing with the Tribble and correctly assumed both that the engine scene would be repeated and that Khan's blood would be used to revive the victim. Between these three untwists, many Trek fans complained of the film being predictable.
Values Dissonance: Khan's Race Lift was because of this. Had Khan—whose name might suggest that he is Muslim to people who have little knowledge of Sikhs—been cast by an Indian or Middle-Eastern actor, "John Harrison's" overtly terrorist actions may have led to further Unfortunate Implications with the character. In particular, Khan's last act after believing that he's lost his crew is to fly his aircraft into several buildings; the 9/11 comparisons would be unavoidable.
Even if Section 31 of Starfleet Intelligence is a bunch of Well-Intentioned ExtremistSecret Police imperialists, how could they be so stupid as to threaten to kill the family of the amoral superman who at one point had conquered a quarter of Earth?
Kirk falsified his Captain's Log and failed to inform his by-the-book second officer that he had done so or what he said instead. Oddly enough he seems convinced Spock stabbed him in the back by not guessing this. There actually is a deleted scene explaining it (Spock was present when he made the false log), but in the final cut there's no explanation.
Great work on storming the bridge of the Vengeance, Kirk! I'm sure that one stun round will be more than enough to incapacitate the genetically enhanced, virtually unkillable super soldier whom you already know is capable of enduring a beatdown that would cripple a normal man. Sure, he didn't have a lot of other options, but he could at least have gone for a double tap.
Admiral Marcus for thinking he could control a man who was basically an emperor in his own time period.
The Woobie: Thomas Harewood. The man's daughter is dying, he's helpless to save her, and he winds up being manipulated by Harrison into killing himself and dozens of others in a suicide bombing in exchange for his daughter being cured.
Woolseyism: During the bar scene with Scotty and Keenser, a piece of music played that had different lyrics depending on where it was released. For example, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu was chosen by J. J. Abrams himself to provide the song for the Japanese release, which is titled "Into Darkness".