When the creators of the new movie say they were inspired by Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, you better believe it. There is a guy out there in a starship seeking vengeance.
Instead of it being fifteen years since Kirk has exiled the genetic superman Khan to Ceti Alpha Six [we will mention Ceti Alpha Six again], its been over 25 years for the deranged Romulan Nero as he awaits to inflict his retribution upon a now very elderly Ambassador Spock from the future they both come from.
Wrath of Khan revolves around an item called Genesis that can turn a barren planet into a new Eden, thus solving population issues within the Federation. It is Khan who perverts salvation into a weapon. With Nero, he takes a device the Vulcans created that was intended to save his home world of Romulus from a supernova, Red Matter, and uses it to destroy Vulcan. Red Matter creates black holes, hence its application in stopping a supernova.
Star Trek II opens with a young Lt Saavik sitting center seat in a training simulation as Captain of USS Enterprise to face the Kobayashi Maru test. In the new movie at the beginning, Lt Sam Kirk finds himself commanding USS Kelvin against Nero’s ship after his Captain is murdered. With a ship badly damaged and crew evacuating, including his wife and unborn son, Kirk takes Kelvin on a death ride to save them. Later at the Academy, a very brash Jim Kirk takes the Kobayashi Maru test three times before beating it.
Captain Spock commands USS Enterprise as she sails on a training cruise crewed mainly with StarFleet Academy students. To quote Kirk, “A bunch of trainees.” And she is the only ship in the quadrant to respond to Space Station Regula One’s distress signal. When Nero attacks Vulcan, something similar happens. The bulk of StarFleet’s strength is off in another system, leaving the rescue of Vulcan to a small number of starships that are crewed by Academy students.
Remember those little slugs from Ceti Alpha Six that Khan used to turn Captain Terrell and First Officer Chekov into his dupes? Nero has them as well and uses one on Captain Pike to attain the codes to Earth’s defenses. The only difference is Terrell and Chekov got theirs’ administered aurally while Pike’s was given orally.
To push the Khan motif further where the target of retribution is stranded, Nero exiles Ambassador Spock to an icy waste of a planet called Delta Vega so he can watch as Vulcan is destroyed. Surprisingly Commander Spock, now commanding Enterprise after Pike’s capture, jettisons insubordinate Jim Kirk to the same planet.
When the distress call from Dr. Marcus is received, Kirk goes to Spock and asks to take command of Enterprise. Spock accedes peacefully to this request because he knows Kirk is a better commander during a crisis. This Jim Kirk proceeds to provoke Spock into losing control of his emotions so he can command Enterprise against Nero since Pike had appointed him XO to Spock.
Like the crippled Enterprise fleeing into the Mutara Nebula to level the playing field against Khan aboard USS Reliant, something similar is in the new movie. Kirk has Enterprise warp into the murky atmosphere of Saturn’s moon Titan to avoid detection and ambush Nero’s vastly more powerful ship as Nero attacks Earth to further his retribution.
As the Red Matter proceeds to consume Nero and his ship in the climatic battle like Genesis rearranging Reliant and the Mutara Nebula in Wrath of Khan, Kirk offers Nero rescue. Like Khan before him, Nero refuses to be saved by Kirk. And Enterprise is in grave mortal danger as this is occurring, Kirk has stayed too close to the new black hole and its sucking the ship in. This time it is not Spock fixing the warp drive that saves the ship and crew, but Montgomery Scott, another exile from Delta Vega, who jettisons the warp cores into the black hole that has devoured Nero’s ship. The explosion propels Enterprise out of the voracious gravitational maw.