'Star Trek Into Darkness' Villain: Good Decision or Bad Decision?

'Star Trek Into Darkness' Villain: Good Decision or Bad Decision?

May 17, 2013

This discussion deals with plot points and character developments in Star Trek Into Darkness and therefore contains SPOILERS. Enter at your own risk if you haven't yet seen the movie. 

Star Trek Into Darkness is ranking high on review aggregating sites, yet there's still no doubt that the sequel is a divisive one for both die-hard fans and the nondevotional. In the attempt to please both sides of the aisle with a franchise reboot like this one, there are a number of inside jokes and callbacks for the Trekkies as well as enough fresh story and action to please newbies. The nonfans may not appreicate the former, and vice versa. And the joint appeal carries over to the villain of this new installment, who is sort of a blast from the past yet also sold as a distinctly independent foe at the same time. By the latter I mean that unlike the rest of this new series' cast, the character played by Benedict Cumberbatch is not modeled much after his previous portrayal.

Okay, let's get it out of the way. I put the spoiler warning at the top. And anyway doesn't everyone already know at this point that Cumberbatch plays Khan Noonien Singh? If you're one of the totally Trek ignorant, that at least meant something due to his name being famously a part of a previous movie's title. But otherwise it shouldn't have been that important. Nobody ought to feel lost here if they've never seen either the TV episode "Space Seed," in which Khan first appeared, or Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. The backstory and exposition are provided and the plot of Into Darkness borrows enough from both works. You likely heard those in the know whispering or snickering at certain times of fan-service reference, but you didn't miss anything except some cheap winkery. 

For many, Cumberbatch is the best thing about the new film. Even as someone unsatisfied with Into Darkness overall (and someone who has never seen the actor in anything before), I think he did a really fine job, especially given that he wasn't provided much to really do, say or embody. Outside of whatever one might know of the character from the past version (I recall little outside the costume and those ear bugs), the Khan here is very underwritten, and the fact that Cumberbatch still leaves a strong impression is quite impressive. Is his talent and simply his presence and line delivery enough to make for a good villain, though? Completely sever the link to the Khan of yore and does he hold up on his own? As with much of Into Darkness, the more I think about it, the less I like him as a villain. But if I ignore the lack of substance I have to admit that I found him rather entertaining.

There are those who don't favor the villain at all, though, particularly in the very idea of Khan and the decision to recycle such an iconic character. Why diminish that? Why limit this? Why not go with something original? One thing that is frustrating, and this is true with many movies so seasoned with nostalgic allusion, Into Darkness doesn't have a lot to add to the franchise or to that character. It doesn't build upon the foundation of that which it has borrowed from. It doesn't offer its own memorable moments to pop culture, and that's even worse than simply not meeting the quality of the revered classic (Wrath of Khan) it works off of. Both Trekkies and regular folks alike could have been happy with the movie being mostly the same with or without the name being that name, too. 

It will be interesting to see if the majority is into Cumberbatch's villain, whether that has to do with him being revealed as Khan or not, because there's a chance he could return somewhere down the line, just as the character came back in the previous canon from show to movie format. He's still alive at the end of Into Darkness, and so a follow-up discussion question could be if you'd like to see him awaken and unleash more wrath in a future sequel. First, though, let us hear your thoughs on the following:

 

Were you satisified with what they did with the villain in Star Trek Into Darkness?

Here are some responses received so far via Twitter:
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 and 

 

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