Stop Trying to Ruin the Mystery of the 'Star Trek Into Darkness' Villain
by Ethan Anderton
December 13, 2012
Just recently, the villain from Star Trek Into Darkness played by Benedict Cumberbatch was given a name. An official still from Paramount Pictures pegged the man as John Harrison. However, that didn't put to rest any theories about the "Sherlock" star taking on an updated version of the iconic villain Khan Noonien Singh from Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan or even a canon villain like Gary Mitchell (though this one apparently died in a comic book considered to be canon with the new timeline started in 2009's Star Trek). People are still trying to confirm whether Khan or another villain will be messing with the crew of the Enterprise this time, and I wish that everyone would just chill out and let J.J. Abrams keep his secrets.
First of all, there seems to be a lot of dissension among fans that having Abrams and writers Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof use Khan as a villain is lazy and without risk. So for all intents and purposes, let's assume this is the case. It's pretty difficult to understand why taking on one of the most iconic villains in Star Trek canon, with one of the most rabid fanbases around, is anything but risky. Some have complained that Abrams is merely copying what Christopher Nolan did with The Joker by saving the most iconic villain in Batman's history for The Dark Knight.
First of all, the comparisons to The Dark Knight don't really seem to be all that insulting since many regard to be the best comic book film ever made, and also acclaim it as being one of the greatest films of the past ten years. In addition, Heath Ledger turned the performance into his career's best, and there are few who deny that the actor may be the best iteration of The Joker ever seen on the big or small screen. That all comes after complaints and naysayers about using The Joker again and even with Ledger's casting.
So if Cumberbatch does end up playing Khan, why can't we just wait and see what Abrams and company do with the villain before getting all up in arms and self-righteous about it. Plus, just because Cumberbatch is playing a villain that everyone loves, but no one wants to see again, we're ready to completely disregard his performance? In this case, it doesn't matter of Cumberbatch is playing Khan, but rather how the writers and Abrams have handled the character and let the actor make it his own. This could be a completely different Khan that fans don't know because the entire Star Trek timeline is different now. Some people think that recent news that Alice Eve is playing Carol Marcus (an integral character from Wrath of Khan) is only more confirmation of Khan, but her dynamic with Kirk will be completely different since they have no relationship history (and thus, no offspring) going into this sequel.
But on the other end of the spectrum, what if Cumberbatch really is playing a character named John Harrison? And what if it isn't an alias? In fact, today Cumberbatch denied that he's playing Khan and described the John Harrison character to MTV:
"He's a terrorist; he operates as a terrorist. He has extraordinary physical powers, but also mental powers. He can sow an idea, which is as powerful as gunshots or close-hand combat, which he's masterful in. He tears into the fabric of both the world and the Enterprise family, and he leaves behind him a trail of devastation. It's quite exciting to watch.
Giving away the full motivation would ruin it, but it's personal. It's also political, I think. He's somebody who, at some point in the film, you should feel a certain amount of empathy towards his cause, if not his means. … There's no two-dimensional obstacle he presents purely and simply by the fact that he's opposing our hero. He has an interesting relationship with Kirk, and with Spock in a way," teased Cumberbatch. "He very much plays them off against each other. There's an element of shadow to him and Kirk."
Initially, Trek fans couldn't figure out who John Harrison was, but the film's writers had said their villain would be a canon character. With some hard work, it has been unearthed that Harrison was actually a minor recurring character from the original series who had various assignments and was often seen adorning the infamous red shirt. Funnily enough, Harrison actually appears in the episode Space Seed. For those who aren't Trek fans, that's the same episode which introduced Khan, a character who was a kind of a surprising villain when he showed up in Wrath of Khan.
Wouldn't it make more sense that instead of rehashing Khan as a character, the writers used yet another obscure character from the past and turned him into this original and fantastic villain, much like Khan has become today? In this case, that would mean we know nothing about the villain or his motivations, and that makes him potentially more terrifying than Khan as a villain. In addition, the name John Harrison has roots in history with John Harrison Suratt being one of the conspirators involved in the plot to kill Abraham Lincoln, and Abrams like injecting history like that into his films. Perhaps there's some kind of subtext there that both history and Star Trek buffs might be able to piece together.
But guess what? I don't want to know anymore about the villain in Star Trek Into Darkness, and I think everyone needs to stop trying to figure out every minute detail about films like this. In the age of information with every scrap of history, movies, television, and more being available at the click of a mouse, this culture has to know everything right now. Don't get me wrong, we're rabidly trying to figure out who's directing Star Wars: Episode VII and things like that, but when it comes to a filmmaker trying to keep a bit of mystery in an age that seems to open every Christmas present before December 25th, why are we so desperate to know this one detail? The only outcome will be outright criticism because of the revered Wrath of Khan or a shrug and "Let's see what they can do."
Even if the villain is revealed to be Khan or just John Harrison, we're still stuck waiting until next May to see how this all unfolds. I know everyone is excited, and Star Trek is such a delicate franchise for fans, both old and new alike. But when it comes to this desperate attempt to "unmask" the villain in Star Trek Into Darkness, let's just ride this out and let Abrams keep his mystery box closed for a few more months.