Quick question: Am I the only one who wants to see Star Trek Into Darkness that doesn’t care what villain Benedict Cumberbatch is playing? Because sometimes it feels like I am.
More and more it seems to me like the rebooted Trek franchise is being treated like a superhero movie series, where fandom thinks the goal of the fandom is to try to guess what pre-existing material will be adapted next, and the point is to recognize said material and go “Ooooooooooooooooooh I know what that is!” I am not above doing this (I enjoyed the Project: Pegasus sign in Avengers a bit more than I should have), but it’s not exactly the intended purpose of the movies, or the primary source of entertainment. Do people do this with other franchises? Do they eagerly anticipate news that Galvatron will be in the next Transformers, or that they’re bringing back Ernst Blofeld to fight Daniel Craig?
As soon as 2009’s Star Trek ended, people began speculating as to what the sequel would be about, and it’s only natural that this speculation is limited to bringing back X or revisiting Y. However, the difficulty in doing that with Star Trek is that the franchise has so few prominent recurring villains. Everybody immediately remembered Khan, and then promptly ran out of ideas.
Of course, Trek has many recurring villainous organizations–the Klingons, the Borg, the Maquis, Section 31, the Orion Synidcate, and so on. With continuity rebooted you can easily finagle it so that any of those groups are available to tangle with Kirk and Spock. But that doesn’t satisfy this primal fandom urge to see a singular archnemesis, looming just beyond the horizon and threatening to be ten times worse than the last villain. Fans want that moment where Batman’s finally gotten past the first movie and now he has to contend with a new fellow named…the Joker!!! But the Klingons, as an entire race, cannot be Star Trek’s Joker. Star Trek arguably does not have a Joker. 1
And so the fandom is left with the unenviable task of scouring the original Star Trek TV series to pick the best one-off anatognist that happens to line up with the plot and the casting of Cumberbatch. To date, Khan Singh (unfrozen 1990s ubermensch) and Gary Mitchell (Captain Kirk’s buddy corrupted by godlike power) are the leading candidates. Comic Book Resources put up an interesting list of suspects here, and I must admit that Ben Finney (Kirk’s buddy who went postal) and Garth of Izar (Kirk’s hero who went mad) are intriguing possibilities. But the fact I feel I must remind you who these characters are indicates that none of them are iconic enough to jusify all the hullaballoo about bringing them back. I find Garth particularly fascinating, but I can’t say he’d be substantially more fascinating than introducing a brand new character. 2
Therefore I see no point in trying to guess what the name of Cumberbatch’s character is. His identity doesn’t appear to be a plot point, and I have a rough idea of what the character’s motivations are, so his name is about as important to me as that of Eric Bana’s character in the last movie, which I frequently forget. If his name is “Gary Mitchell,” then I applaud the old school callback, but that doesn’t really tell me anything I’d like to know about the character. Frankly, I wouldn’t expect Cumberbatch’s Mitchell to be substantially different from Cumberbatch’s Khan–I’m pretty sure either way he’s going to be BBC’s Sherlock but evil and with more rayguns.