I'm an outlier among other insufferable snobs on the Internet: I actually want Khan to be the villain of Star Trek Into Darkness.
This isn't because I desperately want the films to touch every base that the original series did. After nearly 30 years on television and 10 movies of highly uneven quality, the Star Trek universe prior to JJ Abrams' Star Trek was suffering horribly from internal rot, not to mention a growing reliance on awful time travel plots and constant nods to series continuity. A fresh start was desperately needed if it was going to remain relevant, even if it came at — sniff — the expense of Captains Picard and Sisko*.
But if Star Trek was a successful fresh start (and it was), it also brought with it some terrible baggage from the previous continuity, specifically the fact that its plot was motivated by the same time-travel bullshit that caused the TV universe to finally collapse under the weight of its own pretentions. Thank the founders that Abrams movie focused squarely on the Holy Trinity of Kirk, Spock, and Bones, or we would have noticed how awful Nero really was.
But as we've already learned with Iron Man 2, a successful sequel needs to do more than coast on the chemistry of its leads. With Kirk and co. firmly established, STID needs a strong conflict with high stakes, and a memorable villain (or at least a prime mover) connected to that conflict.
To pull that off, you can't force the audience to consult a Trek lore guide. Superturbonerd Trek Fans like me might want to see Harcourt Mudd, Cyrano Jones, Gary Mitchell, The Horta, or that horrible psychic kid played by Ron Howard's brother but frankly, that's inside baseball. Ask the legions of moviegoers for whom for whom Star Trek is essentially Kirk bangs space hotties-Spock lectures him about the logic of using a condom-Bones grumpily administers penicillin, the only villain they'll recite from memory is Ricardo Montalban's Khan Noonien Singh.
Is that a problem? Only if you think that the Joker's appearing in The Dark Knight was a problem. Iconic characters linger in the public memory for a reason, and that makes it easy for a skilled storyteller to take them and make them over into something later audiences can appreciate anew. Do it right and you can get away with anything, even making a horribly lame villain like Bane look bad-ass. And for better or for worse, Khan is Kirk's Joker. So milk that shit, I say. Use him well and firmly ground STID in its own past, and save less exploited territory for future sequels, when you've solidified the audience's loyalty.
But is Khan the villain of Star Trek Into Darkness? Who the hell can tell? The new trailer certainly doesn't want us to know for sure. But damned if it isn't teasing the hell out of us. It's already been confirmed that the villain will be canon. And now we know that whatever character is blessed with Benedict Cumberbatch's crisp, Public School tones, he's really angry and looking to exact some revenge - sorry, vengeance, which is way classier than mere revenge - on the people of Earth. That sounds like Khan to me! Unless Cyrano Jones is angry that the Klingons wiped out the Tribbles.
There's also the fact that the American trailer lacks one crucial scene present in the Japanese trailer (see it right before the end): a deliberate homage to the moment of Spock's Death in Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan. Even if it's just a dodge (something Abrams does very well,) the reference can't be a coincidence. And if this means we get to see Cumberbatch doing is best Ricardo Montalban impression, that's fine by me. Just so long as it doesn't mean we have to endure another go at The Search For Spock.
Some additional thoughts:
-If you think it's ridiculous that a lily-white Briton like Benedict Cumberbatch could even pretend to play an Indian, it's worth noting that Gabrielle Anwar and Ben Kingsley both have Indian fathers.
-Notice the ship rising out of the water? If it isn't the SS botany Bay, I wonder if it's the same starship we see crashing into the San Francisco Bay later in the trailer.
-The interesting thing about the trailer is just how much of Earth we're seeing in it. Star Trek was originally pitched as Wagon Train to the stars, but of course, the wagon train had to start somewhere. The original series and subsequent iterations barely feature earth as anything other than a reference. For all we know, the only thing people do back home is build more Enterprises. Also, whenever I watch a western, I always want a scene of what people are up to back in Boston or London. It's interesting that in the new Star Trek, we're getting exactly that.
*Truth: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is inarguably the best series. YEAHISAIDIT.
Ross Lincoln is a LA-based freelance writer from Oklahoma with an unhealthy obsession with comics, movies, video games, ancient history, Gore Vidal, and wine.
Follow Ross A. Lincoln on Twitter.
Follow Movieline on Twitter.