By Thomas Cowley
While the newest installment of the Star Trek series reboot, “Star Trek: Into Darkness” was a financial success, it did leave a bit of a bad taste in the mouth of many a fan when it came to the reveal of Benedict Cumberbatch's character. SPOILER WARNING for any of you who have yet to see it because you were waiting for the DVD or were simply incredibly lazy.
Cumberbatch is revealed in the movie to be Khan, a villain of the original series and the primary antagonist of the 1982 film, “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan”, which the new film Into Darkness borrows heavily from. Originally Khan was a genetically enhanced super man who was a tyrant in his day before escaping into space with his other genetically superior followers and falling into cryo-sleep. He was one of the bigger bad guys of the original series and had his own movie to wrap up his story, which was immensely popular not only because it was a well done movie, but also because it had the lasting death of major character Spock. The new iteration of Khan is also genetically superior, but his past as an evil dictator is only hinted at and he has no other relation to the crew whatsoever.
What made the reveal of Khan being the villain in the 1982 film was the fact that it tied up a loose end that true fans of Star Trek would have been excited to see, because last they know Khan had basically escaped and now an old character is back for revenge. The reveal in Into Darkness conversely, acts as if Khan is something we should be surprised or afraid of, but because he has no past with the new crew, it falls completely flat. Who cares that he is Khan? Any new fan does not know him, and any old fan will be upset that he has no back story which made him so influential in the first place.
This sadly was exactly what happened when Abrams and the studio tried to shroud Cumberbatch's identity for the film. In a recent interview with MTV, Abrams said that he feels that the secrecy was a mistake in hindsight.
“The truth is I think it probably would have been smarter just to say upfront 'This is who it is.' It was only trying to preserve the fun of it, and it might have given more time to acclimate and accept that's what the thing was.”
Abrams also said the secrecy was partially the studio's influence as well in an attempt not to alienate those who had not watched the old show.
“The truth is because it was so important to the studio that we not angle this thing for existing fans. If we said it was Khan, it would feel like you've really got to know what Star Trek is about to see this movie. That would have been limiting. I can understand their argument to try to keep that quiet, but I do wonder if it would have seemed a little bit less like an attempt at deception if we had just come out with it.”
While this is a lose-lose scenario in many ways, Abrams has pulled the whole “mystery box” thing before with “Cloverfield” and “Lost” to less than stellar results, so perhaps it is time to try something new. Which very well may be the case with him choosing not to direct “Star Trek 3”.