Last month, we reported that Benicio Del Toro would be playing the villain in Star Trek 2. Even before Del Toro’s casting, there has been non-stop speculation on who director J.J. Abrams and screenwriters Damon Lindelof, Roberto Orci, and Alex Kurtzman would choose as the baddie. The name that kept popping up in fanboy circles was Khan Noonien Singh, the memorable antagonist from arguably the best Star Trek movie, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. I thought this was a terrible idea, but unfortunately, it may have won the day.
Latino Review is reporting that Del Toro will play Khan in the upcoming sequel. Hit the jump for more on Khan and why I hope this news is wrong. [Update: Abrams has commented on this rumor. Hit the jump for what he had to say.]
[Update: Abrams tells Drew McWeeny at HitFix that Latino Review's story is "Not true." Drew notes that Abrams "has never directly lied to me about something. He's demurred when asked some questions, and he's played coy about some things, but outright fabrication does not appear to be his bag." In case Abrams is outright fabricating, you can read on for my thoughts on making Khan the villain.]
In Star Trek: The Original Series, Khan is introduced in the episode “Space Seed”. He is a genetically engineered human who was bred to conquer and was a benevolent but iron-fisted ruler in the vein of Alexander the Great. He was eventually deposed but he and a handful of his followers escaped on the spaceship Botany Bay and went into suspended animation.
Flash forward to the year 2267 and his ship is rescued by Captain Kirk and the USS Enterprise. When Khan attempts to create a mutiny, Kirk is able to stop him and exiles the villain to the hostile planet of Ceti Alpha V. Wrath of Khan picks up this storyline and is a grand revenge tale that has some of the most memorable moments in all of Trek lore.
And J.J. Abrams and co. want to compete with that?
As I’ve said before, Khan is a villain who comes out of the original series. Since the new movie established that a new timeline was created, there’s no reason to be tethered to anything the original series or movies did. Abrams has the creative freedom to take these memorable characters—who are being played by a terrific new cast—and send them on a fresh adventure.
This is not a fresh adventure. This feels like it was done for the fanboys who cling to the familiar like a security blanket. Even more maddening, the popularity of the reboot gives the filmmakers license to branch out. Why not pull another villain from the series? You can still appease the old guard by making that reference but still have enough leeway to try something new. Here are the options I see if they use Khan:
2) He’s not a villain, but he’s still in the movie, which makes you wonder “What’s the point?” Khan is not an essential Trek character. He’s not Kirk, he’s not Spock, or anything close to a main character. He’s appeared twice in the main Trek storyline (I’m ignoring extended universe stuff like novels). Khan is a popular character, but he’s not an essential character.
@kingbry7 brought up the thoughtful point that if the Joker can return for a rebooted Batman franchise, then why can’t the same be done for Khan? First off, Batman and Joker have decades upon decades of history and constant struggle. The two characters are inverses yet have disturbing similarities. When it comes to the movies, Tim Burton‘s Batman isn’t that good so it’s not like they’re treading on a classic. The Joker is a character that allows a storyteller a better understanding of Batman. He’s a perfect antagonist and one that will never leave the caped crusader.
Khan had two really great fights with Kirk. Captain Kirk had a lot of other great fights and met a ton of interesting antagonists, but Trek isn’t a one-man show and Kirk is not Batman.
I trust Latino Review, but I really hope they’re wrong on this one. If J.J. Abrams manages to outdo Wrath of Khan, then more power to him. But my he doesn’t have to. He can boldly go where no Star Trek film has gone before.
So why wouldn’t he?