Critics have seen the first nine minutes of Star Trek Into Darkness, and if Khan is not the bad guy, then it’s sure taking its cues from the movie; Michael Giacchino references the score and Spock says “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” in the opening. That plus the Wrath of Khan references in the trailer pretty much clinch it: either Benedict Cumberbatch is Khan, or he’s somebody similar, as Khan was just one of several genetic supermen.
This is a terrible idea, especially since it’s potentially cheek and jowl with a great one: Using Khan to his full potential.
Not to slander the superb Ricardo Montalban, but Khan is, in the franchise, very much an implied badass. We hear a lot about his incredibly tactical ability, his rampages across Earth, and his enormous genetically engineered strength, but we don’t actually see much of the latter two, and the former is limited to a brief series of spaceship battles. That’s what happens when you’re in one episode and your movie is essentially a series of conference calls. There just wasn’t the budget to establish what Khan was like before he got on the Botany Bay.
It’s to the credit of Wrath of Khan and Montalban that none of this actually matters, but it does leave a lot of room to take the character. And, if the implications of the teaser are correct, we’ll see a lot of Khan (or not-Khan) kicking ass, which is great.
Not so great is invoking Wrath of Khan at every turn, because frankly, Nicholas Meyer is an Oscar-winning screenwriter and respected director, and the closest Abrams will get to an Oscar is seeing someone else’s in a museum.
The Star Trek reboot was good for what it was, a dumb action movie. You can’t really expect much more out of Abrams: His answer to everything, be it logical inconsistency or character motivation problem, is “STOP THINKING SO HARD IT’S A MOVIE.”
The problem is that Wrath of Khan isn’t an action movie, per se. It’s a submarine thriller with themes of aging and sacrifice, heavily interleaved with literary references, and largely built on its actors. The basic thrust of the movie is that everybody on the Bridge has been at this for a couple of decades and this stuff is starting to get old.
Star Trek Into Darkness just can’t pull that off. Chris Pine isn’t too old for this crap. Hell, the press materials keep insisting the crew is a “family”, which is a bit much. And invoking it at every turn seems to be, at best, a bad idea.
But fighting a genetic superman waging war against the Federation? Hell yeah, go for it. There’s nothing wrong with rebooting Khan: Just don’t try to claim greatness by proxy for doing it.