A Quick Thought on Star Trek Into Darkness

StarTrekIntoDarkness_FinalUSPoster

Finally got around to seeing Star Trek Into Darkness this weekend.  I liked it quite a lot.  Had a few problems, but on the balance, I recommend it.  Since it’s been out for a few weeks now, I’m not sure if I’ll do a full review, but there is something I want to talk about.

In a lot of ways, I think JJ Abrams gave us a better Khan than Gene Roddenberry ever did.  The original Khan was dangerously charismatic.  This Khan plays mind games with Vulcans and has a Starfleet Admiral saying “Aw, shit, you talked to him.”

The original Khan was a brilliant strategist who cost Our Heroes dearly.  This Khan is constantly three steps ahead of his unmodified opponents, luring a large portion of the Star Fleet High Command into a deathtrap.  He also designs a warship with technology three hundred years beyond his time, keeping every bolt and rivet in his head as he does so.

The original Khan was tougher than Kirk.  This Khan is a terrifying, unstoppable monster.  On Qo’Nos, we see him using a gun that looks like it should be mounted on a vehicle with one hand, shooting down Klingon warbirds.  He crushes skulls with his bare hands (indeed, it seems to be his favorite finishing move).  He shrugs off the Vulcan nerve pinch.  Has anyone, in the history of Trek, ever done that?  Then, when he’s in the midst of beating Spock to death (let’s read that again: Khan, a human, albeit a genetically modified one, is killing a Vulcan with his bare hands), he takes multiple stuns to the vitals from about five feet away…and he keeps coming.  My more Trek-savvy readers please advise me: isn’t hitting someone with a Stun at that range a viable murder tactic in the Trek universe?  “Stunning” the organs or nervous system into non-functionality or something like that?  And he keeps coming.

The fucker is Jason Voorhees with a genius IQ and the ability to run.  He’s everything a genetically-modified evil overlord should be.  If Abrams wants, he can use Khan to cast a shadow over the rest of the series, however long it may run.  Everyone’s greatest fear will be Khan waking up again, especially if he can wake his crew. 

I love me a good villain or monster, and Khan is both.  As you can tell, he’s a big part of the reason I enjoyed the movie so much.  There’s just one problem.  Just one, but I’m afraid it was such a big one that it jolted my suspension of disbelief and kept nibbling at the edges of it for the rest of the movie:

Why on Earth is a man named Khan Noonien Singh played by someone as white as Benedict Cumberbatch?

The name “Singh” is Sikh or Hindu.  The name Khan…shouldn’t really be a personal name.  It’s a title or surname.  Anyway, it was originally Mongol, but now it’s mostly Muslim.  That bit of bad research makes the character’s ethnicity a bit difficult to track, but I understand that he’s confirmed as Sikh in the literature. 

Come on, Abrams, are you seriously telling me that you couldn’t find a single Indian actor who could do Khan?  Benedict Cumberbatch is a great actor, he really is.  He spends much of the movie being ice-cold, then when Khan finally breaks, he becomes a roaring beast.  During the battle in the Vengeance‘s control room, when he’s in the process of killing Admiral Marcus, his cry of “You should have let me sleep” has such…texture.  There’s rage, grief and loss at having his crew kidnapped, perhaps even a bit of genuine regret that the horror that is himself has been unleashed on the world again.  But come on.  You couldn’t find a single Indian actor of the same quality?  At least in the Sixties, Roddenberry had the excuse that being allowed to have a brown man of any nationality to play a brown character was a difficult feat.  What’s your excuse?  I’m all for making quality the first criteria, but how many chances do Indian actors really get in Hollywood for a part this meaty?

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “A Quick Thought on Star Trek Into Darkness

  1. I had a bunch of fun with this because it never lost me, no matter what subplot it tried to develop next. Let’s hope that Abrams keeps this warm-streak going with Star Wars. Good review.

    • Thanks. And yes, it does seem that Abrams has a talent to for weaving subplots skillfully. After Lost, he’d better.

      I wish him the best of luck on Star Wars, and I suspect he’ll come through, but I think I’ll stick to the original trilogy. It’s a perfect, contained story, and it doesn’t need sequels. Or prequels. That have Midi-Chlorians in them.

      • as140

        “It’s a perfect, contained story, and it doesn’t need sequels. Or prequels.”

        Well in thwe originals there were always hints at the backstory. Plus George Lucas gave Empire Strikes Back the subtitle episode 5 when it was published first. It would have been odd to not make the prequels.

  2. I’m a Warsie at heart, but a shot of quality Trek now & again hasn’t steered me wrong. So far I’m liking Abrams’ spin on the franchise, though precisely one element of Khan-II’s intro niggled for me: that Ominous Orchestral Blare(C). In light of (a) the quasi-benevolent subterfuge accompanying said intro and (b) Cumberbatch’s initial chill, subtler strings would’ve gone down far smoother in my admittedly patchy book.

    That said, while replicating certain plot-aspects of WoK’s climax with a bit more rail-hanging & character-swappage might not be the most original decision, it lent grade-A fuel to the Spock/Khan-II vendetta. One apparently loses the remainder of his people plus gets his spanking new battlewagon gutted in the same ploy, and the other has his own command mangled, its total loss barely averted by the sacrifice of one of the select few sapient beings he’s ever befriended. That’s some quality mutual wrath built up, and hot damn did it show.

    As for the implications of Khan’s name…in-universe, all I can figure is that the onus of Earth’s various & sundry cultural barriers might have finally frayed somewhat with the development of interplanetary travel-and establishment of relations, however strained, with other sapient species. That said, for all the racial & taxonomical variety seen on Big E’s bridge & elsewhere, Trek as a whole could use a few more non-Caucasian faces among the primary cast-iconic antagonists included. Plus, Hollywood well & truly needs to drop that Pesky IT/Telemarketer stereotype.

    • Actually, I really liked the rail-hanging, since it showed they had put some actual thought into the nature of the Enterprise’s artificial gravity, and what happens when it goes out. When the artificial gravity is on, “Down” is toward the deck, no matter which way the Enterprise turns. But with the artificial gravity out, “Down” was toward the Earth. They could have just shown that with some random tumbling and shifting, as you get in a plane or boat that’s getting tossed around too much. But I liked the idea that as the Enterprise tumbled, the very concept of “Down” changed as its relationship to Earth did.

      The fall of Earth’s cultural barriers certainly could explain Khan’s name (and religion). Indeed, that’s how Firefly explained two white actors having the very Chinese surname “Tam”. It…wasn’t really satisfying there, either. As you say, it would be better if they could get some (human) diversity on the bridge, though it is good that our two tokens are getting to be more awesome than their previous selves.

      And God yes, the IT/Telemarketer must go.

      • Whoops, guess I ‘sounded’ more dismissive than intended re: the peas-in-a-whirling-pod aspect of Big E’s drop. That bit of physics-application was definitely a fresh step beyond the customary jolting decks & sparking consoles. Hell, now I’m wondering how Starfleet repair teams could tend to system failures in such circumstances: magnetic footwear? Personal anti-grav units? KP-style jetpacks?

        I take it you’re referring to Uhura & Sulu? Damn skippy. I’m pretty close to sold on Simon Pegg’s Scotty as well, though his infiltration of the Venegeance project could’ve been a bit more tensely handled.

        Ah, speaking of Wars: apparently in addition to the Abrams touch, there’s an animated series set in the O.T. era scheduled for fall of 2014. Can’t exactly blame you for opting out given the prequel nonsense, but my EU-junkie tendencies seem liable to suck me back in.

        • Yep, I’m talking about Uhura and Sulu. You look at TOS, and Sulu does all right for a secondary character, but they just didn’t know what to do with Uhura.

          As for repairing the artificial gravity, I suspect it depends on the situation: if they’re not falling into a gravity well, they can probably just use the same magnetic boots they use for EVA. If they’re falling into a gravity well like they were in the movie and they’re less awesome than the Enterprise crew? They die.

  3. as140

    “In a lot of ways, I think JJ Abrams gave us a better Khan than Gene Roddenberry ever did.”

    No. We see much more of Khan´s intellect in WOK. And the theme of revenge and death is giving the old version of the character more depth.

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