Prior to the announcement of the Disney/Lucasfilm buyout and the new Star Wars films that were to follow, the subject of who Benedict Cumberbatch is playing in Star Trek Into Darkness has easily been one of the most-discussed pop culture subjects of the last year. Early images from the film labeled Cumberbatch’s character as “John Harrison,” but that did little to slow fan speculation (us included) that the British actor might secretly be playing a new version of Khan, or Gary Mitchell, or Robert April…and the list goes on. But why was it so important to the folks behind Into Darkness that Cumberbatch’s possible dual identity remain secret? Was it just a case of not wanting to spoil the film’s surprises, or was there more to it?
Speaking to Collider, Star Trek Into Darkness co-writer Damon Lindelof explains why the veil of secrecy around Cumberbatch’s role is still in place, a mere two months away from the film’s release:
The audience needs to have the same experience that the crew is having. Kirk, you’re Spock, you’re McCoy, so if they don’t know who the bad guy is going to be in the movie, then you shouldn’t know. It’s not just keeping the secret for secrecy’s sake. It’s not giving the audience information that the characters don’t have.
That’s a reasonable enough argument, but even assuming that’s the absolute truth, you have to wonder if all this cloak and dagger business will make the eventual reveal of Cumberbatch’s identity — assuming there is one and he isn’t just some dude named John Harrison — massively anticlimactic. No matter what Harrison’s secret identity may be, it’s inevitably going to irritate some segment of the Trek fandom that was convinced he would be somebody else. And as for the more casual viewer who mainly got roped into Trek by Abrams’ reboot, they’re not going to know or care particularly who Harrison may or may not be. Hopefully Into Darkness’ script will be strong enough not to hinge entirely on Cumberbatch’s big reveal…but given how many script problems 2009’s Star Trek had, that’s far from a foregone conclusion.
And then of course there’s another possibility. If Cumberbatch truly is playing Khan (and for the record, I don’t think he is), many devout, long-time Trekkers are already going to be inclined to hate the film. Who knows, maybe Abrams and company have found a masterful way to put a new spin on the iconic Trek villain, but given how good Ricardo Montalban’s performance of the character was in The Wrath of Khan, many fans consider the prospect of an Abrams reboot of Khan to be unnecessary at best, outright sacrilege at worst. So if Cumberbatch is Khan, it’s in the Into Darkness camp’s best interest to keep that secret as long as possible, so Trekkers armed with torches and pitchforks don’t have several months in which to scream for Abrams’ head on a platter.