Fans and Abrams haters alike have been eagerly waiting for any hints at all about what we’ll see in the upcoming sequel, Star Trek Into Darkness (albeit for very different reasons). We’ve been baited by Abrams’ infamous three-frame “teaser” and we’ve speculated endlessly about the identity of the villain played by Benedict Cumberbatch, but the production has been incredibly effective at preventing leaks so far. Now the official synopsis for Star Trek Into Darkness has been released, and we finally have some real information…at least enough to set off an entirely new round of guess-work and hypothesizing.
Here’s the synopsis, straight from Paramount. It’s not super-spoilery, but if you don’t want to know the broad plot of the sequel, click away now.
In Summer 2013, pioneering director J.J. Abrams will deliver an explosive action thriller that takes Star Trek Into Darkness. When the crew of the Enterprise is called back home, they find an unstoppable force of terror from within their own organization has detonated the fleet and everything it stands for, leaving our world in a state of crisis.
With a personal score to settle, Captain Kirk leads a manhunt to a war-zone world to capture a one man weapon of mass destruction. As our heroes are propelled into an epic chess game of life and death, love will be challenged, friendships will be torn apart, and sacrifices must be made for the only family Kirk has left: his crew.
Whoever Cumberbatch is playing, he’s clearly a force to be reckoned with, but what can we conclude from the brief synopsis? So far the two front-runners for Cumberbatch’s role are Khan, unforgettably played by Ricardo Montalban in the Original Series and Star Trek II, and the incredibly powerful psychic Gary Mitchell, played by Gary Lockwood in the episode “Where No Man Has Gone Before.” Does this description suggest one or the other, assuming it references either of them in the first place?
The Khan rumors have simply refused to die throughout the production, in spite of various people in the film’s camp downplaying or outright denying that the iconic Trek character is the villain of Star Trek Into Darkness. Then again, that’s almost certainly what they would say if Khan was the sequel’s bad guy, especially since the rumor has stirred up all manner of fanboy outrage since it first began circulating. If Khan is indeed their secret villain, playing the denial game could theoretically delay the torches and pitchforks until the movie is out and fans can judge Abrams’ take on the character for themselves, instead of basing their reactions on unconfirmed rumors.
That being said…I’ve been skeptical about the Khan rumors from the get-go, and nothing in this synopsis is changing my mind. The villain is described as a “one man weapon of mass destruction.” Khan’s genetically enhanced qualities certainly make him a formidable opponent, but I’m not sure he matches that description. While he could easily toss you across the room, his strength was always his intellect and cunning. Sure, the “WMD” description could be referring to those talents, but that just doesn’t ring true to me based on the synopsis. Also, it seems to be at the very least suggesting that the villain of Into Darkness is a Starfleet officer gone rogue. That tracks with early rumors and the shots of Cumberbatch wearing what looks to be a variant on the Starfleet uniform in set photos. Assuming that’s correct, it would mean, at the very least, this new version of Khan will be a very different character than the one we’ve seen before. And hey, if they’re redoing Khan, they’d probably be wise not to even try to out-Khan Montalban’s version, but instead serve up an entirely different take on the character.
So how about Gary Mitchell? He’s a Starfleet officer, so that fits, and he’s also a close friend of Kirk. That would add an element of betrayal, and Mitchell would most definitely give Kirk a “personal score to settle.” In the original episode, Mitchell was powered up after exposure to the mysterious energy barrier surrounding our galaxy (at least in Trek lore). In addition to granting Mitchell near-godlike powers, it also swiftly eroded his morality, handily proving that old “absolute power corrupts absolutely” adage. If Cumberbatch is playing Mitchell, the synopsis suggests his “origin story” will be presented differently, or will be changed entirely. The synopsis makes it sound like his actions against Starfleet will occur early in the movie, suggesting he’ll either already have his powers from the start or will acquire them very early into the movie.
Either way, a powered-up Mitchell would clearly count as an “unstoppable force of terror” and a “one man weapon of mass destruction,” certainly more so than Khan. However…Star Trek Into Darkness co-writer Roberto Orci has outright said that Mitchell isn’t the guy…but Karl Urban outright said he was. Then again, Urban doesn’t exactly have the most reliable track record when it comes to this sort of thing.
Based on what we know, if we’re trying to determine whether the villain will be Khan or Mitchell…my best guess right now is Mitchell. He fits the available evidence better, Cumberbatch seems more of the Gary Mitchell “type,” and in spite of everything I’m still not convinced Abrams and company are dumb enough to play the Khan card, at least not this soon into the revivified franchise.
However…let’s consider a third possibility, one people don’t seem to be talking about much lately. Who’s to say the villain is either Khan or Mitchell in the first place? After all, nothing has been confirmed, so bottom line, all the rumors out there are simply that: rumors. And while people involved with the production have hinted at both Khan and Mitchell at various points, would it really surprise anybody if Abrams and company had been engaging in a disinformation campaign just to build buzz for the film even further? I mean, if you want to make sure people are talking about Trek 2 for all the months leading up to its release, one of the surest tactics would be to slyly encourage rumors that you’re about to try to one-up the most iconic villain in all of Trek-dom.
So: Is Cumberbatch playing Khan? I really doubt it at this point. Mitchell? I think he just might be. But I wouldn’t be surprised at all if we all wind up with egg on our faces next year when Abrams and company introduce us to Cumberbatch in the role of…somebody else entirely.
We’ll get our next major glimpse at Star Trek Into Darkness on December 14th, when Paramount is attaching a nine-minute preview of the flick to the front of IMAX screenings of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. The first official trailer for the film will also be attached to regular prints of The Hobbit. As for the film itself, we’ll have to wait until it hits theaters on May 17, 2013.