Spoiler Alert!: J.J. Abrams, Star Trek, And The Non-Surprise Surprise

The second biggest mystery in Into Darkness: Why does Alice Eve strip to her underwear in this scene?
The second biggest mystery in Into Darkness: Why does Alice Eve strip to her underwear in this scene?

Before we get in to the nuts and bolts of Star Trek Into Darkness, let us take a moment to see what the studio behind the film wants us to believe the movie is about:

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.

Now, because this is a J.J. Abrams flick, we all knew that we were going to have to take this synopsis with a grain of salt. At least it gave fans something to spend the run up to the movie debating about: who is this "one man weapon of mass destruction?"

The answer ended up being Khan, but the reality of the situation was that the answer was always going to be Khan. Oh sure, it might be fun to speculate that the villain of Into Darkness was going to be someone else, but now that Star Trek has gone mainstream the only way to truly take things up a notch in the sequel was to make the bad guy the biggest bad guy around.

That begs the question: why go through the trouble of keeping a character like Khan a secret? Why not put that fact out front and center in the official synopsis, the trailers, and the rest of the marketing campaign? It seems like a lot of people would be really jazzed to see the rebooted Trek characters taking on the original Trek's greatest enemy.

There are two schools of thought here:

1. The "J.J. Abrams Loves A Good Mystery" Theory

Everyone knows that Abrams has a thing about mysteries. Lost was about an island with more mysteries than the detective fiction section of your local library. Mystery made up the entire advertising campaign behind the Abrams produced Cloverfield. Mystery was the subject of his Ted Talk.

It is entirely possible that Abrams and company thought the film needed a serious "Holy shit!" moment, one provided by the revelation that the heroes were not just going up against a terrorist, but that they were going up against the most dangerous man in the galaxy.

2. The "How Can We Avoid Whitewashing Accusations?" Theory

In the original Star Trek Khan was played by Mexican actor Ricardo Montalbán. In Into Darkness he's played by British actor Benedict Cumberbatch. The character, as discussed in the original series, is supposed to be of North Indian ancestry. There's a very interesting discussion to be had about the casting of Khan that's been largely swept under the rug (but not completely) because no one wants to be the jerk who spoils the movie.

Could hiding the true identity of the character Cumberbatch plays be a way to avoid the negative talk and cries of whitewashing (having white actors play non-white characters)? Perhaps, but that requires one to hold some very cynical opinions on the situation.


Flashback: Reviews For The Easily Distracted: Star Trek Into Darkness

It's easier to believe that the answer is closer to school number one. Abrams wanted a mystery, and the way the script plays out it's obvious that the Khan revelation is supposed to be a "Holy shit!" moment for the audience. That it helped avoid any unpleasant talk of whitewashing was most likely just an added bonus.

No matter what theory you subscribe to, the simple fact is that the mystery just doesn't work. Long time Star Trek fans had always suspected that Khan was going to end up being the big bad for the film, thus making the reveal less a surprise and more an overdramatic show of something they already knew. Newer Trek fans, the ones who may have loved the '09 reboot but never got in to the deeper backstory of the show, have no reason to care about the reveal; to them the name Khan means nothing.

It's the worst kind of pandering because it only exists to make one specific group of people happy while running the risk of alienating the rest of the audience. Why introduce a character organically and give him purpose when you can have him coast by on a past that half the audience doesn't know anything about?

If there is anything to take away from Into Darkness, it might just be that Star Wars fans may need to temper their expectations for Episode 7, which Abrams will be directing.

Consider this: the third act of Into Darkness plays like a drunk karaoke version of all the best parts of Wrath Of Khan; the parts are all there, but they're watered down versions of the thing you love and don't make a lot of sense.

What's the biggest "holy shit!" moment in Star Wars? The Vader/Luke father/son revelation from The Empire Strikes Back. I'm scared to think of how Abrams is going to try and top/pay tribute to that.

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