Archive for July, 2013

Bizarro Khan and Life After William Shatner

Posted in Theater of the Absurd on July 21, 2013 by onlookerslowdown

The most resonant quality about the Star Trek series is that it always poses questions that demand an answer. There are way too many movies, shows, songs, books and other art forms that package the answer for us. Voldemort was always headed to the scrap pile of literary villains; Claire was always going to find Lorenzo in Letters to Juliet. You might say that Khan was headed into some form of incarceration from the beginning as well, but the questions that arise along the way are what make this a compelling story.

Before we really start, though, it’s worth noting that Benedict Cumberbatch possesses none of the swagger of the real Khan, one of Ricardo Montalban’s signature roles. In this clip, Khan is about to find out what he wants to know from Chekhov and another crew member.

Cumberbatch’s Khan is somewhat impressive, at least in terms of his ability to shoot Klingons, but his delivery is a little bit on the emo side. True, he has been frozen for quite a while, but Montalban’s mastery of the hubris that is an important part of playing a genetically superior warrior does not emerge in Cumberbatch’s handling of the role.

It’s true that this Khan is trying to worm his way into the sympathies of the crew of the Enterprise so that he can take over the bridge of that giant new starship that the Federation has created, the Vengeance. It is worth wondering what makes Chris Pine’s Kirk distrust Khan, but it is also worth noting that Khan does not unleash his violent side until after Kirk has stunned him to the floor of the bridge of the “enemy” Federation ship.

The questions that this movie asks are not new ones — not even new to the Star Trek series. Admiral Marcus has secretly built the Vengeance to bring war with the Klingons; in Star Trek: Insurrection, Admiral Dougherty had hatched a secret plan to harness the eternal youth that the Bak’u enjoyed; in Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country, elements within the Federation, Romulan and other powers try to use the destruction of the ozone layer on the Klingon home planet to eradicate their civilization rather than establish a lasting peace.

Of course, the production of Into Darkness has progressed to the point where we no longer have the great F. Murray Abraham made to look like an extremely annoyed Eeyore, as appears in Insurrection:

The questions that the Star Trek franchise has thrust at us are the same ones that have been around since the beginning of time, but they are also the same ones that we still haven’t answered —

  • What does power mean?
  • What is the best way to use power?
  • If you have power over others, what should you do with it?
  • Why is it so difficult to find peace?
  • What are the impulses with in us, as individuals, that make these questions so difficult to resolve?

Caught in a quandary deep in Klingon territory, Chris Pine’s Kirk tells his crewmates, “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. I only know what I can do.” This is certainly a starting point when it comes to dealing with these questions.

Which brings me to the final observation. After the Star Trek reboot, I was not convinced that Pine was the one to carry what has been one of film’s most estimable roles forward — that of James Tiberius Kirk. After all, Shatner still rocks Priceline, and it was not that long ago that he was earning awards as Denny Crane. His booming voice, reckless certainty, and indestructibleness are still a major part of our culture.

Pine, though, appears finally ready to take the Enterprise on his own missions. His speech at the end of In Darkness, following his own resurrection, suggests that not only is this rebooted Kirk ready to take on a five-year voyage free of the baggage of the original stories — after all, we’ve already seen the alternative realities of Kirk and Spock’s origins, and having to deal with Khan — making the next set of adventures clearly his own. Pine looks ready to carry the role all the way.