Who Is Benedict Cumberbatch Playing in the New Star Trek Movie?
Ever since it was announced that there’d be a sequel to J.J. Abrams’s Star Trek, the entirety of the internet (at least the parts not dedicated to pictures of cats and My Little Pony fanfic) has been a-swirl with speculation as to who the villain was going to be. What follows is even more speculation. And we will be talking about casting notices, actor interviews, and set photos that have already been floating around the internet for months, so if any of those make you say “OMG spoilerz!” then it’s probably best you skip the rest of this and go back to the aforementioned Ponies.
Let’s start with what we absolutely know for certain. One: the main big bad will be played by Benedict Cumberbatch, the English actor best known for being Sherlock. Two: he’ll be working alongside a secondary bad guy, described as a “villainous C.E.O. type,” who will be played by RoboCop. Or Peter Weller, if you insist on using actual actor’s names. Three: from the few on-set photos that have surfaced, we know that Cumberbatch’s character looks human, and that at some point in the movie he’s going to fight Spock. A veritable glut of information to work with, clearly. The other thing we’ve been told is that Klingons will play some kind of role, somewhere, at some point in the story.
Here are some ideas about who, specifically, Cumberbatch is playing.
Khan: The rumor that refuses to die is that Cumberbatch will be playing Khan, the genetically-augmented despot played by Ricardo Montalban in the original series episode “Space Seed” and the 1982 movie Star Trek II: The Wrath of... I don’t remember who was wrathing in that one. Khan is probably the most recognizable villain from original-generation Trek—nasty, loquacious, and in the film, ab-tacular. Talk that he’d appear in the new movie began pretty much the day the movie was announced, and picked up even more steam when it looked like the “villain” role would be going to Benicio Del Toro. As of right now, it’s looking like this isn’t going to be the case, with Scotty actor Simon Pegg saying quite explicitly in a recent interview, “It’s not Khan. That’s a myth. Everyone’s saying it is, but it’s not.”
On top of that, Khan as the villain seems kind of a silly choice, with little rationale to it beyond the fact that the film is Star Trek 2. The 2009 Star Trek went out of its way to establish that it was a whole new universe, not beholden to how events happened in the original timeline. Heck, they blew up—or imploded, if you want to nitpick—the planet Vulcan just to make that point. To then go and just repeat the original series of movies would seem to defeat the entire purpose. So what else we got?
Harry Mudd: There’s been some rumors that the villain will be a familiar character, and the only other recurring antagonist from the original series was Harry Mudd, a con man played by Roger C. Carmel in the episodes “Mudd’s Women” and “I, Mudd.” In the former episode, the Enterprise crew bust him trying to run a mail-order bride scam; in the latter, he accidentally becomes “ruler” of a planet of androids intent on galactic conquest. While it would be great to see Mudd return to Star Trek, it seems astronomically unlikely that this is the character Cumberbatch is playing. To start with, Mudd is a liar, a cheat, and a thief, but the one thing he is definitely not is a fighter. It wouldn’t make any sense at all for him to be engaging Spock in a fistfight. Also, the ‘09 film established that while the timeline has been rebooted, the characters are all essentially the same—and Harcourt Fenton Mudd is a much fatter and more gloriously-mustached fellow than Benedict Cumberbatch. This one should probably be consigned to the trash bin of silly ideas. Now, if it was Paul Giamatti who’d been cast as the villain, that would be a whole other story altogether.
Kang, Kor, or Koloth: The big three Klingon villains from the original series appeared in only one episode each, but came back as older men in episodes of Deep Space Nine. As we already mentioned, Klingons are supposed to play a larger role in this film, and Benedict Cumberbatch only looks human in the photos we’ve seen. Remember, during the time of the original series, Klingons didn’t have the ridged foreheads they’re most recognized for today (due mostly to the original series’ limited budget, but then later rationalized in an Enterprise episode as resulting from a failed experiment to genetically augment Klingons in a similar manner to—wait for it—Khan). Cumberbatch could easily be playing one of these guys, any one of whom would be a fair match for Spock.
Gary Mitchell: Lieutenant Commander Mitchell, played by Gary Lockwood, appeared in the very first Star Trek episode with Captain Kirk, “Where No Man Has Gone Before.” (This was after the first, rejected pilot episode starring Jeffrey Hunter as Captain Pike.) Mitchell was an old Academy rival-turned-friend of Kirk’s with very mild telepathic abilities, who came to serve aboard the Enterprise. After the Enterprise traveled through a mysterious energy field at the edge of the galaxy, Mitchell’s psychic powers grew and grew, becoming an almost godlike (or Q-like) ability, while at the same time he grew increasingly hateful and violent. Mitchell was the first real Star Trek villain, and it would be really interesting to see what Abrams and company would do with the character. They wouldn’t even be under any pressure to repeat the “galactic barrier” part of the story: there’s a lot of mileage to be had with an old rival with ESP. Not to mention, in this timeline, Kirk breezed through the Academy in record time. It’s possible he and Mitchell never had the chance to become friends.
A different “augment”: The thing with those Khan rumors is that they just refuse to go away. But you’ll note that all the denials have focused on Benedict Cumberbatch, and how he is not playing Khan. Who’s to say nobody else is? Maybe it’s Peter Weller’s unnamed, and I might add as-of-yet unseen, character that is actually Khan? And maybe the way things play out in this timeline, Khan gets taken out of the picture earlier, and it’s one of his lieutenants who steps up as the big bad? This kind of deliberate thwarting of expectations would seem par for the course for Abrams, writer Damon Lindelof, and crew. Killing off Khan early would throw as big a wrench into original-timeline continuity as destroying Vulcan did, while still allowing Kirk to face off against a similarly-augmented villain.
The one thing we know about Benedict Cumberbatch’s character is that no one’s telling us who he is, so all we’ve got for now are guesses. And with almost a year to go before the new film comes out, that may be all we have for quite some time.