Benedict Cumberbatch, J.J. Abrams Talk ‘Star Trek Into Darkness’ Villain

Published 2 years ago by

star trek 2 poster Benedict Cumberbatch, J.J. Abrams Talk Star Trek Into Darkness Villain

We had thought that once the first teaser trailer for Star Trek Into Darkness was released, some of the nagging questions about its plot and cast could be answered. The individual pieces of the story seem to have been described in greater detail, but how they’ll fit together into a single mission is now more clouded than ever.

Benedict Cumberbatch’s main antagonist, ‘John Harrison,’ is out for vengeance, and will pose a very physical and mental threat to Kirk, Spock, and the rest of Starfleet. Cumberbatch recently opened up about his new villainous exploits, and why he thinks the audience may come to empathize with this vengeful ‘terrorist’ by the end. Director J.J. Abrams isn’t even ready to call the villain a ‘bad guy.’

While Cumberbatch’s character may now have a ‘name,’ that isn’t stopping the speculation on whether or not the Gary Mitchell and/or Khan rumors will turn out to be accurate. MTV tried to get a direct answer out of J.J. Abrams on exactly who may or may not have served as inspiration for Harrison, with Abrams evading the question entirely, and reminding fans that the performance, not the name is what’s key:

“Rather than answer anything that would give away the fun of the movie, I would say that the character that Benedict plays, he brings such an incredible power to it. His voice alone, I actually as a joke should have had him read the lunch menu…He makes anything sound great and brings such a force to it that hopefully when you see the movie, this character, all speculation aside, will be really compelling. Not because of any connection to anything past, but because of who he is and what he brings to it.”

The official plot synopsis for Into Darkness implied that Cumberbatch’s character wouldn’t be completely motivated by hate and selfish destruction, as Eric Bana’s Romulan foe was in Star Trek (2009). Bana’s Nero was a functional villain, but first and foremost a misinformed terrorist. Everything we’ve heard about Star Trek Into Darkness to this point makes us believe that Kurtzman, Orci and Lindelof have something with more depth planned.

Star Trek Into Darkness Image 570x379 Benedict Cumberbatch, J.J. Abrams Talk Star Trek Into Darkness Villain

In speaking with MTV, Cumberbatch and Zachary Quinto revealed that John Harrison is a similar threat in some ways, but is nothing if not complicated. Cumberbatch explains his own view of the ‘iconic’ new villain:

“He’s a terrorist; he operates as a terrorist. He has extraordinary physical powers, but also mental powers. He can sow an idea, which is as powerful as gunshots or close-hand combat, which he’s masterful in. He tears into the fabric of both the world and the Enterprise family, and he leaves behind him a trail of devastation. It’s quite exciting to watch.”

“Giving away the full motivation would ruin it, but it’s personal. It’s also political, I think. He’s somebody who, at some point in the film, you should feel a certain amount of empathy towards his cause, if not his means. … There’s no two-dimensional obstacle he presents purely and simply by the fact that he’s opposing our hero. He has an interesting relationship with Kirk, and with Spock in a way. He very much plays them off against each other. There’s an element of shadow to him and Kirk.”

Harrison’s ability to leave a “trail of devastation” was evident from the first Into Darkness poster, but it’s his ability to turn the officers of Starfleet against one another that has us intrigued. A battle of philosophies and morality would also be considered as a way for Into Darkness to (as Damon Lindelof put it) “go beyond” the original, as The Dark Knight did for Batman Begins.

Quinto reiterated Cumberbatch’s description of John Harrison, attributing the villain’s “insidiousness, ruthlessness and fierce intelligence” as the main opposing force. An idea spread among the crew of the Enterprise could be far more damaging than any swing of a sword or photon torpedo, so it’s good to hear that Harrison’s danger won’t end when he isn’t leaping about. And perhaps most importantly, the villain’s convictions are what will drive the plot and engage audiences, not action set pieces alone.

Benedict Cumberbatch Star Trek 2 Benedict Cumberbatch, J.J. Abrams Talk Star Trek Into Darkness Villain

The dedication and at least partially admirable – or at least understandable – motivations of the villain that Cumberbatch speaks of are what Abrams thinks will pay off on screen:

“The whole thing, not just his backstory, but his agenda, his plan, his secret, all that is what, for me at least, makes him such a frightening and cool villain…Also, the real villains — when they’re not just two-dimensional, angry vengeful types — don’t see themselves as the bad guy. They are the good guy and have complete rationale and motivation. So true to form, the character that Benedict plays has an absolute sense of right and wrong, and he’s on the right side.”

As a final disclaimer, Abrams reminds the world that Star Trek fans are not the only group that he and his crew hope to please. Surprisingly, those in charge of the film aren’t even assuming that the first reboot’s momentum should be taken into account. For Abrams, they’ve still got work to do, and aren’t content to rest on the accumulated fan base just yet:

“This movie was not made for ‘Star Trek’ fans; it was made for movie fans. But if you’re a ‘Star Trek’ fan, I think you’ll be really happy…There’s a lot of stuff in here for you, but we couldn’t just make the movie only for fans of ‘Star Trek.’ The thing about the movie that I love also is that we didn’t even make it for fans of the first movie we did. A lot of sequels I’ve seen tend to assume you love the characters and know them really well and get things off to a fast start where you don’t have any sense of investing in the characters in the beginning, so we tried to treat this as a movie that works on its own. Certainly it’s a sequel, certainly if you saw the first movie, great. You don’t have to have seen the first film. This movie is its own thing, and there are definitely nods to prior ‘Trek’ lore in the film.”

Few might expect such a colossal sequel to be starting from square one, but given the reasoning, it’s hard to disagree. What do you think of the approach to Into Darkness, and its central villain? Would you prefer to see a character taken from the original series, or a brand new creation without any of the baggage? Sound off in the comments.

Star Trek Into Darkness opens in theaters (regular and IMAX 3D) on May 17th, 2013.


Follow Rob on Twitter @rob_keyes.

Source: MTV (via CBM)

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  1. I’ll give J.J. Abrams high marks for ambition
    to boldly go where no sequel has gone before
    but whether or not it gets there is yet to be seen.

    • May i ask what is so ambitious? Not by any means trying to argue just curious on your thoughts.

      • Attempting to make a sequel that stands independently
        in its own right with a supervillain more villainous than
        previous who just might be super and basically trying
        for bigger and better rather than playing it safe.

        • I agree.

        • Fanboys for months – “It’s Khan!” “It’s Gary Mitchell!”

          No, it’s John Harrison.


          • I suspect ‘John Harrison’ will be an alias Cumberbatch’s character at one point uses, or perhaps even a birth name, but it won’t be the name he is known by for the vast majority of the film.

            • Yep. The name “reveal” is not any reveal at all.

  2. It’s Gary Mitchell and I’m sticking with that I just don’t think they would develop a new Villain. Paramount is blowing smoke and that’s what I think pure smoke and it’s clearly working because Trekkers are actually somewhat settling on the Idea that it’s some random guy named John Harrison.

    It’s Gary Mitchell

    The writers said clear as day that this Villain was canon and John Harrison is not canon the words are in front of you.

    • I don’t see how Khan Noonien Singh is the character Benedict Cumberbatch is reprising.

      It’s very important to note that Benicio Del Toro was the first character courted to play Khan. During this time it was pretty much confirmed that he would, in fact, be cast as Khan.

      Del Toro and Khan both share a common ancestry that is key. Ricardo Montalban, who first played Khan, shared this common trait as well.

      I’ve always viewed Khan’s character as unique. There’s a reason why Del Toro was sought out to play Khan in the first place. (Also the fact that he’s a stellar actor.)

      Given these realities, it just doesn’t add up. From what we’ve seen thus far, Cumberbatch clearly is a member of the Federation.

      But what’s also very intriguing is that there isn’t anything to factor in how Peter Weller’s character fits in. Is Weller merely playing a small role that doesn’t even fit into the larger scheme of things? I doubt it.

      Abrams, Kurtzman, Orci and Lindelof must be having a great time as we all agonize over who the villain is. For now, the laugh is on us!

      But I’m going out on a limb here. I say that Cumberbatch IS Gary Mitchell or SOME incarnation of that character. We shall see….

      • Del Toro was never confirmed to play Khan.

      • I’m kind of hoping that Weller is reprising his ST:E role.
        And Cumberbatch is playing Phillip Green.

      • “pretty much confirmed”? No, you are mistaken. Only the opposite was ever implied. However, the casting of Del Toro and other Montalban-esque actors raises questions, as does the radical change in actor heritage that is the current villain.

        Also it is a mistake to assume the villain is in Starfleet. We have had lots of occaisions where a non-Starfleet character or villain wears a uniform or two. This includes shapeshifters, double agents, a stimulant, the founders, Q, and folks who just need a clean change of clothes. The last category, by the way, includes Khan.

        That being said… Yeah, I bet he’s in Starflleet. Still, it is an assumption, not a certainty at all.

    • Whiel I’m still convinced that John Harrison is Gary Mitchell, something else caught my attention that I wasn’t aware of until now…

      Peter Weller has a yet unnamed role himself, and as many could point out he had a role in Enterprise for 2 Episodes playing Anti-Alien Corporate Mining Tycoon “John Frederick Paxton”. Could he somehow be reprising this role, based in Canan, to setup for this future revenge through “John Harrison”? Could “John Harrison” be a eugenics era super enhanced clone of “Paxton” with all his hate and bent on revenge. The Paxton of “Demons” & “Terra Prime” could surely have been capable of unleashing such a revenge on the Federation if he had superhuman abilities.

      Ok, its a stretch, but while we putting all options on the table, only one person has mentioned Weller. No one has yet questioned his unnamed role until now when I saw a few dots to connect. Thus John Harrison would indirectly be of Canan. Guess we just need to wait and see what J.J. has in store for us. :-/

      • Exactly what I was thinking, only “Harrison” is really “Phillip Green”

      • I wish. But we were lucky they threw in a quick nod to that series’ existence. Connecting so strongly to an Ent story that is being marketed to the public at large? Seems unlikely, but not impossible. They just have to make it absolutely stand on its own without the least need for any prior knowledge or interest. Otherwise it hurts their potential box office and turns people away who hear that it’s a sequel to an ep of a show they didn’t watch and also maybe hated…

    • I’ll be honest, almost nothing about what Abrams and Cumberbatch have said about the villain leads me to think it actually is Gary Mitchell, aside from mental powers and a uniform.

      Mitchell got powers and thought himself a god who wanted to control and destroy – none of that is something that an audience could sympathize with at all.

  3. To Create an Iconic Villain, as Robert Palmer stated, takes freaking guts.

    So it is not Khan, it is Not Gary Mitchell, it is an entirely new villain. Kudos

    Now the Khan/Mitchell/Garth debate can be put to rest.

    Star Trek has it New Big Bad Boogieman, and I am ok with it.

    • could just be a code name for now. Much like liam neeson henry ducard in batman begins.

    • Well Khan wasn’t exactly new in the film. He was a villain in one episode in the Original Star Trek series, and he wasn’t all that iconic until the film the Wrath of Khan came out. So why can’t they make Gary Mitchell, who isn’t all that iconic, and make him iconic like they did Khan?

      • Precisely.

    • @Jeff W, No way, you just nailed it IMO.

      “So it is not Khan, it is Not Gary Mitchell, it is an entirely new villain. Kudos”

      Kudos? or do you mean “Kodos the Executioner”? I just remembered that he was kind of that grey villain in TOS cuz he saved Kirk’s life at the end of the episode. To refresh my memory, I went to wiki and found this:

      “Kodos ‘the Executioner,’ the former governor of the earth colony of Tarsus IV, who was responsible for the massacre of over 4000 people — including members of both Kirk’s and Leighton’s families — 20 years before.”

      Can Star Trek Into Darkness take place 20 years before that episode? And Abrams is revisiting and reshaping the character? Instead of a governor, is he now a Captain of a crew and brought upon their massacre or a massacre on Earth instead of one being on Tarsus IV? This is a new timeline.

      However I’m ball parking and have a huge feeling I’m wrong lol

      • @Guardian

        I so loathe you right now. I meant KUDOS…But dang you to HE Double Hockey Sticks.

        I forgot about Kodos.

        That is it, I am done with Star Trek, till I have definitive proof.

        Anyone wants me, I will be on the Pacific Rim and Man Of Steel posts!

        • @Jeff W, Hahaha! Kind of saw that coming.

    • @ Jeff W I’m with you on this one.

  4. I should preface my comment bye saying that I really don’t know squat about Star Trek. I know the basics and know who Kahn is from the film but that’s about it…
    So I’ve avoided commenting on who I think the villain will be because what the heck do I know? But what Abrams and Cumberbatch have said here is intriguing to me. Maybe the villain isn’t Kahn or Mitchell but instead someone who may have traits of those two mixed into someone new and original?
    There’s a lot of us who talk here about how tired it has become to see the same story’s with the same people over and over again so IMO a different or new iconic villain could be a good thing.

    • +1,000

  5. Hahaha. I have to laugh. For months, if not a year or more, the speculation was that the villain was Khan, and then more recently, Gary Mitchell. People, for the most part, loved the idea of Khan and accepted the idea of Gary Mitchell. Now, with the name John Harrison, instead of people scratching their heads, they buy into it without question. A fanboy is a fanboy…blind allegiance. I think for some, Barney the dinosaur could have been the villain, and their opinion of Abrams would not change.

    • Shaddup Jeff # 1

      Barney did cross my mind.


      • I have no idea who khan or mitchell is…. so ill also fall for the barney rumor

      • Hahaha. Yes, Jeff W…I can envision Barney quipping,

        “He tasks me! He tasks me, and I shall have him! I’ll chase him round the Moons of Nibia, and round the Antares Maelstrom, and round Perdition’s flames before I give him up!”


          You people need to stop tempting me.

          I shall return till after I see the trailer!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • i disagree. i would have lowered my opinion of abrams if it had been kahn. and if this is all bs and it does end up being kahn, i will lose faith in him. i can see maybe the end of this film setting up the possibility of rebooting space seed. speaking of that, i watched that on netflix recently, and that was one of the worst fight scenes in TOS. clearly can see the stuntman, and i don’t even know why they needed one, that was one of the weakest looking fights ever, and i don’t see why shatner couldnt have done it.

      • I agree, Jeffro. I had a real problem with Abrams, et. al. when I heard the speculation that the villain was Khan. I mean come on…a new timeline, which opens up a whole new universe, yet we are going to revisit old characters?! Because the original Star Trek II involved Khan, it further annoyed me that this sequel was considering the idea. Plus, as great an actor as Cumberbatch is, Ricardo Montalban was Khan!

        But I digress…being a fan of the original cast and series, all I ask for from this bunch is some originality.

    • I still think John Harrison is code for Gary Mitchell. They both affiliate with navigation and were pioneers during the age of sail. One was the ocean and the other is in space.

      • Cool. Thanks! More detail would be nice, to save me the trouble of google…

  6. I just want Abrams to wave whatever magic wand needs to be waved to allow a Trek TV show back into existence. The trailer looks good. I will see it primarily for Cumberbatch but for god’s sake Star Trek fans shouldn’t have to wait 3 years between entertainment options.

    • 4 years 9 days by release date

  7. Maybe it will all jsut end up being some more trouble with Tribbles. We probably wont even know who the villain actually is till we start getting some people seeing pre-screenings. Crazy though in this day and age that such a huge part of a mega blockbuster is still virtually unknown.

  8. I think it’s another augment like Khan, but not necessarily from the Botany Bay. We’ll see in 6 months I guess.

  9. Cumberbach has stated that he is playing John Harrison and not one of the others speculated characters.

  10. Here all this time I was thinking Captain John Harriman of the Enterprise B “ST: Generations”. But time frame dosent fit.

  11. So, in other words, we don’t know anything more about this so-called “villain,” than we did before. Very nice waste of website space, in the absence of actual news.

  12. I read that Cumberbatch will be playing an evil version of Picard. Picard becomes evil because of the wormhole. What do you guys think?

    • They might as well remake Star Trek: Generations in an alternate reality if they were going to do that.

    • Slow down there! You can’t just give ideas like that away, man. You gots to get PAID for that kinda latinum, bro. Genius!

  13. Just because Benedict says he’s playing John Harrison doesn’t mean he’s playing John Harrison and secrecy between Paramount and Star Trek movies begin with Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan.

    The fans found out that Spock was going to die in the movie so Paramount turned it around on the fans and made it look like he died in the beginning of the movie but it turned out to be a simulation.

    Then the fans were relieved until he actually died at the end of the movie and I’m still amazed by that ever time I watch that movie. They said Peter Weller was playing a CEO and I never thought CEOS would exist in the 23rd century or even big business.

    I’m sticking with Gary Mitchell because it just seems like him and remember with the new timeline things have changed and I would never believe now that I think about it…Paramount would never go for a Khan remake but a Khan prequel expanding on his life prior to space seed would be cool.

    • It would be cool if the CEO was the CEO of a genetics company in 20th century or 21st century that created a genetics program that went wrong but they tested it on humans on another planet.

      The mutation turned the humans into a savage alien race that would become The Klingons and that planet would be known as Kronos.

  14. Cumberbatch is a great actor but this reminds me of the hype around Bane. Hardy is good too and his villain was lame (yes before the reveal of his boss) and the idea he sowed -smash rich guy stuff- didn’t catch in Gotham. Like most terrorists the idea doesn’t go far beyond pointless violence if there is one. Nero was not a terrorist. Using that word carelessly does not broaden its definition.
    If you can’t make a Star Trek movie for the fans maybe… don’t make one. The way it is few people are happy, fans or general audience. Still waiting for my Brothers Karamazov video game! And it better be dumb. But not too dumb.
    tl;dr rah rah everything’s great.

    • It should not come as a surprise that this Star Trek movie was not really made for the fans. None of them were. Literally. However unjaded and uncynical you may be, the reality is that each one begins with the same goal: to be profitable. That doesn’t mean that no heart or sincerity or creativity can rise to the surface or lead to a great film. What it does mean, quite simply, is that no Trek film can be profitable on a large-budget scale without an audience much larger than the fan base. A tv movie might be made for the fans, theoretically. A blockbuster action film? Never. It has always been the case that each time one comes out they not only hope for the uninitiated non-Trekkie audience, they NEED it to make meaningful profit and fuel plans for the next one.

      When nobody turned out for Nemesis, it appeared that the whole franchise had lost profitability. A reboot concept had been floating around for decades, but it sounded like a hip “Starfleet 90210″ concept that would leech everything cool out of the franchise for no good reason. Meanwhile interest in a Voyager movie was lukewarm at best, even among the core people on both side of the camera. DS9 had been intentionally made unviable for more stories for hopeful fans by the higher ups who felt little love or ownership over its tangential take on the twenty fourth century. Enterprise, despite a very boldly experimental third season and a downright amazing fourth season, had lost so much audience in its mediocre opening seasons that it couldn’t even avoid cancellation. So if Picard and crew couldn’t bring in the masses of non fans, what hope was there left for any trek anywhere to secure funding?

      The solution may seem brilliant now, rebooting the most recognizable and iconic trek characters and ship to reel in newbies and generations of casual fans, but if the magic hadn’t really happened with all that new talent we would have more than an embarrassment on our hands. The franchise would have another nail in its coffin. I wish that the films were first and foremost made for the fans, because I am one, but I know that we should expect the opposite, every time, regardless of how good the movie turns out to be.

  15. After the destruction of Star Trek in Abram’s first ham-handed attempt, I’ll gladly sit this one out. It stunk, and this one won’t be any better.

    • It stunk? Wow, if only I had known that sooner I could have saved myself some time. Now you tell me? A little late for that insight, brah. Good to know though, and better late than never! Now to find them fools that told me them lies….