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

Official poster for Star Trek Into Darkness

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 John Harrison

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 cast in Star Trek 2

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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