Nerd edition: Star Trek II… Prose and Khans

It seems unavoidable that I’m going to blog, at times, on geeky matters.

It’s recently been announced that Benedict Cumberbatch will portray the iconic character Khan Noonian Singh in the next Star Trek movie. No, I am not bothering with spoiler space because it’s already been announced on IMDB and confirmed in the news.

I’m going to ignore the nerd rage for a moment – “should we retread this” – and I’m going to PARTIALLY ignore the social justice issue – “should Khan be played by a white guy” – and look at this from the two sides in my conflicted mind, and finally, address a third issue.

Pro

Let’s consider something Abrams has done with his reimagined Star Trek universe: he’s gone to the meat and marrow of the characters and gotten past the original actors’ portrayal of them, treating the characters as their own literary canon. He treats the characters as another director might treat Shakespearian characters, looking to the source material for reference but not trying to ape any particular actor.

Now, Cumberbatch is an extremely talented actor. He would not be Ricardo Montalban’s Khan… but if the writing and casting of the previous film is to be any indicator, Cumberbatch would be a new vision of Khan, while still remaining true to the essence of who Khan is. Is Khan his muscles and ponytail? In fact, over and over, in Space Seed and in The Wrath of Khan, Khan was treated as a “superior intellect”. Cumberbatch-Khan might be a different sort of Khan – a chess master type of villain. Something we really haven’t seen in Star Trek in a long time.

And why not Khan? The Star Trek films have attempted over and over again to create a Khan style of villain, so why not Khan himself? Every attempt to create a new Khan-clone has taken one single aspect of the character – his physicality, his rage – while ignoring one of the most important things that made the character iconic: his superior intellect.

So, if this is who the new Khan is, I’m fine with that.

Another thing… Khan was a conqueror from an era we already know. We’ve already lived through it. Canonically, he existed in the 1990s. So as much as Montalban’s Khan is iconic, we still can’t get over the fact that the character is now coated in a really thick layer of zeerust.

A more understated, genius, chess master version of Khan – someone good at maneuvering things from behind – would be the only believable revisiting of the character. 

That’s the kind of Khan I imagine when I imagine Cumberbatch in this part. Superior intellect, as opposed to superior pectoral cleavage.

Besides, I am a HUGE fan of understated villains, and the popular culture is already accustomed to different takes on the same characters. We have “Spiderman” vs “Ultimate Spiderman”, for you comics enthusiasts. We have Jack Nicholson’s Joker vs Heath Ledger’s Joker. 

This seems to be what they attempted with Malcolm McDowell’s character, Dr. Soran, in Star Trek: Generations… someone bent on vengeance, but more the understated and brilliant type of character. 

If we’re going to keep ripping off Khan anyway, why not simply write a story about Khan himself? Seeing the character through a new lens, with emphasis on different and canonical aspects of his personality, actually lends a kind of depth to our understanding of him. 

Con

Why is Khan a white guy? Originally they wanted to cast Benecio Del Toro, who backed out of the role. But I see that as a mistake, too. 

The character is Indian. In fact, he’s Sikh. This is not speculation. He is not “someone with a little Indian blood”. He is Indian! There are plenty of Indian actors who could portray him. Perhaps in the sixties, it was justifiable to have him played by Ricardo Montalban, but the same casting choice wouldn’t be justifiable now. 

And the oddness of casting a white Englishman to fill the shoes of a Mexican playing a Punjabi… is what brings me to the third point.

It could be BS.

Has anyone considered this?

Perhaps it’s disinformation.

Abrams’ choice of Cumberbatch as Khan is totally inconsistent with his other casting choices. He hasn’t whitewashed or race-bent the rest of the crew, so why would he do so with Khan? He’s tried to remain remarkably consistent with canon. This would be the first time he hasn’t, so why would he stop now?

Secondly, let’s look at the costumes.

Image

That does not resemble any outfit that Khan wore in Space Seed. The black shirt even has Starfleet insignia.

Furthermore, look at that pasty complexion… Abrams isn’t even trying to make Cumberbatch look remotely Indian. If he’s Khan, he’s not a white guy playing an Indian guy. He’s a white guy playing a white guy with an Indian name!

Here is my thought. My money is on disinformation.

The only supporting evidence of Khan is that Spock is trying to give him the neck pinch, and all he’s doing is making the guy mad. 

So, the man is clearly the product of some kind of genetic engineering, right?

Or wrong?

What if this character’s abilities are enhanced via some other means, rendering him immune to the Vulcan nerve pinch?

Are you as geeky as I am?

If you are, you are thinking what I’m thinking, right?

My money is on Gary Mitchell.

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