FRIDAY NIGHT FIEND – KHAN (Yes, Again)

Benedict-Cumberbatch-khan-changedSo I actually wrote this last night but the combination of the family being out of town (at Disneyland, leaving me behind with the Damn Dog) and walking into the Labor Day weekend, I completely forgot what day I was on.

Now before I bring up a new villain, I figured it’d be best to do some updates. You may or may not recall but I started this little villain shit by participating the A to Z Blog Challenge in April 2012. Since then, a couple of our marvelous miscreants have been rebooted in major motion pictures and that means they deserve a second look.

Let’s start with Khan from Star Trek Into Darkness:

The last time we saw Khan Noonien Singh, he was the feathered-banged, vest-but-no-shirt Ricardo Montalban in all his fine Corinthian leathery goodness. He’d stolen a Federation starship, put worms in Chekov’s ear, and killed Spock. And then blew himself up. But he was awesome to the end. He even gave us poetry.

But that was 1982.

You know how Hollywood machine works: people run out of ideas, someone says “Hey, you know what we could do? We should remake shit! How about Star Trek!” and the magic happens. But can you blame them? It’s been 31 years, William Shatner refuses to lose any weight, and special effects have now progressed to ridiculous levels. So they find a couple writers and a popular director with a penchant for lens flares and writing the longest, most confusing, unresolved show in the history of television. Recipe for success, right?

But the reboot proves successful and that means sequel. Actually that means trilogy. You know they have to throw Khan into the mix now, right? There is a formula to these movies, these trilogies. Can you see it? Trilogies are just larger renditions of the three-act structure we all know. You introduce the hero in movie one, give them their greatest challenge in movie two, and then the third movie really pushes them into a longer, more resolved trajectory. You can see it very clearly in the Dark Knight movies, the original Spiderman trilogy, the Star Wars movies (the good trilogy), even the first three Alien movies (we shall not speak of Alien: Resurrection—that piece of cinematic garbage is dead to us).

In terms of the rebooted Star Trek movies, we’re in the middle of the trilogy and that means a great challenge. And that means Khan, played by Benedict Cumberbatch (say that three times fast). And don’t be fooled by that John Harrison bullshit—we all knew you were bringing Khan.

Anyway, this version of Khan is…okay. Kinda meh. He’s played well and there is a seething anger in his approach but he doesn’t do anything really fucked up and the things he does do, he’s wholly justified. The Khan in the original series and in Star Trek II is bent on revenge and Kirk’s death is his sole purpose. He’s horribly effective in this endeavor because he has no qualms about how he achieves his aims: there is no nobility or honor in his actions. This is revenge pure and simple.

Cumberbatch’s Khan is more the victim of blackmail. He’s doing what he has to do to protect the ones he loves. It’s a defensive posture to me, one fitting the unwilling accomplice than a major antagonist. He does, however, have this one fantastic exchange:

Khan: Because I am better.

Kirk: At what?

Khan: Everything.

And to his credit, he is. Whipping EVERYBODY’S ass! Spock, Kirk, about 47 Klingons, and he kicked the shit out of Carol Marcus’ leg. I’ll give him that. But in the end, this villain was just ok. He was, however, successful in breaking Kirk ALL THE WAY down, in a way the original could not, and I guess that makes him pretty impressive. An impressive Meh. I don’t know, maybe I should rewatch the movie.

As a side note, this movie cheats: the whole premise of the original reboot was that someone from the future came and changed historical events which meant an alternate reality for the folks who boldly go where no one has ever gone before. You’ve heard of those What If? stories, right? What if the Nazis won WWII? What if Kennedy hadn’t gotten shot? What if we decided against giving the Kardashians a tv show? This is a story like that. Fine, I can buy it. Opens up all new possibilities and a chance to tell old stories in new ways. Great! But then you can’t have new Spock calling up old Spock for info on new Khan. What the fuck is that? Since when did we get an interstellar time-travel cell phone? With FaceTime? Is that on the new iPhone 5S? Fucking Apple.

Next Friday, we will look at the all time Galactic Hide and Seek Champion: Zod!

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Festival of Fiendishness: THE BORG

Every so often you encounter a character, or in this case, a race of beings, that strike you with their villainy, their wickedness, their abject disdain for life, or their bulldozer approach to meeting their goals. It’s usually a cinematic moment—like when the terminator snatched that dude’s heart out and took his clothes or when the Hulk did this “puny God” routine on Loki in The Avengers or when Freddy Krueger sucked Johnny Depp into the bed and splattered him all over the ceiling. Something that makes you say, “Daaaammmmmmnnn!” You know what I’m talking about, right? Now imagine you’re Jean-Luc Picard, the coldest Star Trek captain ever, you run the Enterprise, it’s the 24th century, and you run into the Borg. And these cats tear down your ship and tell you, “Resistance is futile.”

Yeah.

The Borg is today’s villain of renown and, if you don’t know them, relax, it’s alright, Wikipedia is my sidekick on this post. We first saw the Borg in a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode when a godlike character named Q took Picard and his intrepid group of travelers to the ass-end of space just so they could get the Federation shit slapped out of them by the Borg. And it was just to prove that the Enterprise and her crew weren’t as raw as they thought they were.

But they weren’t done.

The Borg roll back into Federation space in their Rubik’s Cube ship, all “Resistance is futile,” and “You will be assimilated,” and causing all sorts of mayhem. They jump on the Enterprise and jack Picard, snatch his ass off the ship and ASSIMILATE him. He gets a gang name (they call him Locutus) and the Borg steal all his knowledge about the Federation—so now they know what he knows. When 40 ships mass to stop the Borg on their Highway to Hell, one – ONE – ship makes it out alive. One. Folks that’s a 98% kill rate. These cats don’t mess around.

They try to go back in time to wipe out an entire meeting between humans and Vulcans so the Federation no longer exists, they killed the wife of A Man Called Hawk (Avery Brooks), and actually gave Star Trek Voyager a reason to be on TV.

But this is not what makes them awesome.

The Borg are fantastic because of why they do what they do: the pursuit of perfection. They move through the galaxy, assaulting star systems, taking the best traits of those they conquer and assimilating it into their own race. They believe they are making everything better, making everything perfect and resistance to that idea is as futile as resistance to evolution itself. We’ve seen this sort of forced cultural progress before: the Romans did it (well) and it is been happening on our own continent since the days of Cortez and Columbus.

What I like about them is that they don’t speak threats or in throaty boasts; they speak facts: Resistance is futile—FACT. Look at those 39 starships we tore up back there. You will be assimilated—FACT. Think I’m playing? Check out my man Locutus.

And though I’m not necessarily a fan, I have to tip my hat to the Borg: you have to appreciate any villain, any organism, which moves forward with such inevitability in their wake.

Up next, Coooo-BRAAAAAA!! Cobra Commander will be hissing his way into the Festival.

Celebration of Wickedness Day 16: KHAN NOONIEN SINGH

Ricardo Montalban was a sexy man. He was hand-crafted from fine Corinthian leather. He could put on a white suit, grab a little person and make all your fantasies come true. I once saw him, as Mr. Rourke, go toe to toe with the Devil. And win. So who else could sport feathered bangs and a vest with no shirt and still be the most memorable villain in the 23rd century?

But this ain’t about Ricardo Montalban, it’s about Khan Noonien Singh (truth be told, I didn’t even know he had a middle or last name until I got ready for this post). Khan is the antagonist from Star Trek II, as in The Wrath Of, and easily the most recognizable villain from Star Trek (like I would choose the tribbles).

We meet Khan Noonien Singh in an episode of the original Star Trek series. Khan is a genetically engineered human being with the “superior intellect.” He used his powers to conquer about a quarter of the earth during the 1990s (don’t you remember that?) When the unwashed masses rose against him, he and about 80 folks fled earth, got stuck in suspended animation until they were found 400 years later by the Enterprise. Kirk does Khan a solid and thaws him out; Khan thanks him by taking over his ship. Khan and his folks are exiled to a planet in the middle of nothing to serve out their sentence.

The end, right? Nope.

When we see Khan again, the planet he was exiled too is knocked off course and becomes a barren wasteland with only the 80 humans and these desert rock lobsters whose babies can make you “weak-minded” if you stick them in your ears. I have no idea how you figure that out…Anyway, a routine mission becomes a hijacking and suddenly Khan is back on the scene with a Federation starship and an eagerness to beat the shit out of James T Kirk. Khan’s return brings us numerous bad haircuts, William Shatner’s obvious toupee, introduces Kirstie Alley, and Spock’s death.

Khan has 23rd century street cred. This is what makes him so cool. For all the superior intellect, genetic enhancement bullshit, Khan is simply a thug from the future. And he’s good at it! This is why he’s Star Trek’s most memorable villain—he’s actually something and someone we can understand. He’s a criminal in fine clothing, surrounded by advanced technology, but a criminal nonetheless.

And this is why Khan Noonien Singh makes the cut as a fantastic villain: Khan is gangster. Put your phasers on stun; hear me out. Khan carjacked the both Enterprise and the Reliant, does a drive-by on the Enterprise first chance he gets, steals the Genesis device, and kills Kirk’s boy. Every time he walks on the screen, I swear I can hear 50 Cent’s P.I.M.P.: “I don’t know what you heard about me…”

Tomorrow, we continue with the A to Z Challenge with O for the Overlook Hotel—the setting for Stephen King’s The Shining. “All work and no play…”