Three years ago, after the J.J. Abrams–directed Star Trek reboot debuted to stellar numbers, all involved looked fittingly to the future. "I think our idea on this is that the first of any series is about the [characters] coming together,” said writer-producer Alex Kurtzman at the time, “whereas I think sequels are very much about the villain.” He was certainly right about that: With Star Trek Into Darkness flying into theaters next month, all anybody can talk about is the bad guy played by Benedict Cumberbatch ... mostly because we’ve got no idea who that character really is.
Rumor has it that Cumberbatch is playing Khan, the villain made famous by Ricardo Montalban in the second movie in the original Star Trek franchise, but there’s also been plenty of evidence suggesting otherwise, and Abrams and his Trek cast and writers have generated constant coverage simply by keeping us guessing, alternating strict denials with more winky vagueness. Is it all a canny attempt to drum up more press, and does the spoiler-averse director risk a backlash if the eventual reveal can’t live up to the hype? We’ll know soon, but in the meantime, here’s a comprehensive rundown of all of the rumors, denials, and cagey statements we’ve come across since Star Trek Into Darkness first began charting this mysterious course.
May 16, 2009
After his first Star Trek film opens to stellar numbers, J.J. Abrams muses on the inevitable sequel and mentions that he'll soon be brainstorming ideas with writer-producers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman. "It'll be fun to hear what Alex and Bob are thinking about Khan," Abrams tells MTV. "The fun of this timeline is arguing that different stories, with the same characters, could be equally if not more compelling than what's been told before." Adds Abrams, "Certain people are destined to cross paths and come together, and Khan is out there ... even if he doesn't have the same issues." For all his enthusiasm about the potential story line, it's the last time Abrams would even dare to utter the K-word to a reporter.
November 4, 2011
More than two years pass as Abrams moves on to Super 8, and the Star Trek sequel gets a delayed production start. However, at the end of 2011, things start to heat up again when Variety reports that Abrams is eyeing Benicio Del Toro to play Trek’s new villain. Writes Variety's Justin Kroll: "Insiders say Del Toro has met with Abrams but, in an effort to keep the role a secret, still doesn’t know exactly what it is." Still, since Del Toro is Latino, just like Khan's original portrayer, Ricardo Montalban, the rumor mill begins to churn.
November 30 2011
More than three weeks later, when actress Alice Eve is added to the cast, Variety's Kroll sheds just a little more light on the villain Del Toro is in talks for. According to Kroll's sources, "[Del Toro] will be playing someone familiar to Trekkies," though the reporter still doesn't I.D. the baddie outright.
December 2, 2011
As the Del Toro deal still drags on, movie scoop site Latino Review (which has a better-than-average reporting record) claims that the villain in question is absolutely, positively Khan. HitFix's Drew McWeeny e-mails Abrams to verify the rumor that Del Toro will play Khan, and Abrams replies back with two words: "Not true."
December 5, 2011
Then it turns out that Del Toro won't be playing anyone in the Star Trek sequel, so perhaps the denial from Abrams was predicated on a technicality. Vulture is first to report that Del Toro has dropped out of talks for the villain role, though, like Latino Review, our sources indicated that the actor was negotiating to play Khan.
December 7, 2011
With a shoot date fast approaching, Abrams begins auditioning new actors for the villain. Variety reports that Edgar Ramirez and Jordi Molla are among the names in contention, and you don't need us to tell you what both actors have in common with Del Toro and Montalban.
January 4, 2012
And then a shocker: Sherlock star Benedict Cumberbatch lands the villain role. Well, he's certainly not Latino. Was the role reconceived? Or is the British Cumberbatch simply playing a more anglicized Khan than we're used to?
April 30, 2012
As the movie begins shooting, paparazzi pictures of Cumberbatch reveal him wearing what appears to be a Starfleet uniform. It ain't a pec-tacular ensemble like Montalban's … and yet, well-connected fan site TrekMovie maintains that, according to several sources, Cumberbatch is still playing Khan.
May 29, 2012
Our first categorical denial: The Telegraph interviews actor Simon Pegg (who plays Scotty in the revitalized Star Trek), and when asked about the villain, Pegg says flat-out, "It’s not Khan. That’s a myth. Everyone’s saying it is, but it’s not."
June 26, 2012
Orci won't reveal who the villain is, but he can say who it won't be: In a radio interview, Orci reveals five characters that absolutely won't be seen in the sequel. Among them is Gary Mitchell, a former Starfleet officer gone bad. Conspicuously excluded from the exclusion: Khan.
July 9, 2012
Another curveball! Actor Karl Urban (who plays Bones) lets something slip when a reporter asks about Cumberbatch: "He’s awesome, he’s a great addition, and I think his Gary Mitchell is going to be exemplary." Wha-what? Did he just say "Gary Mitchell"? As in, the Gary Mitchell whose presence Orci just debunked a mere two weeks ago? What's going on?
July 14, 2012
TrekMovie.com then interviews Orci about Urban's comment: Did the actor accidentally refute what Orci said about Gary Mitchell? "I would say that I never lie," laughs Orci. Helpful.
November 27, 2012
All goes quiet until November, when the hype machine for the newly named Star Trek Into Darkness kicks back into gear in advance of the first teaser trailer. A synopsis is discovered on Paramount's website that describes the villain as "an unstoppable force of terror from within [the Enterprise's] own organization," as well as "a one man weapon of mass destruction." Neither phrase immediately suggests Khan, unless Abrams is going somewhere new with the character.
December 6, 2012
The one-minute teaser trailer is here! We get a good look at Cumberbatch, who seems to have an agility and strength that mere mortals wouldn't possess (though those talents are well within the wheelhouse of superhuman Khan). And in the Japanese version of the teaser, we see a shot of Kirk's hand on glass that appears to mimic a similar shot from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Wouldn't that suggest that the whole film is a Khan reboot?
December 9, 2012
Selected members of the media get to preview the nine-minute Star Trek Into Darkness prologue that will precede The Hobbit in certain IMAX theaters. The footage begins in futuristic London with a family in distress: A young girl is slowly dying in the hospital, and her parents are powerless. Then Cumberbatch appears, claims he can help, and the father asks, "Who are you?" We don't get an answer (the footage cuts away after a slow zoom into Cumberbatch's face), but the prominence of the question suggests that the answer will ultimately be a doozy.
December 10, 2012
And then, with a plop, Paramount finally gives a name to Cumberbatch's character: John Harrison. The intel arrives in a captioned still that the studio sends out to reporters, and the name and the news underwhelm. "John Harrison"? Really? It's such an anonymous moniker that reporters begin to wonder if that's simply an alias meant to obscure an eventual Khan reveal.
December 11, 2012
Here’s another potential villain to throw into the mix: On a Trek press day held at Bad Robot, Abrams’s production company, Hitfix writer Drew McWeeny notices a prop sketch marked “April’s Gatling Gun.” McWeeny wonders whether that’s a reference to Robert April, an obscure Trek character (and a former captain of the Enterprise) who appeared in the animated series.
December 12, 2012
Mixed messages: When interviewed, Cumberbatch claims he's not playing Khan, but in a separate interview, Zachary Quinto appears to accidentally name the new baddie as Khan before attempting to cover his tracks.
February 11, 2013
At the BAFTAs, Alice Eve offers another blunt denial: After a reporter mentions all of the Cumberbatch rumors, Eve says with a steely stare, "He's not playing Khan."
March 12, 2013
Here’s a tease from writer-producer Damon Lindelof that suggests there’s more to “John Harrison” than meets the eye: “[People will] say, ‘So, seriously, who’s Benedict playing?’ I’ll say, ‘Do you really want to know?’ Then they go, ‘No, no, no, I don’t,’” Lindelof tells the Los Angeles Times. “They know that if I said it to them, they would have a five-second rush of exhilaration followed by four months of being completely and totally bummed out that they can’t tell anybody else and that when it gets revealed in the movie, it will have been spoiled for them. That’s why they’re called ‘spoilers,’ they’re not called ‘awesomes.’” Now, if Lindelof suggests that a fan would be briefly exhilarated by the reveal of Cumberbatch’s true identity, that would suggest Khan, wouldn’t it? Otherwise, what would merit that reaction, or Lindelof’s continued secret-keeping?
March 21, 2013
The full trailer is released, and it's heavy on Cumberbatch, though there's still not a single indication of who he will be playing, and his character's name is never spoken. But in time, all will be revealed: Star Trek Into Darkness bows May 17.