review round-up

How Critics Handled Star Trek Into Darkness’s Bad-Guy Secret

Photo: Paramount Pictures

(SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT!) After the first Star Trek reboot opened big in 2009, J.J. Abrams mused about having Khan be the villain in a sequel. And then he spent the next four years refuting the idea, swatting down any evidence that suggested it. Right up until today’s premiere, he’s been maintaining that Benedict Cumberbatch’s villain is named John Harrison. (SERIOUSLY, THIS IS YOUR LAST SPOILER ALERT. SAVE YOURSELF!) Now the movie is open, and critics weighing in have had to decide just how much detail they are going to go into when describing Cumberbatch’s bad guy. These reviewers split into three camps: complete avoidance, waffling hints, and flat-out shouting it to the space rafters.

Avoids the Issue
Many reviews chose to not even acknowledge the existence of a twist. Critics like Slate’s Dana Stevens, the New York Times’ A.O. Scott, Variety’s Scott Foundas, and The Hollywood Reporter’s Todd McCarthy dutifully call Cumberbatch’s villain John Harrison the entire time, just as J.J. Abrams would have wanted it.

There’s a Twist, But We’re Not Saying Anything About Nothing
“If it sounds like we’re being vague, we are a little, in an attempt to avoid spoilers.” — Oliver Lyttelton, Indiewire

“The less said about the twisting plot here, the greater the potential for viewer enjoyment.” — Claudia Puig, USA Today

“There is one great surprise, a ‘whoa’ moment that is stunningly great, and then an overarching reveal in which you realize that Abrams is messing with us a little bit. Or a lot.” Bill Goodykoontz, Arizona Republic

“There are surprises dotted all over the spacescape, so we’ll keep the synopsis vague.” — Matthew Leyland, Total Film

He Plays Someone, But We Won’t Tell You Who (Though You Probably Can Guess)

“I’d like to be more specific in my complaints, and feel as though I have a right to be. After all, the ‘surprises’ Abrams would prefer I keep secret aren’t surprises if you’re passingly familiar with the Trek universe. (All you really need to know is that the film is plotted like a Bourne film or a season of 24, and that Harrison is not as he seems, or as he represents himself; his layers have layers.)” — Matt Zoller Seitz,

“Harrison — whose actual identity will easily be guessed by Trekkers (no one else will really care).” — Lou Lumenick, New York Post

“It’s not long before he’s revealed to be — how can I say this? — a foe familiar to Trekkies.” — Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly 

“Their rapprochement is the film’s true climax, even more than the battle royal between the Enterprise and a very bad, cyborg-like guy whose name is John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) but who actually inhabits an identity hallowed in the annals of Trekkiedom.” — Peter Rainer, The Christian Science Monitor

“His loyal crew lock horns with an interstellar terrorist, played by a seething, spitting Benedict Cumberbatch (and a figure who should be familiar to even the most casual Trek fans).” — Mike Scott, The Times Picayune

“It’s fairly common knowledge by now — because Trekkies can’t help prying and spoiling online — that Star Trek Into Darkness is somewhat inspired by the first franchise’s second chapter, The Wrath of Khan.” — Steve Persall, Tampa Bay Times

Guys, He’s Khan

New York Magazine’s David Edelstein calls Cumberbatch’s character Khan throughout his review. After it went online, he wrote a post explaining that he didn’t realize that his identity was a secret, as it was written in the press notes and was ID’d that way in IMDb.

“‘Who are you?’ pleads a doomed man as Benedict Cumberbatch looms into his first close-up in Star Trek Into Darkness. The answer is Khan. And that’s not a spoiler — it’s a selling point. A less secretive director (i.e., all save the ghost of Stanley Kubrick) would trumpet that his $185 million movie stars Star Trek’s greatest villain, but J.J. Abrams has so suppressed this fact that I suspect if you rearrange the letters in Khan Noonien Singh, you’ll find the location of the Lost island. — Amy Nicholson, Village Voice

Chicago Sun-Times’ Richard Roeper doesn’t mention anything in his review. But the included cast list has Benedict Cumberbatch as Khan.

How Critics Handled Star Trek’s Bad-Guy Secret