Is Star Trek Into Darkness another movie suffering from overly-complicated-villain-plan-syndrome?

Into Darkness Villain Plan

In recent Hollywood movies there has been a new trend for movie villains. Back in the days it was all about the villain and his hideout. The hero would get trapped and had to find a way to escape. Now the roles have reversed and the villain visits the hero. Now we care less about how the hero gets out but what the villain is actually planning.
When Bendedict Cumberbatch’s character John Harrison yelled “Then I surrender” I prepared for the inevitable evil masterplan to unfold. To my surprise the plan of Star Trek Into Darkness was surprisingly simple. And in retrospective it felt not that super convenient.

Hit the jump to find out what I think happened in the newest Star Trek movie and why it made more sense than Lost despite having the same author.

Sacrificing transparency for the sake of mystery
There is a reason why one needs a theory for some movies. In my eyes the plots of Star Trek Into Darkness might have looked inconsistent due to a screenplay structure that favored the mystery. And being co-written by Damon Lindelof (Lost, Prometheus) it is very clear to see where the mystery angle came from. But compared to Lost I must say that Star Trek Into Darkness was surprisingly clear after some thinking.

This overly elaborated nerd-rage filled essay will – in true fanboy spirit – try to make sense of a harmless fun blockbuster. One might surely argue why I would spend so much time deconstructing a movie I see as harmless entertainment and I would have to answer that it was in response to the overly cynical complaints about Star Trek Into Darkness.

For some reason I felt the need to stand up for the plot because I can’t believe how much people hate on the plot because John Harrison turned out to be a different mastermind than what they had already stamped off as Hollywood cliché.

The stereotype

Warning: MAJOR Spoilers for Star Trek Into Darkness, Sykfall, The Avengers and The Dark Knight ahead!

The Joker planned to be caught. He wanted me to lock him up in the M.C.U.!

The Joker’s overly complex plans were a huge part of why I enjoyed The Dark Knight. Joker’s constant backup plans turned him into a seemingly unpredictable villain who always had an ace up his sleeve.

I was probably not the only one who responded so well to this because we got two more examples of a villain letting himself get caught:

  • Loki (Tom Hiddleston) let himself get caught in The Avengers to play the Avengers against each other.
  • Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem) is caught and his laptop helps him to hack into the MI6 network in order to release him, make him leave through the subway and try to assassinate M.

So let’s delve into Harrison’s and Admiral Marcus’s plans and how they eventually played out…

What happened after the destruction of Vulcan – the theme of Into Darkness

Into Darkness Botany Bay Original
The S.S. Botany Bay discovered by the Enterprise in the original Star Trek series

As Harrison pointed out in a monologue addressed at the audience and not Kirk the destruction of Vulcan (most obvious hint at the changed timeline) has changed the way the Federation acts. In this new timeline the Federation has had to endure a lot of blows. The unprovoked attack of a science ship (seen during the opening of Star Trek) and the successive destruction of a peaceful planet have strengthened an aggressive sentiment within the Federation.

The research done by the secret Section 31 (known from Deep Space Nine and Enterprise) has pursued the construction of more militaristic starships with warfare being the primary intention.

During this rapid expansion the S.S. Botany Bay was discovered much earlier than in the original timeline (translate: continuity bugfix). And aboard the S.S. Botany Bay were 72 lifepods with genetically enhanced soldiers who escaped from Earth 300 years ago.

Brutal lectures from the past

Into Darkness Botany Bay New
The pods with the crew of the S.S. Botany Bay as depicted in Star Trek Into Darkness

Coming from a time when mankind had not yet evolved into the peaceful explorers depicted in Star Trek the crew of the S.S. Botany Bay can be seen as our animalistic nature and drive. Their lust for power and control are the polar opposite of the Star Trek mentality and serve to further empathize what makes Star Trek so endurable.

The leader of the soldiers – Khan Noonien Singh – was woken up to use him for warfare design. I think with Khan’s intellect it would not have taken long to learn the new technologies but mostly this is a thematic decision. As mentioned above the S.S. Botany Bay is a nice allegory in this movie for primitive ways that have long been abandoned (translate: floating in space).

All this happened under the leadership of Admiral Marcus who planned to prepare the Federation for an upcoming Klingon war. In the movie Khan was familiar with the U.S.S. Vengeance – the black ship that appears during the final third of Into Darkness – so I can assume that the Vengeance was in a way a brainchild of Khan.

Into Darkness Vengeance
What it lacks in subtlety it makes up with big guns

We also know that Khan worked on a new prototype of torpedoes which can be used for stealth attacks and not get traced back to the ship firing it. So it can be assumed Khan’s original plan was to smuggle his crew out of section 31 by placing them inside of the torpedoes. Should the torpedoes then be brought onto the U.S.S. Vengeance Khan could open them and have his crew take over the ship which was designed for a minimal crew compared to other Federation ships.

But Admiral Marcus figured out Khan’s plans and Khan had to escape.

Hell-bent on revenge Khan orchestrated a terrorist attack on Section 31 to cause an emergency meeting of the highest ranking Federation officers. Taking out as many as he could (and hopefully Marcus with them) Khan used a transwarp beamer to get to the Klingon planet Qo’nos. Very soon Commander Kirk figured out Khan’s whereabouts and driven by vengeance Marcus saw an ideal way to get rid of many of his problems.

 Into Darkness Harrisons Goal

The Qo’nos situation
So Khan is on Qo’nos. Let’s take a breath to analyze the three fractions playing in this game:

Khan’s plan?
Stay on Qo’nos because the Federation can’t touch him there. Plan his next move to kill Marcus and get his crew back.

The Enterprise’s plan?
The Enterprise was equipped with the prototype torpedoes. The crew was sent onto an illegal mission to fire the torpedoes onto Qo’nos and kill Khan. Because the torpedoes couldn’t be traced back to the Enterprise they would not start a war… if they were to immediately go to warp after firing. Had they used regular photon torpedoes the Klingon’s would have known that they came from a Federation ship and declared war.

Marcus’s plan?
On top of everything Marcus prepared a malfunction of the Enterprise’s engine so that the ship would not be able to go to warp. The torpedoes could not be traced back to the Enterprise but if there was an explosion and a Federation starship just so happened to be near Qo’nos the Klingon’s would have their incentive to go to war. And knowing the Klingons they don’t need much proof to start a war.

Therefore Marcus would get rid of Khan and start the war with the Klingons all in one swift stroke.

Into Darkness Klingons
Sorry Klingons… one more movie until you can finally talk about honor and stuff again

But things didn’t play out like that
A major theme of Into Darkness is about betraying fundamental beliefs. In this case Kirk was faced with the choice to blindly shoot the torpedoes and thereby betraying the entire Federation mentality. But his conscience (or Scotty) got the better of him and he decided to give Khan a choice and informed him of the torpedoes aimed at him  – note that this was not intended by Marcus. Marcus knew about Khan’s sneaky convincing speeches and therefore wanted to kill him before he could manipulate any more.

What I am assuming is that had Kirk not made the call warning Khan and just blindly fired the torpedoes Khan would have died and there would have been war. Khan in this movie is no mastermind who plans 50 steps ahead like the Joker, he uses the cards he is dealt.

So when Kirk warned him Khan was aware of the Enterprise and combined that it had to be the stealth torpedoes they were using. But just to be sure he asked Kirk the question of how many torpedoes they had. Had it been any other number than 72, he would have probably killed Kirk and run away with Kirk’s ship to survive the torpedo attack.

 «Star Trek Into Darkness»

So Khan gets arrested and we have our obligatory villain escort to the brig of the Enterprise. Let’s again consider all viewpoints in this game happening:

Khan’s plan?
Now because of the familiar visuals of a villain escorted to his cell the audience assumes that this is all part of Khan’s masterplan – but it is not. Right now all his gears keep turning on how he can free his crew and he decides to just tell Kirk the truth.
He gives them the location of the U.S.S. Vengeance and encourages them to open the torpedoes. We might even believe his sentence about Kirk’s conscience. He probably speculates in turning the crew against the Federation – or at least Admiral Marcus. This is a very sneaky way for a villain to both expose the flaws in the hero’s idols and still trying to get the hero off his path.

The Enterprise’s plan?
Opening the torpedoes – thankfully not on the ship – and trying to figure out what the hell this movie is about.

Marcus’s plan?
Because things took longer than anticipated Marcus probably jumped to the conclusion that something went wrong and Khan was playing mindgames with the Enterprise. Marcus took the U.S.S. Vengeance to intercept the Enterprise. He probably delayed his plans to use the Enterprise as a starting point for the war and just wanted to get rid of Khan and his crew – and the Enterprise as well seeing as they had found out about Marcus’s plans.
Into Darkness Two ships

The final sprint!
When the Enterprise jumped to warp Khan was waiting how the situation turned out. I doubt he had any masterplan on how to continue – too many variables. Perhaps given more time he might have managed to knock out Bones and revive his crew to take over the Enterprise. The sure bet is that Khan bet that the crew of the Enterprise would need his help to get rid of Marcus.

And eventually the moment came when both ships were disabled and Kirk needed help. It was Khan’s moment to act and play on Kirk’s side. Two enemies united by a common foe and each side trying to get rid of the other to control the Vengeance.

It was that moment when Khan was knocked out by Scotty – and seeing as how many stuns he could take later on he might even faked his unconsciousness to catch Scotty off guard – when Khan overpowered Kirk and Scotty and got his revenge on Marcus.

He had finally gotten his vengeance and his ship. Drunk with success and power there was only one more thing left– get his crew onto the ship. So that he finally was free from the Federation and had his crew to continue on his conquering.

Had it not been for Spock who exploited this desire Khan would have probably had the upper hand.

The one thing that is not making sense
Still like all big discussions there is one thing that I can’t quite figure out:

Did Admiral Marcus know that the crew of the S.S. Botany Bay were inside the torpedoes?

If he did, the question remains why he didn’t remove them. He needed the stealth-torpedoes to start the war but not the crew in it.

Maybe the procedure of removing them was too complicated?

Unlikely, since Bones figures that out in a few seconds.

Sure we could argue that Marcus wanted to get rid of Khan and his crew in one swift stroke but that seems a bit risky. He would always run the danger of giving Khan his crew back.

The other theory – stating that Marcus didn’t know about the crew – seems more plausible. But then we have to reconsider what Khan told Kirk (be mindful, my memory might be a bit fuzzy): he said that he tried to smuggle his crew away but then Marcus got behind his plans and Khan had to escape.
Then again – using argumentative bullshit methods I learned from years of watching Lost – it can be possible that Khan simply lied to Kirk in order to make Marcus seem even more ruthless. Maybe Marcus just realized that Khan was sabotaging the Vengeance-program and that was the reason Khan had to escape.

Into Darkness Plan Crossed

Long story short
While we initially assumed that Khan had the ultimate masterplan like so many other villains in recent movies this was not the case. Instead of having a super elaborately planned out tactic Khan speculated and used the cards he was dealt with to his advantages. He is dangerous in the sense that he can turn many situations to his advantage and manipulate others until they can no longer distinguish between right and wrong.

So in a way this interpretation of Khan shows much more of the superior intellect that Ricardo Montalban’s version loved to brag about.

It should be noted that in the long run it doesn’t really matter. If you felt that Khan’s plan was needlessly convoluted a four page essay won’t change your mind. If you were not emotionally attached to the characters it was probably not because you “didn’t get it”.

I am also pretty sure that the reason I try to bugfix this entire film and not hate on it was not because the story was so amazing but because I loved the journey of these characters and how they reinterpreted old Star Trek stories.

Still with all the negativity going on I felt like standing up for a movie that clearly has much more heart and brains than many angry fans seem to give him credit.

Wolfgang Verfasst von:

Der Host des Flipthetruck Podcasts. Mit einem Fokus auf Science Fiction und Roboter sucht er ständig jene Mainstream Filme, die sich nicht als reine Unterhaltungsfilme zufrieden geben.

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