The Best Villain of the Year So Far

It still makes me happy that Benedict Cumberbatch is the actual name of an actual human being. I’m always happy whenever he’s in a movie because it gives me a chance to savor saying that wonderful name.

But, as Star Trek Into Darkness reminds us, the dude is a damn good actor. Most of the roles he’s played (at least all the ones I can think of off the top of my head) have been in more good-guy roles. He was appealing and likable in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and I’ve heard he’s great in the BBC Sherlock series, though I’ve never seen it.

But in Star Trek Into Darkness, JJ Abrams’ spectacular sequel to his excellent and well-received 2009 Star Trek film, Cumberbatch is pure menacing evil. He seethes with silent fury in every scene he’s in. His character is shrouded in mystery for most of the first half of the film, and the aura of menace built up around him pays off marvelously once we actually get to meet him. Let’s just say that the dude knows how to make an entrance.

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It’s satisfying too that the payoff delivers. It’s always a bummer when there’s a lot of buildup and not enough payoff, so credit is due to Abrams and his screenwriters for knowing to reward the audience for their patience. There is a twist regarding the true identity of Cumberbatch’s villain, but I won’t spoil it. There was also a villainous twist in Iron Man 3, but in my opinion the one in Star Trek makes a bit more sense.

The rest of the movie is great, too. The special effects are top-notch and the rest of the supporting cast is solid. Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto still have great chemistry, and Simon Pegg is hilarious as Scotty. Not all of the supporting cast gets much to do (Sulu and Chekhov feel particularly underused) but they’re still fun characters and it’s good to see that a movie with a cast this large still holds up pretty well plotwise. The plot seemed a bit convoluted to me, but I’m not exactly up on my Star Trek lore.

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Abrams and Co. have taken some flack for these movies, pretty much all of which I feel is unwarranted. I’ve heard complaints that he uses the Star Trek universe as nothing more than a vehicle for yet another sci-fi franchise, or that he pumps up the action and skips out on the story character elements. I think all of this is crap, Abrams is one of the finest action directors working today. To date he’s directed four films: Mission: Impossible 3, Star Trek (the first one), Super 8, and Star Trek Into Darkness. In my book he’s four for four. All four of those flicks are awesome. Give me the work of JJ Abrams over the work (and I use that term loosely) of Michael Bay or Roland Emmerich any day of the week.

Trek 2 is not a perfect film, the ending to me felt a bit abrupt (one moment the movie is in full-throttle mode, the next it’s over) and some of the supporting cast feels underused. But these are minor complaints in the scheme of things when the overall product is this good. Go see Star Trek Into Darkness for the perfect example of blockbuster summer entertainment done right.

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Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a movie to watch.

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