One Comic-Con I got really drunk at a party that JJ Abrams was attending. It was after the release of Star Trek: The Rebootening, which I liked despite a lot of problems and before they started working on Star Trek Into Darkness, and I wanted to tell him something. As a lifelong fan of the show I had some ides about what Star Trek is. So, slurring and stumbling, I went up to him.
"Star Trek is best when there isn't a villain," I told him. "It's best when there's either an obstacle for the crew to overcome or a well-meaning but confused person to confront. There's only one truly great villain in Trek, and it's Khan, and you can't top it."
You can tell what weight my opinion carried, since he went and fucking reused Khan in the next movie. But the point stands - the best Trek stories are not villain-based, and even stories like Balance of Terror have had great antagonists who were not exactly villains. Of the Star Trek movies the best non-Khan films had either no villains or otherwise reasonable people driven by ideology. There is no villain in Star Trek: The Motion Picture or Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, and the villains in both Star Trek III: The Search For Spock and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country are driven by relatable ideology. None of them are looking to end the world, they're looking to promote their vision of the world.
All of which is a lengthy lead up to saying that I don't think Idris Elba knows anything about Star Trek. When asked about his villain character in Star Trek Beyond he had this to say:
“Simon [Pegg] and the team have written a very interesting, complex journey for my character,” Elba said. “You’ve never seen me play a character like this.”
That's cool! I can get behind that. But that isn't all he said.
“I think ’Star Trek’ has prided themselves as being quite classic when it comes to villains, like ’he’s a guy who wants to end the world,’ there’s no doubt about that. But in this version of the film, there’s a slightly different twist to that,” Elba said. “It’s quite an interesting journey, which I think is groundbreaking for the franchise. But, it still keeps with the ’classic bad guy is a classic bad guy’ tone.”
There's the problem: that isn't new for Trek. It's the hallmark of Trek. But what's great is that this means we may finally be getting a real Trek story again, not another riff on Wrath of Khan, a one-off tale that could not be replicated, despite Abrams trying it twice.
I've never been so happy for an actor to have zero understanding of the movie franchise he's in!