After re-watching my favourite original Star Trek episode “Space Seed” and its sequel, considered by most to be the best ST film, “The Wrath of Khan” I have given some thought to why Khan Noonien Singh, as played by Ricardo Montalbán is my favourite movie villain.
I googled top movie villains, and was sad to see Darth Vader, Hannibal Lecter and Tommy DeVito right up top and Khan sometimes not even in the top 50.
Darth Vader is Darth Sidius’ lieutenant, a victim of Stockholm Syndrome, who turns away from villainy before dying a depleted old man.
Hannibal Lecter is a better choice, but he’s a sole operator, and not an inspirer/leader of men.
Mobsters are alway fun but are only loyal to blood, and sometimes not even that. They are also indoctrinated from a young age, and surrounded by a culture which encourages any kind of crime if it’s for the family/Don.
Ricardo Montalbán has a very captivating gaze. As a kid I watched Fantasy Island and always considered his character, Mr Rourke, to have a special kind of wisdom where he knew what was to become of those visiting the island at the beginning of each episode.
That role asked little of him as an actor, and as we know, when a certain kind of energy, in this case emotional, is left unexpressed for too long, it will demand to be exercised.
I just love his Latin American accent and eloquence.
Khan’s first appearance in Space Seed has him beginning from a position of vulnerability,
been rescued from 200 year stasis, but it isn’t long before he sets about empowering himself and seducing his accomplice, lieutenant McGyvers. There are probably a lot of female fans who don’t like her much, finding her too submissive, but remember that she does show the courage to go against Khan, and he seems to respect this. She chooses to be exiled with him, and he refers to her, upon hearing this, as “a superior woman.”
In TWOK we discover that Ceti Alpha V turned into a living hell in which Khan’s then wife, McGyvers dies, which he blames on Kirk, and he wants to avenge her. This is a quality that not all tyrants have. Later, when his long time follower dies, the last thing Khan says to him is “I will avenge you.” And I purport that he is successful in avenging this man’s death with the death of Spock. Also, he indirectly avenges his wife’s death when Kirk’s son is killed by a Klingon on the Genesis planet that Khan created.
I can’t help but love how he has a big ego and is unashamed of constantly reminding others of is genetically engineered intelligence/strength.
His philosophy seems the same as the ancient Greco-Roman, which is interesting when you consider that as a man of high intellect, who has studied contemporary philosophy and has pondered the advantages and disadvantages of each, would opt for the path of conquest, honour and glory. We know that he’s read Moby Dick, and is aware of what happens to Captain Ahab, but believes he can rewrite the story by outsmarting Kirk. Bold, considering that he’s taken a 200 year leap ahead in time, and has spent 15? years on a barren planet without any technology other than what they were left when exiled.
The success of getting off that planet and capturing the Reliant alone would be enough for most of us, and when his crewman counsels him that this in itself is victory enough and to be happy with his lot, he simply says “He [Kirk} asks me, he tasks me, and I shall have him.”
A truly passionate Poet-Warrior.
To him, peace and contentment are a bore; better to rule in Hell than serve in Heaven, as he indicates at the end of Space Seed. A worthy adversary is truly what he wants.
“To the last, I grapple with thee.”
“From Hell’s heart, I stab at thee. For Hate’s sake, i spit my last breath at thee.”
His final act is to activate the Genesis Device, and in doing so, create a new world, albeit a disastrous one. The Enterprise achieves warp and escapes, so yes, he misses the physical target, but wounds Kirk with the death of Spock, and takes his place as one of the best things to ever happen to the Star Trek franchise.
Remember too, that he’s an old man by this stage who has led an extraordinary life, one which he would rather not have peter out.