Well I guess they can’t really call it that but then again, I’m not here to pitch film titles or query sequel numbering. I’m here to throw a few ideas into the melting pot of what the sequel we must all be dying to see could be and I’m going to get straight to it. It goes without saying (except that I feel compelled to say it) that this new series of Trek has gotten off to a rousing start but the best thing about it is that there is so much further to go. The problem that faces the Bond series right now is that it seems an insurmountable task for any future film to be as good or better than ‘Casino Royale’. Ditto for the Batman series coming off of ‘The Dark Knight’. Star Trek wasn’t a perfect film but it’s flaws were easily visible and easily solved in future instalments.
Finding the story has to start with finding the villain. We all know that Eric Bana’s Nero was the weak link of the first film, due to the fact that instead of being a really compelling character, he was a plot device. The filmmakers needed to get Kirk and company out of the academy and into space quickly so the head of the Federation Council just spontaneously interrupts one scene and says Nero is causing some shit out there. I wouldn’t say he was one note but he wasn’t particularly fascinating either. We need something better this time around. We need something different, someone who is really the driving force of the story.
Practically all of the bad guys from the previous films have been ugly alien renegades, all competing with Ricardo Montalban’s legendary performance as Khan to see who can take the crown of the baddest boy in Star Trek. Not only do I not want them to resort to using Khan in a sequel but I think they really need to step away from that entire breed of villain. If they use the Klingons or Romulans the audience is ahead of the story. They know it’s going to come down to a duel in space between the Enterprise and the baddie ship. The baddie ship will find a weakness in the Enterprise and temporarily gain the advantage before the good guys tech tech the tech tech and figure out how to defeat the villain in a way totally incomprehensible to us. The baddie ship will get blown up and the Enterprise warps to its next adventure. It’s by the numbers. It’s a formula which defined the original series of films. It needs an overhaul. One of my few problems with the previous film was the Enterprise’s last minute escape from the black hole created when Nero’s ship is destroyed. The audience is supposed to be on the edge of their seats, wondering how our heroes are going to escape. Kirk tells Scotty to tech tech something in engineering and before we know what’s happened, the ship has escaped and we’re confused.
If you change the nature of the villain, you erase predictability from the film. If Starfleet itself were the villain, you wouldn’t know how Kirk and friends were going to win. Before you start having flashbacks of all the times in television and film that Starfleet had crooked personnel (which has certainly been done before), let me explain how this could really be interesting.
There are lingering questions left from the previous film. Spock Prime (that’s Leonard Nimoy to you and me) is stuck in the altered timeline now, charging himself with preserving and rebuilding his race on a new planet. It is abundantly clear that Kirk and young Spock are aware of this. Scotty probably knows too (though I could never figure out if really knew what was going on). But what anybody else? I would imagine that it would be customary for Kirk to have made a full report disclosing the events that have transpired. Did he lie? Has he covered up the existence of two Spocks occupying the same time? Does Kirk know that both Spocks spoke to each other despite the older one telling him that this could not be allowed to happen?
Regardless of the answers to these questions, the very existence of Spock Prime in this new timeline allows the next film to tell a story, not of time travel again, but of the long lasting impact that can result from playing with time. The characters who became aware of their altered futures and hoped that the defeat of Nero would wrap up the whole episode will learn that, besides the issue of whether forthcoming events will play out differently or occur at all, nothing could be further from the truth.
Let’s just say that either a high ranking Starfleet admiral or maybe even the commander in chief captures Spock Prime having learned that he is from another time. He gets Spock on a slab and uses one of those deus ex machina truth telling devices to get the Vulcan to spill his guts about everything; the entire history of the Star Trek timeline that we are familiar with. Our villain would not be a tyrannical despot, merely someone totally driven by their duty to protect the galaxy and stay ahead of the dangers and evils out there in order to make sure that a catastrophe such as the destruction of planet Vulcan never occurs again, which has been a wake up call for all of Starfleet. They see the opportunity in Spock Prime to have all the cards laid out on the table; our achievements, our enemies, our mistakes and make sure that Starfleet steers the right course from the get go. They find out about the Genesis project, the trouble with the Klingons, the Borg invasion, and the Dominion war that will cost millions of lives.
Now if you were in their situation and armed with that knowledge, what would you do? Would you stand back and have faith that the universe will unfold differently in this new timeline, or would you do something, anything, to prevent the terrifying future you were privy to?
That moral question would be at the heart of this story. It would allow each character in the film to have an opinion and would especially hit a nerve with Kirk and Spock whose current destinies owe themselves to the altered timeline which caused the loss of their parents. Everyone in the audience can relate to this dilemma as well, even on a small scale. We’ve all, at some stage when life is most uncertain, wished the cards could be laid out for us, that we could know what was going to happen and do something about it.
Our Starfleet admiral bad guy of course, refuses to take any chances with humanity’s future. From here the story can go in any number of directions. I think it is important to stay away from Klingons or direct references to events of previous films. But, for example, if Starfleet decided to mobilize its fleet and invade the Cardassian homeworld in order to either exterminate or scatter them, all to prevent their eventual alliance with the Dominion in the previous timeline, then it starts to turn into the exact opposite of what it should stand for. It becomes a fascist military machine, feeling the need to conquer and dominate the other species of the galaxy in order to protect the unforeseen and unprovable future. Who knows where it stops? It was Mr Jamie Williams who suggested to me that maybe Captain Pike (Bruce Greenwood) could end up a villain in the sequel. Maybe his brutal torture at the hands of Nero in the last film has had some lasting psychological damage.
The very concept that Starfleet’s decisions are now based, not on gathered intelligence, but clairvoyant predictions that cannot be proven is exactly what leads the gallant crew of the Enterprise to oppose and fight back against it. Before you get visions of previous Trek films where the crew did become renegades a few times, this would be a bigger picture. Starfleet itself would be split in two with Kirk leading not just his crew but a whole slew of star ships against the tyranny now happening, and not just Starfleet but alien races as well. And it isn’t a battle between the white hats and the black hats. The lines have become blurred. As the dark twists of the plot unfold, I’ve love to see the cinematography and colour palate of the first film‘s Enterprise, all flawless white surfaces, slowly twist and morph into something grungier and moodier, more akin to the dark red lighting of ‘Wrath of Khan’. I think it would be especially groovy if a villainous character from the previous films actually turned up in the new one cast in a heroic light. Imagine Kirk fighting side by side with a Klingon armada and the great hero of the battle, who maybe saves the lives of countless Starfleet officers, turns out to be Commander Kruge or General Chang.
The decision of the Enterprise crew to stand against their superiors will come to them lightly. Each character will have to wrestle with the dilemma of choosing the right course of action. I think it would be particularly potent to see Spock wrestling with the choice, just as he continues to wrestle with his emotional and his logical side. You may remember a scene in ‘Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country’ where Spock shared a private conversation with his young Vulcan protégé Valeris regarding the upcoming peace treaty with the Klingons. With Valeris frightened about how this turning point will change the future of the federation, Spock tells her to have faith that the universe will unfold as it must, to go with the flow, to trust in fate. She naturally replies “is that logical?”. I think the Star Trek fans out there especially would get a great buzz from seeing the young Spock go through the same dilemma that Valeris did, only he won’t make the same mistakes.
So actually having Starfleet itself as the villain accomplishes several things. As I said, it provides an unpredictable enemy and thusly an unpredictable film. It also allows us to really see Starfleet in detail and how it works. One of my favourite elements of the original films was how they really created an ensemble of Federation characters who we got to know over the course of the series; the commander in chief, the Federation president, the ambassadors, the admirals, and the captains. I really want to see that return in this series. The plot I propose may even provide a story that is so large that it can’t be all wrapped up in a neat little bow by the end of the one film. It might take several movies to tell the story. If that is the route the filmmakers go then I would advise them to take a page out of the original films, II, III & IV which told one large over-arching story but each one stood on its own legs, dealt with its own individual themes and did not require the viewer to see all three to understand what was going on.
I think this is one of those rare cases where we don’t have to worry. I’ve been saying since the first film came out that JJ Abrams Star Trek made the kind of ballsy choices that geeks like me groaned at when we first heard them and were proven totally wrong. If I were a studio executive and he pitched a reboot that actually kept the continuity of the previous series and involved time travel, I would have thrown his pitch right back at him. I would have been just as misguided as the studios who we make fun of for turning down movies that eventually become huge hits. That’s the lesson that Abrams Star Trek taught me; to keep an open mind. As long as he is involved I think he’s going to come up with something better than anything we can imagine or I can pitch. I’ll wait however many years it takes.
Now if you’ll excuse me, Star Trek is playing at my local IMAX, back by popular demand, and I have a ticket. See you next time.