The screenplay for the sequel to J.J. Abrams' better-than-we'd-dared-hope Star Trek is almost done, and news has been trickling out. We dig through all the evidence, and ask whether this film could avoid the dreaded ailment of sequel-itis.
So there's been a trickle of news about Star Trek 2 (or 12) lately, which we've been covering in our "morning spoilers" feature. But now that Orci, Kurtzman and Lindelof have almost finished the script, we've been poring over all the hints we've gotten about the next Trek chapter and wondering if it can build on what was great about the first film. Assuming Abrams even comes back to direct again, can he and his crew energizing the Dilithium chamber of great storytelling one more time?
Sequeli-itis is more than just a kind of rot, or blight, that attacks the branches of a successful original story. It's really an ailment of the soul, a withering of the innermost narrative spark. The more warmth and character a story had the first time around, the more damage sequel-itis can do — as opposed to, say, Transformers, which really didn't have that much greatness to ruin. (We list some general treatments for sequel-itis here.)
A great sequel actually builds on the themes and ideas in the first movie (or book, or whatever) and deepens the characters and their relationships. Not surprisingly, the have listed The Dark Knight as their model for how to do a great sequel. Said Damon Lindelof:
The bar is very, very high for the sequel. But I think we are looking at a movie like The Dark Knight which actually sort of went one step beyond Batman Begins. It was really about something and at the same time was a superhero movie. So we don't want to abandon all the things that made the first movie work - and have it sort of be fun and emotional, but we also really want the movie to thematically resonate, so we are putting on our highfalutin hats.
Which does sound like the right approach — and we're also encouraged by the fact that the writers have talked up the idea that this movie is about Trek's core characters, and the film's villain won't be as important as the developments of Kirk, Spock and company, and their relationships.
But here it's important to pause and ask what Star Trek was actually about — because it's not really about what the film-makers claimed it was about, back when it was hitting theaters. We were told Star Trek was showing us, for the first time, how Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Uhura and the rest came together aboard the Enterprise and how they became a crew. But although the film does provide us with an origin for these characters, it's really about people who have been thrown off their destiny, who are trying to get back on course. We, the viewers, "know" that Kirk is supposed to end up as captain, and Spock is supposed to be his friend and first officer — but because some bald tattooed asshole went back in time and fucked everything up, they're at odds and Kirk is tossed off the Enterprise onto the ice planet of the red ass-monsters.
So a big part of why Star Trek "works" as a film is that we see these relationships asserting themselves in spite of the curveball these characters have been thrown. Kirk is still able to assume command, he and Spock are finally able to trust each other, and the bromance remains intact. But some stuff is changed as a result of the timeline switch — among other things, Spock starts a romantic relationship with Uhura, and Vulcan is destroyed, killing Spock's mom. Spock is a lot more damaged and emotionally raw as a result, but he's also more open in some ways.
So the second movie, presumably, will be about strengthening and recreating those relationships — including the famous Kirk-Spock-McCoy triumvirate, in which Spock is the voice of reason and McCoy is the voice that shouts loudly and asks if people are out of their Vulcan minds.
And given that the first film was about these characters finding their destiny in the face of a curveball from the future, I'm guessing the second film will present them with a new challenge to their hard-earned status quo.
A while ago, Badass Digest cited an inside source who told them that the villain of Trek 2 won't be Khan (as fans everywhere had speculated) but rather another classic-series villain — "Harry Mudd or Trelane or Gary Mitchell or the Talosians or the Horta." This report has gained a lot of currency since it first came out, and so far nobody's come forward to contradict it, although it remains a rumor for now.
And mulling it over, the thing that jumps out at me is that three of those five villain candidates have one thing in common — they can screw with reality, or with your perception of reality. Trelane is basically a "Q" archetype, who has godlike powers over the physical world. Gary Mitchell's also got godlike powers (although they'd have to introduce him as a character and then show him passing through the barrier, which is a lot of build-up.) And the Talosians can make you experience any illusion they wish, which is the next best thing to warping reality itself. (For the person under the Talosians' power, there's no difference between these illusions and an altered reality.)
So assuming that report is true, there's a strong chance the villain in the next movie will be someone who can literally erase the ground under our heroes' feet and leave them with nothing solid to hang onto — except each other. (I'd call it a better than 60 percent chance, given that I don't see them doing the Horta storyline. I can't imagine the Horta sustaining an entire film, and they're not even really villains.) A reality-warping villain would be the perfect test for a crew who are already in the "wrong" timeline and trying to fulfill their original destinies.
The other piece of news — which is actually confirmed — is that the new movie will have a new character, a Vulcan woman, in it. (Or Romulan, possibly, but we just had Romulans in the last movie.) Writing about a meeting among the movie-makers, the New York Times says:
Mr. Orci, meeting with the producers J. J. Abrams, Damon Lindelof and Bryan Burk, and his fellow writer Alex Kurtzman, jump-started the discussion with an iPad slide show, showing stills from the first film, snapshots of potential locations and a photo of a suggested actress for one of the roles. On the woman's photo, he had used his iPad to paint on a Vulcan ear.
This could, of course, be someone who appears for a split second in the background of one scene. But the fact that Orci and company bothered to include her in their slide show of stuff that will be in the new movie, and speculated about what actress could play her, makes her sound slightly more significant.
And as people pointed out when we mentioned this in morning spoilers a while back, the idea of introducing a Vulcan woman brings up some obvious story points — with Vulcan destroyed and the Vulcan population drastically reduced, how will Vulcans handle going into Pon Farr, the every-seven-years mating drive that the males experience? And does someone like Spock have a duty to mate with a Vulcan woman, instead of sticking with Uhura and further diluting his already half-Vulcan bloodline?
I guess what it comes down to, in my book, is these characters continuing to grapple with the questions of "Who are we?" and "Who are we meant to be?" Which, one way or another, are the issues every hero or set of heroes has to deal with in their journeys. What will make this a really compelling follow-up, rather than a lukewarm sequel, is if these characters are tested more heavily, and forced to make bigger leaps of faith as a result, than they were in the first film. And if there's more away missions on cool planets, more Kirk outbluffing baddies, more McCoy freaking out, and more starship battles, of course.