Maybe J.J. Abrams will really be able to helm Star Trek 3 after Star Wars VII. But we kind of doubt it. And out of all of the people in Abrams' orbit, there's one guy we'd actually like to see direct the next Star Trek: Cabin in the Woods director Drew Goddard. (Assuming Brad Bird isn't available, of course.) Here's why.
Back when Abrams took on the Star Trek series, he'd mostly worked in television, and the one film he had under his belt was Mission Impossible III. As big as a Tom Cruise tentpole film is, Star Trek was still a much bigger undertaking, and depending on your point of view Abrams either nailed it or at least created a super-successful space action movie.
So Goddard isn't that much less experienced than Abrams was when he took on Trek, and he'd have Abrams looking over his shoulder. Goddard is also the only one of Abrams' lieutenants, at this point, who has serious experience directing a full-scale movie at all. (Unless I'm forgetting someone.)
More to the point, the crucial quality you need in a Star Trek director, especially at this point in the series, is a focus on character and ideas, the ability to let scenes breathe a bit. And with Cabin, Goddard proved he can do that. Cabin is a lot of things — a smart genre pastiche, a pants-around-your-head crazy monster orgy, a nihilistic middle finger — but it's also a funny character piece that manages to establish its players while keeping a super fast pace.
Similarly, with Cloverfield, Goddard managed to make the "waiting for the monster to show up and start smashing everything" sequences not boring or annoying — we sort of cared about whether Rob was going to go to Japan, and what was going to happen with Rob and Beth. We didn't only root for these people to die horribly, which is par for the course in that sort of film. Goddard also wrote some decent episodes of Buffy, Angel, Lost and Alias, in which the characters mostly still got to breathe in the midst of the usual wacky situations. Including Angel's "Wolfram and Hart attacked by robot ninjas" episode, and the surprisingly good "brainwashed Connor comes back" episode.
And Goddard's been making moves into working on more tentpole action films — he wrote the screenplay for Steven Spielberg's Robopocalypse, and rewrote the ending of World War Z.
J.J. Abrams has succeeded in reviving Star Trek as a movie franchise for the 21st century, giving it the kind of "widescreen action movie" veneer it never quite had, even in the Nicholas Meyer glory days. But Abrams' heir ought to be someone who understands the "popcorn movie" thing but also knows how to deepen the characters and — we hope — focus more on some ideas. Someone who can explore the dynamic of the Enterprise crew, and take us beyond the "is Kirk too young and inexperienced to command a ship" question into new territory.
Everything we've seen about Star Trek Into Darkness suggests it'll be an angsty ride, in which Benedict Cumberbatch taunts our heroes and blows shit up while they question Kirk's leadership and their own worth. That's probably the right move, for a sequel to a film where Kirk got promoted from cadet to captain in like an hour. But for the third film, we'd love to see something more along the lines of The Voyage Home, where there's a bit more humor and lightness, and maybe Kirk gets to show a bit more sparkle. Goddard would be great for making that happen.
Third movies in series are often hit and miss — we're hopeful for Iron Man 3, but we still have vivid memories of X-Men: The Last Stand and Spider-Man 3. Abrams will probably end up having to hand off the next Star Trek to someone else, either one of his associates or a hired gun — and either way, we'd love to see Goddard take this on. Based on a lot of his TV work, plus Cabin in the Woods, Goddard might just be able to bring back more of the funny, philosophical side of Star Trek. It would probably be a fun movie, in any case.