So Justin Lin, director of several entries in the Fast and the Furious franchise, is slated to steer the next Star Trek cinematic feature after J.J. Abrams' departure. Abrams, you'll recall, is now in charge of the ludicrously anticipated revival of the Star Wars saga. Hard to blame him for leaving with that kind of opportunity!
Y'know, this seems disturbingly familiar. You don't think... Oh, man. X-Men. X-Men! You know what I mean, right? I mean I hope that this isn't another swerve along the lines of what we saw the X-Men films endure. I don't think I could stand to go through all that again!
Remember? Bryan Singer left the franchise which he had pioneered to grab a chance to helm a promising legacy project. Hopes were high, but the result was a critically acceptable but arguably uninteresting Superman film which led nowhere and a mediocre turn for the X-Men series, which nosedived away from the standards set by the first two installments with a director who focused on spectacle over logic and consistent characterization.
I hope history isn't repeating itself. Maybe Justin Lin will do good! Maybe he'll stretch comfortably into the sci-fi genre. Maybe... As it is, though, I'm sorry to see Abrams go. I suppose many of the criticisms aimed at his tenure are valid, but I didn't mind his work at all. He seemed to have enough reverence for the source material to supply it with a sense of grandeur which balanced the "popcorn flick" vibe. Yes, they were action movies, but they were also tightly constructed and set against a palpable backdrop of cosmic whimsy. I think a lot of people don't appreciate just how much J.J. appreciates Star Trek for what it is!
Take Into Darkness, for example. I was worried at first when I saw the trailers. It all seemed so... well, dark. And violent! Not that there's anything wrong with that, but Star Trek has other qualities to aspire to. And yet, I was surprised. Yes, there's lots of fisticuffs and popcorn moments, but there's also an undercurrent in the narrative which seems to address that very schism.
Kirk becomes driven to pursue a villain and must wrestle with his impulse to slaughter the evildoer. It's his drive for violence versus his morals as a Starfleet officer, and the crew notices the ethically questionable nature of their shadowy mission right off the bat. Scotty at one point directly chastises the captain... "I thought we were explorers!" And that's what the title means. The Enterprise is venturing into a dark area, endangering their nature as the benign cosmonauts we know and love.
And it's something that's happened in every incarnation of the franchise, from the TV shows on to the older movies, that progression of focus from the mysteries of the universe to shoot-em-up thrills. Folks pick on Abrams' films, but were they that much more "action oriented" than Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country? And that was a pretty good movie! So was First Contact. Insurrection and Nemesis weren't so good, but they were both also largely action flicks. Really, Abrams was simply continuing a trend, and perhaps attempting to mitigate it. Because ultimately, in Into Darkness, Kirk reaffirms the purpose of Starfleet and its noble principals, eschewing the corrupting elements that had taken root in the institution. A return to form, as it were. To me that film's message was a wonderful metaphor for Star Trek's ongoing struggle to retain its soul, and I'm thankful to Abrams and his team for it.
So, would J.J. have then veered away from action to focus more on philosophical themes in subsequent films? I doubt it. It's not really his forte (not in this context, anyway). But I also don't think he would have ever abandoned the latter entirely to focus on the former, even if it only ever came down to lip service. He still tried to remind us what the series stood for, even if he couldn't quite achieve it. I may be reading too much into all this, maybe it's just wishful thinking, but I could swear that amidst all the blockbuster fuel there's still that respect for the original ideals. And if Justin Lin can't at least echo the same sentiment, I'm afraid we may be in for another Last Stand.
And hey, while we're at it... let's also hope that The Force Awakens turns out better than Superman Returns.