Look. I liked the J.J. Abrams reboot of Star Trek just as much as the next sweaty dork at the cineplex. It was great to get a glimpse of Kirk and Bones and Spock kicking ass as young dudes, and learn how they all came to be on the same starship. For as imaginatively interesting as the film was, I still somehow don’t think the story made a whole lot of sense: this is a separate timeline?…and Vulcan has been destroyed by a guy who is pissed off because his wife died?…and wait, does this mean that all the old Star Trek canon is no longer valid…or that we’re in a separate timeline (Edit: I’m so confused I had to ask twice)? I give up.
In any event this new movie, Star Trek: Into Darkness is coming out and it’s got the guy from that BBC show that’s kind of turned into the Game of Thrones for PBS junkies. That’s all great and stuff, but here’s my problem. Retconning.
In the past ten years we’ve seen about a dozen series get “rebooted” in a similar way. James Bond, Iron Man, Batman, Spider Man (twice!), Star Trek, the Alien franchise, and a bunch of lesser franchises that I don’t especially care about have all gone back to their “source material” to find a fresh start. Bungie also successfully reexamined the longstanding series of Halo video games with Halo: Reach. In some instances this has been great. Casino Royale was possibly the best Bond movie I’ve seen, though the two that followed were somewhat mediocre (Edit: actually, Skyfall was awful). Spiderman was relatively successful with both of its reboots (though in some ways they were essentially the same goddamned movie). All three Batman movies were pretty amazing. Iron Man was less successful in its second installment, and I don’t think I need to go into what a disaster I thought Prometheus was.
The issue I have with returning to source material in this way is that, in the case of Star Trek and Prometheus, you get a lot of unnecessary and often unfortunate retconning that jampacks the story with all kinds of narrative complexity it doesn’t need. The other problem is that, in a series where there is a considerable amount of existing canonical material (in particular with Prometheus and Star Trek), you run into the problem of sapping drama from the story: we know what comes after, so in some sense what is about to happen in whatever we’re watching is essentially inconsequential, so it had better damned well be interesting on some other level.
The first Star Trek movie failed to do this. There was a villain, but really his story didn’t add anything to the movie as a whole. Spock’s arc was confusing as all get out, and Kirk was established as the guy who bangs alien women and punches alien dudes.
Of all these returns, Halo: Reach was, to my mind, the most successful, largely because it experimented (in somewhat embryonic form) with tragedy as a subject for the story of a video game. They even telegraphed this in their marketing campaign, stating “From the beginning, you know the end,” which is the essence of the tragic mode. A franchise like Star Trek can’t play into that, because it is the nature of a franchise to endure, and to continue generating more and more entertainment, more Happy Meal toys, more revenue. If that’s the case, why not just keep moving forward, instead? If the story is in a rut, break free in other ways. Don’t look to the past. Seriously, Hollywood, just stop already. I’ve had enough.
So, yeah, this new Star Trek movie, whatever it’s called. I know that Spock and Kirk survive into the future, because (thanks to all the canonical material) it’s a foregone conclusion. So there had better be something else to draw me in, and, alas, the “newness” you’re injecting by re-imagining the command deck of the Enterprise won’t cut it. We’ve already seen that. You’re going to have to do better.
[Bioware and the Mass Effect development team: If you're listening, this applies triply to you. I'm serious. Do not go back to the First Contact War. I will still buy your stupid game, but I will hate it.]