These are my Shatner bona-fides:
I had the 3-3/4″ Kirk figure from the first movie, when it first came out. I cried – literally – when my local station replaced Star Trek reruns (I didn’t know they were reruns) with the time-travel show Voyagers (relax, folks…I grew to like that one eventually). I bought The Transformed Man on CD as a special-order import before it was widely available here, and I have the double-live one-man show performance on vinyl. Before Animaniacs did their karaoke spoof or MTV had him speak-sing “I Wanna Sex You up,” I was playing the shit out of the Golden Throats compilations, watching TJ Hooker re-runs and cracking up at every dramatic pause, and generally hailing Shatner as an entertainment god. Everyone who attended college with me can verify this obsession. Hell, my student film was a fake Twilight Zone episode about an evil Captain Kirk doll.
And yes, I was pleased to see the man return as Captain Kirk at the Oscars, just as pleased as Seth MacFarlane probably was to get him to do it. But let’s be real: he didn’t look like an admiral commanding a starship (the future equivalent of a John McCain type, let’s say). He looked like your red-faced dad in front of the TV on his easy chair.
Oh, and another thing: Captain Kirk is fucking dead. That’s not the only reason I don’t want “Kirk Prime” in Star Trek 3, but it’s a good place to start. Yes, William Shatner retconned the death in a series of books that aren’t canon. Yes, it was a horribly lame death that felt like the publicity stunt it was. But in hindsight, it makes some sense – did you think Kirk would ever go out like a Klingon’s bitch, on the pointy end of some galaxy-threatening weapon? No. Kirk RULES. He would have that shit figured out, and know exactly how to beat it every time. Falling off a stupid bridge? That’s the kind of unexpected thing that would have to take him out if anything does.
In the first Star Trek reboot, there was a tentative idea of showing Shatner as a hologram, in a gift given to Old Spock, who would show it to Young Spock as proof of the friendship to come. It was cut, and rightfully so, because the story had already made clear to the characters that they were destined to be friends. I have a feeling Roberto Orci thinks trimming the excess there was a mistake, and that’s what has me worried.
See, to properly pass the torch…one person involved has to let go.
There are numerous examples out there of original actors saving the asses of movie reboots. Mel Gibson’s Maverick got a great boost from James Garner. Ray Walston’s third-act reveal in My Favorite Martian made the rest of the thing almost tolerable. And the way JJ Abrams, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman tied in Leonard Nimoy to make their 2009 Star Trek both a sequel and a reboot was, let’s be honest, brilliant. Even if you personally didn’t like it, or have other issues with the film, you have to admit it was the smartest possible way to try and win new fans while keeping the old.
Unfortunately, it became so clear that that was what people liked the most, JJ did it a second time. For a lot of its running time, Star Trek Into Darkness is really quite decent – the action sequences are well shot, the likable cast have charisma, Peter Weller’s a great secret bad guy, and Benedict Cumberbatch’s character named Khan is a perfect ambiuguous antagonist, apart from the fact that he’s named after someone he neither acts like nor looks like.
Then they give us the fan service they thought we wanted, and everything falls apart. Wrath of Khan “with a twist” is what killed off the Next Generation movies, yet they try it again…and if that’s not bad enough, Leonard Nimoy is trotted out again as a deus ex machina to explain exactly who this Khan fellow is and how they can beat him, rather than figuring it out on their own. It’s like “The Naked Now,” easily one of the worst early TNG episodes, where they spend the whole episode going, “Hmmm, I remember another ship named Enterprise having this exact same problem. How did they fix it?”
And now, just when we thought that finally all the throwbacks were out of the filmmakers’ system and we could get to NEW adventures…they want Shatner back.
What’s the best-case scenario here? In my mind, it would be something like Picard-Shinzon in reverse, with Shatner playing a clone of Kirk (Chris Pine) who ages more rapidly. And yeah, Picard-Shinzon was such a great idea, right? Even watching it again with all the hindsight of a current Tom Hardy fan, I cannot get into that performance.
The worst-case scenario is that the new crew goes back to the goddamn Nexus and a shadow or clone of Kirk is still in there, or they somehow otherwise pluck him from an alternate timeline. Maybe he has a goatee and is in the Mirror universe – that would be an excuse to bring back any number of actors from different TV incarnations (please, no). Either way, he hams it up, makes big hand gestures, and possibly does an old-man dropkick, or seduces somebody impossibly young. Fans cheer because it’s Shatner…then have no emotional reason to see part four because he overshadowed all the current crew we’re supposed to be investing in. And by the way, this isn’t comparable to having old Mark Hamill in Star Wars Episode VII; I was promised Old Jedi Master Luke in Episode VII THIRTY DAMNED YEARS AGO. Just like I was promised that Kirk was dead.
If Star Trek is to survive as a property, it needs to tell new stories – the best relaunch it ever had was The Next Generation, which briefly acknowledged McCoy before doing its own thing. What hampered Trek in later incarnations was trying to sustain multiple timeline continuity at once, Enterprise suffering prequel syndrome, and the lack of forward movement – skipping to the generation after Picard and company would have been a better move than standing still or going back. The new Trek movies created a tangent universe originally with the idea that they’d be unbound by previous continuity. Unfortunately, nostalgia-blinded filmmakers keep voluntarily tying themselves into those knots.
If you want to give me a William Shatner nostalgia movie, give me a Free Enterprise sequel – Robert Meyer Burnett wants to make it. Give me a TJ Hooker spoof movie a la 21 Jump Street, with Shatner playing Hooker as the oldest cop on the beat. I’d pay for those immediately. I’ll take more Shatner any day.
I’d just prefer to let the old James T. Kirk rest in peace.