Over the last week or so, details regarding a pair of space adventure sequels have started rolling in, and while there isn’t much to interpret as of yet, I do think it is interesting to consider the choices being made by these two franchises. I am speaking, of course, of the Star Trek franchise, and the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise, both of which are set to release films in the next two years (the former in July 2016, the latter in May 2017). It is interesting to consider these franchises side-by-side, as both are basically space operas but differ wildly in terms of tone and execution. And, despite being the more nascent franchise, I am of the opinion that it is the Guardians of the Galaxy franchise which actually has a brighter future – especially with regards to the next entry.
The relevant news items prompting this entry was the confirmation of each film’s title, as well as some of-the cuff remarks regarding the storylines and tones of the films. The third entry in the Star Trek rebooted franchise is titled, Star Trek Beyond. This is actually an apt title, as director Justin Lin and writer Simon Pegg have claimed that the film will seek to take the story of Star Trek in brand new directions, introducing new planets and species in lieu of retreading storylines from the past as was the case with the embarrassing and pandering Star Trek Into Darkness. And, while these intentions certainly are cause for celebration, another declaration from Pegg is cause for great worry. Apparently, he was hired as a writer to punch up an early script from Roberto Orci which was deemed “too Star Trek-y”. We can take this two ways: first, that Orci (a self-described Trekkie) just had too many references and in-jokes for the film to appeal to a broad audience, or second: that Orci’s script focused on high-minded science fiction concepts and less on starship battles and action sequences. I hope it is the former, but I fear it is the latter.
The spirit of Star Trek is that of a high-concept treatment of deep space travel grounded in exploration and scientific inquiry. Where J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek films failed (at least in my opinion) was in the decision to dispense with these kinds of themes and turn Star Trek into Generic Space Adventure Film with Characters Some of You May Know (not as catchy, eh?). Those films contain almost none of the awe and wonder of space exploration that the best Star Trek stories always had. And while I am not a gigantic Star Trek fan, I think members of any fandom would quickly balk at removing the essence of that fandom from the stories. Do we want the Spiderman reboot to be “less Spiderman-y”, or this year’s Star Wars film to be “less Star Wars-y”. Is anyone looking forward to a Coen brothers film that they describe as “less Coen Bros-y”? Couple this baffling statement with principle photography having begun only last week (June 25th, 2015) due to multiple script rejections and you start to get really worried. Further, since there is pressure to release the film in the summer of 2016 in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Star Trek franchise, it is rumored that the script still isn’t completely finished and they simply had to start filming anyway in order to be done on time. All this adds up to some extreme apprehension regarding the promise of Star Trek Beyond.
On the other hand, the new entry into the Guardians franchise is to be titled, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. While some have criticized this title for being bland or outright boring, I rather enjoy the restraint that it takes to go simple and clean like this. Marvel’s other titles can get so incredibly jumbled (Captain America: The First Avenger, Captain America: Winter Soldier, Captain America: Civil War, anyone?) that I am glad Guardians has decided to go the Iron Man route. The notion of having to navigate weird subtitles like Guardians of the Galaxy: Weird Space Thing does not excite me, so I am fine with just numbering these stories. And, fortunately for fans of the first film this volume will also be directed by James Gunn, so we can expect a similar tone, although Gunn has recently stated that Vol. 2 will be “more emotional” than its predecessor.
This isn’t a great deal to go on, but other statements from Gunn indicate that we will be dealing heavily with “fathers” (probably Starlord’s). Gunn is quick to point out that with the entire galaxy at the disposal of the storytellers, it can be quite easy to over-reach and complicate your story. This will become a serious issue with the Marvel films in general (especially with The Avengers: Infinity War Parts I and II), so it is incredibly encouraging to see Gunn dedicated to telling a focused, emotional story over a sprawling science fiction epic. Since it still exists in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, there will be the sense of the larger forces at play and how they fit into the world, of course. But, all indications up to this point suggest that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 will seek to paradoxically expand the universe of the first film while simultaneously shrinking the focus of the storytelling to connect more emotionally with the audience. That tension will lead to some astounding film making, and I am excited to see what comes of it.
We hardly know anything of the plots of these films, but the early news inspires more confidence in the success of Guardians Vol. 2 than Star Trek Beyond. Tell me: would you rather bet on the film with an extra year to write, shoot, and edit and with a clear conception of its tone and scope – or the film being hurried along to meet an iconic deadline, script be damned? How about the film returning a successful director with his own stylistic aesthetic, or the one which settled on a director made famous for directing Fast and the Furious sequels? And finally, only one of these films will star newly-minted king of Hollywood Chris Pratt, and it isn’t the one actively trying to stray from the flavor of its own franchise. This is an easy call: Guardians will triumph; Star Trek will embarrass.
Photo courtesy of thegalaxyjournal