Tony Black on the addition of Chris Hemsworth’s George Kirk in Star Trek 4…
It’s been quite the week for Star Trek news, and it’s only Monday! With the looming arrival of Star Trek Beyond getting (much to my delight) very positive initial critical buzz, we’ve not only found out the new Bryan Fuller series next year will appear on Netflix internationally as well as CBS in America, joining the cavalcade of earlier series which have just gone live on the demand service, but Paramount dropped a massive reveal about the gestating Star Trek 4 before the third film has even landed: Chris Hemsworth is coming back, joining Chris Pine, and was described as such:
“In the next installment of the epic space adventure, Chris Pine’s Captain Kirk will cross paths with a man he never had a chance to meet, but whose legacy has haunted him since the day he was born: his father.”
Now if you remember, Hemsworth’s George Kirk was a central figure in the creation of the entire new timeline J.J. Abrams set up in 2009’s Star Trek, given how he went down with the USS Kelvin as time-travelling Nero changed history. In other words – he very dead. Why, then, does the fourth film in the franchise see the need to bring George back into the picture, and crucially how?
Well, to start with, the ‘how’ isn’t as a crucial as the ‘why’. This is Star Trek. It’s rules on time travel and changing timelines have always been so fluid and loose going back to the 1960’s that the writers of Deep Space Nine even created a joke department in Starfleet to try and keep track of them, and lest we forget the original fourth Trek movie The Voyage Home saw Captain Kirk & his crew slingshot around the fricken’ Sun to trip the light fantastic in 1986. What I’m saying is, writers J.D. Payne & Patrick McKay will find a way, and you shouldn’t worry too much about it. The ‘why’ of all this is more important, and as usual that comes down to dollar signs.
It cannot be coincidence that Paramount have chosen the week before Beyond hits theatres to announce the next film will have a massive Hollywood star, beloved from franchises as different as the Marvel Cinematic Universe to now the fledgling new Ghostbusters, in the saddle alongside Chris Pine & co. How often does that happen? Let’s be honest as to their reasons; they want to help give some extra ballast to Beyond by drumming up expectation for the movie beyond it, by promising a huge reunion between two characters, front loading the essential story and importantly assuring us Hemsworth will probably be the second lead after Pine’s Kirk. Great. Fine. Dandy. So how exactly is that Star Trek?
One of the major plus points of the positive Beyond buzz has been how much it honours the roots of Trek on this 50th anniversary, looking back fondly while doing its modern blockbuster thing, and if that’s the case then it could well end up on a par with the first Trek revival movie where we first met Hemsworth’s character, albeit briefly. Remember in 2009, nobody really knew who the guy was. He was on the cusp of Thor, of The Avengers, of an A-list he’s only really managed to sustain when he’s playing vaguely ‘dimbo’ comic characters (has he ever made a good, straight leading man movie? Good luck finding it).
Star Trek was a brief appearance on his way to mega stardom, and nobody would have imagined then that George Kirk would reappear. His death formed the arc for the pubescent Kirk as we saw him grow into a man, grow with difficulty over the last few movies into the captain of the Enterprise. In many respects, the Kelvin Timeline movies have been a ‘prequel’ to The Original Series when it comes to texture and storytelling, building to a point where Kirk is the Kirk that William Shatner played; roguish, playful but assured, in command.
Does bringing George back really help factor into concluding Kirk’s formative arc? Will it truly allow for a story in the best traditions of Star Trek? Or is it just based on the opportunity to throw a major bankable star into a franchise Paramount have struggled with deeply when it comes to marketing. They refuse to accept Star Trek is Star Trek and they don’t have to keep fashioning it into other things, be it Star Wars-ian action, plumped with Hollywood A-listers, or endorsed by a bloody Rihanna track draped all over the trailer!
This could all turn out fine, in fairness. Time travel plots in Star Trek have almost always been fun, especially at the movies. We’re assuming time travel of course when George may reappear in an entirely different fashion – it’s too early to know for sure. We won’t know more probably for quite some time as it’ll be at least 2018 when Star Trek 4 lands, probably later given the wait between the previous movies so far. For now, we need to go into Star Trek Beyond with Federation-style hope that we’ve got a movie worth of Trek’s 50 year celebrations, and all signs suggest we do.
Let’s not kid ourselves at the outset however that Chris Hemsworth’s return is likely driven by box office bankability more than narrative momentum, and while its too early to decry the move, let’s set impulse engines right now to cautious.
Tony Black is a freelance film/TV writer & podcaster & would love you to follow him on Twitter.