What Ruined The Mummy? Bad Decisions

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Nearly every decision made regarding Alex Kurtzman’s THE MUMMY was the result of bad decisions, mostly on the part of executives. And those bad decisions are Legion, for they are many.

1. MAKING A MUMMY MOVIE

You can actually reverse-engineer the decision disturbingly easily.

EXEC 1: We want to make a shared continuity universe like Marvel has, because those make money. Let’s use our old-school monsters. Who’s our most popular one?

EXEC 2: Dracula!

EXEC 1: Yeah! But nobody liked DRACULA UNTOLD (2014), and we jumped the gun on making that our shared continuity movie.

EXEC 2: Frankenstein!

EXEC 1: But other companies made I, FRANKENSTEIN (2014) and VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN (2015), and nobody liked those.

EXEC 2: Ummm… The Wolfman?

EXEC 1: WOLFMAN (2010). Nobody liked that either.

EXEC 2: Creature from the Black Lagoon? Invisible Man?

EXEC 1: Too small.

EXEC 2: The Mummy?

EXEC 1: Yeah! We could blow around sandstorms, destroy cities, and do all kinds of crazy stuff!

EXEC 3, who has been silent all this time: But won’t audiences just compare that with the popular MUMMY 1999 franchise?

EXEC 1: NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOPE!

Spoilers: EVERYONE has done that, and THE MUMMY hasn’t looked good because of it.

There’s nothing wrong on paper with making a Mummy movie, but in the age of reboots, you have to be especially careful about audience burnout and the optics of sullying a fan favorite. THE MUMMY (1999) IS a fan favorite, and if Universal doesn’t have enough evidence of this from its box office success and continued DVD sales, it certainly does from the fact that The Mummy is STILL a major ride at their theme parks.

It’s not been that long since THE MUMMY: TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR (2008), which came out 7 years following THE MUMMY RETURNS (2001). Audiences had plenty of reason to wonder if MUMMY (2017) was a sequel or reboot or wonder why Brendan Fraser didn’t return.

2. MAKING THIS AN ACTION MOVIE

Regardless of my love for the action-horror genre and my unpopular opinion that MUMMY (2017)’s horror scenes were among the few things it got right, horror is enjoying a renaissance, with movies like GET OUT (2017), IT FOLLOWS (2015), THE CONJURING SERIES, and THE PURGE SERIES showing how very much is possible within it. Universal’s “Dark Universe” could’ve truly stood out if only it’d fully committed to its horror. While its original movies were horror-dramas, they eventually evolved into action-horror movies. That gave audiences plenty of time to fall in love with the characters to care about their slugfests. Audiences today are clambering for the next big, exciting horror movie. There’s no reason why Universal couldn’t have started with a mid-budgeted horror movie and worked its way up from there.

By that same token, the UNDERWORLD and RESIDENT EVIL movie franchises have demonstrated that with a mid-level budget, you can make exciting movies that are consistently both action & horror without betraying either. THE MUMMY (2017) was initially slated to be directed by Len Wiseman of UNDERWORLD fame, and probably would’ve been a more appropriate movie for that.

3. FORCING THE SHARED CONTINUITY

I’m all for Universal’s “Dark Universe” of classic monsters. I love gothic horror, and I believe that there’s a place for it in a modern setting. By the same token, I respect anyone who has “shared universe burnout,” especially when MUMMY (2017) shits the bed with it.

IRON MAN (2008), only establishes its shared continuity status in its post-credits scene with Nick Fury, which is nothing more than, “We’d like to put more superheroes together. Whaddya think?” In THE MUMMY, Russell Crowe’s Dr. Jekyll commandeers the movie with his monster-hunting organization, Prodigium. It effectively becomes HIS movie, undercutting whatever interest you probably hadn’t been building for Tom Cruise’s Nick, Annabelle Wallis’ Jenny, or Sofia Boutella’s Ahmanet. Nearly the entire second act takes place in Prodigium’s headquarters, where you’re treated to shots of a vampire and werewolf skull, the Creature from the Black Lagoon’s arm, THE MUMMY (1999)’s book of the dead, and Dr. Jekyll’s transformation into Mr. Hyde. It’d feel random as hell if those scenes –Nick’s heart to heart with Jenny, Ahmanet’s schemes in captivity, and Mr. Hyde’s Hulk-inspired fight- weren’t lifted directly from THE AVENGERS (2012).

These scenes work for monster nerds like me, but for everyone else, they feel like a marketing plan. “This is how we plan to make billions of dollars. We don’t care if the story makes sense, just that you know that we’re going to keep making these things until the money stops rolling in.”

4. HIRING ALEX KURTZMAN

Alex Kurtzman, the critically-panned writer of TRANSFORMERS 1-3, STAR TREK: INTO DARKNESS (2013), and AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 (2014) was hired to shepherd in Universal’s “Dark Universe” clearly not out of talent, but because those movies had been BANKABLE. Well, except ASM2. Kurtzman’s gotten lucky in being attached to sturdy franchises and bankable directors like Michael Bay and J.J. Abrams, making his own success cloudy at best. The man isn’t tested with an original property, which THE MUMMY half-is, at least for audiences in their teens & twenties.

Considering those above movies, Kurtzman is an awful idea as a creative head: He’s a lazy writer. To be clear, his work ethic is fine, but he doesn’t care about the craft of storytelling, and holy shit, does it show. INTO DARKNESS, ASM2, and THE MUMMY highlight a writer who arranges scenes in any order without tonal flow or a clear cause-and-effect. He only seems to know how to write lame banter for 14 year-old douchebags, making everyone sound like an idiot. He routinely writes himself into dead ends, and his ONLY solution is Deus Ex Machina (THE MUMMY features about FIVE instances where outside forces inexplicably stop The Mummy from stabbing major characters). Kutzman doesn’t care about internal logic (The Mummy wants to stab Tom Cruise with a magic knife, but the movie is never clear if that’s a good thing or a bad thing and what the consequences truly are). Finally, Kurtzman is a writer with a DEEPLY traditional view of sexual politics. If the Mummy’s relentlessly sucking-out-men’s souls doesn’t convince you, check out the male gaze in TRANSFORMERS 1-3 and INTO DARKNESS, and the fridging of Gwen Stacy in ASM2.

This is not a guy you want anywhere near your mass-appeal summer blockbuster designed to herald in a sprawling shared continuity. He’s going to set a bad tone.

5. $125 MILLION PRODUCTION BUDGET

For fun, let’s run some numbers.

-Universal’s WOLFMAN (2010): $150 mil. budget, $61.9 mil. domestic, $139.7 mil. worldwide.

-Lionsgate’s I, FRANKENSTEIN (2014): $65 mil. budget, $19 mil. domestic, $71.1. mil. worldwide.

-Universal’s DRACULA UNTOLD (2014): $70 mil. budget, $56.2 domestic, $217 mil. worldwide.

-Fox’s VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN (2015): $40 mil. budget, $ 5 mil. domestic, $34.2 mil. worldwide.

Things to note, none of these movies, even the two enjoying Universal’s marketing, were able to break $70 million domestic. All four of these movies took a domestic loss for whatever reason (all four of them are bad-or-iffy movies). Only DRACULA UNTOLD was profitable worldwide, owing almost exclusively to the widest distribution and the emerging global market.

Conclusions: There IS a market for classic horror monsters, but a nascent one. It needs to be developed, not expected. Budgets over $100 million are, at this stage, untenable, when you can only expect an average (of the Universal brand horror movies) of $59.05 million domestic at best (for bad movies). The worldwide box office is a lifesaver, but that doesn’t exactly build excitement for franchises.

A safe budget is probably in the $70-$90 million range. DRACULA UNTOLD (2014) had a reported budget of $70 million, and it’s a good-looking movie with decent talent. Bummer that the movie itself was mediocre.

6. HIRING TOM CRUISE

Tom Cruise is a legendary actor who probably starred in one of your favorite movies, but when’s the last time he hasn’t coasted on just playing an idealized version of himself? In the last 7 years, he hasn’t. His star his dimmed, and if you hire Tom Cruise, the 55 year-old is going to act as if he was 30, and damned if that isn’t out of place.

Just like he’s fallen into niche roles, Tom Cruise has fallen into niche MOVIES. He stars in glossy action movies where he can banter and show off his physicality. His supporting female love interests are always tech/lore/intellectually savvy and play foible to him. He doesn’t have character arcs, but he grows in power throughout. When you see Tom Cruise in a starring role, you know you’re getting “a Tom Cruise movie,” not whatever else a movie might want to be. Thanks to Tom Cruise, THE MUMMY was branded as “a Tom Cruise movie,” which I have to believe hurt it.

7. HIRING TOM CRUISE

Bear with me, because this speaks to another bad executive decision. Why would you hire Tom Cruise? Outside of MISSION IMPOSSIBLE, his movies don’t consistently clear $100 million domestically and are routinely saved by the foreign market. At best, audiences show tepid interest to his work.

Chances are, he was hired because he’s Tom Cruise, a name that was huge a decade or two ago. Remember that picture of the actors hired for Universal’s Dark Universe? Russell Crowe, Johnny Depp, Tom Cruise… these are men who were gigantic a decade ago, but now… aren’t. Their personal reputations and box office performances have ruined their brand. There’s much to be made about how the star system is defunct, but the big actors and actresses now are people like Ryan Gosling, Bryan Cranston, Tom Hardy, Emma Stone, Jennifer Lawrence, and Scarlet Johansson. THOSE are the kinds of people you want to hire to usher in a new era.

Even then, look at Marvel’s approach: they hired people JUST on the verge of popping. People who could be defined by their MCU roles, not the reverse. Sofia Boutella as Ahmanet is this kind of excellent casting so OF COURSE…

8. THE MUMMY RUINS AHMANET

In the age of EVERYONE clambering for diversity and positive representation in roles, especially after the success of THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015) and ROGUE ONE (2016), it seemed like a great idea to make Sofia Boutella Ahmanet, the Mummy. An Egyptian princess out for revenge because her kingdom was stolen from her? BRILLIANT. Sounds like a great way to attack the idea of the glass ceiling and those who enforce it.

Except Alex Kurtzman has an extremely traditional view of sexual politics and gender roles. As an example, when we’re introduced to Annabelle Wallis’ Jenny, we’re immediately told that Tom Cruise’s Nick bedded her to steal information. Our supporting female lead is introduced as a sex object.

Ahmanet fairs little better. Her intro in ancient Egypt is heavily exoticized and eroticized, but things nosedive when Nick falls under her curse. Ahmanet’s curse basically means you have waking wet dreams about her, most of which confusingly end with undead sexual assault. Ahmanet grows her powers by sucking the life-force of men, and attempts to sexually manipulate others into doing her bidding. Ahmanet’s, a brunette, actions run counter to Jenny’s, a blonde, who continually calls Nick to the high path, confident that there’s some good in him, despite all evidence to the contrary.

So much for a feminist character.

Worse, Nick’s solution to killing Ahmanet is to suck out HER life-force, which is undeniably coded on the screen as rape. Then it’s heavily implied that Cruise will become the next Mummy.

Nicely done, Kurtzman.

9. PREMIERING THE WEEKEND AFTER WONDER WOMAN

Snarky point, but it highlights executive bad decision-making. It nearly says EVERYTHING about what went wrong during every phase of THE MUMMY’s production.

Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman was the ONLY character who emerged unscathed from BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE (2016), and Jenkins’ titular movie was getting strong buzz throughout its development. Wonder Woman is an established brand, not to mention THE most widely-known female superhero in western comics. Even if the DCEU was a three-movie failing brand, people WERE going to see Wonder Woman just BECAUSE IT’S WONDER WOMAN.

This should’ve behind why it’s hard for a Superman or Batman movie to fail, but…

…executives commonly think that since movies like CATWOMAN (2004), ELEKTRA (2005), and SUPERGIRL (1984) failed, female-led superhero movies flat cannot be successful. It’s pitifully reductive thinking that ignores every more relevant detail of those projects, and it’s nakedly misogynistic. Boiling it down, the execs behind THE MUMMY thought that WONDER WOMAN, a movie all about the positivity of women, their representation, and their role in the world, couldn’t be successful.

Oops.

There are a myriad of other nitpicks for THE MUMMY. Jake Johnson’s ghost corpse clearly rips off AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON. Nearly all the dialogue. A host of logical and continuity errors. But these aren’t isolated things that spell doom for movies –after all, look at Michael Bay and J.J. Abrams’ ongoing success.

The bigger failing is in the executive decisions that made THE MUMMY feel like a movie of the early 90s instead of the late 10s. It feels like a throwback, ignoring all the progess cinema has made since MUMMY 1999, except for the shallow sequel-delivery vehicle of cinematic universes. Audiences don’t want to see business models; they want to see good movies, and that didn’t happen here.

Personally, I have hope for Bill Condon’s BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (2019). Condon’s a strong director with an undying passion for the original movie, and he’s clearly got things to say about untraditional gender roles, romance, and dysfunction. It’ll probably be a good movie.

But will audiences care? I’ve already heard people wondering why it should be made before Frankenstein, or just how badly THE MUMMY would’ve ruined its brand.

Maybe executives will learn the right lesson here, back off, and let Condon do his crazy thing. Or maybe they’ll make him bend over backwards to get a cameo with Johnny Depp’s Invisible Man.

They probably will.

Should The Mummy Be a Horror Movie?

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Even though I’m excited for THE MUMMY (2016), I’m waiting for it to bomb, critically and financially.

The conversation leading up to this movie has been fascinating. Those in the critic community have pointed out the blandness of the trailers; that the movie seemingly can’t decide on a tone; and that it seems like a cynical, Marvel-inspired cash grab. Time will tell how accurate those thoughts are.

More interestingly, others have stated that they don’t want an action-horror Mummy movie, and would prefer a straight horror movie. While I respect that impulse as a horror fan, I’m not sure I buy it. Not when THE MUMMY (1999) -action horror with comedy elements- is still highly regarded.

From there, I’m having trouble parsing out the expectations for THE MUMMY (2016) and Universal’s “Dark Universe.” If it’s a wish for it not to be a cynical cash grab, I understand, respect, and agree with that argument, and can only hold out hope that THE MUMMY holds together despite its iffy trailers. If it’s “we only want this as a horror movie,” well… doesn’t that seem unreasonable?

Put simply, “only if it’s horror” is “I don’t want X to be Y.” and it’s an overly simplistic sentiment that has bedeviled horror for decades.

In a genre closely related to comedy, horror is all about eliciting physical reactions in viewers. That’s the point of the jump scare. That’s the point of dread and suspense. But what about when horror isn’t trying to scare you? The latter Freddy and Jason movies are trying to make you squirm and laugh with the absurdity of the gore. ALIEN COVENANT generally doesn’t use suspense and prominently displays its creatures. Is that scary? No. Is it horror? Yes.

SLITHER is a fantastic creature feature with heart, but it’s more funny than scary. CABIN IN THE WOODS starts as an effective, self-aware slasher, but it’s more interested in satirizing a subgenre than scaring. THEY LIVE is sort of an action comedy, but its implications about corporate and political control are the stuff of paranoid nightmares. Horror represents a broad range of subgenres (hauntings, slashers, body horror, etc.), but why do we keep trying to police what horror can/can’t be? Psychological horror and zombie movies aren’t alike, but both are valid. Both explore different kinds of horror, some that might not rely on big scares. Hell, ALIENS is one of the greatest movies ever made, but it toes the line between action and horror.

My point is that the Universal Monsters don’t need to be pure horror movies to be good or important. Yes, their original movies were horror, but as their titular characters shared sequels, they became horror-dramas, and ultimately horror-action movies. What else do you call it when the Wolf-Man wrestles the Frankenstein Monster?

The real strength of the Universal Monsters, to me, is less in outright terror, but in our own empathy. We can see ourselves in them. Who hasn’t felt like the Frankenstein monster, struggling for purpose and identity in a world that can seem hostile and alienating? Who hasn’t been attracted to the idea of Dracula’s seductiveness and power? Who isn’t scared of losing control of their base instincts like the Wolf-Man? The Universal Monsters are veritable Jungian archetypes for our understanding of the world, which has led to them enduring as Halloween costumes and symbols for all these years. We may not have had a true theatrical Dracula, Frankenstein, and Wolf-Man movies for ages, but their derivatives are ubiquitous.

To that end, a successful Universal Monster movie doesn’t need to be a horror move in the jump-scare-gore-fest-high-tension-sense; it needs to explore a part of ourselves that’s simultaneously horrifying… and alluring. Whatever mode it takes -action, horror, drama, even comedy- it just has to be honest with itself and to the audience.

Does that mean that “The Mummy” (2017) will be a good movie just for being emotionally honest? No. It could still have poor characters, bland action, lame horror, and little overall merit. Hell, if it’s as paint-by-the-numbers as its trailer looks, it could be a snooze. But it WON’T fail by virtue of its genre.

So yeah. Action-horror. Time for everybody to start reappraising VAN HELSING.

Because that movie rules.

Star Trek: Into Defecation

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So Roberto Orci is officially going to direct Star Trek 3. With his screenwriting record and zero equivalent directing experience, everyone’s naturally a little leery.

So hey! Let’s use that as not-topical-anymore excuse to write how I would’ve done Star Trek 2!

Star Trek: Into Darkness was something of a failure. Sure, it made a hefty profit for Paramount, but at the cost of alienating fans with a plot hole-laden script and a writer and director who seemed unable to accept criticism. Profits do not equal critical acclaim. The longer you look at its troubled script, the worse the movie looks –like a cardboard movie stand-up: Pretty, but flat, and with one good shove the whole thing falls down.

Now, to be clear, I don’t blame all of this on the writers or director. The executives at Paramount hired Abrams because he wasn’t a Star Trek fan; they wanted someone to pull in gen. audience, and that largely seems to have been successful, even if he was basically shooting a Star Wars demo reel. There were early rumblings that nobody involved wanted a Wrath of Khan script. Nobody wanted the comparisons, nobody wanted to rehash that story, and nobody wanted the complete lack of surprise such a story would bring, even with Abrams’ Mystery Box ™ approach. The movie just seems to be an epic case of executive mismanagement, containing numerous fan service Easter Eggs like the Caitian Hookers, the Tribble, and Khan so gen audiences could feel clever for recognizing Star Trek ephemera, and so fans would have some semblance of appeasement.

And there are some bright spots in the movie: The crew’s escape from the red jungle planet of Nibiru, and breaking the Prime Directive to save Spock from a volcano is an impressive opening sequence. It frustrated longterm Trekkies, sure, but it’s in line with its predecessor’s action-over-science script. Kirk’s subsequent demotion seems to pull the script in other interesting directions. The attack on the counsel was smart, surprising, and appropriately visceral. Finally, Kirk’s fifth-wheelmanship when Uhura’s having it out with Spock was an inspired character moment. There’s enough good to work with in Star Trek: Into Darkness, but its 9/11 conspiracy vibe, lack of character focus, and countless minor hiccups like kicking a nuclear reactor to make it work blew it all to dust

So what could’ve been done?

1. Make it a Star Trek movie.

You laugh, but I’m dead serious. Make it about alternate dimensions, time travel, philosophy, culture shock, and social paralysis – the kinds of stuff that made the Star Trek TV show interesting. There’s absolutely no reason you can’t do any and/or all of this and still be an action movie.

Further, if you’re going to introduce worldbuilding concepts like the Prime Directive, stating that Star Fleet cannot interfere with the development of alien civilizations, you’d better back that up with major consequences for breaking it –you can’t introduce elements for convenience’s sake, like using Alien blood to bring a character back from the dead so the audience doesn’t get sad. Actions need to have consequences and consequences have to matter.

3. Be true to your story and characters.

Paramount’s logic seems to have been “We want to tell Wrath of Khan, but we don’t just want to retell Wrath of Khan, so what do we do?” Well, what about Wrath of Khan does everyone remember? Kirk’s sense of loss when he loses Spock. It’s Kirk’s moment where the weight of his pride and supposed invincibility come crashing down before his eyes. He’s lost his friend, his truest friend, and it’s happened at the hands of perhaps a superior captain. Let’s tell that same story, but a little differently.

4. Star Trek (2009)

Much has been made about how Star Trek (2009)’s Kirk is the cockiest sonuvabitch who ever joined Star Fleet, and that’s completely fair. He’s a cheater, a womanizer, mocks his friends’ woes, is frenetic as hell, and if he’s learned anything, it’s that rules can be broken or ignored as long as you look good doing it and you don’t screw up. Having saved Star Fleet from a galaxy-ending threat, he’s riding high on his laurels and feels all but invincible.

God, how this is important going in.

5. Star Trek: Deus Ex Machina

Our story begins with the Enterprise crew stealing a medicinal herb from Nibiru’s people while Spock prepares to freeze a volcano from destroying the tribalistic Nibirans. Yes, that’s interfering with a society, which is breaking the Prime Directive, but there’s a crazy space plague ravaging the galaxy, and this strange plant’s the only means of stopping it. And Kirk, who beat the odds by beating the Romulans not too long ago, chest-beat his way into the task of once again saving everyone –but it HAS to be a clandestine mission. Admiral Pike was firm on this. The Nibirans cannot know they were there. It plays out much the same as Star Trek: Into Darkness did: Kirk and Bones run away from the Nibirans, barely escaping to the Enterprise hidden beneath the waves. Kirk’s triumphant: he’s got the medicinal herb, but Spock’s not going to make it; he over-calculated the time remaining until the volcano’s eruption. Kirk’s got a choice: listen to his friend die, or break the Prime Directive to fly Spock out, thereby exposing the Enterprise itself to the Nibirans. It’s cocky, impulsive Kirk. What do you think he’s going to do? Kirk flies out Spock after Spock had just resigned himself to death. The Nibirans go apeshit seeing the Enterprise and, in religious fervor, draw Enterprise shapes all over the dusty red ground. Safely onboard, Spock’s aghast that Kirk broke the Prime Directive. Kirk laughs it off, saying that this is like the 5th time he saved the galaxy. Nothing’s going to happen.

Back in Star Fleet, Admiral Pike yells the shit out of Kirk. Sure, he saved the galaxy from the space plague, but he deliberately broke the Prime Directive, doing God knows what to those crazy Nibirans. Kirk tries to argue his case, but Pike yells back that Kirk KNEW this was supposed to be a stealth mission and he cocked it up. He suspends Kirk without pay until a military tribunal can figure out what to do with him. Kirk drinks at an expensive bar, angry about it with his friends, who, apart from Scotty, think he’s a dumbass. Uhura and Spock didn’t show up. Not getting the support he wanted, Kirk retires to his incredibly expensive apartment and attempts to call 2 Caitian hookers for a good time. Problematically, his credit card is declined: Here we see the real Kirk: a cocky as hell Star Fleet Captain who lives like royalty paycheck to paycheck. Spend it all, wait half a month, and spend it again. And now that he’s potentially lost his rank and certainly lost the respect of his friends… it’s all worthless. Drunk, he dials Spock, who wakes up next to Uhura. Sensing his friend’s hurt, he beams himself to Kirk’s apartment, where, seeing that he can’t stop Kirk from drinking himself into a hole, he drinks with him. They tell each other stories about their past missions, Kirk laughing his ass off and Spock trying extra hard not to laugh. You know what happens. The “I love you, man” moment. Between besties. Spock’s the only person Kirk’s ever seen as an equal. The only person he’d trust with his life. And the only person he’d be lost without. Spock quips that he’d better not let Uhura say that. Kirk laughs that Spock CAN joke–

That’s when the explosions hit. Giant-ass beams of light from space blow the shit out of shipyards all over Star Fleet. The only image from these attacks? A giant ship from the depths of space, impossibly big and impossibly powerful. Reluctantly, Pike calls the one guy he knows who’s taken on something of that size: Kirk –but only as a consultant. He fucked things up too badly otherwise to be anything but. At a council meeting where everyone’s trying to find a diplomatic answer to halt the attacks, Kirk’s outspoken about blowing the living shit out of whatever it is. Pike silences him on the spot, telling him just how tenuous his consultation is. Brooding out the window, Kirk notices a light growing in the night sky. He screams everyone out of the building just as a giant-ass laser blows it to kingdom come. Outside, Kirk and Pike are among the few survivors. Pike reinstates Kirk as captain, telling him to gear up and do everything at his disposal to stop this threat.

Kirk receives a hero’s welcome back onto the Enterprise –except from Bones, Uhura, and Spock. They remind him, in private, that his arrogance is what got him into trouble last time, and he’d better watch it. Kirk laughs it off, but Spock reminds him that laws are in place for a reason… for safety, for humanity, for galactic stability. Kirk appears to quiet, looking very closely at him, then slaps him on the shoulder, making a jibe about Vulcans needing senses of humor. Kirk rallies the troops with an impassioned speech, and relaying the plan: fly in with the remaining fleet, cripple the enemy vessel, board, and capture the enemy captain for military trial and interrogation. The fleet blasts into maximum warp and Kirk fires photon torpedos in warp –planning to be well ahead of an enemy with potentially superior firepower. Star Fleet erupts into combat, peppering the Colossal Ship with a hurricane of lasers and torpedoes, barely scratching its surface. Goddamn is this thing big. Dwarfs the Romulan ship from the previous movie. Ships fall left and right of this thing, all shots having no effect. Kirk orders the fleet to concentrate fire around one of its engines. At the cost of a few more ships, they blow out an engine, and now it’s down the Enterprise. Knowing death is upon them, Kirk makes the craziest move he can think of: fly the Enterprise into the destroyed engine’s crater to breach its engineering bay and continue with the plan of capturing the enemy captain. Everyone reminds him of how stupid this is, but what choice do they have? They crash land into the enemy ship and exit in space suits, ready for anything—

…and step into a jungle. Wild alien plants of all shapes and sizes, unimaginable creatures skulking through the undergrowth. Flames rage about the Enterprise, devouring parts of the jungle, a force field preventing it all from being swept into space. Kirk & Co. step out into it, utterly flabbergasted. Behind the trees and vines, machinery, immaculately maintained. Nobody knows what to make of it. It all looks very familiar to Kirk… A platoon of alien soldiers burst from the trees, all waving rifles and shouting in an alien language. Kirk & Co. have their phasers up, trying to yell off the potential attack—when one of the platoon steps forward and removes his helmet ONE OF THE NIBIRANS. “Please, surrender peacefully. We don’t want you to destroy any more of the ecosystem than you already have. We will not harm you.” Kirk doesn’t buy it, but Spock does. He talks Kirk into it. The Nibiran platoon leader leads them through the ship, multiple decks of sprawling landscapes of every kind, each containing unique sets of flora and fauna. “Regrettably,” the platoon member says. “The small environments have lead to a constant feeding ground. We’ve already lost 34 species of native flora. 52 species of native fauna.” Kirk & Co. don’t know what to say. The ship’s bridge is built like a throne room where the Matriarch of the Nibirans sits. She’s waited a long time to confront the great deceiver, Captain James Tiberius Kirk. Kirk’s confused as hell. She explains.

Countless millennia ago to her people, but just a month to Kirk, the Enterprise took off from the Nibiru after apparently rising from the sea to stop the volcano, and the Nibirans took the Enterprise as their new God. Cults formed around it, and they traveled the land in the name of their God, Metal Bird, conquering by the sword, raping and torturing until all fell under heel. They had relics (discarded phasers) far beyond their ken that were capable of killing. Soon, all on the continent worshipped the Metal Bird, believing it to protect them in times of catastrophe, only for disaster after disaster to fall upon their people, leading only to ruin. Still, they persisted over the centuries, and through countless holy wars, scientists grew, developing great machines of war in the image of the Metal Bird. Countless millions were killed. The planet was raped of natural resources and many walks of life paid with extinction until, at last, the Nibirans developed warp drive technology. The Federation paid them another visit to welcome them to the stars… but they were not Gods, just men. Weak, shallow, simple, mortal men. And those foolish mortals had allowed the “great” Captain James Tiberius Kirk to continue gallivanting the stars, acting as he willed, prompting the rise and fall of civilizations with his egocentric twist on exploration. Star Fleet had changed under his example, twisting into arrogant, exploitative, space bullies. The Nibirans wallowed in metaphysical angst as all they had ever known and believed crumbled to ash thanks to the lies of Star Fleet and the late Captain Kirk. They bided their time, studying and rapidly enhancing their technology until such a time as they could develop time travel for the express purpose of revenge: They would go back in time and become the new Gods of the universe, watching Star Fleet and the arrogant Captain Kirk skitter before them as ants. They would seed Earth with their plants and animals, enabling them to rebirth their planet.

Spock questions them: “You wouldn’t go back and time and destroy the Enterprise on Nibiru to prevent your culture’s corruption?” The Nibiran Captain admits that the volcano and the Enterprise’s exhaust created a field of tachyon particles too dense for time travel to go back any further.

Plot hole scarcely closed, the crew of the Enterprise are taken to a holding cell, where they’re left to watch helplessly as the Nibiran armada jumps, ship after ship, to their position, preparing for the grand sterilization and terraforming of Earth. Bones blames Kirk for breaking the Prime Directive on the Nibiru, kicking off a shouting match, primarily between Uhura, Spock, and Kirk, with Scotty progressively yelling “shut up” louder. Finally, they all stare: Scotty unlocks their cell, which will allow them to escape, but they’ll have to be really stealthy. Kirk & Co. sneak through the artificial environments of the ship, determined to warn Earth at any cost. They manage to get their weapons back, but with the Nibiran platoons alerted, they make a frantic escape, falling from one artificial environment to another, losing crewmates along the way. Finally, it’s down to the main group: Kirk, Spock, Uhura, Bones, & Scotty. Scotty and Spock manage to hack a hovering elevator thing back to the ship, but they’re constantly trying to prevent it from being counter-hacked by the Nibirans as they attack. In the process, Bones is killed as is Uhura. Uhura tells Kirk that back on the Nibiru, the hardest thing she had to do was helplessly watch him –her one true love- very nearly die. Spock would’ve died a thousand deaths for Kirk. Could he do the same for Spock? Spock continues to work with Scotty, barely repressing his grief. They barely make it into the Enterprise, but Scotty is gunned down by a platoon soldier. Kirk takes off in grief as Spock Vulcan ass-kicks the Nibiran soldier to death. Kirk and Spock warp to Earth. The Nibiran Captain lets them. “It doesn’t matter now,” she tells her crew. “Prepare for warpspeed 10.”

Kirk and Spock reach Earth, and Kirk gives a speech to all available ships in the galaxy to convene on their position –the fate of Star Fleet and galaxy hangs in the balance. As ships one by one warp into formation, Kirk laments the loss of the crew and his arrogance, blaming his superiors for allowing him to go to Nibiru in the first place. Spock can barely look at him. He sits at Uhura’s station, saying that he didn’t even get to say good-bye to Uhura. She’d tried to say good-bye to him on Nibiru, but he’d been off in his own head. Failing to let her know how much she meant to him. Kirk doesn’t know what to say.

The Nibirans’ Colossol ship arrives, and we have a balls-numbing space ship fight, Star Fleet clearly outmatched. The Fleet lays in ruin, the Enterprise held in a tractor beam; the Nibiran Captain plans to make Kirk watch the terraforming of his planet. That’s when Spock reveals his greatest secret to Kirk: he’s been analyzing the red matter (the time-travely-black-hole-makey stuff from the first movie) and has enough for one jump back in time. Only one. Kirk has to stop his younger self from saving Spock from the volcano. Kirk can’t do it. He can’t do anything without Spock. Spock tells him that he’s the finest captain he’s ever seen or studied, that he’s served under. That (echoing Uhura’s words), he’d die a thousand deaths for Kirk, and this time, Kirk would have to let him do that. Kirk swears he can’t do it. Spock puts him in an escape pod wired with the time travel device, and just calmly tells him how it works –that he’ll appear in the same escape pod at the critical moment- hearing, but not responding to Kirk’s protests. Finally, Kirk agrees, devastated. He hits the trigger. Just as the world fades to white, Spock parts his fingers: “Live long and prosper.”

Kirk finds himself in the Escape Pod bay a few months into the past on the Niburu. Hearing com chatter that Kirk and Bones are nearly back to the ship, Kirk runs like a bat of hell to meet them. There, he pulls his past self aside, trying to convince him of what he has to do, of what’ll happen in the future if he doesn’t. Past Kirk oddly takes him seriously. “Though I would’ve looked older.” “What?” “The last guy from the future –he looked older.” The countdown’s running, there’s no way to beam him out. The Enterprise would have to fly out to reach him. Past Kirk’s on the verge of doing it—but Our Kirk stops him, telling him his experiences with Spock in the future, saying that Spock would die a thousand deaths for him… “And we have to let him because you—I made a stupid mistake. This is our fault. The galaxy shouldn’t have to pay for it, and we know it.” One by one, the crew says their good-byes to Spock. Past Kirk struggles for words. Spock says them for him. “You are the finest captain I’ve ever known, if highly illogical. It was a pleasure and an-” And the volcano erupts. After a moment, Our Kirk fades into nothingness. Tears streaming down his cheeks, Past-now-present Kirk brings the Enterprise out of orbit, the Nibirans too entranced by the volcano to notice.

They hold a traditional Vulcan funeral for Spock, jettisoning an empty coffin into space. Distraught, Kirk attempts to contact the Nimoy Spock on his communicator, but to no avail. Elsewhere, Nimoy Spock watches his empty casket float by, deliberately not answering his communicator. Kirk returns to Star Fleet humbled, changed. He requests to be taken off special assignment details to Admiral Pike’s great relief. Instead, he wishes to take his crew on a mission that would’ve befitted his late friend: “…to take the Starship Enterprise on a five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.”

6. Boldly Rewriting

First off, I apologize, knowing this thing isn’t completely airtight. It’s a first pass, and ideally would’ve been rewritten several times before hypothetically going into script form, and rewritten several times after that. Sci-fi scripts naturally need that kind of attention –the kind of attention it doesn’t appear Star Trek: Into Darkness received.

First off, Star Trek (2009) was Kirk & Spock’s story of overcoming personal differences to form an unbreakable friendship. Mission accomplished through deus ex machina and crazy science. Where does their story go from there? Star Trek: Into Darkness really doesn’t care; it’s more interested in government conspiracies that Kirk & crew are only pawns in. As such, my outline would’ve both dealt with Kirk & Spock’s friendship and what that means for them and crew, as well as audience perceptions of Kirk’s douchebaggy arrogance in the first movie. What do you do with a douchebaggy asshole who’s just saved the galaxy? You render his triumphs failures and bring him to his lowest possible point for the drama to continue. Kirk didn’t really have an arc in Star Trek: Into Darkness. For all intents and purposes, Kirk was written out of the story just so Spock could have the reverse “KHAAAAANNNNN” scream and so he could punch Benedict Cumberbatch on a flying brick thing. So how do you make it Kirk’s story? You make it about him. Not about Khan’s feud with Admiral Marcus. You have him drive the story by making choices (violating the Prime Directive), suffering the consequences (expulsion from Star Fleet), rising above them (brought back in by reputation), suffering more consequences (losing countless lives to an enemy of your own creation), and rising above it by learning a valuable lesson (swallowing your pride and owning up to your mistakes).

This is all pretty simple, elegant stuff that creates its own mythology rather than bastardizing old mythology. It does this without shoehorning Alice Eve into a movie to have a gratuitous bra and panties shot. It tells an action-heavy, character-driven, thought-provoking story…

…and it does this, Paramount, without pandering to anyone.

7. Unoriginality

Yeah, so it’s similar to my Man of Steel retcon idea, but when the material calls for it, the material calls for it. Come back next week when I propose time travel and alternate dimensions to make Amazing Spider-Man 2 better.

Actually, I promise I won’t.