Why axing Chris Pine would be a very bad idea for the Star Trek films
There are moments in USS Callister, the 2017 Black Mirror episode that riffs furiously on Star Trek and gamer geekery, that might tempt us to wonder if the makers of the new series of films (starring Chris Pine as Captain Kirk) might have considered Jesse Plemons for the role instead. For while Pine has charisma in spades and a confident twinkle in the eye that recalls William Shatner at his best, Plemons is rather better at nailing the Canadian actor’s habit of slipping into knowing, smug braggadocio when the Klingons have been defeated for the umpteenth time.
Casting the star of Breaking Bad and Fargo as James T might be a little like the makers of James Bond deciding to hire Johnny English’s Rowan Atkinson as the new 007. But far worse casting decisions have been made in the halls of Hollywood over the decades – let’s hope we shouldn’t be girding our loins for another now that Pine has been revealed to be in a pay dispute with Paramount Pictures about his future in Star Trek.
The Hollywood Reporter says the Wonder Woman actor has in effect been asked to take a pay cut, owing to the middling performance of 2016’s Star Trek Beyond, which made just $343.5m (£271m) worldwide against a production budget of $185m (which, due to the eternally eccentric accountancy practices of Hollywood studios, means it probably lost money). Also in dispute is Chris Hemsworth, who was expected to reprise his role as George Kirk (James’s dear old supposedly dead dad) in Star Trek IV.
The original article states, somewhat bemusingly, that Pine’s comrades on the Starship Enterprise are at least, pretty much to the last member, signed up for the next episode. But Star Trek wouldn’t be Star Trek without Captain Kirk, and there would not be much point in his crewmates setting off on the next stage in their bold adventure into space without him. There are only so many times we can chuckle at Spock’s awkward attempts at romance with Zoe Saldana’s Uhura, or witness Simon Pegg’s Scotty snatching geeky victory from the jaws of defeat.
Nor is bringing in another actor to play Kirk really an option here. When Pine pulled on Shatner’s yellow blazer for the first time, in 2009’s Star Trek, it was to mark the reintroduction of the long-running space saga to the big screen in a fresh timeline and new actors taking the key roles. The only returnee from the Original Series cast was the late Leonard Nimoy, in an extended, wonderfully elegant cameo as the time-travelling “Spock Prime”.
To now hire a new actor to play Kirk, while keeping all other crew members of the Enterprise in their current roles, would be to risk losing the abundant chemistry between Pine, Karl Urban’s Bones and Zachary Quinto’s Spock. And Star Trek, perhaps more than any other sci-fi series, is all about the chemistry between its key cast members.
We have to believe these guys have spent years in each other’s company, through exciting adventures and tedious trawls through the furthest reaches of space alike. The series would almost do better to kill off Kirk and reboot with a new crew, just as it has done umpteen times on the small screen. Hardcore Trekkies would probably cheer such a move, given the distaste many display towards the new films.
Paramount may have a point about the budget. The Star Trek movies do not make the kind of money Marvel or Star Wars films routinely pull in at the global box office. But they are well-reviewed action tentpoles that most studios would be desperate to have on their slate.
The danger here is that the current impasse ends up proving a false economy for the bigwigs – an unwinnable battle as ultimately self-defeating as the saga’s famous Kobayashi Maru test. The Enterprise might well eventually continue its famous five-year mission, after her destruction and bravura climactic reconstruction in Beyond. But without her captain to guide her, will she ever fly so true again?
The sidelining of Plemons’ horrid Captain Robert Daly in USS Callister was the catalyst for his captive crewmates’ escape into a wider digital universe of geeky sci-fi adventure in the Netflix series. Deposing Pine from the Star Trek hot seat seems highly unlikely to deliver the same rewards.