Somehow Simon Kinberg is in Charge of Star Trek Films

How to Fail Upwards in Hollywood

When we look at the X-MenLaunched in 1963 and written by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the X-Men featured heroes distinctly different from those featured in the pages of DC Comics. Mutants who didn't ask for their powers (and very often didn't want them), these heroes, who constantly fought against humans who didn't want "muties" around, served as metaphors for oppression and racism. Their powerful stories would form this group into one of the most recognizable superhero teams in comics (and a successful series of movies as well). films, there were clearly creative voices that helped to make the films what they are (Bryan Singer, despite him being a monster on and off set, and Matthew Vaughn). There is one name, though, that can be associated with almost all the X-Men films that isn’t considered a solid, dependable creative on the team. Despite having worked, in some capacity, on all the films since X-Men: The Last Stand through The New Mutants, most fans view his name with dread. That’s because, when you look at the films, he wrote three of the worst films in the series (that third X-Men film along with X-Men: Apocalypse and Dark Phoenix) and is thought to be the one that can most directly be blamed for the failure of the Fox X-Men universe.

We’re speaking of Simon Kinberg, who served as one of the most consistent parts of the X-Men film franchise while it was under Fox’s control (he’s not associated with the films now that Disney, starting with the upcoming Deadpool & Wolverine). That’s not necessarily a good thing, mind you, as the Fox films were inconsistent at the best of times and absolutely did run themselves into the ground. In fact, outside of the X-Men movies, Kinberg has very few hits to his name at all, especially as a writer, with only Mr. and Mrs. Smith and Sherlock Holmes being true smash hits. As a producer he fared better, guiding a few films to become hits at the Box Office (like The Martian). Even under the best of circumstances he’d have to be considered a middling performer, both as a writer and a producer.

And yet, for some reason, Paramount has decided that Kinberg is just the man to help launch their recently announced, in development, Star Trek Origins film. Not just that, but the expectation is that he’s going to become the guiding voice for the franchise, leading future Star Trek films for the foreseeable future. This guy, the one that thought, “hey, I failed to write a good Phoenix movie the first time. Why not have me do it again, but this time I can also direct the film?” That film was a disaster, so yes, of course, let’s give the guy that hasn’t had an out-and-out hit since 2018’s Deadpool 2 the keys to the Star Trek kingdom. That makes sense.

To be clear, there’s an adage in Hollywood about how people can fail upwards. This doesn’t happen for everyone, as there are plenty of creatives – writers, directors, actors – who have ended up in “Hollywood Jail”, having had one too many flops (or even incidents of behavior on sets) and the studios don’t want them anywhere near big projects. But for as many of those creatives as we can list, there is no doubt that there are some people that, somehow, someway, manage to fail their way upwards. The promise made by one or two big moves early in their careers leads studio executives to think, “they’ve got another hit in them,” taking yet another bet on their ideas, throwing bad money after good.

Bear in mind that despite his repeated flops (starting with Dark Phoenix) Kinberg has still been working, releasing four more films since 2019. The studios don’t seem mad at the man, continuing to give him money to work on projects. None of them had been successful, of course, but that didn’t stop Paramount from looking at the guy and saying, “yeah, he’s our man.” And sure, from a purely financial perspective, maybe an argument could be made. He did usher the X-Men films through a second golden era, helping to resurrect them as a producer on X-Men: First Class and then as writer/producer on X-Men: Days of Future Past. Both of those were good films, financially successful blockbusters (even if, creatively, they may not have been top of their game). If you want a guy that seems to know his way around a franchise, Kinberg is your man.

Of course, at the same time, he was also one of the producers that had to be convinced that Deadpool was a good idea, only forced into doing it after Ryan Reynolds released the test footage for the film to rave reviews. He was also the voice, again, behind so many of the worst films of the series. If you wanted to pick someone that could mold and guide the Star Trek series, I’m not sure he’s the guy. The most charitable thought would be, “he’s good at resurrecting franchises, so let’s have him do that and then make him sit back while other people take the reins.”

Sure, maybe. Creatives cycle in and out on franchises all the time. But there’s also the fact that once someone gets in on a series, and is contractually associated with it, it’s really hard to get them back out. Depending on the piece of Star Trek Kinberg ends up controlling, he could be impossible to get rid of and may be able to throw around what power he has for years and years to come. It took Fox selling itself to Disney to get Kinberg off the X-Men franchise, for example. Paramount would have to sell itself which… oh, wait, they are actually looking into that. Huh.

Still, it can be really hard to get rid of producers. Just look at Jon Peters, the man behind the BatmanOne of the longest running, consistently in-print superheroes ever (matched only by Superman and Wonder Woman), Batman has been a force in entertainment for nearly as long as there's been an entertainment industry. It only makes sense, then that he is also the most regularly adapted, and consistently successful, superhero to grace the Silver Screen. film franchise. He bought a piece of license from the studio and got to control those films for a while, dictating creative decisions (largely to help sell toys and merch). He even had a piece of SupermanThe first big superhero from DC Comics, Superman has survived any number of pretenders to the throne, besting not only other comic titans but even Wolrd War II to remain one of only three comics to continue publishing since the 1940s., which led to the hilarious interactions he had with Kevin SmithConsidering where he came from, working as a clerk in a convenience store, it's pretty impressive that (for at least a little while) Kevin Smith became a defining cinematic voice of a generation. back in the day when that writer was working on The Death and Return of Superman (a film, you’ll note, that never got made). Peters, as Smith noted, was a man who failed upwards in Hollywood, becoming a powerhouse for a number of years in the industry. In fact, it wasn’t until the resounding flop of Wild Wild West that Peters finally was pushed aside… and even then, due to his controlling stake on characters, he was listed as a producer on Superman Returns and Man of Steel. That’s exactly how hard it is to get rid of a producer.

This is all speculation, of course. It’s entirely possible that Kinberg really could be good at running the Star Trek franchise and this is just fanboy doom-saying. I won’t deny that possibility. I feel like everyone has at least one or two good movies in them, somewhere (even Uwe Boll, making of some truly wretched films, has made a couple of passably watchable features despite himself). But it’s also possible that Kinberg has used up all the good creative juice he has in him and is all dried out. If that’s the case, that could make his Star Trek Origins film an unmitigated disaster.

I mean, more than the idea already is because, as I noted in that article, we really don’t need an origin story about the Federation because we’ve already gotten that. More than once.

I don’t envy anyone the task of trying to resurrect the Star Trek movie franchise. Paramount has been dicking around on the films for years, since 2016. That’s nearly a decade of proposed ideas, sequels, reboots that all ended up going nowhere. It’s entirely possible this next idea could also end up going nowhere and in five years Paramount could talk about the next power producer they hired to do some other reboot of the franchise. All that’s clear right now is that the studio is pushing really hard to get this done so they hired a guy that was active enough to seem useful but who also had an opening in his franchise schedule. Kinberg fit the bill, for better or worse, so he’s the guy now.

I want Star Trek to be good. I want it to have successful films that we can enjoy over and over. If Kinberg can make those: great! I’d love it. I just doubt that this is the guy that can get it done.

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  • May 23, 2023: Somehow Simon Kinberg is in Charge of Star Trek Films