This past week I was able to catch a showing of Star Trek: Beyond. I was largely disappointed by Into Dark1, so I really didn’t have a great deal of expectations going into this movie. To me, the greatest point of interest was the name of the person who created the story, Simon Pegg. I know from past statements how much of a Star Trek fan he is, had anyone else written the screenplay I might have just waited until it came out for home release.
The movie did exceed my expectations. It was enjoyable, but not great.
The tone is right
After the bleak film that was Into Dark,2 this movie actually felt like Star Trek. There are many massive special effects sequences in the film3, but unlike the previous film4, they don’t get in the way of the characters. Scotty has a really fun story arc, and Uhura gets to kick some serious butt, but the best moments in the film are between McCoy and Spock when they were off on their own. Their interactions felt, for the first time in the entire Reboot series, like the classic Spock and McCoy of old. I’d actually like to see a movie with just those two characters going at it for an hour or so, it would be worth it.
The movie, despite some dire circumstances for the crew, was also both fun and optimistic — the very hallmarks of Trek which have been AWOL since the series was rebooted. The accomplishments of the Federation, and the peace it has established, are key points of the film. Most of these characters believe in what they are doing, and why. It’s a refreshing breeze for a series which had become far too dreary.
The “power in unity,” vs. “power through force of personality” theme is very strong in Star Trek: Beyond. The current upheavals in Europe and the rest of civilization were clearly on the mind of Simon Pegg as he plotted the narrative. Rightfully so.
In many ways, the politics in the film are almost too obvious, they lack nuance and smack viewers in the face. Though, to be fair, most won’t notice the smack.
The lack of nuance almost led me to place this in the “not so good” section below, but then I considered the nature of the original series. Star Trek: TOS was every bit as equally as ham-fisted with their politics. They put a black woman on the bridge while segregation was still considered “normal” by far too many people5, and put a guy with a Russian accent in the main cast6 *during the Cold War. Their presence, together with many of the plots found in the episodes, whacked people in the head with the social and political vision of the show — and many people didn’t even notice.
That is, perhaps, the most brilliant thing about Star Trek. It shows us messed-up 20 and 21st Century humans what incredible doofuses we are — and we don’t recognize it enough to be offended.
The not so good
My biggest problem in the film, the more I reflect, is the character of Kirk himself. Not the casting or the portrayal, both of which are done well, but his actual character.
Reboot Kirk has been a vain, brash, and hyper-confident jerk ever since his character arc changed with the death of his father. Kirk of old was confident and self-assured, certainly, but he was never a creep. You always got the feeling he cared deeply for his crew, his ship, and his mission.
In this film, Reboot Kirk even points this out, “I joined Starfleet on a dare.” And far from being devoted to his mission, he’s bored to tears with it. Throughout this series I have the impression Kirk is little more than an over-eager adolescent — one who shouldn’t even be on the crew of an interstellar ship, much less in command. I get the distinct impression Reboot Spock feels this is true, deep down. Despite several references to Spock and Kirk making a “good team,” the two actually do very little together throughout the film. Spock isn’t even invited to Kirk’s pre-birthday party! The story line is designed to spring Kirk forward into a more personally committed Starfleet officer, we’ll see if the writers can set him on a much more likable path.
Belief is suspended from a thread
To appreciate Star Trek, one has to have a deep appreciation for the suspension of belief. There are green-skinned aliens all over the place, people teleport to their destinations, and there are interstellar ships flying around. As someone who appreciates science fiction in general, I have mined my suspension of belief through some very deep seams indeed.
Beyond left me saying, “Are you kidding me?”
Spoiler Alert: Stop reading now if you haven’t seen the film.
After the Enterprise is destroyed, the crew happens to meet up with another stranded being who has a rather unusual “house,” the NX-Franklin, a Warp 4 ship which pre-dated the NX-1701 Enterprise but was still in service even after the birth of the Federation7. The ship was famous for having disappeared, apparently it crash landed on the planet and had been there ever since.
The convenient plot device, “Let’s find the one person who can this ship’s location” is fine. I expect these things in a Summer romp. What I found inexcusable was not only how the ship still had power in the long years after it’s abandonment, but that the crew got the ship back into space in the span of several hours. Sadly, this is a running theme throughout the Reboot.
Need to get to Vulcan to answer a distress call? It takes five minutes.
Need to transport on to a ship in warp when you are on a planet light years away an in normal space? That’s easy, even though decades of Trek lore say it can’t be done.
Need to have a dramatic getaway for the villain? We’ll let him use the same transport trick to go clear across the galaxy.
Need to get the crew back in the fight? We’ll get a derelict ship back into space in less than a day8.
When they dramatically launched the Franklin, and it plowed through canyon outcropping after canyon outcropping, I found myself searching for any kind of damage. Nothing. The NX-Franklin had no hull-breaches of any kind, even though Scotty specifically said the hulls for that class ship weren’t even designed for atmospheric flight, much less massive collisions in gravity.
Also, The Beastie Boys can utterly destroy ancient super-powered alien swarming destructo-drones.
And ancient super-powered alien swarming destructo-drones? Really?
This is the most “trek-ish” of all the Reboot films, but the Reboot universe remains very flawed. Hopefully this movie will transition the franchise into an even more Trek-like direction, because the potential is there, but they’ve only just begun turning the wheel.
Unless you must see this on the big screen, you might better off waiting for Blu-Ray.
- I have my son trained to refer to it as, “The inferior remake of Wrath of Kahn.” ↩
- It was as if studios all looked at the Dark Knight trilogy and said, “Wow, that was dark and people loved it. Let’s make everything like that. ↩
- Yorktown Station is really impressive. ↩
- And the first reboot film was also a bit over the top. Let’s just admit that. I am quite fond of JJ Abrams’ work. But especially after seeing The Force Awakens I am even more convinced that his two Trek films are really Star Wars films in disguise. ↩
- That is, “any number greater than 0.” ↩
- Fine, it was season three. But still… ↩
- Given the Enterprise TV show revealed even the more advanced NX-1701 didn’t survive past the founding of the Federation, this really had me confused. ↩
- Also, they make reference to “hull plating” during the battle. While that’s a nice nod to Star Trek: Enterprise, you’d think the Federation would have retrofitted a Star Fleet vessel with shield generators by then. Right? ↩