Tom, Nick, and Fiona went to see the new Star Trek movie the night it premiered. We all had thoughts on it, so we decided to have a nice chat about it. Spoilers follow, so if you’re bothered by that sort of thing, you probably want to turn back now.
I’m a big Star Trek fan, but I wasn’t a fan of the last two movies. I felt like they took Star Trek, a fairly idiosyncratic show with a particular viewpoint, and turned it into a pair of pretty generic action movies. They were decent action movies, and chances are if those movies weren’t called Star Trek I would like them a lot more, but I felt like it was a bit of a betrayal of the Star Trek ethos.
In particular, I felt like the Star Trek utopia didn’t come through in the first two films. Star Trek has always been, at its heart, utopian. Yes, there are problems out on the frontier that need to be fixed, and occasionally bad people do bad things, but it is clear that enormous improvement has been made from today, and there is still more improvement clearly visible on the horizon. It’s not like a Firefly false utopia where the central worlds seem prosperous, but the outer worlds suffer. There is never really the idea that the system is rotten or broken. When that idea is presented, it is usually quickly refuted or pushed back against vigorously. People sometimes make mistakes, but the basic society is working.
I didn’t feel that in the first two movies. They felt grittier in a way that, while it didn’t come out and say the system was broken, didn’t really feel like they were trying to show that the system was definitely working either.
What I liked in Star Trek: Beyond is that the movie at least talked about the ideas at the core of Star Trek. Yorktown is presented as a true utopia, and Lin uses his large budget and modern effects to drive home the scale and diversity of the starbase. The sweeping camera was maybe a bit schlocky, but having it sweep across a vast panorama of hundreds of species living and working in harmony serves a strong message that is true to Star Trek‘s ethical core.
Through the middle and end of the movie, there was a clunky attempt to have a dialogue about the virtues of unity vs exclusion, or something like that. It was never all that clear what Krall really stood for, but he certainly thought the unity ethos was dumb. This was all pretty dumbed-down, in my opinion, but I did honestly appreciate that it was there at all. That kind of philosophical stuff is what Star Trek is really all about, and I’m happy to see it show up, even if it was kind of hokey in execution.
I’ve been a big fan of Star Trek (TOS, specifically) for a long time now, but I never went into the movies fully expecting them to be the Trek I know and love. I was 16 when the new movies came out and I figured the best case scenario was to have Trek mixed with another favorite franchise of mine: Fast and Furious. Anyone who has seen this films knows that I basically got what I wanted and I really enjoyed all of the films as a result.
This movie is different from the others though. Simon Pegg wrote it and it’s clear that there was a change in the writers. This was a Star Trek movie for Star Trek fans. Don’t get me wrong, it was still an action movie. However, the key difference between this film and the other films is that it was about the crew, not the villain.
In basically every other movie, we get Kirk being a badass, Uhura being there sometimes, Spock being Spock, and Sulu, Scotty, and Chekov hang out in the background. To me, this was the main reason it didn’t feel like Star Trek. I could accept that it was an alternate timeline and adjusted to be as mainstream as possible, but Into Darkness in particular felt like it was about Khan and not the crew dealing with Khan.
Here, we get to see a lot more of the characters and they become more rounded out as a result. Instead of being just the horn dog, suave captain he’s usually presented as, Kirk is actually very depressed at the start of the film. He and Spock both question what they have done with their lives so far, and what sort of actual change they can make traveling with the Enterprise. While the movies may feature the exciting, bad-guy-stopping moments, they stress that they aren’t a military organization.
Another interesting thing that they did during the film is they turned the “heroes can’t die” trope on its head. This is the issue with Krall. He lived through the war to see the utopia he was fighting for, but that was what broke him. We can see this at several points in the film as well. Spock knows he is going to live a long life, so he becomes reckless when it comes to his health and well-being. All the while, he knows that he has had three lifetimes, but he is on his last one. The audience has to wonder if Spock is cursed. Every time he dies, he continues to live somehow. Will Spock one day become like Krall?
On the other side, we see Kirk seemingly disappointed he hasn’t died gloriously in battle like his father. Is his risk-taking and instance on going down with the ship part of his personality or a death wish? After three years, I think he knows it’s not going to happen, so he wants to finally settle down. Despite his rough beginnings, he’s clearly proven himself worthy of a promotion. He sees what everyone else has that he doesn’t: a family, a purpose, so he feels that if he can’t follow his father in one way, he’ll carve himself his own path, separate from the rest of the crew.
For the rest of the crew, this inability to die is usually convenient. When faced with an impossible situation, there is a deus ex machina. However, as Sulu found in the film, this sometimes brings their doom. I love Sulu, but if he would have died, they would have at least had more time to figure out a plan for the artifact. Instead, Krall got the artifact and there was more death.
Ultimately, in this film, we got a lot of interesting things. This mainly consists including the crew much more. It’s definitely the best of the three films (I’m sure all Trekkies, despite which incarnation they are the biggest fans of will be able to agree on this). It was a fitting tribute to Leonard Nimoy and Anton Yelchin: the ideal combination of old and new Trek.
First and foremost, I would like to clear the air. I never got into Star Trek in any capacity before the current film franchise. For being the large appreciator for science fiction that I am, Star Trek was just never something I had gotten around to experiencing.
I went into the current franchise with nothing to compare it to. I knew the characters and the general premise but that was about it. And I rather enjoyed myself. The films were a fun scifi romp with lots of epic action and cool scifi moments.
However, years since my first viewings of each of them, I found them both to be rather forgettable. I remember quite enjoying them at the time and I remember some of the action set pieces, but much of the plot points I find myself straining to remember. Into Darkness is worse than the first film, in this regard. The first film was something to do a villain bent on revenge, with black holes, time-travel/alt-universe, Lemoy-Spock, destruction of Vulcan, etc. Into Darkness had Benedict Cumberbatch as Khan being Cumberbatch-y, with something about super-soldiers, I think, and Kirk pulls a Jesus with the power of tribbles, and that’s about it.
Beyond, on the other hand, was all of things with a certain added charm that Star Trek and Into Darkness distinctly lacked. In fact, it was something I was unaware that the first two films lacked until Beyond showed me what they could have been. I think a vast majority of that charm comes from the character moments. Getting to know the the crew of the Enterprise on a personal level through their interactions with one another brought a surprising amount of depth to the film. The characters truly felt like they were people that had been cooped up together in a tin can (a very large and very expensive tin can) for a little more than half of their “five year mission.” The film even takes note to establish this in Kirk’s captain’s log near the very beginning of the movie.
I also think this film managed to give us the best dose of world building we have seen in the franchise. Not only do we get to see the sci-fi marvel that is Yorktown (I am a sucker for massive super space-stations in any medium) as a beacon to what humanity has been able to accomplish through the Federation, but with the discovery of the USS Franklin and the origins of Idris Elba’s Krall gave us a glimpse into what the very beginning of Starfleet was like.
So even without previously being a Trek fan I enjoyed Beyond far more than the first two films in the franchise. From what I can gather from my conversations with Tom and Fiona, the film is now embracing much of what made the original Star Trek so great. Maybe I should go back and give the original series and films a go after all.