So I happened to rewatch Star Trek Beyond and found a few things that stuck out to me this time. The much greater focus on the team is a major shift from the two Abrams films, which were more in line with the Next Generation films in that they each focused on the same two characters and ignored the rest of the ensemble most of the time. (Ironically, the original series’s movies were much more ensemble-focused, even though the show was pretty strongly focused on the two leads.) It’s right that Kirk and Spock have the strongest emotional throughlines, and it’s smart that they mirror each other, but everybody does contribute, and the ensemble is in some sense the theme of the movie. While everybody at first was like, “The guy who directed some The Fast And The Furious movies is going to fix Star Trek?!” those films do revolve around teamwork, diversity and fun, which are not terrible things to have associated with Star Trek (and were not especially in evidence in the prior Abrams movies). In any event Justin Lin’s background is more varied than that (including Community among other things) and he actually likes Star Trek. What a concept.

Additionally, I do like the use of “Sabotage” in the film, which was the element most attacked when the trailers came out. It’s not only a payoff, but using it in the way it was used was the sort of fresh idea that Abrams was supposed to be bringing to the table, but didn’t. To find a fitting, unironic use for it that fit into an actual science fiction concept was pretty damn cool, and the sort of pop-culture riff that Simon Pegg can bring to the table. Also, it took me until the second viewing to realize that the movie doesn’t actually end with a space battle–it does have the explosions that a blockbuster must of course have, but there’s no weapons fire. It’s the first Star Trek movie in some time where the heroes out-think the bad guys, and where science and not brute force wins the day. This was a serious flaw in the Abrams movies, as both ultimately wound up amounting to the sort of might-makes-right ethos that has been the default mode of underexamined action movies probably since the Rambo sequels (not so much First Blood, which has been tainted because of its sequels but which does have a sense of nuance about cycles of violence, perhaps due to its having a Canadian director). Not much could be more dispiriting than seeing Spock–the figure of enlightenment, reason, and scientific curiosity–being reduced to punching someone else dozens of times at the climax of the movie. Nothing better exemplified just how much Abrams missed the point of everything with that choice. You just don’t do that. And nothing better exemplifies just how much better the current folks get it by what they do in this movie. (Also, I liked that they didn’t actually go to Earth. The last time a Star Trek film didn’t go to Earth was 1998, believe it or not. Even relatively smaller choices like that really made a difference in turning the page from the failed Berman/Abrams films.)

Probably the best thing about it is that it obliterates the need to watch Into Darkness at all. There are references to the first Abrams movie but nothing much to the second. I suppose the Spock/Uhura breakup is the only specific reference to the earlier movie, but given how hot for each other they were in the first film, you can kind of infer a short-lived relationship that didn’t work without having to suffer through actually seeing that misfire. I didn’t hate Into Darkness as much as some but that’s a really damning indictment of the movie, that there was essentially no character development to speak of that needed to be taken into account for the third. Actually it plays better if you just ignore Into Darkness, the contrast between Kirk’s naive excitement at the end of that with the disillusioned, sort of jaded state in the third is quite striking. Makes me wonder to what extent this was an active writing consideration on the part of Pegg and Doug Jung. Given how little enjoyment the cast seemed to be having making Into Darkness I wouldn’t exactly rule it out.

Admittedly, I didn’t much warm to the villain, Krall, whose purpose I understand from a script perspective as the antithesis to Federation values, but overall, he’s more like the antagonist of a lesser Mission Impossible movie than anything else, essentially a rogue agent out for revenge against his former colleagues. It’s a character we’ve seen too often before and he simply isn’t specific enough to really make an impact, though Idris Elba does his best. For sure, Krall is vastly better done than Nero or Admiral Robocop from the Abrams movies. Could have been better, but a middling villain isn’t as big of a problem to the movie as it would be to a James Bond movie. On the whole, this movie was a blockbuster-type movie with lots of action, explosions, a revenge-obsessed villain, inside fan references and all the rest, but it at least was willing to meet me halfway with good character work and some different ideas, not to mention a vastly better understanding of why Star Trek is a thing and, importantly, some amount of restraint. I feel like the bad buzz was due more to fans being really pissed off at Abrams, but the movie is actually quite solid. And hey, you can rent it for 99 cents:

{ 1 comment }
  1. Josephine says:

    Your interpretation, along other things you are saying about the reboot in general, of Spock/Uhura having a short lived relationship doesn’t make much sense with what I actually saw in the movies. Their relationship,  in beyond too, is portrayed as being deep and meaningful. They are together since years and they have a little time out in beyond because Spock was conflicted about having a duty towards his people, and wanted to leave Starfleet in spite of being still in love with Uhura 4-5 years after the first movie (‘hot for each other’ hardly is an accurate description of the way they are portrayed in the first movie, especially in light of their most romantic scene being one about hurt and comfort after the loss of his home planet and beloved mother). They even explained in interviews that their goal was NOT making it seems they  are tired of each other, but they really have a mature relationship and love each other deeply…In the end that they are back together and he changed his mind about leaving her and his friends so I’m even less sure about what you mean with ‘short lived’. Note, in the official comics approved by tptb they are together on New Vulcan while the ship is completed.

    If anything, I always read many complain they don’t do enough with that relationship, and that the movies are still sexist in their myopic over the top focus for ‘bromance’ at the expense, at times, of character development of the guys outside their role as the friend if another make character.

    I think some fans’ distaste for the romance is based on prejudice for the reboot in general, and an attachment for the old thing that doesn’t want any variation of what is considered a sacred trek Bible (as your post shows). It’s also notable this preference and bias for male dynamics from the original series that are deemed as more important and the only kind of relationship trek should ever develop. As a result, people like you automatically consider the new important relationship with the woman as inferior or ‘less’ than Kirk/Spock and the original trio simply because the old thing didn’t have anything different, and for 50 years you were told that trek must be about those and those only.. It’s interesting people like you do not doubt male friendships that don’t provide a lot of realistic evidence for authentic friendship (e.g. Kirk and Spock going from hating each other to best friends in two scenes), but on the flip side they struggle to accept that Spock and Uhura have genuine feelings for each other no matter what they portray in the movies. If the guys argue with each other you don’t consider their relationship less meaningful, but if a couple has relationship issues that is realistic for any couple to have, you deem their relationship as a failure or just a fling in spite of them being a couple since years in the time of the story.



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