Plenty of Trekkies despise
NuTrek Abramsverse the Kelvin Timeline, but–as I’m sure I’ve mentioned before–I’m really not one of them. I’m a completely unabashed fan of the 2009 Star Trek, and while I think Into Darkness has some deeply frustrating problems, I don’t think it’s, like, THE DEATH OF STAR TREK or anything, either. Honestly, it’s not even my least favorite Trek film: out of Wrath, Search, Whales, God, Captain von Klingon, Bridge, Borg, Insurrection, Reboot, and Huge Dead Tribble, God is easily my least favorite–although it should be noted that I haven’t seen The Motion Picture or Nemesis yet, and I barely remember Bridge at all, much less Insurrection, which I KNOW I’ve seen but has obviously been so thoroughly erased from my brain that I couldn’t even come up with a clever 1-3 word nickname for it. (Meanwhile, Wrath would clearly be KHAAAAN!, while I’m thinking Search should either be Spock Lives! or maybe Star Trek: A Study in Negating Everything Interesting About The Previous Film in the Series. Or do you think that’s too long?)
I feel like I’ve digressed. The point is this: I can now add Star Trek Beyond to the list.
And how did I like Star Trek Beastie Boys? Well, I have some problems because, you know, me. Overall, though, I had a pretty decent time watching it in theater.
Pretty minor spoilers for Star Trek Beyond, I think; nothing that you can’t get from the trailers. (At least, until the clearly marked Spoiler Section.) However, there will likely be spoilers for the previous films in the franchise. You have been warned.
SUPER VAGUE SUMMARY:
The Enterprise is called back from leave to respond to a distress call that, naturally, only they can respond to. Things go rather badly.
1. Before I talk about this movie specifically, I feel like talking about the Kelvin Timeline generally. This is probably going to go on for a while (knowing me, as I somewhat do), so if you have no interest in listening to me babble about the previous films and probably insult half the Trekkies I know in the process, feel free to skip ahead to Note 2.
So. Here’s my thing about the Kelvin ‘Verse as compared to the Prime ‘Verse.
One of the most common complaints I see about the reboot and its sequels is that they don’t capture the original intent of TOS, that it’s become a film series about explosions, not discovery. I think there’s some validity in that observation. I also think it’s a teeny bit disingenuous. On one hand, the recent Star Trek movies are definitely being targeted to mass audiences and not just us nerds. They are definitely big blockbuster action movies, and while those can totally be fun, I can easily understand why someone might long for a smaller, more intellectual story about classic TOS themes: exploration, discovery, diversity, acceptance, etc. In fact, I’d actually be totally up for seeing a movie like that myself.
On the other hand . . . I think it’s worth pointing out that few of the original TOS movies are really what I’d refer to as “idea-based,” and I don’t know that I’d call any of the fan favorites particularly high-concept. Like, okay, take everyone’s beloved Wrath of Khan: sure, Genesis is kind of cool, and of course Spock’s death is hugely emotional and moving, like, you don’t cry at that and you HAVE NO SOUL. (Or you just don’t cry easily. You know, it’s probably one of the two.) But beyond that . . . you guys, it’s just a Bad Guy Seeks Revenge movie. It’s Moby Dick in Space, with a bit of noble sacrifice a la A Tale of Two Cities to give it a bit of emotional weight. I like the movie and all, but I wouldn’t exactly call it Shakespeare, either, and seriously, everything that’s groundbreaking about it gets flushed down the toilet in the sequel. And the second most popular TOS movie is a goofy time-traveling comedy about stealing whales to save the world, which I guess is, uh, original–and totally cool if that’s your jam–but, like, thought-provoking? That might be stretching it.
My point is this: everyone’s got preferences, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m totally down with people saying stuff like, “These new movies don’t feel like the old movies I loved, so I’m not going to waste my money/time continuing to watch them.” Makes absolute sense to me. But I get cranky when people act like anyone who enjoys the Kelvin ‘Verse movies are dumb, or aren’t REAL fans, or don’t understand what Star Trek is all about, or any other snobby bullshit. Like, you’re gonna get snippy with me, and I’m gonna get snippy right back, you know?
Anyway. So, Star Trek (2009) works for me on a lot of levels. One level: it’s just pure fun. The cast is stellar, the action scenes are awesome, the dialogue is witty and enjoyable. The movie has a lot of energy, and I happily saw it twice in theater. But I’m also just really into the concept of rebooting the series as an AU: change one major event in the past (in this case, the destruction of the USS: Kelvin) and see how the fallout from that butterflies out and alters the lives of all our favorite characters forever. It’s–if you’ll permit the Spock-ism–fascinating to see not only what changes, but what remains the same, almost like destiny itself is at war with the strategic manipulation of time, trying to bring these people together on this ship against all odds.
One of the many reasons I think Into Darkness is a less successful story is that it tries to lazily remake The Wrath of Khan without really considering how this new timeline would fundamentally alter that story. Like it gives us reversals (which I generally approve of, despite some flaws with the execution), but the story never feels organic. Everything about Khan feels poorly shoehorned into this universe, and as a result, the plot feels pretty weak. So while I theoretically enjoy the idea of seeing more remakes through the lens of AU (and will always remain disappointed that we’ll never get to see Karl Urban walking around with Spock’s katra in his head), I couldn’t help but feel relieved that this time around we got a wholly original story instead of a quasi-remake.
2. As to that story . . . it’s enjoyable!
One of the best decisions Beyond makes is to split up the entire crew in pairs or small groups for the greater majority of the movie. This allows the film to give us a little more time with the characters who, historically, have had less to do . . . although I’ll still have a few problems with their storylines because, again, that’s just who I am as a person.
Perhaps we should approach this review character by character.
Kirk’s story is . . . okay. He’s feeling all out of sorts with his job and is considering leaving it for a promotion, which is likely a nod to the original movies where Kirk retires too early. The thing here is that Chris Pine is like 36 and, presumably, Jim Kirk is supposed to be even younger. People can fall into a rut at any age, of course, but I can’t help but feel Kirk is just a bit ridiculously young for this particular storyline.
Mind you, it’s not a big problem for me. It just feels a bit silly. It probably doesn’t help that while Kirk makes a point of noting how his career in Starfleet has become “episodic” (which amused me), we don’t really get a sense of that episodic nature in this movie. We’ve really only seen two adventures with our AU crew, and they were both Save the Day, dire emergency type shit. If they wanted to go this aimless, “who am I in life” route with Jim, I kind of feel like we should have at least gotten a better montage of the crew’s day-to-day life.
Bones and Spock
Oh, these two. These two have far and away my favorite scenes in the whole movie; in fact, I’m starting to wonder why I never fully appreciated their obvious ship before. (Actually, I don’t see it in fanfiction as much as you’d expect, considering how nuts most people go for antagonistic chemistry. But I bet the number of shipper fics between the two of them has grown exponentially since this movie’s release.)
Bones, sadly, doesn’t have much of his own personal arc in this movie, but luckily he’s still hilarious and gets some of the best lines. Everyone is very well cast, of course, but Karl Urban remains particularly amazing to me, if only because I would never have looked at this and thought, Oh yeah, that’s absolutely the guy for Bones.
Spock, meanwhile, does have an emotional journey in this movie, but I think I’ll wait until the Spoiler Section to really get into it. For now I’ll just say that it worked for me, and I wish Zachary Quinto would appear in more stuff that I was interested in besides Star Trek.
Sulu has one or two neat Moments of Awesome . . . but I won’t spoil those by detailing them in full, so we might as well just get to the Controversy.
You’ve probably already read the different sides of this by now, from the original announcement to George Takei’s unhappiness with the development to Simon Pegg’s response. If you haven’t, BOOM. You now have links.
For my part, I think changing up the heteronormativity of the Enterprise crew was a good call. Like (I think) I said in my review for The Force Awakens, it’s a big deal to have a gay character in such a huge action franchise, and while any move forward is good, it just wouldn’t have been as impactful if the sole character was some new, bit part ensign who no one cares about and only says two lines in the film. Not to mention that the Enterprise crew was super diverse and progressive in the 1960’s, but, like, it’s 2016 now. It is long past time we had a major non-straight character. It didn’t have to be Sulu, of course, but I don’t mind it being Sulu, either.
That all being said . . . I’m a bit disappointed with how little time Sulu’s adorable family has. For all the controversy back and forth, we get, what? 12 seconds of screentime? I don’t think Sulu’s husband even gets a line of dialogue, that poor bastard. I’m not saying I expected it to be a primary focus of the story or anything–in fact, I wouldn’t want it to be–but this felt a little too thrown in for my tastes. I’ll discuss that a bit more in the Spoiler Section.
Also, Sulu being gay in the Kelvin Timeline but straight in the Prime Universe has been a problem for many people, but–as I’m sure others have suggested by now–wouldn’t that be pretty easily fixed by just announcing he was bisexual in both universes? Considering that bisexual erasure is totally a thing in Hollywood, I feel like it would have been the best call all around. Admittedly, it still could happen in later movies: after all, it’s not like anyone says Sulu’s not bisexual in the film. (Mostly because there wasn’t a word of dialogue about it one way or the other.) I just think it would make a lot more sense than this quantum physics stuff.
Oh, Anton Yelchin. His death was so sad, so sudden and so horribly, hideously . . . arbitrary. I caught part of Into Darkness on TV a few days before we went to see this, and that moment when Chekov comes out of nowhere to save Kirk from falling to his death? I mean, God. That kicked me in the heart so hard. I hadn’t been preparing myself for it at all.
Chekov is as cute as ever, but I don’t find that I have much to say about Yelchin’s role here, other than I’m sorry this is the last time I’ll ever get to see him play the part. I heard that if more Trek films are made in the future, there’s no plan to recast him, and I think that’s for the best. Better to get a new crew member entirely. I don’t want to see another actor in this particular role, at least, not for quite some time.
Scotty and Jaylah
To what’s likely no one’s great surprise, Scotty continues to be quite funny in this movie, because Simon Pegg is awesome (and because Simon Pegg appears to have given himself some very amusing bits to work with.) He and newcomer Jaylah (Sofia Boutella) have a nice dynamic together. I like Jaylah quite a bit, actually, much more than I ever liked Carol Marcus from Into Darkness. (You know, the last New Girl.) I don’t know that there’s anything fascinatingly original about Jaylah’s backstory, but she’s funny and capable, and she has a lot of energy. If Chekov is replaced by a new crew member, I’d be quite happy if it was her.
Uhura and Krall
I like some of Uhura’s stuff. Other stuff, not so much.
On the plus side, she gets a couple of nice moments; one, in particular, I was very grateful for. (And if it hadn’t happened, you’d be hearing me complain a whole lot more.) But there’s one (admittedly small) thing that annoys me, which I’ll discuss in the Spoiler Section, and–more unfortunately–she spends a huge chunk of her time with Krall (Idris Elba), who’s just. So. BORING.
Yes, it’s yet another underwhelming Star Trek villain, which is just deeply frustrating at this point cause, like, come on, guys. You’ve got Idris Elba as your bad guy. IDRIS ELBA. That man is magnetic and talented and sexy as hell; you have to work to make him this generic, and yet somehow these bastards have done it. It’s not that Krall is so awful or anything, mind; he’s just devoid of any personality or originality; there’s nothing to distinguish him from Every Other Bad Guy Out There, nothing interesting or sinister or surprising.
Unfortunately, that includes his discussions with Uhura, which are one forced skimpy dress away from being tropetastic as shit. I mean, I need to be fair here: it’s not nearly as bad as it could have been. It’s just . . . dull. If your villain is going to arbitrarily decide that he needs to have a Primary Female Hostage to discuss things with, like, their discussions should be about cool stuff, not just a bunch of vaguely ominous muahaha-ing and the usual “I’m counting on it” crap. Where is Uhura and Krall’s Book Battle? Why don’t they have an interesting dynamic? It just all feels like stuff we’ve seen a hundred times before.
3. Okay. I think that finally covers all the characters. Shall we move on to our new director now?
Justin Lin is primarily known for the Fast and the Furious franchise (well, FF 4, 5, and 6, anyway), which I have not watched, mostly due to finding 1 a snoozefest. I’ve been thinking about checking them out, though; they seem to be much loved for both the diverse cast and the totally ridiculous action sequences . . . which, if you think about it, makes Lin basically the most perfect director for the Star Trek franchise ever, assuming you’re okay with it being an action movie series. (Like, if you’re going to go big, then go balls to the wall GIGANTO big, amirite?) Anyway, I mostly enjoy what he’s done with the film. A few of the scenes were so chaotic that it was actually a little hard to track what was going on, but for the most part, I was excited by all the action and especially the humor. (Although it’s probably worth noting that while I am apparently physically incapable of noticing lens flare, I am entirely capable of noticing crazy camera swoops and 360’s and whatever the hell else was going on in this movie.)
4. Also, there’s one scene where . . . well. If you haven’t seen Beyond yet, I refuse to spoil it for you. It does seem to be the kind thing people either love or hate, due to its truly ridiculous nature. As I’m clearly a fan of the ridiculous, though, I absolutely loved it. I was grinning ear to ear through the whole scene.
5. I saw Beyond with my sister and my father, the latter of whom was a big fan of all the starship design details. That’s the kind of thing that soars straight over my head on the first viewing (and even often the fifth or sixth), but I will say that while I didn’t notice a damn thing about the Enterprise, I was ALL into Starbase Yorktown.
It was awesome. I wanted to go there immediately. It made me forget, for a brief moment, that space is a truly awful place and I’d hate to live there because of all the terrible, terrible things that could go wrong and get you horribly killed. (Unrelated, but sometimes I wonder if there’s a reason that Bones is one of my absolute favorite Trek characters. I guess I’ll figure it out eventually.)
6. Finally, while this movie isn’t a remake, there are just tons of references to the other Star Trek shows. I didn’t catch all of them by any means (having only watched a handful of TOS episodes), but I appreciated them regardless. I really am all about expanding the movies out past its original fanbase, but it is nice when you get the sense that the people behind the film love the source material as much or even more than you do.
Now. Shall we go BEYOND the Spoiler Section Warnings to the rest of the review?
Yes, it was a terrible pun. I do not apologize for it at all.
I don’t really feel like going through the entire movie, so here are just a few more notes for you:
7. Idris Elba actually isn’t the only cast member wasted in this movie. There’s also Shohreh Aghdashloo, who, admittedly, is playing what’s obviously intended to be a small part . . . but, like, that small part could have been played by anyone. Sure, anyone else wouldn’t have made those lines sound so husky-smoky-awesome, but my God, man. That woman is phenomenal. If you cast her in your movie, you should give her something more worthwhile to say than “people totes get lost in the emotional abyss of space” and “oh, so, you aren’t quitting, then?” Otherwise, avoid the letdown by casting people who aren’t big names, so that they’ll have the opportunity to shine and hopefully get bigger parts in the future. (Yes, I’m aware that this isn’t how the industry works.)
The only thing really worth mentioning about Aghdashloo’s character is her name: Admiral Paris. As Tom Paris (from Star Trek: Voyager) comes from a Starfleet family, it’s possible that Tom had a super cool great, great, great grandma or something. (Note: I have no idea how many greats to put in there. I can never remember the Trek timeline, and didn’t feel like looking it up.)
8. Here’s the other thing about Krall, though: the Big Twist that he was once a human Starfleet officer?
Yawn. I mean, seriously, that’s . . . not a surprise. I called this twist the second we learned that a Federation ship crashed on the planet in the first place, particularly when we couldn’t see the video of the crew members in any real focus. And we know our bad guy has a beef against the Federation for some reason, only there are no other actual anti-Federation players involved in the plot, so . . . yeah. If your Big Reveal is going to be this obvious, maybe just don’t make it a twist at all?
9. I’m very happy that Uhura rescues Spock, rather than the other way around. It was a nicely comic moment. I laughed and everything. But it bugs me that we get way more time with Spock worried about his ex-girlfriend than we do with Sulu worrying about his husband and baby girl. Like, the guy gets roughly two seconds to look concerned, and . . .well, that’s about it. It’s not a big deal, just, doesn’t it seem like if Kirk or Bones or someone had their straight family on the station, we’d get at least a two-minute rescue scene? I just feel like we should have had a little more with Sulu’s cute fam at the end.
10. Also? I’m not crazy about the necklace.
It’s a funny joke, at least at first. I don’t actually think Spock meant to give his girl a romantic tracking device, and the way everyone was looking at him, all, that’s messed up? That was pretty amusing. But–and I get this is a small thing–I kind of needed to see Spock tell Uhura just how he found her, or take the necklace back (with some perfectly awkward, stretched truth excuse), or something. Cause the way this goes, the story ends with Uhura still unwittingly wearing a tracking device around her neck, while Bones kind of winks or something at Spock, and it just . . . didn’t sit right with me.
11. On the upside, DUDE. The Enterprise takes out a bunch of aliens with THE BEASTIE BOYS.
This is the most spectacularly absurd thing ever. It makes me so ridiculously happy.
I mean that sincerely. It’s a fun little tie-in to the first rebooted Star Trek, not to mention was something of a surprise for me. (I figured the song itself was just for the trailer.) It also just made me laugh, and clearly, I love things that make me laugh. I desperately want to fight aliens now and defeat them with the power of iTunes.
12. I know I already said I liked the Bones and Spock scenes, but I just had to reiterate: they are the best.
I really enjoy the whole fear of death is illogical vs fear of death keeps us alive stuff, especially as Spock Prime died sometime shortly before this movie began. Man, that would be troubling, if you found out your future alternate universe self died. That’s the kind of thing that gets you thinking about mortality and shit. I found Spock’s emotional reaction (which presumably has roots in in Zachary Quinto’s actual emotion) pretty touching. It seemed like a nice tribute to Leonard Nimoy’s memory.
13. Finally, a minor disappointment: I was a little sad that Ensign Syl died.
Not surprised, obviously. Certainly not once Krall separated her and Uhura from the other hostages: there can only be one Primary Female Hostage, after all. (It’s a little like the law of Ripley and Vasquez, or Ripley and Joan Lambert: if there are two women on the horror mission, only one survives.) Still, I just kind of enjoyed Syl for some reason. The fact that she could use her skull for storage space was pretty damn cool.
Alas, poor Syl. We barely knew ye, but I will miss you regardless.
Kirk: “Can you imagine what we’ll find?”
Bones: “Alien despots hellbent on killing us. Deadly space viruses, anomalies that could wipe us out in an instant.”
Bones: “We could be mauled to death by an interstellar monster.”
Kirk: “That’s the spirit, Bones.”
Spock: “Leaving me behind will significantly increase your chances of survival, Doctor.”
Bones: “Well, that’s damn chivalrous of you, but completely out of the question.”
Bones: “Well, at least I won’t die alone.”
(turns around to see that Spock has disappeared behind him)
Bones: “Well, that’s just typical.”
Spock: “Fear of death is illogical.”
Bones: “Fear of death is what keeps us alive.”
Bones: “Just try and relax. You’re going to be okay.”
Spock: “The forced optimism in your voice suggests that you are trying to elicit a sense of calm in order to–”
Bones: “All right, I’ll cut the horseshit–”
Spock: “Doctor, I fail to see how excrement of any kind bears relevance on our current situation.”
Bones: “Yeah. They say it hurts less if it’s a surprise.”
Spock: “If I may adopt a parlance with which you are familiar, I can confirm your theory to be horseshit.”
Spock: “Time is a critical factor.”
Bones: “That’s exactly what I’m trying to tell you. Look, if I can’t take this out, you’re gonna die, and if I take it out and can’t stop the bleeding, you’re gonna die.”
Spock: “I can see no appeal in either option.”
Bones: “Ominous. Dark. Dangerous.”
Kirk: “Okay. Let’s never do that again.”
Uhura: “Spock, what are you doing here?”
Spock: “Clearly, I am here to rescue you.”
Spock: “The miserable have no other medicine but only hope.”
Bones: “On Death’s door, and he’s quoting Shakespeare.”
Spock: “Lieutenant Uhura wears an amulet made of vulcays which I presented to her as a token of my affection and respect.”
McCoy: “You gave your girlfriend radioactive jewellery?”
Spock: “The emission is harmless, Doctor, but its unique signature makes it very easy to identify.”
McCoy : “You gave your girlfriend a tracking device?”
Spock: “. . . that was not my intention.”
McCoy: “Well I’m glad he doesn’t respect me!”
Kirk: “How the hell did this ship end up here?”
Scotty: “There’s a lot of theories, sir. Surrendered to the Romulans. Captured by a giant green space hand.”
Scotty: “Now, that’s Starfleet property, okay, you can’t just take–”
(Jaylah looks menacing)
Scotty: “–but I’m feeling generous today, so have at it.”
Admiral Paris : “You saved this entire base, Kirk. Millions of souls. Thank you.”
Kirk : “It wasn’t just me. It never is.”
Solid entertainment. It’s not my favorite Star Trek movie, but it was an enjoyable enough way to spend two hours, and the writing wasn’t nearly as lazy as the script from Into Darkness. I had a good time.
Karl Urban. Ooh, or Simon Pegg did heavy-lifting with the writing too . . . hell, they can share it, this time around.
Music saves lives. Especially classical music.