SUPERVERSIVE: Star Trek Beyond, the spoilerific review.

Tuesday , 2, August 2016 11 Comments

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I grew up in a Star Trek house. A lot of my early memories involved classic Star Trek reruns and watching The Wrath of Khan the way my niece watches Frozen. I can remember the excitement of seeing Star Trek‘s future when TNG was new, and being mildly horrified and fascinated when my Dad told me the new Enterprise had kids on board, and they put them on “the disc” during battle to keep them safe. (I was five; I assumed they beamed them up halfway and stored them on floppies. It was probably a better solution than sticking them all on a big target without warp drive.) It was one of those things that got into my blood, and it stayed there until the 90s anime/Babylon 5 combo showed me there was more to scifi than Star Trek. Relations have been strained since then; I tend to see Star Trek as being moments of brilliance interrupted by long stretches of meh, though catching reruns on TV lately has sort of reawakened my appreciation for it beyond that. More after the cut; and spoilers ho.

Seriously, guys. Spoilers.

I’m guessing my complicated relationship with the Star Trek franchise is at least partially responsible for my lack of hatred for NuTrek, the JJverse, the Kelvin timeline… whatever you want to call it. My horses have long since pulled out of this particular fandom race. I like what I like, I dislike what I dislike, and in what might be one of the most controversial statements I’ve ever made, I respect Abrams for trying to breath life into a franchise that had been sitting there gathering dust.

Franklin BridgeStar Trek Beyond‘s advertising has pretty much laid out the entire story for the movie, all the way until the end: Enterprise is exploring, gets shredded by lots of little ships that can punch through a hull capable of running into mountains and coming out okay, crew is mostly captured by a guy who we’re told is Idris Elba in lots of alien makeup. Kirk and people too central to be captured mount daring JJverse rescues, with motorcycles and beaming around, the Beasty Boys, and Hollywood’s latest butt-kicking Action Grrrrrl. Post-premier commercials give us a glimpse of a human Idris Elba, too, leading Brad Torgerson to describe the villain as a “Scooby Doo villain.” It is the era of trailers that are two minute long versions of the movie they’re advertising, after all. Two minute versions that are better than the actual film, more often than not.

This is all a pretty much accurate summation of the movie, if you throw in the gay-Sulu controversy. But, weirdly, it doesn’t actually do the movie justice. I was prepared for a stinker. The part of me that reacts to giant spaceships reacts well to Star Trek Into Darkness, but it has to beat down the intelligent part of me for that to happen. Trailers showcasing a not-too-alien-to-be-sexy Action Grrrrl lead me to expect… well. You know. A milder version of that whole Ghostbusters thing. Awesome Womyn! Incompetent Men! Brave Hollywood bravely progressing the envelope! But I was really pleasantly surprised by Beyond. It’s not perfect, by any means, but it’s also definitely not the worst Trek film that’s ever been made. It’s not even the most mediocre Trek film that’s ever been made. I feel like it’s actually towards the middle of the “Good” section.

I’m not going to bother summing up the plot, because, like I said, you know the basic shape of it. So instead, I’m going to run off some thoughts I had about the film. Last Warning on Spoilers!

  • The great big gay-Sulu thing is annoying; even George Takei agrees. Worse than annoying, it’s a very blatant “Look how progressive we are” thing that has zero impact upon anything but making the social justice crowd preen. Someone also pointed out that it is so short and minor that you could easily edit it out for “less enlightened” markets, making it even more meaningless. It’s five seconds of two dudes walking off with their arms around each other. My, how brave. Probably my biggest beef with the film.
  • Brad Torgerson tends to be a thoughtful man, and a better author than I (or at least with more proof under his belt), but I think calling Krall a “Scooby Doo” villain isn’t fair. Star Trek has a long history of humans who are transformed into something else. Krall’s not out of line with that tradition; nor are Starfleet officers immune from going rogue.  NuTrek’s had a villain problem from the get-go, with no one really acting as a convincing villain. Benedict Cumberbatch was wasted by the hamfisted mining of Khan. Nero’s personality was mostly just based around shouting and blowing up planets. But I felt like Krall was actually a pretty good villain, and they mined Star Trek Enterprise‘s backstory fairly skillfully to get his character concept. What I would’ve liked to see was more detail about how Krall became Krall, leading us to my next thought:
  • Hinting at the real nature of a plot point is fine for Gene Wolfe. NuTrek doesn’t have that kind of cache; not giving us a more explicit rationalization makes it feel like they didn’t bother to think through the nature of their menace. Krall’s origins, and the origins of the tech (both the MacGuffin and the Swarm-ships) are briefly touched on but otherwise glossed over. Which is a shame; it was a good chance for some mild body-horror. Similarly, defeating the Swarm Ships has enough technobabble to not make it absolutely ridiculous, but we could’ve done with some more detail as to why interfering with their network makes explosions. At least show some ships crashing together, man.
  • Jaylah has more depth and way less annoying Action Grrrrl than I expected. She’s competent. And more competent than Scotty and some other Starfleet folks at combat, but not obnoxiously so. She never really mows down anyone with any skill, and I was pleased that she was actually kind of outmatched by Krall’s Lieutenant for a good portion of their fight.
  • Urban continues to be great as Bones; Quinto makes a fine Vulcan, but an iffy Spock– although he’s better here than he has been. Pegg might not be the Scotty we’re used to, but I still like his take on it. Pine’s not the Kirk we’re used to, but I feel like that’s at least in part because this movie is about his growth towards that Kirk.
  • One of the criticisms leveled at NuTrek as a whole is that it’s “not smart.” But the Star Trek films haven’t been smart since, at the very latest, First ContactNemesis and Insurrection are so forgettable that I can really only remember the parts that I loathed. And TV-wise Trek‘s been spotty since, at the latest, the end of Deep Space Nine. Star Trek Beyond actually ratchets up the intelligence level from where the prime timeline left it lying; it’s a movie where exploration is actually one of the driving forces behind it. Stuff explodes, sure, but we’ve always had explosions in Star Trek.

I could probably go on, but I’m running long. Like I said, though: I was pleasantly surprised by Star Trek Beyond. I feel like it’s a fine entry– at the very least, it’s a step in the right direction.

Josh Young is  a seminary student, Castalia House author (featured in God, Robot and author of the forthcoming Do Buddhas Dream of Enlightened Sheep) and blogger at Superversivesf.com If you enjoyed this, we’d love to have you visit our main site!

11 Comments
  • PCBushi says:

    Nice write-up, and I can certainly understand your mixed feelings on the various Star Trek properties. I haven’t been a fan of “NuTrek,” but I definitely agree that they’ve been better movies than some of the garbage out there, namely the two films you mentioned.

    I’m not surprised, but always a little disappointed to see Voyager lumped in with bad Star Trek. I know I’m in the minority, but I really enjoyed that series, more so than Deep Space Nine.

    • Josh says:

      Hah. I’m sorry to be one of those guys, but Voyager has more or less come to represent everything I find distasteful in Star Trek– and actually, it’s largely a character/storytelling issue. By the time Voyager came along, characters had descended into a boring, enlightened 24th century mold– more seraphic caricatures of people than actual characters. The Marquis are terrorists, and they were relatively well integrated in, what, three or four episodes? And Voyager’s exile to the Delta quadrant was predicated on the vastly technologically superior Federation ship not being able to put a time bomb on the Caretaker array, set to detonate after they left.

      But Voyager occasionally had some really great moments, which made it all that much more frustrating.

      • Clipper says:

        100% agree on Voyager, the writers hamstrung themselves trying to create ‘conflict’ between future humans whose near incapacity for ingroup preference was one of their defining qualities and sure enough it degenerates into a love fest as quick as ye blink. Also who can forgive Voyager for making both the Borg and 8472 into running jokes!!! Seriously though, Enterprise was far worse right?

        • Josh says:

          Yeah. The Borg are another issue I had with Voyager. They were supremely scary to me when they were introduced; the Locutus reveal is one of my strongest memories as a kid, along with my dad’s “You know you have to wait all summer to see the next part, right?” But Voyager butchered them. Made them into Daleks, essentially. And 8472 as the one thing the Borg were scared of? Fantastic! …But then we got those 8472 hunter folks, and brokered peace all over the place… Meh.

          I never saw much Enterprise. Maybe a season or two, since I’d just moved out for the first time and didn’t have money for cable. It never struck me as being any worse than Voyager. Probably better, because I thought the temporal cold war and the Xindi arc were interesting ideas. And it tried to do something instead of just hitting the reset button every episode.

          • Clipper says:

            Many of my friends still rage black in the face that “Your galaxy will be purged!” somehow transmuted itself into ‘gruff yet loveable’ Ray Walston over a handful of episodes.

            I couldn’t stomach Enterprise at any price, the promise of a return to the wild west setting which was never delivered matched with characters so PC it made Voyager look like Deadwood finished me. I can’t deny flashes of brilliance but that episode where they leave a whole people to die on the grounds of ‘evolution’ that was just pure evil.

      • Had Voyager actually – you know – FOLLOWED THROUGH WITH ITS PREMISE, it not only could have been great, but I dare say it could have been one of the greatest Trek series of all times.

        I think there’s some irony in that BSG ended up doing Voyager better than Voyager, and Firefly did Enterprise better than Enterprise.

  • PCBushi says:

    Yeah, the Caretaker storyline was weak (as was the show’s ending), and I think the writers probably recognized that. Janeway later guilts herself more than once about how she botched that encounter and got her crew stranded.

    I really liked a lot of the Voyager characters. Robert Picardo was excellent as the Doctor; riffs on Data but unique enough character arc.
    As clumbsily as they did Seven of Nine, basically making her a teenage nerd’s wet dream, she was also an interesting character, and once again kind of building off of the Next Generation (showing the Borg could be brought back, although not without difficulty).
    I thought Kate Mulgrew as Janeway was the best captain since Kirk, though of course your mileage may vary. I’m not typically a huge proponent of “the strong woman,” but she knew how to take names and kick ass like none other since James T. when diplomacy failed, and she didn’t surrender her femininity for it.

    There were a lot of weak stories, admittedly, but the premise also allowed the franchise to break some new ground instead of focusing on the same well-worn Alpha quadrant species and civilizations non-stop (which yes, may not have been popular).

    Anyway, just my two cents.

  • Rick Derris says:

    I was a yuge “Trek” fan, and when it comes to TNG and DS9, I consistently re-watch the episodes that Ronald Moore wrote. He saved TNG in my opinion. The first two seasons were dreadful.

    • Josh says:

      You know, as long as I’m outing myself as someone with unpopular Trek opinions… I think I actually sort of prefer the world of the first few seasons. It wasn’t as polished, it was more cheesy, but I feel like the world was a little more rough and tumble then. There’s one episode where they complain about the glitches in the Galaxy class ships have… and of course, it’s not just a glitch, it’s a Problem of the Week, but just the idea that it might not have been as polished as it should have been stuck with me. That’s very different from a lot of modern Trek.

  • Pretty well spot on (except for the Pegg line – he’s alright as his own character, but he’s no Scotty).

    I was at least happy that the movie demonstrated a basic level of competence in the writing and story structure because let’s be honest, the previous 2 movies were increasingly sloppy.

    I just wish we could get a star trek movie where “we” are not our own villain. That’s twice now the main villain has been a Starfleet officer, and in the first movie Nero is shown as ultimately turned villainous because of Spock. It’s almost like the new movies have this ethos of “we stopped trying to do anything, we’d be better off and in less danger.” Can we get the Borg or the Dominion or the Doomsday Machine or something else where the problem isn’t us, it’s them?

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