Since 2009, we, the fans of Star Trek, have been a severely divided group over the films that have been made in what is popularly referred to as “The JJ ‘Verse.” I’m not going to go into the reasons for this, mostly because anyone interested can find out for themselves quite easily by Googling the titles of the films and looking on forums that are many, and vocal.
Personally, I have said on many occasions that I enjoyed Star Trek (2009) and Into Darkness, however I did have a few reservations. The recent films just had a little something missing. For me, they seemed somewhat impersonal focusing more on the action and less on the interpersonal relationship that is one of the hallmarks of what makes Trek meaningful, at least in my opinion.
The latest installment in the franchise, Star Trek Beyond comes closer to either of the two previous films in capturing the old feeling that makes Star Trek what it has always been for me; the relationship between characters that has their friendships and conflicts out for us to feel and experience.
The film starts with Kirk giving a rather lengthy log entry which finds him somewhat disenchanted with the routine of running a starship. The Enterprise next arrives at the Yorktown Starbase, a huge facility that houses millions and is described by McCoy as a giant snow globe in space. Upon entering the Starbase, Kirk visits with an admiral after applying for promotion to vice admiral and becoming the Starfleet commander of the base. Further, Sulu begins shore leave with his husband and their daughter, Spock and Uhura have decided to end their relationship, but remain friendly, and Scotty continues to keep the ship up and running. Spock is informed that Ambassador Spock has died.
A small escape pod arrives out of a nebula near Yorktown carrying a passenger, Kalara who appeals to the admiral and Kirk that there are people in need of rescue. Kirk is on the job and gathers the crew for the mission. Upon arrival on the other side of the nebula, the rescue mission turns into an ambush by a huge swarm of small ships that begins to shred the Enterprise and cripples the ship. An alien named Krall and some of his people board the Enterprise in search of an item called the Abronath, one of two components of a devastating weapon.
The crew of the Enterprise leaves the ship in escape pods while the saucer section is separated and crashes somewhat in-tact on the surface of a planet. Uhura, Sulu, and a large number of the crew are captured and held in Krall’s compound, Spock and McCoy crash land on another part of the planet where McCoy discovers Spock to be severely injured, Kirk and Chekov, accompanied by Kalara find and survey the saucer section, and Scotty is helped by Jayla, a scavenger and former prisoner of Krall, who asks that he help her repair her house, which turns out to be the USS Franklin, a starship that crash landed on the planet 100 years earlier.
Kirk and Chekov trick Kalara into revealing that she is actually working with Krall to find the Abronath and return it to him. When some of Krall’s drones arrive on the scene, Kirk and Checkov escape by igniting the thrusters causing the Enterprise saucer to move and crush Kalara. They then make their way to the Franklin. McCoy uses some old fashioned medicine practices to stabilize Spock well enough to travel and they begin to search for survivors. While resting, Spock tells McCoy about Ambassador Spock’s death and how he intends to leave Starfleet to help his race rebuild. Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and Chekov are reunited with Scotty and Jaylah on the Franklin where they begin repairs on the ship and make plans to free the Enterprise crew; McCoy takes the opportunity to do a more thorough job on healing Spock. Meanwhile, Krall manages to coerce a member of the enterprise crew into turning over the Abronath.
Kirk and company move against Krall’s encampment and transport the captive Enterprise crew to the Franklin as Krall and his fleet of “bees,” as Jaylah calls them, launch to destroy Yorktown and eventually move on to destroy the Federation. Kirk, in command of the Franklin goes off in pursuit of Krall.
Spock and McCoy are transported onto one of Krall’s ships where they learn how the ships are all able to move together in their swarm formation. Scotty and Jaylah use her music device to transmit a VHF signal to the swarm, confusing them can causing them to self destruct. Uhura and Kirk access the Franklin logs and learn that Krall is actually Balthazar Edison, the original commander of the Franklin, and former soldier who fought in conflicts with the Romulans and the Xindi, and is upset that humanity has made peace with former alien enemies, and is determined to show humans that it is a mistake to befriend alien races. With Edison’s fleet destroyed, he manages to gain entry to Yorktown, and Kirk chases him. Edison intends to release the Abronath weapon into the ventilation system of the station and Kirk manages to open a hatch into open space. Edison and the weapon die in space and Spock rescues Kirk from following Edison to his doom.
Kirk decides that he will turn down promotion and stay with Starfleet, Spock also decides to remain with Starfleet, and Scotty tells Jaylah that she has been accepted into Starfleet Academy if she wants to go. McCoy escorts Kirk to a Birthday celebration with the Enterprise crew and The closing scene sees the bridge crew witnessing the construction of the USS Enterprise-A.
What Star Trek Beyond Got Right…
Tributes to Absent Friends: There were three scenes that paid tribute to Leonard Nimoy’s character. FIrst when Spock was informed of the passing of Ambassador Spock, he was handed a pad with the details and the dates listed in stardates. The second was the scene in which Spock informed McCoy, and the third was at the end when Spock opened a small case of personal effects from Ambassador Spock in which there was a photo of the aged bridge crew of the Enterprise from the Prime Universe. It has been just short of a year and a half since the passing of Leonard Nimoy and as I sat in the theater, I shed tears; these tributes were very tastefully done and respectful, and were also quite unexpected on my part. Along with that was another brief tribute to Anton Yelchin as the scene paused on Chekov after Kirk proposes a toast “to absent friends” during his birthday celebration. These were beautiful moments that seriously tugged at the heart strings.
The Maturation of James T. Kirk: Gone from this film was the juvenile Kirk portrayed in the ‘09 film and Into Darkness. The Kirk in Beyond is more thoughtful, focused, and in control, not to mention more respectful and respected by those around him. Missing from this film were scenes with women standing around in their underwear and bedroom scenes that were in the last two. Also absent was Jim Kirk introducing himself to everything wearing a skirt that happened to be passing by. Since the early days of Star Trek, Kirk has jokingly been given the reputation of being controlled by his libido. I have watched every episode of TOS numerous times and he wasn’t near the womanizer that many think he was, not nowhere near as he was portrayed in the ‘09 film and Into Darkness. I was also pleased that the script didn’t allow Kirk to refer to Spock as “pointy” again; I did not appreciate that reference in the film before and was taken quite by surprise when it happened. I cannot help but think that a great deal of Spock’s decision to remain in Starfleet was when Kirk admitted that he wouldn’t know what he would do without Spock at his side; very much in the tradition of that particular friendship.
The Emotional Spock: I have seen much criticism concerning Spock and his emotionalism as portrayed in previous films. Spock’s emotionalism is not without precedent even as far back as TOS when he learned that he had not killed his captain in the Amok Time episode. It has been established on numerous occasions that Vulcans do have emotions, but as their emotionalism in previous times almost led to their downfall, they have chosen to control their emotions, or better yet, not allow themselves be controlled by their emotions as humans often do. In one scene, Spock laughs out loud at a quip that McCoy lets out. Through his laughter, I choose to think that it was Spock paying a high compliment to Bones by lowering his barriers for his friend.
Interactions Between Characters: The writing and direction need to be credited with a crew that was far more relaxed with each other than in previous films. While keeping in mind that the ‘09 film saw a crew that was untested and didn’t really have a chance to get to know each other, this film felt more like familial relationship had developed between the members of the bridge crew. Each had their talents and areas of expertise and everyone knew what those were, and knew when to jump in and help, or back away and let the expert handle the situation. There were no arguments or disagreements and they behaved more naturally. I was more comfortable with the cast than I was in the past and it felt more like Trek, even with all the modern trappings of film making. Most impressive was how everyone had a good amount of screen time and dialog without getting campy. The humor was appropriate and the supporting cast added a great deal to the film.
The best depiction of a relationship in this film was between Scotty and Jaylah. They hit it off almost immediately when she rescued him early in the film and their relationship developed quickly. It was hard to tell just who in this pair was mentoring who which added to the fun. The characters offered many moments of humor, but also went far beyond comic relief. Simon Pegg & Sofia Boutella have a great chemistry on screen and it is my sincere hope that Jaylah graduates from Starfleet Academy and returns to the Enterprise in the next film.
Nods to the Past: As I think back over the years I have spent watching Trek, all of the captains have had thoughts of what their lives might have been had they chosen a different path. Christopher Pike dreamed of owning a business in the first TOS pilot. In The Wrath Of Kahn, Kirk was woebegone over the advent of his birthday as well as being ponderous about what his life might have been like if he had stayed with Carol Marcus and been a father to David. Picard was actually shown how lackluster his life would have been when Q sent him back in time to avoid being impaled through the heart. In Beyond, Kirk similarly thinks about his impending birthday remembering that his father had died on that day and how he joined the service on a dare from Pike instead of believing in what Starfleet stood for as his father, George Kirk had.
It is no secret that McCoy does not like the transporter, and it is the same in this film when he is snatched from being killed thanks to Scotty. He makes quite a deal out of making sure that he is all in one piece before he leaves the transport pad of the Franklin.
Of course the biggest nod to the past was the picture that Spock found among the personal items of Ambassador Spock; it was the real deal and one hell of a tribute to what came before. I don’t know for sure who was responsible for that, but that was brilliant idea and is to be commended; it shows a healthy respect for the franchise in general.
There are many more that I have not listed here. My good friend, fellow blogger and podcaster, and a man who knows Star Trek inside and out, Colin Higgins posted more tributes on his blog, Trek News and Views. I cannot improve on what he has, so please, follow the link and enjoy.
What Could Have Been Done Better…
Too Fast and Too Furious: Beyond feels more like an action adventure film than science fiction. While the backdrop is Star Trek, and there are many very Trekish moments in the film, the action never stops or slows down and is always right there in your face as scenes cut from one to another leaving no room to breathe. I posted on Facebook that two hours and thirteen minutes went by like nothing which is not necessarily always a good thing. Yes it is entertaining and yes it has a strong Trek flavor, but I would liked to have a chance to savor the moments and see more of what was going on. The camera angles were often so close that I couldn’t see what was happening and then we were off to the next thing before I could digest what I had just witnessed. There is plenty of action, and it is loud, explosive and exciting, and all of that, but please pull back the camera a little so we can enjoy what we are watching and get some information from it. I would have liked to see more of the designs of the ships and a little more detail of what the Enterprise crew was fighting against, as well as more of what was happening on Yorktown station; it was a magnificent set that was far too underused. I wanted a reason to care that Krall was bent on destroying Yorktown beyond Sulu’s family being there. Just slow down a little, pull back, and let us enjoy what has been created.
Formula One: Once again, the story was the same rehash of what has become the trope for science fiction/action films in recent years; it boils down to a very large population being threatened in some way by some horrible villain who has an axe to grind because he has been set aside by society and he is going to take revenge on a massive scale and it is up to our team of heroes to save the world. It is time to move on and write a different story, something new and unexpected.
Duality: The movie felt a little like there was two stories happening at the same time. It is a coincidence that there were two writers? I’m thinking not. The story is well edited and flows, however quickly, but I am thinking that perhaps the action was taken care of by Doug Jung while the Trek elements were handled by Simon Pegg. It is no secret that Pegg loves Star Trek and if one looks closely, one can see where he had his hand in the film and where Jung took the helm. The story itself kind of had me lost for most of the film; I kept asking myself why Krall is doing what he is doing? It was a guarded secret that Krall was a human until the closing minutes and his motivation for wanting to destroy Yorktown was something that distracted me during most of the film. It would have been nice to have some idea what Krall’s problem was before the big reveal. The cryptic hints he dropped on a couple of occasions were not enough to make me really understand why he Swiss-cheesed the Enterprise, or why he had taken the crew captive, beyond looking for the Abronath. Some background on Krall would have been welcome earlier in the film for the purpose of understanding.
Despite the few complaints, I love this film and will be happy to see it again; it is the closest thing to a real Star Trek film that has hit the screen since before the ‘09 reboot. Star Trek Beyond is a huge step in the right direction and with the promise of another one yet to come, I am excited about the future of the franchise. It is a great time to be a Trekkie/Trekker in this, the year of the 50th Anniversary of our beloved Star Trek, and with this film, there is hope for the future.
[Well, there it is…