Star Trek Beyond

If there’s one constant throughout my life, then it’s Star Trek. It’s been there for as long as I can remember, right back to my earliest memories of watching the bright colours of the original series as a young child. I’m not sure I have any memories older than that.

I’m definitely a TOS guy. The Original Series may predate me by a good fifteen years, and for all I grew up in an age where we were given The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise, I’m still old enough to remember when there was only “Star Trek”.

And crucially I’m old enough to remember that I loved watching that incarnation of Star Trek. In fact, while kids my age would cite their hero as being Paul McStay or Ally McCoist depending on their football preference, I was usually avoiding getting beat up at school by not admitting my hero was actually Captain Kirk.

I’m not going to pretend that I absolutely love everything Star Trek has ever done though. If you’ve read my four part blog on Star Trek: Generations then you’ll probably know that already! But even bad Trek is still more enjoyable to me than most things.

And, luckily for us, there’s a lot of Trek out there. Indeed, Star Trek turns 50 this month, and although there are large gaps in that time where we didn’t get anything new, we’ve still been spoiled over the years.

TOS only lasted three seasons in the 60s before it was cancelled, while the animated series in the 70s never gets much love. The movies that took us from the end of the 70s to the start of the 2000s lasted for ten feature films with varying levels of success that tailed off at the end. Indeed, a disappointing Star Trek: Nemesis coupled with a directionless Enterprise (until it was too late) caused the second break from Trek that we had until JJ Abrams got involved and rebooted the franchise in typical Star Trek style – by technobabbling a way to link the two versions!

I have to admit that the JJ-verse – or the Kelvin Timeline as it’s now officially known – took me a good while to get used to. The 2009 reboot movie left a lot to be desired in my mind for a number of reasons, but I’ve grown to forgive most of those as the storyline is pretty good. Into Darkness that followed that was a movie built from its predecessors, and one with it’s own added problems. It’s probably a Star Trek movie I like less with each passing viewing. The more I can pick holes in it, the less likely I am to enjoy it on each rewatch.

And I’m a Star Trek fan, so you can bet I’ll be rewatching them a lot!

So when Star Trek Beyond came out this summer I was very apprehensive about what we might get.

SPOILER ALERT. From here on in there are spoilers so you should go and see the latest movie before reading any further if you haven’t already! Although its taken me so long to get this blog written that you might struggle to find somewhere that’s showing it outside of China where it’s only just being released.

But, trust me, it’s worth it if you can get to see it.

With JJ Abrams taking a back seat as he moved over to do Star Wars Episode VII, this third installment of the reboot saw Simon Pegg join the writing team to make sure that an actual Star Trek fan was writing it. Add in Justin Lin who came in from Fast and Furious to make sure we didn’t just focus on a handful of the characters and got the whole ensemble involved and I was cautiously optimistic that this could be a good movie.

Focusing on just a couple of the characters happens a lot in Star Trek movies. The TNG movies were mainly the Picard and Data show in all four of them. The most recent two seemed to focus more on Kirk, Spock and Uhura whereas in the first six TOS movies it was McCoy rather than Uhura that would often be part of the main focus. I’ve seen it suggested that the only time a real balance between all the main cast was struck came in The Voyage Home where everyone actually had something to do. I would probably argue that The Search for Spock did it too, but clearly not to the same extent. But if anyone could bring that to the latest movie, it’s the man who had done such a good job of it in the Fast and Furious franchise.

And that’s exactly what we got in Star Trek Beyond.

Everyone has something to do in this movie. Kirk is the obvious lead, but McCoy and Spock spend a lot of time working together away from him. Karl Urban had been criminally underused in the previous two movies so it was good to see him involved more this time. Uhura was probably cut back from the previous movies, but that’s fine because what she does here with Sulu is just as important as anything else in the movie. If anything I’d probably say she’d been overused in the previous movies just to give a female character more of a lead presence. I don’t mind female characters being the lead, but when you go out of your way to do it to “redress the balance” when compared to other movies then you’re missing the point. All I want are good leads, regardless of their characteristics.

If there’s one guy who didn’t seem to have too much to do then it was Sulu. Yes he got to look good piloting the Franklin in a manner that reminded me more of Galaxy Quest than anything Mayweather may have done as the forgettable helmsman of the NX-01 Enterprise, but Sulu seemed to play second fiddle to Uhura when most of the crew were captured. If anything, the most significant thing Sulu had in the movie was the family moment at Yorktown. We all know Sulu had a daughter somewhere along the line who went on to be at the helm of the Enterprise-B, but here we hare left to infer that this is Demora that is with her dads even if that would mean she was in her 30s in Generations – assuming they were born at the same time in both universes of course.

So what about that “dads” thing?

A lot was made of outing Sulu as gay in this movie, but to be honest I think they nailed it. You’d hope that by the 23rd century “I’m gay!” is as ridiculous a phrase to say as “I’m straight!” is now. People would just accept it and make nothing of it. The fact Kirk’s reaction is merely to smile because his helmsman has been reunited with his family is spot on. I think my only criticism of this scene is that there wasn’t a “welcome home” kiss between them. Maybe we haven’t quite advanced as a society to the point we can show that in a movie. Work to be done then, because you know if it was a woman greeting her husband that would definitely be shown because it’s exactly what would happen.

I’ve seen it suggested that Simon Pegg’s own Scotty character gets a lot of important things to do and that maybe him being the writer meant he was able to do that for his own good, but to be honest I think everything he did in this was exactly what you would want your Engineer to do. I don’t think he had anything extra or out of the ordinary for Scotty. If that’s because Pegg wrote it that way, I don’t really have a problem with it. It fits the story line, and that’s what matters.

The real blow to the franchise is Chekov. As a young kid in 2009 he was almost Wesley Crusher smart-arsed annoying at times, but you still kinda liked him anyway. Into Darkness bizarrely pushed him down to Engineering purely because Scotty needed to be off the ship for the later part of the movie, but in Beyond he gets to link up well with Kirk in a way you wouldn’t otherwise expect. But while he’s clearly matured since the 2009 movie, he still gets to the be the young man that’s thrown out of a crew member’s quarters in his boxers or somehow avoids getting caught checking out the female alien of the week who in previous movies would probably have ended up with Kirk at some point instead.

But this will be the last time we see Chekov. With Anton Yelchin’s untimely death just before this movie comes out we’re going to lose that character as they’ve already said that they won’t recast him. It’s right that they don’t, but it just adds to the impact that death with have on everyone. It feels almost as big as Heath Ledger’s death just before The Dark Knight which meant we wouldn’t see any more of his wonderful performance as Joker, on top of the fact that we’d lost a talented actor.

Death is central to this movie as well. The passing of Leonard Nimoy, who had featured in the previous two reboot movies as the original Spock, wasn’t just acknowledged in this movie but it was made an integral part of it through the impact it had on Zachary Quinto’s Spock. It was brilliantly done, and even the two scenes particularly designed to focus specifically on the death itself were tear jerking moments.

I especially liked the nod to the past of Nimoy’s Spock having a photo of the Enterprise crew from The Final Frontier. When you see that on screen it’s not just a nod to Nimoy but to Deforest Kelly and James Doohan that have passed away previously. Indeed, with Nichelle Nichols having suffered a stroke and the likes of William Shatner, George Takei and Walter Koenig not getting any younger either you really do come to appreciate how long Star Trek has been around and how we need to appreciate the time we have with them around.

Admittedly, this is the one part of the movie where I was left thinking “how did Spock have that photo? Did he have it on board the Jellyfish with him? Did it somehow stay with him after Nero took him prisoner?” How’s that for nitpicking?!

There are plenty of other nods to both Star Trek’s past and to the fans throughout the movie though. Where Into Darkness made an entire story out of them, Beyond merely puts them in as Easter Eggs. If you don’t know them, you can still enjoy the movie for what it is. But if you do know them, you’ll probably be laughing or smiling knowingly as you pick up on them.

Kirk moaning about ripping his shirt again, or his log entry suggesting that life has become episodic. Scotty worrying that he might splice Spock and McCoy together in a transporter accident. The reference to MACOs and the Xindi. The big green space hand. Even the subtle ones like Justin Lin’s father being called Frank and the ship they come across being called the Franklin, or the fact that the registry number of the ship is Leonard Nimoy’s birthday. Even the 966 days in space from Kirk’s log entry is a nod to September 1966, the date Star Trek first aired.

I think my favourite nod to the past though might just be the little blast of TOS music from the episode Shore Leave that we get when Kirk and Chekov are found to be stuck in one of Jaylah’s traps. Michael Giacchino has done all three of these reboot movies now and he’s scored every one of them perfectly. Into Darkness had a bit of the Amok Time fight music when Spock faces off against Khan, but this one is more fun and throws back to one of my favourite fun TOS episodes. I have a real soft spot for a cheeky piccolo!

I think the real triumph of this movie is that they’ve finally managed to do something they didn’t do in any of the previous twelve movies. They’ve managed to get the balance between an action movie and a Star Trek episode style movie absolutely spot on. Even the best of the earlier movies tends to be either one thing or the other. Wrath of Khan is a submarine movie with a returning TOS character. That’s as close as they’ve come, but it’s still more action than anything. Undiscovered Country also has some action but it’s a lot more mystery and is probably more TOS than anything. Both are fantastic movies though, and they usually feature at the very top of most peoples lists – including my own. The best TNG managed was with First Contact which has action Picard set in future history. Again, it’s probably more action than Star Trek episode, but it’s close and its my third favourite of the previous twelve.

But Star Trek Beyond is so good that it’s interrupted that top three for the first time in nearly 20 years.

As soon as I left the cinema I was buzzing with excitement. I’d loved it from start to finish and I immediately got to thinking where it ranked among the previous twelve. I knew it was one of the best, but the more I thought about the more I figured I actually enjoyed it even more than I enjoyed First Contact. That’s no slight on First Contact by the way!

I know many people will say I can’t rank a new movie among movies I know off by heart. It needs time to bed in before a true ranking can be given, and I understand that thinking. I probably agree to a certain extent, but having seen the movie a second time a few days later I hadn’t changed my mind. If anything, I think as this movie beds in I might just need to reconsider my whole list. Maybe I’m getting older, but I’m already getting to the point where I think that maybe Undiscovered Country is a better movie than Wrath of Khan. But I’m also thinking that Star Trek Beyond might come to challenge that top two at some point too.

Yes, it’s that good.

I know many of the Star Trek fans that I know and respect may not rank it as highly as I do, and that’s fine. None of them think Generations is the worst of the Trek movies either! We’re all entitled to our opinion and we’ll all take different things from different movies. But to me this movie is practically flawless, and that just doesn’t happen often. Where it takes elements that we’ve seen before, I think it even improves on them.

Take the destruction of the Enterprise for instance. Yes, this is something we saw in The Search for Spock and probably more similarly in Generations. But here I think it’s the best one of all. Search for Spock made sense because the Enterprise was already badly damaged from the events of Wrath of Khan. It didn’t take much to disable it, and with only a few of them on board to run it the result was inevitable due to all the automated jury rigging Scotty had done to allow them to go anywhere with just a handful of people. But even then, they blew it up in spectacular fashion and “turned death into a fighting chance to live”.

Then in Generations… well, I thought the idea of a Klingon Bird of Prey being able to destroy it as they did was pretty ridiculous to be honest, but once it was in that mess then the saucer separation, warp core breach and eventual saucer crash was really well done. It’s probably the best scene in the movie actually.

But Star Trek Beyond took that same saucer section crash and did it better. No one was on board it when it crashed so there was no issue about being able to survive it. But even getting to that point made a lot more sense. For one thing, they got to that point the same way we’ve seen in Deep Space Nine that Starfleet had to learn with the Defiant. Simply put, big cumbersome starships are fine until little more maneuverable ships can outnumber them to wipe them out. With this many in a swarm you can easily take down a starship like the Enterprise.

And that’s what we get. First they take out the deflector to leave them vulnerable before taking out the warp engines to stop them escaping easily. Even then, Scotty hooks up the warp core to try and use the impulse engines to escape, only for the swarm to separate the core from the engines! In the end, the saucer separation is done to try and give the escape pods a chance to escape, but even that fails and the saucer crashes down to the planet. Even after all that, Kirk and Chekov end up back on board it, and it’s a lot more banged up than the Enterprise-D’s saucer had been at the end of Generations.

Maybe Deanna didn’t do too bad a job of flying it after all, eh?!

So how do you defeat that swarm? Well, you stop them acting as a swarm, obviously. The idea of disrupting the communications between them made perfect sense to me, and using VHF to do it even makes sense as far as physics goes too to my knowledge. I mean, I use an FM transmitter to listen to music and podcasts through my phone and every time I drive by someone on that same frequency it interferes with it! So why would this NOT work?!

It’s a brilliant plot device, and it leads to such a great callback to the music we had in Star Trek 2009 when young Kirk stole his step-dad’s car. Okay, so the Beastie Boys could have been a bit of a cheesy moment in the movie with all of them tapping their feet to it. But then I don’t even like the Beastie Boys and I was doing the same! Music does that to you, and I don’t think that’s going to change in the 23rd century.

The only real criticism I’ve heard about this movie at all is Krall. Does this story make sense? Well it does to me. Here’s a guy who was a MACO. At the dawn of the Federation, Starfleet are explorers and so the MACOs don’t fit any more. But given his service as a decorated MACO, they gave him command of a starship. Yep, that’s all fine, it seems like they didn’t just want to put him out to pasture but ultimately you’re squeezing him into a job he’s not really supposed to be doing and could potentially come back to bite you.

And then his ship gets lost. No one comes looking for him. I think it’s fairly simple. He was a man of his time, found it difficult to live in that time and then something happened to make it even worse and confirm any fears he may have had up to that point. This concept is actually part of the plot of The Undiscovered Country about how when times change and “there is to be a brave new world [his] generation is going to have the hardest time living in it” as Gorkon tells Kirk.

Indeed, the whole revenge after being abandon is even an element of The Wrath of Khan if you’ve read the comics. In there it was suggested that after Ceti Alpha VI exploded, Khan thought Kirk would come back for him. But of course he never did, and when Khan came to realise that he felt betrayed. An already angry man was pissed off and driven mad by it to the point that he wants to destroy everything.

Well, here we are, here’s Krall doing exactly the same. He wasn’t exactly happy with the direction of the Federation to begin with, but to be abandoned by them leads him to feel betrayed by them. I have no doubt that in his MACO world, you don’t leave a man behind. But that’s exactly what happened here.

And then he learns about where he is. About how he can use it to break the Federation and get back to the struggle he grew up in. About how he can keep his life going using the technology there by draining the life of others. He’s effectively like a vampire at this point. Further, he’s a vampire that spends 100 years plotting his revenge, and letting the anger fester over that time.

But how did he put together his swarm? Why does he look the way he looks? Well, the movie doesn’t explicitly state it but I don’t need everything spelled out for me. I can fill in the blanks myself. Maybe he looks the way he does because of whose life he’s draining. When he starts draining human life again for the first time in 100 years, only then does he start changing back.

And that, ultimately, is what I want from a Star Trek movie. Ideally we get an exciting movie, with some wonderful character moments, and we either explain things to the point that it makes sense or you don’t explain things and you let us viewers fill in the gaps ourselves. If you’ve given us enough to do that, then you’ve done your job as a writer. If you try to explain everything and make it so convoluted that it doesn’t make sense, that’s when I start drifting away again. That’s where the JJ Abrams movies fall down for me – whether it be Red Matter or Starkiller Base!

Star Trek Beyond has ticked so many boxes for me, and I’m not sure I’ve ever been able to say about a Star Trek movie I’ve been to see at the cinema. I can pick a few flaws in First Contact that annoy me a bit and that’s about as close as I’ve come to this level previously. The first one I saw was Final Frontier and it’s littered with flaws to the point it’s usually ranked as the worst by most Star Trek fans.

Except me, it’s second last on my list after Generations. Because at least Final Frontier has some nice character moments. We’ll ignore Uhura though. That’s a whole other blog for a whole other time.

I didn’t see Undiscovered Country in the cinema, much to my annoyance. One day I would love to put that right, even though it’s 25 years old now and I’ve seen it countless times. Insurrection and Nemesis just don’t even come close to living up to most of the Star Trek movies. The most recent two movies are fun, but I’ve never ranked them as highly as I have the better prime universe movies.

But Star Trek Beyond is absolutely brilliant in every way. The fact I still see it as being in third place on my list after more than month since I saw it for a second time speaks volumes. That really isn’t going to change now, unless I somehow spot something in subsequent re-watches that I missed the first two times. But you’d think I’d have heard about that on podcast reviews by now if I did!

I admit, displacing First Contact could be my TOS bias coming through. But even if you’re more of a TNG fan than I am I still think you’d agree this is one of the best of all thirteen movies that we now have. Your final position for it may vary from mine as all our tastes are different, but I can’t see how people wouldn’t rank this highly regardless of their favourite series.

The only thing I can’t understand is how it seems to have been a disappointment at the box office. Marketing? Timing? Staggering its worldwide release? It’s not the quality or the rewatchability, at least not in my view. I don’t usually go and see a movie at the cinema more than once, and in this instance it was my non-Trekkie wife that suggested we go see it again!

I really hope that the box office figures don’t affect the future of the franchise, and fortunately I don’t really think they will, because I’m already looking forward to seeing what they do with the fourteenth movie. I hope they more or less keep the same team together for writing and directing, because other than Nick Meyer – who’s busy with the new TV series Star Trek Discovery coming next year – they haven’t been bettered.

And if you really need any more proof that this movie is terrific? Since I’ve seen it I’ve stopped thinking about the Madness song “One Step Beyond”. Prior to seeing it, that song popped into my head every time the title was mentioned.

It’s great to be so excited about Star Trek again. I’m not sure I’ve felt this excited about it since I was a kid talking to my dad about how weird it would be to see a Klingon on the bridge of the Enterprise. And that conversation was thirty years ago now.

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About Krys

I rant. On twitter, at work, on message boards... well, now I rant here too.

Posted on 1 September 2016, in Star Trek. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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