Reel Talk

Star Trek Beyond and the Fear of Progress

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One of my biggest blind-spots when it comes to the world of geekiness is certainly Star Trek. It’s right up there with X-Files and Twin Peaks as one of those things that I’ve always been meaning to get to, but never have. Not that there’s anything wrong with the series. There’s nothing that’s really kept me away from it, I’ve always been more of a Star Wars man, but I don’t begrudge Star Trek for being more science-fiction that space-fantasy. I’ve seen like three episodes of the original series, and I believe only Wrath of Khan when it comes to the movies. Well, except for these reboot movies. Which is blasphemy I’m sure. I know that these reboot movies aren’t exactly accurate representations of the utopian science fiction think-piece that the original series was, but hey, they’re fun. The characters are enjoyable, the cast has been great, and they’ve been generally of good quality. Into Darkness certainly had it’s fair share of…problems, but even that one hold up as a fun little sci-fi movie. They haven’t really blown me away, but they’ve been fun little movies to throw on and have a good time. So of course when I heard that they were making a new one, I knew I would check it out, even though Into Darkness didn’t really leave me needing a new entry to the series. And as the movie got closer and closer to release I kept hearing people say that it was going to be different. JJ Abrams wasn’t at the helm first of all, but I kept hearing everyone involved say that they were going to try to do something different, more similar to the feel of the series than they’d done before. So that was interesting. I liked the first two, but a change of pace wouldn’t be unwanted, especially since Into Darkness got so action-heavy. But I assumed I would like it. And you know what? I kind of loved it. This is without a doubt my favorite of this reboot series, and honestly may be the impetus to finally get me to check out the whole franchise in general.

Let’s dig in! The plot of the movie really was a change from the previous films, not being a strange remake of a previous film for instance. It picks up the plot where Into Darkness left it, with the crew of the Enterprise heading out into space for their five year mission of exploration and peace. The crew is working well together and getting a hang of their mission. But they’re also getting bored. Kirk in particular is feeling a little lost in his role as captain, not sure what to do. He has a position that people would kill for, and he doesn’t really think he’s worth it. To the point that as the ship is taking a bit of shore-leave on the Federation’s new space-station/city Yorktown, he plans on asking Starfleet to change things and take a new job behind a desk. But as they’re hanging out in Yorktown an alien ship of unknown origin shows up and requests aid. The woman on board claims that her crew of scientists were attacked on a planet inside a nebula that messes with all communications, and she begs the Federation for assistance. So Kirk and crew get back into their ship and head out to investigate the nebula. Unfortunately it turns out to be a trick, because when they get to the planet they’re attacked by a swarm of modular ships that behave like a swarm of insects, and the Enterprise is boarded and destroyed. Kirk orders the crew to abandon ship as a race of aliens lead by our villain Krall board the ship looking for some artifact that they’d picked up previously. So the Enterprise is destroyed and the crew all land on the planet, scattered to the wind, in need to find each other.

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So the crew is scattered into little groups, and we get to see them finding their way together for a while. We have Kirk and Chekov hanging out and trying to get aboard the ruins of the Enterprise to trick that alien who showed up to Yorktown, who has double crossed them again. Then there’s Uhura and Sulu who are taken prisoner by Krall and his army along with the rest of the crew, Bones and Spock who get to hang out and deal with Spock’s horrible injury from the crash, and finally good old Scotty who lands by himself and ends up meeting a new character, a woman named Jaylah, who has been stranded on this island for years. Turns out Krall and his army keep tricking people into coming to the planet, and then destroying their ships so they get stranded, and then using their life-force to prolong their own like they’ve some sort of energy-vampires. And for a while we just see everyone wandering around. It becomes clear that Krall wanted the Enterprise specifically for that artifact, and that he’s been spying on Starfleet for a long time, we get a lot of great scenes between Bones and Spock where they talk about life and Spock’s doubts about remaining in Starfleet, and we see that Jaylah has been living in the ruins of an old Starfleet ship called the Franklin that went missing decades ago.

And after a bit of character development and everyone running around trying to find each other, they finally get a group of Kirk, Chekov, Scotty, Jaylah, Bones, and Spock together and decide to attack Krell’s base and save everyone. Which is good, because it turns out that artifact Krell wanted was some sort of biological weapon that he planned on using against the Federation, and that could only be assembled on this planet. And now that he has it, he’s planning on heading out to destroy the Federation. So the gang shows up, frees the rest of the crew, and manages to escape back to the ruined Franklin and gets it operational enough to chase after Krell. And this is where the movie started to get crazy fun. Because in order to stop the waves of ships, they realize they need to mess with the ships’ navigation using sounds. So obviously they turn on some Beastie Boys and save the day through the power of music! Unfortunately Krell gets past them and makes his way into Yorktown, so the crew have to chase after him and stop him. And that’s where Krell becomes vastly more interesting. Because it turns out he’s not just some horrible alien who wants to destroy the Federation because he’s a bad guy. He actually was the human captain of the Franklin named Balthazar Edison, and was driven crazy by the abandonment from the Federation when they didn’t come save them. Edison had been a soldier before the formation of the Federation. And he hated being an explorer. He was a soldier, and had been abandoned doing a job he didn’t want to do. So he used some crazy technology to prolong his life, warping him into a monster, so that he could take revenge on the Federation and show them that war is better than peace. But obviously that’s a terrible moral, so Kirk and the gang fight him, and win, kicking his ass into space where he can die, and they can all bond as friends.

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I just really loved this movie. It was a fun little space adventure, and didn’t feel quite like the crazy, over the top action flicks that the last two became. There’s still a lot of crazy space battles and shoot-outs, but it somehow felt like a more restrained, tense little movie. I loved the idea of having the crew stranded on a strange planet for most of the movie, put into awkward little groups that didn’t usually hang out together so we could see the characters interacting in ways they haven’t before. And man were the characters great. This cast has always been pretty fun, but they really hit their stride with this movie, and their chemistry was off the charts. They were fun, and a believable team, set of friends, and a family. They love each other, despite their quirks and annoyances, and became a really functional and great group this go-around. And it’s not just the returning cast. Jaylah was a great new character, full of energy and positivity, and Krall became a really wonderful villain as the movie progressed, giving real physical menace along with a tactical brilliance. Plus, any movie that features a scene where the hero’s save the day by blasting music is great. Hell, it was even the song “Sabotage” as they were sabotaging the villains. Hilarious. It’s almost as great as the Guardians of the Galaxy saving the day with the power of friendship after a failed dance-off.

But really, the thing that I loved most about this movie was the surprise theme that showed up in the last act. I’ve always heard that Star Trek, in it’s essence, was a story of optimism. It’s a series about the best possible future, where we’ve put aside out petty differences and created a culture that strives for science and progress. Which is a great idea. If not a tad naive, but hey, utopia are something we should wish to better ourselves. And this movie really pushed that optimism in a big way, that really resonated with me. For most of the movie Krall seemed like just kind of an asshole, no real motivation other than to be the villain. But when we finally learn his backstory, everything changes. He’s a soldier who doesn’t want peace. It’s not the way he was raised. He doesn’t want change. He doesn’t want progress. Because he doesn’t know what he’d do with himself. He’s scared of a better world. And when you look around the world today, especially over at the growing rise of conservatism around the world, that’s something we’re still struggling with. There are people who don’t want to change the world, to better it. They’d rather stay in their bubble, or even worse, make things go back. Make things “great” again. Which is ridiculous. We shouldn’t want to stand still, or to go back. We need to go forward. To boldly go where no one has gone before. And this movie really hit me with that message for the first time. It was kind of beautiful. Which is a ridiculous thing to say about a movie that featured heroes fighting villains with the power of the Beastie Boys, but here we are.

Star Trek Beyond was written by Simon Pegg and Doug Jung, directed by Justin Lin, and released by Paramount Pictuers, 2016.

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