On Star Trek and Star Trek Beyond
Star Trek Beyond comes as the third in the series’ reboot. With it director Justin Lin carries a very heavy burden in his shoulder. He needs to proves himself to the Trekkies after a somewhat two detested films by JJ Abrams — although beloved by the general masses — that this reboot will worth their time. Even disregarding the Trekkies he also needs to ensures the franchise worth to further the exploration of the deep space. “Beyond” was also intended to serve as the franchise 50th commemoration. Even when that’s not enough of a burden the series also needs to throw a sendoff to the final links it has to the original after the passing of the late Leonard Nimoy. Top it with Lin being a newcomer director to the franchise just made the burden heavier.
Yet against all odds I’d say Lin manages to proves himself. Succesfully delivering a passable Star Trek film and a sequel to its divisive series 2009 reboot. Even going further to meld the two differing realities intertwined together.
The film is not perfect. I shamefully admit that my overall opinion on “Beyond” is that it isn’t as impressive as the ironically detested “Into Darkness” — Yes, I loved that film. But my inner self told that this film is what the franchise needed. An approval and assurance of its value. I thought I’d share my thoughts on it and why “Beyond” — despite my slight disappointment — still ensures me to love the franchise.
I am (Not) a Trekkie
My take will probably subjective to my own experience. I was never a classic Trekkies. I’ve known Star Trek during its hazy run on local cable in my childhood and throughout my adolescence I never truly grasps what makes this franchise truly interesting. Having mostly fanboy — yes, by that I mean Star Wars’ fanboy — friends didn’t help much. It was Abrams’ 2009 reboot that hooked me to the franchise. Around the same time I also undergo what I would consider a refinement to my own tastes in cultural products — mostly films and animes — also having a basic course in philosophy. I fell in love with it since then and that leads me to the original series. Though I haven’t really spend time for the other series aside from “First Contact” film.
Having mostly fanboy friends also affects my take on Star Trek. I’d often compare the two like what most fanbases did. Eventually coming down to the conclusion that the two was mostly incompatible to be even compared. And I found Star Trek much more compatible to my general view. I said it once to a peer of mine, “Trek is about humanity and us finding place in the world, Wars is about fantasy and getting immersed in a juvenile imagination.” I gave Trek too much credit on this, but it’s my take. You may take it with a grain of salt.
After that brief encounter and getting accustomed comparing the reboot and the original series. I’ve come to conclusion how “Beyond” is a bridge between the two realities. The alternate reality — which is the reboot series — is what it is, an alternate interpretation of what Star Trek could be in our contemporary era. As 2000’s is radically different than the 80’s, so does the film it produces. And “Beyond” tried to recapture the original good will while also being faithful as a sequel to the reboot series. Much like “Batman v Superman” tried to be the sequel to “Man of Steel” and a stand alone Batman film.
The Prime Reality and The Alternate Reality
Star Trek originally came in the middle of Cold War, where the paranoia of nuclear warfare between two equally powerful nations are finely defined as USSR and the United States — or Federation and the Klingons. Thus Gene Roddenberry conceives an optimistic version of humanity’s future where Americans, Russians — also Asians, blacks, southerner, and British — teams up by looking away their differences in a ship that carries humanity’s will to keep going boldly. The original are able to conceive this optimistic view thanks to the finely drawn distinction block of Cold War.
The reboot however is a product of post-9/11 hysteria. Sure we have terrorism but terrorism works in a different manner compared to the USSR or nuclear warhead. What George W Bush dubs as holy terror against terrorism are somewhat bleaker than Cold War in some degree. The terrorists aren’t confined to a nation but to an ideal — and ideas are bulletproof as V said. Thus compared to our parents we’re living in a bleaker paranoia where when an attack happens we can’t quite conclusively tell who did it. It could be some bearded Arab guy sneaked into the country with fake IDs but it can also our neighbour who’s apparently sympathetic, or even adopts, the bearded Arab ideology of radicalism.
This is where I draw a line between the original series and the reboot. The original series focuses on optimism in hope of proofing a point where race and nationality will be eroded, just like Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream”. While the reboot plays more on a paranoia, deconstructing the idea of globalism implied subtly by the original optimism by being skeptical and cynical thus producing a two overly gritty and detested Star Trek films. As a newcomer I prefer the reboot for its nods to contemporary condition but I can’t overlook the optimism in the original as something heartful.
In a comedic tone I can say The Original Series is the one catered to the oldies that the generations were. While the reboot is the one catered to the youthful energy that the current era focuses more . Our generation always liked fresh blood.
With this I’ve made my point on differences.
Drawing the Line
Back to “Beyond”, I said earlier that “Beyond” is a bridge. I have pointed how different the prime reality and the alternate reality films. “Beyond” acts as a bridge by serving as the sequel to the alternate reality but doing it as a nod to the original. It was a solid standalone film, light-hearted, and topically relevant. Although the last one is a bit light in order to give in more action scenes in line with the reboot’s fashion. But by that it defines how “Beyond” — and how Lin — did proves its point for being a second sequel.
In concept, as the first trailer hits, “Beyond” already captures the charm of the original. It wasn’t really trying to do a commentary or being gritty as most contemporary films are. It just tried to show a good film about going beyond the deep space with some comedy and good action scenes. It was like they’re just trying to do some good (and dumb) popcorn flicks in line with the same year “Independence Day: Resurgence” — I liked that film as much as it is dumb though. But unlike ID4R, “Beyond” carries a decades of canon behind it and so it cannot be simply seen as a standalone film or a dumb popcorn flicks.Also with two gritty predecessor they cannot simply take a sharp turn to comedy like how jarring it is to see “The Search for Spock” and “The Voyage Home” back-to-back.
Which is why I wasn’t really as excited as I was excited with the two predecessor when the first trailer hits. But instead I was cherishing the charm of the original and ended up excited in a different way. Also the first trailer hits after Star Wars recaptures its glory after the uber succesful “Episode VII”. My thoughts when I saw the trailer for the first time is, “Will Trek survives the fandom wars?” — though we don’t really need it. As I said both are two different genre with little to compare.
But either way the film finally hits and it hits hard. Though it may not be that comparable to its “rival” thanks to the lack of nostalgia. Instead they’re using a old fashioned throw in references and the surprisingly well take on recapturing the charm of the original. “Episode VII” plays hard on the nostalgia and reinterpreting scenes from the original trilogy. As much as Abrams reimagine “The Wrath of Khan” in “Into Darkness”. “Beyond” didn’t repeat “Into Darkness” trick. Director Lin, and writer Jung with Pegg, instead manages to concoct a fresh contemporary take on classic Trek films. It’s tied well from beginning to end with enough quips and banter while not forgetting what makes the Enterprise journey was so thrilling. Though the destruction of Enterprise may be a bit too much for a “light-hearted” film.
Now that I begin to talk more about “Beyond” from this point ‘beyond’ I’ll be taking my review on the film. Be advised for spoilers you spoiler-phobe.
I’ve pretty much covered the basic premise of what makes the film likeable. Though that doesn’t mean I will cover what I don’t like about the film yet. I do have some distastes about the film but I will address the more neutral part of it. The return to the charm is also a somewhat disinteresting part to me, partly because I’m such a bitch about Abrams’ reboot. But the classicist inside of me enjoyed it as a fresh-yet-nice nod to the original’s simplicity. Also by doing that “Beyond” manages to avoid of being judged as pretentious unlike the much controversial “Into Darkness” — I still loved that film nevertheless.
“Beyond” jumps its plot with a much familiar theme of the franchise, the enterprise is in its third year of the five-year journey. While “Into Darkness” teases us with prime directive in the opening act, “Beyond” builds up from the five-year journey idea that makes Star Trek good. From the start, the film already settles itself by saying “we’re not going into darkness this time” although much of the intro covers a somewhat ennui of deep space exploration. At that point also, the film deconstructs the idea of what would it feels like being trapped inside a spaceship in a somewhat aimless journey.
The ennui is also a tease to the antagonist’s motivation later. After the opening act the film establishes changes to the character over the course of the year. Spock Prime has passed away, as a sendoff to the late Leonard Nimoy, in a brief melancholic scene for Spock. Kirk starts to feel the effects of the ennui by proposing a promotion in trade of Enterprise ownership. Sulu being suddenly gay in the alternate reality. After that the plot starts to revolve again as Kirk puts his wager again in a daring rescue mission from a stranded alien. Also Greg Grunberg is having a role.
Not much happens afterwards aside from several action scenes from one set pieces to another. The Enterprise gets ambushed and destroyed, the crew scattered and captured, and then Jayla comes into the scene. The introduction of Jayla is a bit of two edged sword. In the good part she is a neccesary addition to the plot also she can work well as a standalone character for this installment only. Yet the action girl trope is a bit stale, and being more skeptical she feels more like a token character like Sulu being gay in order to have token gay character and saying that “hey, we’re inclusive”. Apparently having a crew of Americans, Russian, Scottish, Asian, Black, and half-breed alien is not inclusive enough in today’s term. But I’m willing to set aside my skepticism over Jayla’s character.
Jayla and Scotty makes a great team together. Not just during their earlier scene together but throughout the entire film up until the epilogue. Forming an odd bond of mentor-helper that makes my inner fangirl do-what-should-not-be-done in my head. If Jayla ever to appear again in the sequel I’d like more bantering scene in the engine deck of the Enterprise.
As Jayla turns out into an ‘okay’ character, we’re going to look at the villain. A protagonist can’t do good without a proper antagonist. In this film we have Krall, which was having a namesake of the reptilian-like alien in the original series. Yet in this iteration, spoiler alert, Krall is not an alien but a mutated human. A mutated hero of the federation even.
In a soft twist, we later learned that the once mentioned and cherished in one scene Captain Balthazar Edison was the big bad of the film. In the nod to the film opening scene it was told that his motivation to turn against the Federation was the feeling of being neglected and dissatisfaction towards the Federation peace/cooperation-favoring ideal. Captain Balthazar Edison was portrayed as a bitter veteran much like Admiral Marcus in “Into Darkness”. But unlike Marcus who are able to pull some strings in order to secretly build dreadnought class spaceship, Edison portrayed as a withering veteran being forgotten by the system he serves just because his ideal was no longer compatible with the new ideal adopted by the Federation.
We were supposed to feel a bit of sympathy to this guy. The writing team specificly stated that they want to avoid revenge-driven antagonist as the two films already presented. They didn’t really succeed in that part. But Edison is still a different antagonist from Nero and Khan. Added to the twist that he was first presented as a hostile alien also adds to the differences. But in the end Edison was a rehash of what Khan is in “Into Darkness” though with less wit. Both are “used” by the Federation but eventually turned against it when their self interests no longer goes in line with its superior.
It’s All in the Villain
The portrayal of Khan by Benedict Cumberbatch was controversial. From creating “false” trailer in order to held the twist surprise to the change of how the character being portrayed (even from having chose him to be the be the villain in the first place). Khan Noonien Singh is a beloved antagonist from a beloved film that Abrams dared to recreate. At great wager Abrams changed the Shakespearean antagonist into space Osama bin Laden much to the fans criticism. Though I still shamefully admits that Cumberbatch’s Khan is great, from his acting and presentation of the character as a menacing but melancholic villain down to the contemporary interpretation. Compared to that, Idris Elba’s Krall felt a bit shallow. Not to mention that he seems off the scene most of the time. Maybe it’s the prosthetic but he doesn’t seems like he’s physically in the scene, or maybe it’s just me.
Also the mutation backstory is too hurtful for science fiction standard said the geek inside of me. I can tolerate “Mass Effect” Synthesis ending but Krall’s mutation into something so alien that they don’t speak English again is a bit too much. Perhaps there can be an explanation but if the point of having Krall being bitter about how Federation’s ideal is incompatible with his aggresive-militaristic world view why even bother turning him into a mutated alien at all?
When Krall was first introduced in a dialogue with Uhura, Krall was portrayed more as a backwater alien race incompatible with the more modern world vie of the Federation. Even stating that the Federation itself is an act of war, instead of obviously ambushing an exploration spaceship in a stupid ruse trap in order to get a hold of ancient bio-weapon. Pretty much mirroring how today’s ISIS says that the world outside islamic world is battlefield that equals war — while obviously they’re the one having 7th century world view in the 21st century.
I’d say Krall is my biggest nitpick from “Beyond”. Although neither Nero and Cumberbatch’s Khan was brilliant, Krall was even further from being brilliant. Even I would admit that Kylo Ren was a bit better established — although equally a bit more ridiculous — villain than Elba’s Krall was. Perhaps the writer tried to throw in a light commentary on how conservative militaristic view can be dangerous but they didn’t do justice even with that. Disregarding the disappointment of Krall he still have point on conserving the segregated world-view that is in contrast with Federation’s open cooperation. A borderless world can be much more messier than a true anarchy, this is my personal view. Also, comparing Edison with Trump are just plain idiocy.
As with that, the poorly written antagonist are what makes “Beyond” fell short to me. It could be great, memorable, and fresh but that one part makes it average at best. Although unlike Baron Zemo that is the final nail in the coffin of “Captain America: Civil War”, I can put aside Krall in order to enjoy the rest of “Beyond”. From the brightly colored shots, the light-hearted take on its adventure story, to the passable directed actions by director Justin Lin of “Fast and Furious” fame. Also Chris Pine’s fabulous hair.
On Star Trek
As I said I was never a classic Trekkies but I just started to grow my love for the franchise. And despite the slight disappointment “Beyond” still manages to nurture that love. “Beyond” goes beyond as the title goes, after half a century of history the film sends the franchise into even deeper realm where no man has gone before. “Into Darkness” closes with a bright note to the franchise itself, opening the five-year journey plot opens a variety of possiblity which was used well by the staffs of “Beyond”. Now with “Beyond” they have move beyond what the history has made and Abrams did, I’m hoping the franchise will stay in a good hand.
2010’s is perhaps a great period for science fiction revival. After being a niche market for years prior, with the emergence of geek culture — although it also hurts — science fiction finally regains its spot. From the dramatic realism of “Gravity”, the social commentary of “District 9”, and the loving homage of “2001” that goes in line with Trek’s optimism of space travel that is “Interstellar” — or “The Martian” if you’re more in line with Ridley Scott’s pseudo-realism.
“Star Trek Beyond” isn’t a great film. But it sure reinvigorates the franchise well after its second sequel (and the 13th film in its entirety), it captures the charm of the old while staying true to its contemporary. With this film the already announced “Star Trek 4", and the upcoming “Star Trek Discovery” series I’d still say that “Star Trek” will keep going where no one has gone before. As I will.
Live long and prosper.
p.s. I forgot to mention about Anton Yelchin, the staff decision not to recast the character is a bit saddening. This is also what makes “Beyond” heartful, seeing two of its casts part away is heart wrenching. Whatever sendoff they prepare for Ensign Chekov I hope it’ll be worth it. And as heartful as, or even more, the nod to the photograph of the original cast during the epilogue of the film.
p.p.s. I’ve made a joke about how the film goes full Macross by using music to destroy the enemy fleet. Okay, that’s not really important.