There’s an ugly secret amongst fans: we don’t know what we want. Oh, we can piss and moan about inconsistencies, have impassioned arguments, write long essays that attempt to prove that we are right (*cough*), and even create petitions with signatures numbering in the thousands. But the truth is that the demand of someone who cares a lot about something can be more flexible (and more ridiculous) than they think. So, as someone whose love for the Star Trek series is so deep that…well, ok, I don’t own huge Star Trek toys or have a huge Blu-Ray collection of, “Star Trek” stuff (yet), nor have I attended Star Trek conventions or professed admiration for, “Star Trek” actors to the point where I have a restraining order. But as I was saying, I have seen various episodes of various kinds of, “Star Trek” shows, seen the movies, played some games…all to the point where the show’s intellectualism (and hokiness), optimism (and disturbing elements that crop up if one overthinks the technology within the series’ universe), has stuck with me for a long time.
Thus I have to admit that as much as I love to present myself as an intellectual movie buff who cares a lot about moviemaking technique, stories, themes and all that other stuff, it is these preconceptions that make me sour on the first two, “Star Trek” reboot movies, each directed by J.J. Abrams and sharing the writing talent of Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, with Damion Lindeloff joining the duo in, “Star Trek: Into Darkness”. It is also those preconceptions that makes me really like, “Star Trek: Beyond”, but thankfully the movie does more than just hang its hat on a few aesthetics and Trekkie things, making it a truly great movie in its own right that is relief for the dour, pretentious bullshit moviegoers have been deluged with for quite some time.
Now, look, I get that movies need to do something different. I knocked, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” down a peg for leaning a bit too hard onto the original trilogy, despite the wonderful actor chemistry that also revealed cracks into the very legends the movie itself borrows from. Hell, a similar deal occurs with the first two, “Star Trek” reboot movies even if most of the actors are just doing variations of the same characters we see from the original TV series (a damn good job, too). But what hurts, “Star Trek” 2009 and, “Star Trek: Into Darkness” the most is they do little beyond those character mimicries. “Star Trek” 2009 spends most of its running time dropping coincidences and references left and right, robbing most of its characters of, well, actual character except for when the plot calls for them. And does anyone need a person like me to piss and moan about how much, “Star Trek: Into Darkness” wastes Kahn AND Benedict Cumberbatch? The most refreshing thing about, “Star Trek: Beyond” is how much it emphasizes not just how well Zachary Quinto is at playing as a new Spock and how Chris Pine plays Kirk, but it also emphasizes their role as members of a team.
For example, the movie opens with Kirk trying to negotiate with a civilization of beings who look like the cross of a pug, a bullfrog and a lion. Right away, it is established that they know how to speak human languages, and yet they have quite a different understanding of how one is supposed to make peace between different civilizations. Kirk uses the movie’s macguffin as a bargaining chip and…hell breaks loose. One key thing emphasized here is how the rest of the team tries to back Kirk up while these negotiations fail, and afterwards. Scotty (played by Simon Pegg, who is also a co-writer) helps to beam them up thanks to engineering smarts, but is also demonstrated as someone who passes the buck when big plans occur. Anton Yelchin as Chekov knows his way around some technical stuff, but needs the clear mind of Spock and the bravado of Kirk to make it all happen. Bones (played to great effect by Karl Urban) is a frank, rough, know-it-all character, but…well, he’s a doctor, so he’s kinda earned the right to be. How about Uhura (played by Zoe Saldana), you may ask? Well, she’s Spock’s love interest, but is also someone who is good with negotiating and even plays a crucial role in some action scenes. That’s not even getting into how John Cho’s Sulu is a badass , gay character in his own right, fulfilling the role of a leader in moments when Kirk just isn’t there to do so.
But the movie’s emotional and intellectual center is truly unraveled thanks to the contrasts of Idris Elba as Krall and Sofia Boutella as Jaylah. At the outset, the latter is a bad ass girl who finds the crew one by one as the plot goes forward, while the former is a hard ass, military-styled guy who just wants to end the Federation and everything it stands for. But both of them are shown to be characters motivated by a fear of a being left behind. For Jaylah it is the desire to escape from an ugly life into something greater, using any means necessary to revive a piece of, “Star Trek” history just to get there, and as for Krall? Well…just go see the movie, but let’s just say that it ties into a one part that has made the, “Star Trek” series so enduring for so long: the idea of progress, of going forward, and of embracing the differences we all share while uniting to bring forward a world of prosperity and equality for all. It’s not subtle, nor is it new if one has watched a single, “Star Trek” thing before, but so what? At least this movie is saying something, something that’s needed when it feels like every damn day one encounters news or events that makes one feel as if one doesn’t even deserve to think of oneself as a person, especially if you belong to a social minority.
It also helps that director Justin Lin really knows how to tie Simon Pegg’s and Doug Jung’s screenplay together with good to great action. His direction utilizes cinematography by Stephen F. Windon that is dizzying and has punch. There is a great moment that tells us everything we need to know about the Federation and its values with just a simple swing around the space station Yorkstown, a diverse and technologically advanced place where different races and species live in harmony, like a futuristic Los Angeles except if the people bothered to give a damn about the infrastructure and social services as opposed to just pushing people out of neighborhoods. But I’m just rambling at this point. “Star Trek: Beyond” is the movie I’ve been wanting for a long time, a Sci-Fi movie that isn’t afraid to have color (literal and figurative…or is that just literal?), momentum and optimism. A cinematic effort that looks back into the stuff that actually helped, “Star Trek” connect with audiences to begin with, so that it can look forward into a future only us can bring. Here’s hoping enough people see this so we can get some more aspiring engineers…and also some humanities majors, because man does Kirk suck at negotiating.
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