I saw Star Trek Beyond the other week and was beyond amazed! If you haven’t seen it, you should probably not read beyond this point because there will be spoilers coming up on the viewscreen, captain.
Before we begin I just want to mention the real-life tragedy that tempers the exuberance of this film; the death of actor Anton Yelchin in an accident. The man was one year younger than I am…it’s just a big shock to lose someone who was on an upward swing in his career like that. Throughout the movie I couldn’t help but feel a little sad every time he came on screen or delivered his dialogue.
My sympathies go out to his family and others who loved him.
Basic synopsis: The crew is a couple years into the exploration mission they began at the end of Star Trek Into Darkness when an alien in distress brings them to a planet beyond known space. Shit goes south, the Enterprise is attacked and destroyed (that much you can already guess from the trailer), and the crew is stranded on the unknown world. Most of them are taken captive by an alien named Krall, who is beyond (ok I’ll cut it out) ruthless in his efforts to strike against the Federation. It’s up to Kirk and the gang to save the crew and stop Krall from using an ancient superweapon to wipe out all life on a massive space station.
The Cast – The cast goes above and beyond in this movie (couldn’t resist). They have a strong feel for the characters but have made them their own. Chris Pine as Kirk has grown a lot from the punk-ass kid he was in Star Trek (2009), becoming more like the composed captain portrayed by Shatner. His weariness in the beginning of the movie feels natural and earned.
This is also a very ensemble movie in which everyone gets a lot of screen time and has their own moments to shine, even Scotty’s weird little pal Keenser. I loved that the crew was split up into Scooby Doo-esque teams after their traumatic arrival at the unknown world (which we later learn is named “Altamid”).
The Villain/The Message – (for real, if you haven’t seen the movie stop reading)
A common criticism of Star Trek films is that they can never seem to produce a great nemesis (not even in Star Trek: Nemesis); this is likely due to the long shadow cast by Ricardo Montalban as the scene stealing, monologuing, possibly fake-chest wearing Khan Noonien Singh in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Attempts since then haven’t always hit home (though I will always love Malcolm McDowell as Dr. Soren in Generations), but Idris Elba’s Krall is fantastic from the moment his ship punches through the Enterprise’s hull.
Pre-release media on Krall referred to him as “an alien with reasons to hate what the Federation stands for,” and for the first half of the movie I tried to think of why. Perhaps his planet was marginalized in some way, or the UFP intervened in a conflict in favor of his peoples’ enemies? Were his kind wiped out by Starfleet’s amoral black ops division, Section 31? Admiral Marcus was working with that organization in Star Trek Into Darkness, so it’s appeared in the JJ-verse before.
If you’ve seen the movie, you know that Krall’s real identity is former Starfleet Captain Balthazar Edison (amazing name). It’s a brilliant twist that I did not see coming at all, and one that delves deep into Star Trek lore to deliver a villain with a convincing reason to despise what Kirk and his crew stand for.
We eventually learn that Krall/Edison was a soldier in Earth’s military before the founding of the United Federation of Planets. The term “MACO” has been used by Simon Pegg and other people in the production, though I can’t remember if it was actually mentioned in the film. MACO (Military Assault Command Operations) troopers were a military force of Earth’s government, seen in the prequel TV series Star Trek: Enterprise (the poorly received Scott Bakula show). A company of them were embarked aboard the United Earth Starship Enterprise NX-01 (predecessor of the more famous NCC-1701) when that ship was dispatched into deep space in response to a brutal attack on Earth by a group of aliens known by the Xindi.
The Xindi are an alliance of alien species who share a common homeworld and ancestry but all look extremely different. There are aquatic, arboreal, humanoid, insectoid, and reptilian Xindi, shown in the pictures above. In the mid-22nd century they were manipulated by extra-dimensional beings (whom they believed to be gods) into launching an attack on Earth that killed 7 million people. The entire third season of Enterprise is an extended story arc about searching for the Xindi to try and stop their launch of a superweapon capable of destroying Earth. It was like 9/11 and the War on Terror in Star Trek; with Scott Bakula portraying a folksy, dopey starship captain who suddenly had difficult problems thrust upon him, and sometimes made morally questionable decisions. Ham-handed, but an intriguing look at the times and something that makes Enterprise worth revisiting (though you could always just watch Battlestar Galactica, which views the 2000s through a science fiction lens much more effectively).
The conflict is resolved when it is revealed through the actions of the Enterprise crew that the extra-dimensional beings wanted the Xindi to destroy Earth to prevent the founding of the United Federation of Planets, which will be instrumental in stopping their encroachment into our universe in the 26th century (they are attempting to “terraform” our entire plane of existence into one they can survive in, you see). Peace is achieved and the Xindi seem to lay low for the next few centuries (never appearing in The Original Series or in The Next Generation era for some reason), though according to a time traveling character they will later become allies of the UFP and eventually full-fledged members.
Krall also mentions the Romulans, indicating he fought in the Earth-Romulan War of his era. The conflict has been referenced often in Star Trek lore but few canon details about it are known; save that it was brutal, fought entirely ship-to-ship with atomic weaponry, and no human ever saw a Romulan face-to-face (and therefore were unaware that they’re a splinter group of Spock’s people, the Vulcans). The armistice was negotiated by subspace transmission and a Neutral Zone was created as a buffer between the two powers. No further contact occurred until the incursion of the cloaking device-equipped Romulan starship across the Zone in the TOS episode “Balance of Terror.”
Following the war with the Romulans, Earth joined with Vulcan and several other worlds to form the United Federation of Planets. The armed forces of the various planets were consolidated into one unified Starfleet; this organization later operates Kirk’s USS Enterprise in the 23rd century. Krall/Edison’s MACOs were disbanded before he ever had a chance for revenge against the Xindi or to fight a decisive victory against the Romulans, and he watched as Earth’s national identity was subsumed into a community of worlds.
Edison was given command of the USS Franklin, an older Earth vessel recommissioned as a Federation starship. Most of his crew was killed when the ship crashed on the planet Altamid deep in uncharted space, and when no rescue came the already embittered captain turned against the Federation that he believed compromised his ideals. Edison found advanced alien technology in the ruins of the planet and began plotting revenge, while the use of a machine to prolong his lifespan altered his appearance beyond recognition.
Krall is a good look at how anger and feelings of disenfranchisement can lead people to become embittered extremists. He’s like a person who believes we should have nuked the Middle East after the September 11th attacks; or a terrorist who believes civilians in a society that has oppressed his people are acceptable targets. Krall could be one of those “get U.S. out of the U.N.” types, or a backwoods militiaman who doesn’t believe in our own Federal government. It cuts to the quick because right now there’s an authoritarian xenophobe who stands a decent chance of getting elected president of the United States; a candidate who has preyed on the Krall-ish sentiments of many people in this country who feel “left behind” or that their ideals are getting lost in modern America.
Which brings me to my next point; the “message” of this film. Star Trek is well known for being a vehicle to explore contemporary social issues through a fantastic lens (sometimes done well, sometimes handled poorly), and a criticism leveled at the reboot movies is that they are action-fests that don’t inspire thought. I disagree; while these films are fast paced and filled with explosions and CGI, I think each has had something to say:
Star Trek – you don’t have to be confined by your circumstances or what others think of you; seize your own destiny and make your own path (appropriate sentiment for a reboot). Don’t let rage consume you as it did Nero.
Star Trek Into Darkness – it’s important for a free society to remain true to its ideals and not compromise them in the face of threats, both external and internal. People you make into weapons to use against others (Khan) can turn against you.
Star Trek Beyond – With cooperation and fellowship you can achieve wonders. Unity is a good thing, and it’s important to have companions you can rely on. Don’t vote Trump.
So what’s the future of this reboot series? I don’t think Paramount quite made back what they hoped for, so it’s uncertain. It’s a tough time for blockbusters in general, as there are so many per year now that they cannibalize each other’s box office take. Sequels bring in diminishing returns (unless it’s a Marvel or Star Wars movie); and these days consumers have so many alternatives to going to theatres (which are also full of other people; so, you know, that sucks).
It also doesn’t help when all you hear from about these movies from “True Fans” is bitch bitch, moan moan. I remember hearing so much hate for this film’s trailer when it came out; “it looks like a Fast and Furious movie,” or “I hate excitement!” Trekkies are the worst.
I think that the cast’s contracts are all up, and no one wants to play the same character forever (though I feel that each of these actors has a big enough career outside the Trek movies to avoid being typecast). I like when things have a definite end and go out on a high note, so I think this movie would fit that…but I would certainly welcome more! It’s the original crew in their prime!
Other Stuff I Loved
Jayla, the alien “It Girl” (Sofia Boutella) – She was just great. Her alien oddness (and semi-baldness) reminded me of Lieutenant Ilia from Star Trek: The Motion Picture; except Ilia became a victim and puppet of the alien force in TMP, while Jaylah is a badass survivor. The crew definitely wouldn’t have made it off Altamid without her help, and I hope there is a place for her among the crew if these movies continue. I also dug her weird technology, like the solidifying gas weapon and the weird “duplicator” that was never explained (time travel? holograms??).
The Enterprise – It was heartbreaking to see her destroyed, but we finally got to see the original ship perform a saucer separation. This ability was hinted at in a few TOS episodes and in various schematics of the original and refit Enterprise (which call out landing legs behind hatches on the saucer’s underside), and was even planned for The Motion Picture.
While in TNG Captain Picard’s Enterprise-D was able to separate into two distinct spacecraft and reattach afterward, it’s been generally accepted that a Constitution-class starship like Kirk’s only blows its top in an extreme emergency when the saucer needs to be used as a lifeboat.
I loved the new warp effect and the shot where Enterprise departs Starbase Yorktown, immediately accelerating to high speed in the launch tunnel and leaving the station behind within seconds.
The Franklin – Beyond prominently features a small 22nd century Starfleet vessel, USS Franklin, NX-326 (named for director Justin Lin’s father, Frank Lin; the the registry number is Leonard Nimoy’s birthday). The ship looks a lot like the Enterprise NX-01 from Star Trek: Enterprise, and the references to the ships armament being “phase cannons and spatial torpedoes” are a call out to that show as well.
The NX-01 is a lot bigger but the basic shapes are so similar that when the Franklin blasted out of the side of that mountain I thought it was an NX-class starship for a moment! Scotty mentions it’s “the first starship to reach Warp 4” so it must predate Captain Archer’s Enterprise by a few years, as that was the first human built craft to break Warp 5.
Horndog Chekov – Reminded me of the TOS episode “The Apple,” in which Chekov flirts with another away team member as redshirts drop like flies around them from planetary hazards.
Simon Pegg’s Snarky Dialogue – “They built these old ships in SPACE, captain!” – A dig at the wailing and gnashing of teeth that ensued when ST09 showed the Enterprise being built on Earth’s surface.
“You’d be surprised how many safety protocols there are to bypass when shutting down something that keeps everyone from dying!” – good line for heading off “this fictional technology is poorly desiiiiigned” Trekkie whinging.
Also -“We’ve been out here three years…” (Star Trek was on TV for three years before being cancelled) “…and my life is starting to feel…episodic.” (Star Trek is a TV show)
“Legend says she was abducted by a giant green space hand!”
More on Krall – Krall’s character brings to mind all the times in Star Trek that the Enterprise crew encountered an unhinged Starfleet commander, like the completely insane Captain Garth (“Whom Gods Destroy”) or Commodore Decker and Captain Tracy (“The Doomsday Machine” and “The Omega Glory”), who went mad after losing their entire crews.
All crazy…and sweaty.
Also; the forgotten technology left on Altamid reminds me of the machinery of the extinct Krell civilization on Altair IV in the movie Forbidden Planet, an inspiration for the original Star Trek. The name “Krall” made the connection for me; Krall, Krell, ya get it?
Creatures Great and Small – As in the other reboot movies, the aliens in Beyond looked fantastic. The designs are great examples of human-shaped creatures created with prosthetic that leave the actor’s face free for acting but still look non-human (as opposed to the countless forehead variations in TNG-era Trek). They look a lot like the aliens I would sketch when I was a kid!
The Wonder of it All – The visuals of Beyond place you in a truly expansive universe. The otherworldly surface of Altamid reminds me of a TOS planet set or matte painting writ large, while Starbase Yorktown is one of the most stunning locales in a Trek production. As my good friend said; watching this movie makes you feel like you’re reading a Gold Key Star Trek comic (which I wrote about a while back).
Sabotage – The crew used the song “Sabotage” to sabotage Krall’s swarm ships.
Thanks for reading, live long and prosper, and see Star Trek Beyond! It gets this Trekkie’s Vulcan salute of approval.