Star Trek is a franchise that has continued to push the boundaries of science fiction and fictional space exploration. Every new generation of starships, captains, and their crew add something to the ever growing canon. This more recent series of films have us revisiting familiar characters, but with a completely altered history and an unpredictable future. John Balash (@JohnBalash on Twitter) and I (Jon Espino, on Twitter as @DystopianHero) sat through a marathon of the recent films beginning with Star Trek (2009), Star Trek Into Darkness (2013), and ending with the latest addition, Star Trek Beyond. Re-watching the films in succession gave us a greater perspective on Beyond's quality and its place in the Star Trek universe.
John Balash: I enjoyed this one. I think it was better in many ways to Into Darkness but also didn't feel as much like a Star Trek movie to me. Without being too spoilery, the beginning action sequence actually had me at the edge of my seat, the stakes felt real. Later on, I felt the drama was less effective. They broke free from the burden of making a Star Trek movie and having to have certain characters and just went their own way, which was more successful at some points than others. The humor was great and I liked Jaylah, who was apparently inspired by Jennifer Lawrence. She flirted with Scotty but I was happy that the movie didn't rely too heavily on romance to drive the plot.
Jon Espino: I completely agree. The first two films felt like prequels to the TV show, explaining why and how everything was going to change. Star Trek Beyond felt more like a high production value episode of the TV show and it was a refreshing change from the previous films. The humor was turned up to 11 in this film, which is saying a lot since there was a fair amount of humor in the last films.
Romance, Relationships, and Gay Sulu
JE: One of the major themes of the film was about relationships and bonds coming to an end, so focusing purely on romance would have definitely have gone against that.
JB: My friend felt the real romance or relationship was between Kirk and Spock, which I agreed with. The bond among the six main crew members was the real "romance."
JE: I agree, the development of the relationship between Spock and Kirk has been fantastic. Watching all three films in a row made it much more obvious. One crew member scene that stands out to me is the one where we are briefly introduced to Sulu's family.
JB: Yeah, I found it funny how much hullabaloo was made about Sulu being gay when it was really only implied, not explicitly said. At first I was like, "Is that his brother and niece?" It was a nice little nod but didn't really add to the movie or make it an LGBT movie for me. Moreso I was impressed by the characters being so accepting of aliens. It was never "Oh, who's this creepy alien? I don't know her, why should I trust her?" The characters all judged people based on their actions and not their looks. It was pretty seamless. In a world where people are having relations with alien species, I can't imagine homosexuality would raise even the most conservative eyebrow.
JE: I loved that there was no pomp when they introduced Sulu and his family. It was just seen as a natural part of their universe. I felt it did take them a while to introduce it or even give it a nod. We have been bombarded with relationships and relations between female and male-bodied characters since the beginning of the reboot (and way before that). I think this is something that should have made it into the films much earlier. Like you said, interspecies mingling was happening without anyone batting an eye so having them acknowledge homosexuality should have gone without saying.
JB: The last movie was really heavy on the Spock/Uhura romance. They acknowledged that but this movie was more like, "You're a great gal but my love and loyalty is to Kirk and the Enterprise".
JE: That's why it was great to see the focus shift from those types of relationships to the one established with friends and family. If anything, the most stable intrapersonal relationship was Sulu's.
JB: Even though it was barely seen. It's great that it was seamless. I thought there would be an "I'm gay" moment. Meanwhile, they're like we're here to do a job and also who gives a shit, we're in the 23rd (or something) century.
JE: Exactly! That's what made it more powerful. You didn't have to be given details or a forced focus on his home life to know that it worked. He is one of the only main characters that has been able to separate his personal relationship from his work. Probably why he's been able to be acting-captain so many times.
JB: I'm a minor fan, I watched some of the original shows and The Next Generation (TNG). I like that the movies have more action but I don't feel the boldly-going and exploring vibe as much. I wasn't thrilled with the villain. It felt a bit rehashed. I would've preferred if they caused some intergalactic issues from their exploration or something. It just felt a little rushed.
JE: Like I said before, the humor and camp were raised significantly and embraced wholly, which you can tell a couple minutes into the film. I'm sure Simon Pegg co-writing the screenplay had more than a little to do with it. The stakes felt real, but they also felt familiar and typical. I was more than excited when I read Idris Elba would be playing the villain Krall. Seeing it come to life felt a little lifeless. Now this was a character mainly introduced as a cautionary tale to echo the growing emotions building inside of Kirk and Spock. Aside from serving that purpose, Krall fell a little flat. To emphasize that it had been three years of exploration, they pumped the film full of new creatures. I didn't mind it one bit, especially when they were created using make-up and prosthetics instead of CGI. Idris Elba was completely unrecognizable for most of the film and it didn't even sound like him. Like Oscar Isaac as Apocalypse, another great actor was wasted on a low-quality villain.
JB: Yeah, I agree. Also, why cover up Idris?! SPOILER ALERT: Also why have yet another disgruntled former Federation captain out for revenge. Blah boring. Give me an alien race who doesn't want peace, who refuses to be part of a peaceful federation and wants conquest. That would be more interesting to me as a villain. His motivations were just meh. I was like, OK, you're angry, I get it, but why do you want to attack that outpost?
JE: I agree. Why not use the newly discovered tech to rejoin civilization? I think it was left for us to insinuate that part of his motivation was insanity caused from using the tech for other purposes.
JB: Considering JJ Abrams didn't write this, the plot was still centered around on a McGuffin, which he's known for doing in plots. The beginning action scenes set us up for an ominous and evil villain who seemed kinda easily taken down and dumb at the end.
JE: SPOILER ALERT: I did like the incorporation of Nimoy's Spock's death into the central story and it causing an existential crisis within Quinto's Spock. At the same time, Beyond didn't really tackle any social issues, but it did show a greater diversity than it had in past films. Perhaps that was the tradeoff.
JB: It wasn't very heavy on tackling social issues or anything. Mostly just a fun summer blockbuster. Sadly it felt like a mostly throwaway sci-fi blockbuster. I enjoyed older Spock's incorporation too! When they showed younger Spock finding the photo of the original cast, I got a little choked up. I was also a little confused about "Ambassador Spock" and younger Spock though. I'm like, isn't that supposed to be you?!
JE: Shhh, time travel changed a lot of things, remember? I guess that is meant to include their appearances. HAHA!
JE: I felt like this film was very CGI heavy, which is sometimes unavoidable in sci-fi of this caliber, but it was much more noticeable this time around (i.e., the distorted gravity fight scene).
JB: I didn't notice as much. However, my 3D glasses were messed up so I had to watch without them.
JE: You didn't miss much. The 3D only added a minimal amount of depth, but I would have been happier without it there to dim the vibrant colors.
The Characters and Actors
JE: One of the most consistent parts of the Star Trek films have been the characters and how they embody the original ones. That is all thanks to great performances from the actors. The one that stood out the most in this film was Anton Yelchin as Chekov. He was given much more screen time and a greater role in this film's story, which only makes his loss all the more heartbreaking.
JB: Yeah his untimely death was sad. Had they known they could've worked into the film, although that might have bordered on bad taste. I felt like all the characters were given good screen time. This wasn't the Shatner-show Star Trek where he clearly demanded more airtime. So who would you say is your favorite character?
JE: That one is easy. My favorite character was Leonard "Bones" McCoy and I love his constant need to clarify that he's a doctor, followed by a series of things he isn't. His bedside manner is almost Vulcan.
JB: Yeah, he was a real scene stealer. I think I like Jaylah. She was very endearing. She could be a great new character if she returns for the next movie.
JE: The introduction of Jaylah was perfect, not just because I'm a fan of Sofia Boutella, but because the franchise could really use more powerful females to balance out their sausage fest. Unfortunately, I don't think she's returning. The last female they introduced in Into Darkness was never heard from again, even though she officially joined the team in the end. So which "K" villain did you like better: Khan or Krall?
JB: I liked Khan better but wish he was Indian. I also wish the villain for this movie was Diana Krall, a jazzy alien lounge singer turned Federation enemy.
JE: I would definitely pick Khan too, mainly for Benedict Cumberbatch's strong performance. I was let down by the villain too. Instead of Krall, the villain could have just been a Skrull, and they could have tied it into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Hemsworth is coming back for the next film so he could just come back as Thor.
Final Thoughts and Ratings
(using a LQQK rating system)
JB: For (L)ikeable characters, I give it a 5/5. For (Q)uality , I give it a 4/5 because it was overall well made, had good direction, and a was an overall fun action flick, even it felt less involved towards the end. For (Q)ueerness, I'll give it a 3/5 because Sulu obviously fits that bill but it was so minor I didn't feel like it was overly queer. The acceptance of everyone makes it queer-friendly though. Finally, for (K)irk, I give it a 4.5/5 for obvious reasons. Overall I would recommend it for someone wanting a fun sci-fi flick or a fan of the original show. It's not groundbreaking but it is fun.
JE: I'd have to give it a 5/5 for (L)eonard McCoy because Bones stole several scenes for me and I can relate to his crotchety, neurotic attitude. (Q)uality I'd give it a 4/5 because of how strongly it channeled the essence of the original Star Trek series, camp and all. Every performance was powerful, even if it was just meant as comedic relief. The visuals are striking and vibrant as always, but the 3D felt unnecessary and the increased amount of CGI was distracting. In a lackluster summer of tedious blockbusters, Star Trek Beyond rises above them and goes a little bit beyond common popcorn flick. (Q)ueerness I'd give a solid 3.5/5 since, mainly for the inclusion of diversity in the introduction of new species and in its casting decisions. I especially want to applaud how little flair was attached to the reveal of Sulu's homosexuality. That's the point we eventually want to reach in society. The cast is still predominantly saturated by cisgender heterosexual white males and focused on their problems, but the addition of Idris Elba and Sofia Boutella helped it out a little. I would have to give a 1/5 to (K)rall because he was a disappointing, familiar villain whose motivation were shallow, and whose only real purpose was to keep the band together. Also, Idris Elba was wasted in it because you could hardly tell it was him until near the end.