Despite Crash-Landing Its Biggest Character, This Star Trek Might Finally Have Achieved Lift-Off
“After the Show” is our spoiler-friendly way of talking about movies at ZekeFilm. In this article, plot twists and hidden details of STAR TREK BEYOND are potentially discussed.
DIRECTED BY JUSTIN LIN/2016
When I was a kid—sorry, let me put my dentures in before I speak—you could either be a Star Trek fan or a Star Wars fan. There was no real logical reason for this divide except that Trek and Wars were pretty much the only two big sci-fi universes we had, and geeks are a naturally argumentative lot.
Phaser to my head, I would always choose Star Trek—whether that’s nature or nurture, my inherent predilections or just the fact that I was introduced to it first, who knows—but both stories seemed to occupy unique and essential spaces in my soul. Film Crit Hulk summed it up with the quote, “Star Wars…was about approaching the world with an open heart. Star Trek was about approaching the world with an open mind.” For me, not only could we enjoy them both, we needed them both.
In short, the new Star Wars movie felt like the classics it was based on, and the new Star Trek movies…don’t.
Nowadays, with geeks having risen to be both the producers and consumers of media, we enjoy an embarrassment of genre riches on both the large and small screens. We’re pretty much mainstream now, and we can choose whatever kind of story we like.
It’s a multi-party approach to the genre, if you will.
And yet, the two old venerable institutions are headlining the news again lately. Star Wars has launched a wildly successful new trilogy, and Star Trek is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. And suddenly, I see geeks arguing again.
What is it this time, you might wonder? In short, the new Star Wars movie felt like the classics it was based on, and the new Star Trek movies…don’t.
Not that this is entirely a bad thing.
Trek needed a facelift, and JJ Abrams provided the necessary adjustments.
While the Star Wars relaunch received praise for re-creating the essence of the originals, the Star Trek reboot got its acclaim from being unlike the old series in its pacing, storytelling, and all-around energy. As a Trekkie since I was old enough to sit up straight in front of the TV, I know that despite its thematic progressiveness, Star Trek could be awfully stodgy in the way it was shot, written, costumed, and so on.
Trek needed a facelift, and JJ Abrams provided the necessary adjustments. By making it like Star Wars. And then going on to actually make Star Wars.
Personally, I’m a big fan of the lens flares—they’re super cool, and they visually communicate the bright future Star Trek is known to represent. I love the textured look of the uniforms. I love the punchy new warp jump effect. I love the score, particularly Spock’s theme. I adore the cast. Every single one of them is an inspired choice. I was so excited eight years ago at the news that Zachary Quinto was playing Spock, I nearly fell out of my computer chair.
I recently got to see the 2009 Star Trek in concert at the Hollywood Bowl—the film played on the screens while the LA Philharmonic performed the score by Oscar-winning composer Michael Giacchino. It’s a movie that I didn’t outright love upon first viewing, but has grown on me over the years. Seeing it with a crowd of several thousand, reacting to every big cinematic moment, refreshed in my memory how well-constructed it is.
But it’s still a Star Wars-style tale told with Star Trek trappings.
The Hero’s Journey structure is cliché now among screenwriters, but it was really brought back to life by the original Star Wars movies, and it works for a reason. The Chosen One longs for a greater purpose, balks at first at the call to adventure, then takes on the challenge in order to prove his destiny and be the one who saves us all. It’s appeared in countless franchises over the years, from The Matrix, to Harry Potter, to The Hunger Games. It’s even been turned on its head by Game of Thrones.
Like David putting on Saul’s armor to fight Goliath, Star Trek dressed up with a Hero’s Journey narrative is impressive, but not quite the right fit.
If Star Trek ’09 was just a little awkward, Star Trek Into Darkness delivered on its title by telling a paranoid conspiracy tale straight from the pen of a writer who believes that 9/11 was an inside job. It’s about the least Star Trek idea ever put forth under the title, not to mention that they abandoned the point of rebooting the universe by rehashing an old story instead of exploring new territory.
After the success of The Force Awakens, the Trek franchise seemed to be playing the DC to Star Wars’ Marvel. When the bizarre trailer for Beyond was released and even King of the Geeks/Trek child star Wil Wheaton made fun of it, fans wondered if Trek was ever going to get it right. With the sudden death of Anton Yelchin—a bright spot in an already likeable cast—just weeks before the premiere, the whole thing felt weighed down with all the wrong baggage.
But it’s Star Trek. What am I, not going to go?Honestly, the first act of Star Trek Beyond didn’t grab me. Lip service is paid to Starfleet’s peaceful goals before the scene devolves into a fight, Kirk still struggles with daddy issues, and the girlfriend-in-the-fridge of the Star Trek universe, the Enterprise herself, gets destroyed in the first twenty minutes.
Then the adventure got going. And without an origin story, time-travel shenanigans, or wingnut political agendas to worry about, the plot had time to breathe. The characters all had chances to contribute—everyone adding their specialty to the mission of science-hacking their way to freedom. A theme slowly built of unity and teamwork winning over chaos and cynicism.
Smart people won the day over violent people. And they did it together. And they did it because, unlike the villain of the piece, their nerdy minds were open to possibilities in life other than conflict, fear, and searching for the next enemy to fight.
And that’s a Star Trek movie.
Smart people won the day over violent people.
Most welcome in this outing is that Beyond is a true ensemble story, right down to the entire cast getting in on the reading of the “to boldly go” speech at the end. It’s not about a single hero who alone has the power to save the world. Star Trek is a Chosen One narrative in which the entire human race is chosen.
Abrams’ Trek universe still has room for improvements if it wants to hit the Big-Idea loftiness of its predecessors, but I’ve also found several deeper ideas floating around in my brain over the past few days as I process the movie, so that’s a good sign. Star Trek’s vision has always been one of progress, and Earth can use all the hope and optimism it can get right now.