Welcome back to Sound Off!, a semi-regular column where members of Speculative Chic gather together to chat about the latest BIG THING in entertainment. For our second venture, we’re trekking to the Final Frontier to chat about Star Trek Beyond, which premiered in the U.S. on Friday, July 22, 2016.
Sound Off! is meant to be a group of reactions, but not necessarily a review. After all, while we are all individuals, even mutual love of something (or hate) can come from different places. You may find everything from critique to fangirling to maybe even hate-watching, but it’s safe to say that if you haven’t yet seen Star Trek Beyond and you read this post, you WILL be spoiled in some form or fashion.
Now, join Nancy, Keyes, J.L. Gribble, Whitney, Betsy, and Sherry as they talk about Star Trek Beyond!
Keyes: I was notorious in college for being able to answer all Star Trek-related questions in the edition of Trivial Pursuit we had in the Honors lounge. I kept trying to explain to my classmates that I was not a Trekkie. They thought I was trying to deny my inherit geekiness, which I frankly found to be insulting because I TOTALLY LIVE MY GEEKINESS, which I come by completely honestly (as I write this, I am wearing a T-shirt which states “I am a Jedi, like my father before me, unless I get a letter to Hogwarts like my mother”). I’m just not a Trekkie. I was RAISED by Trekkies, which is totally different. That said, I am fluent enough in Star Trek arcana that I would totally get a Knowledge Bonus on a D20 check on the topic. But I can’t come close to my father, who I was lucky enough to see this film with. When the lights came up, I looked over at him.
“How many times has the Enterprise been destroyed in a Star Trek movie now?” I asked.
“Three,” my father answered instantly.
I double-checked because that seemed kinda low to me because it feels like the Enterprise is ALWAYS blowing up in the movies. He was right.
I went into Star Trek Beyond with lowered expectations after Into Darkness (which was not a horrid film, but still one I found disappointing). That may have been for the best, as I quite enjoyed the Star Trek Beyond. By and large, it is a fun romp. There is some passing hand-waving at depth (Kirk is brooding on finally growing older than his father ever lived to be; Spock is similarly-yet-so-very-
My father, die hard Trekkie that he is, loved it.
Nancy: In truth, I wasn’t sure what to expect from Star Trek Beyond. While I genuinely enjoyed the first two movies in the Kelvin Timeline, I didn’t know what to make of the new director, and I found the film’s ad campaign to be pretty disastrous. Now that I’ve seen the film, I can honestly recommend it to fans of the franchise, even though I felt it came up short when compared to the first two.
The biggest strength of the Kelvin Timeline is its charismatic cast. The writers of Star Trek Beyond (which include Simon Pegg, who plays Scotty) seemed to have recognized this, and have used the third film as an opportunity to take the focus off of the Kirk and Spock bromance, and rebrand the franchise as more of an ensemble property. The person who benefits from this the most is Karl Urban, who plays McCoy. Every line put into his mouth — and I do mean every. freaking. line. — is perfectly delivered, reminding the audience of what an undervalued performer Urban is. I just wish they had been taken the same amount of care when it came to elevating some of the other characters. Although she has a couple of heroic moments, Uhura’s journey is largely a question and answer session with Krall, the movie’s antagonist played by Idris Elba. Elba, for his part, does as best as he can beneath all of that makeup, even if his character feels like a bit of a rehash of the antagonists from the first two movies.
The movie has its fair share of exciting set pieces, my personal favorite being a scene where Sulu must utilize a . . . creative way to launch an ancient starship. Unfortunately, there are several very dark action sequences that take place on the Enterprise, and Star Trek Beyond’s 3D conversion is, without a doubt, the worst I’ve ever seen (at least in my theater). As a result, these potentially exciting scenes aren’t just shadowy, they’re nigh incomprehensible. So while part of me wants to fault the film for failing to have set pieces on the same level as its predecessors, the other part of me wonders if I would have felt the same way had I been able to see the film in 2D.
I found plenty to like about Star Trek Beyond. I laughed plenty, got swept up in the action, and had my heart strings sufficiently tugged. It just wasn’t on the same level as the first two installments of the franchise (especially the first one. That opening sequence involving Kirk’s father and mother never fails to bring tears to my eyes). Star Trek Beyond may not be a film I will enjoy rewatching again and again, but it’s a genuinely good time at the movies. Just make it a matinee.
J.L. Gribble: I loved this movie. I really, really loved this movie. It had all the action, adventure, humor, and special effects I could demand from a science-fiction summer blockbuster. It included an homage to something we’d seen before in Star Trek movies without turning the film into a mangled, white-washed mess (yeah, I’m looking at you, Into Darkness). It brought the feels in the deft way the real-life death of Leonard Nimoy was inserted into a character subplot. And it proved to me once and for all that the best Star Trek storytelling comes in episodic form rather than feature films.
The thing that makes Star Trek great is its ability to dig into deeper storylines and teach us about human nature, despite (or perhaps because of) the involvement of the alien. Without the narrative space to tell a long-form story or show a true arc of character development, we’re left with the summer blockbuster. Star Trek Beyond was fun and delightful, but it was popcorn. At its heart, I think Star Trek was meant to be a five-course meal. Even though I already have plans to see the film in theaters at least one more time, I have Deep Space Nine playing in the background while I write this as a quick refresher on how great Star Trek can be.
Simon Pegg still did an amazing job on the script of this film, especially in terms of giving every member of the core Enterprise crew time to shine. The relationship between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy continues to ground the rest of the characters as the actors work together longer. I didn’t hate Into Darkness, but Beyond has renewed my interest in the “Kelvin” universe films and I am eager to see what comes next. Because I am a fan of popcorn. But before that, I’m even more excited to return to the “Prime” universe with Star Trek: Discovery and immerse myself in what I hope will be a delicious gourmet meal.
Whitney: The good news about Star Trek: Beyond is that it attempts to do something the previous two films didn’t: solve problems by being smarter than the enemy, rather than just bringing a bigger gun to the fight. Star Trek at its core is about exploration and discovery, and while Beyond doesn’t exactly have that in spades, it makes strides in that direction. It also does a nice job of forcing the crew of the Enterprise to rely on their own wits to solve a problem. Starfleet is crammed full of smart people who are really resourceful, and here we get to see it on display. The makers of the film also clearly heard the criticisms levied at Into Darkness regarding the portrayal (and lack thereof) of women by not only populating the ship with a lot more women, but also treating them with respect. No gratuitous nudity, no scenes that deliberately treat them as objects rather than people. So, progress!
The current Star Trek franchise still has a ways to go to really find its way back to Gene Roddenberry’s roots. In the end this was still a film with a standard Evil Villain (even if that villain is Idris Elba), with a goal to stop the Evil Villain from using his Super Weapon to wreak havoc across the galaxy. I’d still really like to see a one of these reboot films tackle a plot that isn’t about good and evil, but more along the lines of Star Trek IV, when the goal is to help an inquisitive probe find its whale buddies so it stops accidentally evaporating our oceans in its attempt to have a conversation. Star Trek doesn’t have to be about Bad Guys, but about seeing the galaxy through a different lens. But that said, this Trek is still a lot of fun, and definitely a better entry in the franchise than its predecessor.
Betsy: Star Trek Beyond was everything I’ve come to expect from the new franchise. The plot is far-fetched and, to a discerning watcher, looks a bit like Swiss cheese, but that’s easy to ignore in light of the humor, action, and camaraderie between cast members. The nods to the original series and Leonard Nimoy felt more like easter eggs for long-time fans than contrivances, which was good. I laughed a lot, and lots of things blew up, which is exactly what I wanted.
I feel like everyone is rightly talking about Jaylah and hoping she might be a permanent addition to the crew of the Enterprise. I loved her, loved her as a character and the visual of another race. I thought it was brilliant to pair up the main crew members and see Bones and Spock, Sulu and Uhura, and particularly Kirk and Chekov together, with Jaylah and Scotty on the side being brilliant.
At the same time, I was disappointed about the female characters. I felt bad for being disappointed. I really tried to talk myself out of it. After all, FOUR women, from four different races, played pivotal roles in the plot (both positive and negative). There’s Uhura, who is capable and calm under pressure and everything else, and I realize that for the sake of continuity it’s important for Zoe Saldana to continue in the role, but in the last seven years I feel like Hollywood has basically designated her as THE kickass sci-fi woman. And then the other three, who all did really wonderful jobs, are completely unrecognizable as themselves, and only one is memorably named within the film. Again, I understand that this is a multi-planetary society and aliens shouldn’t look human and all that, but the fact is that the movie is made by and for modern Earth culture, and I wish some different choices had been made.
I mean, even bad guy Krall gets significant screen time with his human face, and Idris Elba was most definitely involved in the press circuit for the movie. NONE of these three ladies did any solo press (yes, I checked), and none would be at all recognizable if I came across them in another movie — which feels like a great way to throw in female characters without actually forwarding their careers or our awareness of women as actors. I mean, any of the male cast bank on people recognizing them in a new movie trailer and saying, “Hey, I liked Star Trek, maybe I’ll try that.” These women have no chance of anything like that happening, which seems like a crime.
But yeah, in spite of that, I enjoyed it. The character interactions more than made up for the lack of solid plot, for me. In fact, it wasn’t until the car ride home that I even noticed the logical holes. Less in the way of space exploration and diplomacy, and more about yet another vendetta against the Federation plus explosions, but hey, what else is a summer blockbuster for?
Sherry: I loved Star Trek Beyond. Not all of it, though. At times it felt like a mash-up of Star Trek (2009) and Star Trek Into Darkness. Like Star Trek (2009), the inner turmoil focused largely on Kirk trying to live up to his father’s legacy and to find himself. Like Star Trek Into Darkness, the Enterprise was chasing the enemy through a city. But what Star Trek Beyond did so much better was to take those two things and evolve them into a more satisfying conclusion focusing on not only identity as a result of our past, but also identity nurtured by our present. There was so much to love about Star Trek Beyond. The actors seemed to have grown into their characters, to truly embody them and not just caricatures of them. Jaylah was a great kick-ass female character. Uhura also got to kick some butt and had a better arc from beginning to end. Scriptwriters Simon Pegg and Doug Jung did an amazing job of weaving in the passing of Old Spock throughout the movie as a wonderful tribute to Leonard Nimoy. And I must admit, I cried a little when I saw Anton Yelchin on screen. LLAP.