Star Trek Beyond Expectations

beyondStar Trek Beyond is a hard movie for me to pin down.  On the one hand, it’s a clear fit into the reboot Trek universe.  It’s got loads of action, flashy special effects, the youthful cast we’ve come to know over the last seven years, and something resembling a plot.  On the other, it was co-written by Simon Pegg, who since the early days of the Cornetto Trilogy has been one of my favorite people in comedy and who is apparently also quite the Trekkie.  Despite the very lackluster initial teaser trailer for Beyond, it was his word and faith in the film as not fully revealed that kept me from falling off the skeptical cliff.  In the wake of Into Darkness, the fandom was rightfully concerned — aside from being more or less a weaker retelling of a great Trek film, that movie also introduced a number of game-changing events and potential future plot devices that, mercifully, are written off and completely disregarded in Beyond.

Some refer to Beyond as capturing the spirit of the Original Series.  I am far too young to really understand what that means.  I have, of course, seen a smattering of TOS episodes, however I was raised on The Next Generation; the originals always seemed far too cheesy for me to really get into.  In comparison to the recent Trek television shows of the turn of the millennium, the reboot universe is a mainlined speed-ball of adrenaline and action.  Beyond, however, unlike Into Darkness, does a better job of balancing the fast pace with a good number of slow moments, reflective dialogue, and breathing room.  It lets the characters take moments to feel rather than just do all the time.  I found a lot to like in Star Trek Beyond, including an astounding quantity of things I did not expect in the slightest.  I saw only the initial teaser trailer (the bad one) so I had only those expectations to go off of.  To be brief, it both is and isn’t what I expected.

Star Trek Beyond is directed by Justin Lin, famous for his work in the Fast and Furious series.  I was also immensely skeptical about his involvement, especially after the teaser and the motorbike scenes.  I, among many, was expecting him to corrupt the philosophical and cerebral Trek into racing cars and stunts.  To his credit, and I was unaware until just a few weeks ago, he’s also a huge Trekkie and had a definite positive influence over the story and the characters.  Not only that, but he’s a damn good director in his own right.  I caught myself appreciating the direction and stylistic choices for framing and effects much more than I had the previous two installments.  I’ll enumerate in more detail below.

From a plot standpoint, however, I never really quite gathered what was going on.  In a nutshell, and full disclosure on complete and total spoilers here, the Enterprise sets off on a rescue mission to a remote planet but is ambushed.  She is destroyed and the crew are stranded on said planet, most of whom are held captive by the ambushers, led by an alien named Krall.  His motivations are pretty unclear throughout the film, but again, I’ll get into detail shortly.  Basically, our heroes find a way, with help, to rescue the Enterprise crew, get back into space and stop Krall before he unleashes a superweapon on a Federation starbase.

Again, if you don’t want to be completely spoiled on Star Trek Beyond, I suggest you see the movie before reading on.  Without further ado, my observations:

  • Star Trek Beyond opens a well-written negotiation scene with an alien race.  The biggest problem is the relatively poor CGI — it took me out of the movie immediately.  I don’t think the excitement was necessary, but ignoring it, the next scene is one of the best Star Trek movie openings.
  • Kirk reads a captain’s log, wherein he describes being tired of the episodic nature of the five year mission, being just over three years into it.  I took that as a reference to the Original Series, which never made it past three years itself.  His malaise with the banal is so very relatable.
  • Already, just minutes in, we’re subjected to numerous scenes both inside and out of the Enterprise where the camera is askew, rotating, or otherwise not framing the scene in a typical grounded way.  There’s a lot more where that came from, as I mentioned earlier.
  • The Enterprise’s in-warp effect is so cool. Like pushing a bubble through air from the inside.

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  • Kirk’s birthday is coming up.  He and McCoy have a philosophical conversation.  Shades of Wrath of Khan, but the right kind, not the hackneyed reveals and plot from Into Darkness.  Kirk will be older than George ever was — a new existential wrinkle in the different timeline.
  • McCoy toasts to “perfect eyesight and a full head of hair.”  That’s definitely a reference to William Shatner.
  • Starbase Yorktown is pretty pretty cool. It’s a spherical base with interconnected rings of cities, each on their own gravitational plane centered upon a nexus in the middle.  It’s very Inception-like, and the disorienting cinematography certainly hammer the visuals home.  This is nothing like the starbases of the original films.

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  • On Yorktown, Sulu greets his daughter and husband.  They walk away together embracing.  A short, wordless exposition to reveal Star Trek‘s first ever openly gay character.  Well done.
  • In the meantime, Spock is informed of Spock Prime’s death, a tribute to Leonard Nimoy.  His age is shown as 2230-2263, though that’s really 2230-2387 PT, 2258-2263 KT.  Only 162 years old.
  • An unidentified vessel comes to Yorktown and its pilot is questioned.  She doesn’t speak English so a universal translator is deployed.  In this version, the technology analyzes her speech and returns a synthesized translation moments later.  It’s different than the straight English-speaking aliens of yore Trek and I appreciate seeing the metaphorical wheels turning.
  • Kirk meets with Commodore Paris, played by the ubiquitous-in-scifi Shohreh Agdashloo.  After having watched The Expanse earlier this year, I feel like those characters are the same person, albeit with different fashion sense.  Her character was included in reshoots late into production — they seem so critical to Kirk’s character motivations, I wonder what the unfinished product looked like.
  • Kirk wants to be an admiral.  Following in Prime Kirk’s footsteps.
  • “We make a good team right?” “I believe we do.” Theme for the movie, right there.
  • Enterprise launches out of starbase at a quick impulse.  The camera is fixed in front of the engineering hull, facing the warp nacelles while the scenery moves around it.  Another stylistic shot I don’t believe we’ve seen before in Trek.

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  • The planet central to Star Trek Beyond is Altamid, a blue marble which is accessed by passing through an uncharted nebula full of asteroids and lightning.  To me, this draws a definite parallel with Star Trek: Insurrection; in that film we had the Ba’ku planet inside the Briar Patch.  That’s just about where the comparisons end, though.
  • Obviously, it’s a trap.
  • The Enterprise is overwhelmed by a swarm of bee-like fighter drones.  They shred the ship’s deflector dish in seconds, severing the warp nacelles moments later. “The nacelles… they’ve gone!” Scary shit, watching the maimed Enterprise struggle to crawl away with no warp nacelles.
  • Aliens board the ship, bearing a slight resemblance to Remans.  The main villain, Krall, makes his entrance.  The way the mooks walk with their arms raised straight forward in attack makes me think they’re mechanical.
  • Apparently, the object of Krall’s desire is the Arbonath, the ancient weapon that Kirk presented to the aliens in the first scene.  I find it strange that these occurrences are related.
  • As the impulse engines kick in, thanks to Scotty, the ship begins to be severely affected by the planet’s gravity.  The corridors (sets) roll and spin, as our heroes struggle to stay upright.
  • The swarm of ships is ordered to “cut her throat.”  They fly in a figure eight pattern straight through the hull between engineering and the saucer.  There’s lots of mechanical carnage and people getting sucked blown into space.  Spock and McCoy are in a turbolift, which too is blown out of the hull.  Kirk gives the order to abandon ship, and the remaining crew blast out in escape pods (which are instantly captured by drone ships).

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  • Apparently the Enterprise can separate its saucer.  I don’t believe it was a canon ability for the Constitution-class previously.  The impulse engines are still looking for the engineering hull, so they won’t work until the saucer is separated.
  • Scotty escapes by putting himself in a torpedo.  Brilliant.  That’s one nod of continuity to Into Darkness‘s shenanigans.
  • That scene of Uhura ejecting herself and Krall away from the saucer, and then the reverse shot of the saucer falling away from the other half.  Oof.
  • The bridge escape pods are called “Kelvin pods.”  After the USS Kelvin, I guess.
  • One of the best shots in the movie happens next, as we watch the Enterprise bridge from just over Kirk’s shoulder in the escape pod turn into the bright light of outside when he lifts off, only to watch the saucer continue its fall toward the planet’s surface.  It floats like a UFO, whacking mountains before coming to a halt in a forest.  Tough little ship.

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  • Somehow Scotty survives his torpedo’s impact on the surface with no injury whatsoever.  Tough little pod.
  • Kirk and Chekov end up in a forest with the alien who lured them to the trap.  It’s very Endor-like.
  • The drone fighters settle at Krall’s base, where the Enterprise crew is being paraded into captivity.  The red, blue, and yellow of the uniforms contrasts vibrantly with the grey, rocky environment.  It looks very Original Series-esque.
  • Krall says that the Federation is an act of war.  Our villain doesn’t see the purpose of the Federation as noble.  Still wondering what his motivations are.

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  • McCoy and Spock end up in a region of spiky, jagged rocks.  Sort of like the Emyn Muil from The Lord of the Rings, but more sound-stage than New Zealand.
  • Spock is impaled with shrapnel in the lower right abdomen.  Vulcans have their hearts where humans have their livers, apparently.
  • “It is unwise to trivialize that which one simply does not understand, doctor.”
  • Scotty is alone.  He find some wreckage, but is quickly ambused by two aliens.  One of those aliens is played by Danny Pudi.  He’s the one that acts like Abed in alien make-up.
  • Our heroine Jaylah shows up to fight them, using projections of her as decoys — very DOOM-like to someone who just finished playing DOOM.  She and Scotty make a interesting duo.

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  • Jaylah’s badass nature, combined with her broken language and accent remind me a lot of Orphan Black’s Helena.  Vicious to enemies, but endearing to allies.
  • Her “house” is a Starfleet ship, the USS Franklin, registry NX-326.
  • Kirk and Chekov (and alien) make their way to the crashed Enterprise saucer to try to use the scanners to find everyone else.

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  • Sulu and Uhura use Keenser’s Chekov’s cold to escape their holding cell.  They discover Federation probes in Krall’s possession.
  • On the Enterprise, the alien proves herself to be a traitor.  She is outsmarted however.  Kirk and Chekov use her call to locate Krall.
  • Fleeing the broken ship (which consists of obliquely angled corridor and bridge sets, once again), they ignite the impulse engines, flipping the saucer over.  They slide down the hull at an impossibly steep angle — one place my disbelief failed to be suspended.  Chekov and Kirk survive the slide/fall, somehow.  The alien woman and Krall’s mooks are pancaked.
  • “Without struggle, you would never know who you truly are.”

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  • “There is strength in unity.”
  • Krall uses a contraption to drain the life from two Federation red-shirts.
  • The sun rises over mountains and fog.  This would almost certainly be a matte painting, were the film not so CGI heavy.
  • McCoy and Spock bond over Spock Prime’s death.  Spock is visibly upset, breaking the Vulcan facade.
  • “Fear of death is what keeps us alive.”
  • McCoy makes Spock laugh.  That is extremely un-Vulcan of him. “My God, you’re becoming delirious!”
  • Kirk and Chekov stumble into a smoke trap.  The smoke looks unbelievably fake, unfortunately.
  • Jaylah works on the USS Franklin to Public Enemy’s Fight the Power.  The first trailer is starting to make more sense, and it’s really not used as badly as it seemed.
  • The smoke trap was one of Jaylah’s.  Clever girl.
  • The USS Franklin was the first Earth ship capable of Warp 4, lost in the early 2160s.  Going into this film, the last thing I expected was a nod to Enterprise, much less a key piece of the film being set in its era’s technology.  I also really love the sets.
  • There’s a motorcycle in the officer’s briefing room.  Kirk admires it.
  • The Franklin is cloaked with image refractors.  Again, very Insurrection.
  • Spock and McCoy are found and surrounded by three droid craft. “At least I won’t die alone,” McCoy says as Spock is beamed out.
  • The transporter effect for the Franklin is more primitive and less fluidly shimmery.  I’m really loving this old tech.
  • McCoy says the medical tech is from the dark ages.  That’s definitely a reference to The Voyage Home.  Spock quotes Shakespeare; that’s probably one to The Undiscovered Country.
  • Krall is now very visibly de-aged.  He claims the Arbonath from an Enterprise crew member — it was inside her head.
  • Uhura’s necklace is made of Vulcaia, which makes it easy to identify.  “You gave your girlfriend a tracking device…?”
  • Jaylah, Kirk, Scotty, McCoy, Spock, and Chekov brainstorm a plan to rescue the rest of the Enterprise’s crew.  Strength in unity.

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  • What we require is a diversion.  BRRRAPPPPP BRAAAPPPP.  2Trek2Furious. The motorbike racing toward Krall’s base kicks up some pretty fake looking dust.  Particulates aren’t the strong suit of this effects team, I guess.
  • Krall rants against peace and unity.  I’m still not sure who he is or what his deal is.  He uses the Abronath to vaporize the crewmember who hid the device.  Cruel.  I assume her life power is then contained inside.
  • Kirk rides up on the bike.  Except it’s not Kirk, it’s a hologram!  So many Chekov’s guns in this movie.  I kinda love it.
  • Jaylah and Manas fight.  Lots of karate and stuff.  Meanwhile, Krall deploys his drone fleet back to space while the Franklin beams Enterprise crew members onto it in groups.
  • Seriously, that smoke-trap effect should have been way better.  It’s distracting.
  • “These old vessels, they were built in space; they were never supposed to take off from atmosphere. … They’re called starships for a reason, Captain!”
  • Jaylah’s species appears to have blue blood.
  • “Mr. Sulu, you can, y’know, fly this thing, right?” “…you kidding me, sir?””Fantastic.”

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  • The dialogue and cast chemistry in this film is as strong as ever, maybe even better than the first two films.
  • The hull configuration of the USS Franklin resembles the NX-01 Enterprise.  It should be noted that Enterprise is the only Trek series still completely intact in this timeline.
  • Meanwhile at Yorktown… the swarm of drone fighters attacks.  The base’s defenses put up no fight.  The starship fleet was deployed to respond to Sulu and Uhura’s distress signal, which was routed to false coordinates by Krall… not that the fleet would have helped anyway.
  • Franklin’s weapons include pulsed phase cannons and spatial torpedoes.  Awesome continuity.
  • There’s also polarized hull plating.  These are deep cuts.
  • VHF to break the communications network of the drone fleet?  Loud noises, you say?  Cue Sabotage.  “That’s a good choice.”
  • Yorktown is such a cool setting.  I would love a Star Trek video game to explore it in.
  • The Franklin rides a tidal wave of exploding ships (they’re crashing together because their flight patterns are disrupted, not just blowing up), whose explosions and the scene’s cuts are tied to the music.  Awesome.  Aside from the obvious Beastie Boys callback to Star Trek, I compare this blast of “ancient” pop music to the unleashing of “Magic Carpet Ride” in Star Trek: First Contact.  Out of place?  Maybe.  Has precedent?  You bet!  Entertaining?  Hell yes.
  • This climactic scene is also visually stunning.  Just look at the framing in the capture below.

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  • Spock and McCoy out in that torrent though?  Good thing the drone ships can be manually piloted too.
  • Uhura discovers the video loop of the Franklin crew getting rescued.  They’re wearing (more-or-less) Enterprise-era jumpsuits and being rescued by a similarly dated shuttlecraft.
  • Whoa it’s Idris Elba!  I knew he was Krall, but I didn’t expect we’d see him in the (human) flesh!
  • The Franklin (and the good drone) fly through Yorktown’s tunnels, sort of like the runs seen throughout Star Wars.  Except this time, they run underneath the city and include transparent pools, through which Franklin blasts up.  Seriously, this place is so cool, I want to know more.
  • I’m not used to Idris Elba’s thick British accent.  I know he’s been in Pacific Rim and Thor and all that, but he’ll always been Stringer Bell to me.
  • That said, I wish Krall/Edison’s final regenerated version was more Elba and less make-up/CGI heavy.
  • Edison says he fought in the Xindi and Romulan wars.  He was a MACO.  Keep on piling on the Enterprise references!
  • I guess his motivation is that he was born a warrior, but made a starship captain and forced to negotiate with the “enemy.”  I think?  Doesn’t seem like reason enough to kill everyone on a starbase.  I may have to rewatch.
  • The gravitational slipstream with the glass is brilliant.  I love all of the gravity manipulating this series has done — this might just be the best of it all, complete with functioning skylines angled 120 degrees to each other.
  • …of course the last release doesn’t work.
  • What I do like is, after Krall sees his reflection in the glass shard, it seems almost as though, for a split second, he’s had a change of heart and is going to help Kirk.  Instead, he uses the shard as a weapon to further his attack.  Cliché averted.
  • Kirk getting saved by Spock & McCoy’s drone fighter before getting sucked into space is absurd.  I wish they wrote another way to do that.  It’s just too tidy.
  • Spock recieves Spock Prime’s belongings.  Inside is a photo of the original Star Trek cast, from Star Trek V.  The original fanfare plays.  Very lovely.
  • Good to see McCoy is still a space hypochondriac.
  • At Kirk’s birthday celebration, Kirk toasts “to absent friends.” The next shot is centered on Chekov.  I have to believe that was intentional.
  • Jaylah is there dressed in civilian clothing.  I really expected her to say something about her sestras or her babies.
  • And we close on a timelapsed shot of the construction of the new Enterprise, NCC-1701-A, including a rendition of the “Space, the final frontier…” speech, read by each of the main crew phrase by phrase.
  • At one point in the credits animations, there’s a planet that resembles the red, ringed planet from The Next Generation‘s opening.  Maybe just a coincidence.
  • The regular credits are accomanied by Rihanna’s song “Sledgehammer,” featured in the third trailer for the film.  I believe that’s the first time a Trek film has used something other than a symphonic medley to roll the credits.
  • RIP Leonard Nimoy
  • For Anton — he was incredible in Beyond.  The movie takes on a different feel when you realize he’s gone.  His loss will be felt the next time around.

To summarize my observations, Star Trek Beyond is a story about unity against adversity.  Our heroes are scattered as they flee the Enterprise in small groups.  They use their human ingenuity to find their way together, form a successful plan (a few, actually) to defeat their opponent, and win the day as a cohesive, high-functioning unit.  It’s pretty much the Utopian ideal in my mind — few things make me happier than being a contributing member of a successful team.  That’s where Star Trek Beyond shines and, in my opinion, captures not only the original intent of the show (which remember, was well ahead of its time with regard to racial and gender equality) but also shows the very best of humanity.  It’s a welcome return to form in the Trek universe as a whole, and it leaves me wanting more.  Thankfully, these reboot films, as divisive as they’ve been among purists, have regenerated enough mainstream interest in Star Trek to launch a new television series next year.  Through that, I hope the legacy can continue.

As for Star Trek Beyond, I have no reservations about declaring this movie the best of the reboot saga so far.  It’s beautiful, it’s entertaining, it’s not bogged down by brooding and darkness or rehashed plots — it’s simply a fun time with likable characters and an ideal we should all strive to meet.

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