I may have finally figured out what’s wrong with me: I have been diagnosed with a case of friendshipitis. This is an exaggerated sense of what friendships mean between two or more people. When I tried to dig into how this happened, I think I identified my “patient zero”: Star Trek. Star Trek gave me this idea about friendship and I went about building mine based on what Trek taught me. It may have been exacerbated by the very true fact that I didn’t move to an area where I would make friends until around age 4 or 5 so I knew a few years of loneliness early in life. This, coupled with the Star Trek image of what friendship was all about; namely people who go above and beyond for one another, may have created my future. Which is to say, present.
Star Trek Beyond has a lot of heart. It’s far from perfect and far too much of the film is shot in very dark places which cause the viewer to lose interest, but where it works, it works really well. This movie takes place 3 years into their 5 year deep space mission. Jim’s captain’s log says things are feeling a little “episodic”; a nice reference to the series without being too over the top. I’m sure Roger was delighted when Jim makes the comment that “I ripped my shirt again!” since this was a staple of basically every classic episode ever. And Scotty references a legend of a “giant green space hand” which, as fans know, is a reference to Who Mourns for Adonis. (Obviously it’s still out there since in this timeline, Kirk did not encounter it and stop it!) It also leaves some things to be questioned. Do those escape pods, which are barely big enough for a person, have a change of clothes for everyone? If so, are the garments one size fits all? Because, while they look great, those outfits were not on the crew when they left the ship! Speaking of leaving the Enterprise, was it necessary to follow the original movies so closely? The second move featured Khan, like the original second movie. The third featured the destruction of the Enterprise, just like the original third movie. Still, dark filming, outfits and a pattern being followed are hardly show stoppers. There’s plenty right with the movie-length episode too.
There’s the reference to the Xindi war, which ties in to Enterprise, letting us know that did happen. There is some great moments of humor, namely the radioactive jewelry that is also a tracking device. “I’m glad he doesn’t respect me!” And let’s not leave out Jayla, played by the lovely Sophia Boutella, who is hands down one of the best additions to the crew ever; I’d love to see her back for more. While I wasn’t a fan of the particular song chosen, the enjoyment of watching the crew overcoming the “bees” is an immensely memorable and fun sequence. But perhaps the best comment is nearly a mission statement about what series represents and why the crew impresses us so much: they “find hope in the impossible”. Yeah, that does sum it up brilliantly. It’s a testament to what friendship is and this crew illustrates that wonderfully.
Speaking of the crew, we get a glimpse into Sulu’s family which is very understated but a clever nod to George Takei’s own orientation and I applaud it. Also, we discover Keenser’s name is… well, Keenser, which, if they ever said it before, I never heard it and I was glad to finally know it. (I was pretty sure his name was “get down!”) But I think the strongest characterization is between McCoy and Spock who get a much needed chance to talk. On the one hand, I like that Spock believes he’s always made it clear that he respects the doctor. “The dialogue we’ve had across the years…” was clearly an opening to apologize for the less-than-hidden digs, but Spock acknowledges that he always knew. On the other hand, there’s the deeper discussion about the fear of death. “Fear of death is what keeps us alive.” This both shows Spock’s fear while also acknowledging what keeps them all going. Jim too isn’t immune to some character growth. He is now a year older than his father was when he died and it’s causing him to question his future. Between this, and the news of Ambassador Spock’s passing, both lead to questions about what the future should hold for our heroes.
Which brings me to the most heartfelt moment when we see Ambassador Spock’s belongings (a great picture from Star Trek VI). It’s both an acknowledgement of the great Leonard Nimoy, who had passed away by then, but also a reminder of what the crew can accomplish together. And that brings me back to the beginning and my outlook about friendship. Together this crew has each other’s backs; they are the best of the best and they overcome insurmountable odds time and time again. They are there for one another. This is something I always strive for; to be there for my friends and, in turn, to have them by my side when I need them. And when that fails, I just remind myself to find hope in the impossible; it may indeed be an impossible dream, but I can hope.
The movie, the last in our series of classic Trek excursions, ends with a voiceover as the crew recites the actual Enterprise mission statement. It’s a beautiful ending and one I hope will one day lead to more movies. Hey, find hope in the impossible, right? ML
The view from across the pond:
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and when we see Kirk looking at a wardrobe of identical uniforms that tells us everything we need to know about his desire to move on to pastures new. He has got lost in the directionless monotony of space, and even the fights have become repetitive. Fans of the original series of Star Trek will raise a smile when he says, “I ripped my shirt again”. Yeah, he does that a lot.
Spock is also considering a change, but motivated by something very different: the death of an old friend. That can often prompt people to make a change to their own lives, perhaps reflecting on their own mortality and re-evaluating where they are heading, but in Spock’s case the old friend who has died is Spock. It’s hard to imagine how that would feel, but it would surely amplify any self-reflection.
Star Trek: Beyond is about Kirk and Spock both coming to realise that they are wrong about wanting to change the directions of their lives, and that happens because they both know that they are stronger together, and the other might not survive on his own. It takes the destruction of the Enterprise, and lots more danger besides, to bring them to that revelation. The irony of a series like Star Trek is that the most exciting thing you can probably do is destroy the ship. Children sometimes like to break their toys. I thought the destruction of the Enterprise in Generations was impressive, but this was something else.
That brings us to the key characteristic of Star Trek: Beyond. It is Star Trek as spectacle, in its purest form. I normally don’t like that kind of approach, because I prefer to engage the brain, and this film almost never challenges the viewer to think about anything. Instead, we just sit back and enjoy the roller-coaster ride. But in this instance I didn’t mind that approach at all, because it is just so breathtaking from beginning to end.
The film just never lets up with the excitement levels. The swarm of tiny enemy ships is a great idea. If you want to keep raising the stakes in Trek, you have to keep throwing the Enterprise further into the unknown and have them encounter enemies they are ill-prepared to deal with, and this is a prime example. They are also visually stunning, like a cloud of starlings in formation. There are endless moments that have you on the edge of your seat, but my favourite (apart from the pure spectacle of the Enterprise breaking up) was probably Scotty going over the cliff edge. You can’t beat a literal cliffhanger.
I had no idea I was watching Idris Elba as the villain until his backstory was revealed. It’s not just the prosthetics that disguise the actor. His performance is a meticulous creation, an invention that contains nothing of himself, perhaps the ultimate challenge for an actor: to truly become somebody entirely different to oneself in every respect. Krall is alien, but also believable in terms of the origins of the character: Elba strikes that balance very well indeed. I felt that Krall’s backstory could have been explored a little bit more, just to strengthen that link between the person he used to be and the person he became, because it is a bit of a stretch from one to the other, and there was ample time in a two hour film to do that, but having said that I don’t know what I would want to subtract from the film in favour of more Krall. Certainly not Jaylah, who is more of a focus and is a magnificent character, complete with loveable quirks like her misunderstanding of where the Christian name ends in what she simply hears as Jamesteekirk.
Watching these three films has been an interesting experience. I never like to see a franchise feeding too much off its own past rather than moving forward, and to start with it did seem like we were boldly going where we had already been before. But this final effort to date felt like a perfect balance of doing something new with a much-loved cast of characters, and pushing against the final frontier once more, while “the frontier pushes back”. It’s good to honour the past, but it’s better to keep moving forwards. RP