It’s fitting, I think, that the latest installment of one of my favorite TV/movie franchises should be the first movie review on this site. I’ve remembered recently how essential films, good and bad alike, are to my creative life. They tap into an entirely different facet of Story that’s got a hardline straight to my feelz . Movies are so different from books, with different strengths and weaknesses, but the common thread of Story remains. You won’t find detailed film critiques here. I don’t pretend to be an expert in what makes a good movie. I’ll give only my thoughts on Stories as they’re told on the big screen.
In fact, the story may be the greatest strength and most glaring weakness of Star Trek Beyond. You can never complain about the cast of this new series of Star Trek movies, either their commitment to the roles or their pretty, pretty faces. But frustratingly, the only characters here with truly compelling stories are the villains. JJ Abrams’ first run at the new franchise back in 2009 was perhaps the strongest on this point, setting up a whole new timeline, with all new motives and relationships for the well-known heroes. But, those characters have experienced little to no change ever since. Kirk is still tied in knots over his dead Dad. Spok is still torn between his love for the Enterprise and his duty to Vulcan. Bones and Sulu, Chekov and Ahuru, even Scotty are still two-dimensional excuses for clever exchanges with Kirk and Spok. In Star Trek Beyond, there’s practically no change, no development in the heroic characters. There’s hardly any real internal conflict at all. The good guys are just very, very good, and the bad guys are thoroughly, tragically bad. The villain this time around did have a great twist in his back story. He did convince us (because he’s Idris Elba, let’s be honest) that we may have been no different had we lived the same life. But even he was a bit too caricatured to be believed. Oh, did I forget to mention Jaylah? Not surprising, that. Powerful, independent female with daddy issues that put her in need of constant coddling and rescuing: check. Present and accounted for.
Did I enjoy it? Sure. The special effects were mind-blowing, the sarcastic quips made me giggle, the subtle homages to the original Star Trek cast were heart-warming (SO cool to see Lt. Sulu’s family for the first time!). And there are only a few actors out there who will get my money every time: Grand Master of the Powerfully Dark and Twisty, Mr. Idris Elba, is one. He did not disappoint.
Still, I did feel that these classic characters deserved the respect and freedom to get it wrong from time to time. Don’t they ever feel fearful, selfish, or just a touch too prideful? Don’t they ever make the absolutely wrong call, in ways that could send this openly pre-packaged plot careening off in a lively and dangerous direction?
In the end, it’s Star Trek.
Here’s my money.
Make more shiny pictures.
Please and thank you.
Just don’t get complacent hanging onto those awfully big coattails and forget to write a story.