This will be written in two parts, the first half before seeing the film and the second after. I’m hoping that this will allow for some reconciliation between my lowered expectations and severe prejudice towards the movie and the high critical praise that it is receiving among film critics. Hopefully, this will pinpoint the exact cognitive dissonance that allows me to enjoy the rebooted film series as a casual movie goer while at the same time viciously hating everyone who is involved (cast excluded) for warping and destroying anything that was unique or original about the canon and its Universe. Or go mad trying.
I want to like Justin Lin. I really do. One of his first films, Better Luck Tomorrow, was a weird, intense little independent drama that showed a ton of promise and a talent for character pieces. But Lin followed up that Indie success with Annapolis, a generic studio manufactured pile of dreck before finding success helming the Fast and The Furious franchise, a series of films that had me finally accept the fact that no matter how much I try to be objective and look at the world through other perspectives, there is a massive population of film fans that I will never fully understand. But it’s hard to gauge a directors capabilities when they are locked into a popular tent-pole franchise. For instance, who knew Keegan Michael-Key was a brilliant comedian when he was hosting America’s Funniest Home Videos? With that show’s penchant for wretched puns and family friendly schlock, I sure didn’t. So if presented with more mature subject matter would Lin rise to the occasion? If the examples are the first two episodes of season 2 of True Detective, the answer is a resounding ‘nope’. Although visually pleasing and desperate to crib the atmosphere and artistry of Cary Fukunaga’s first season brilliance, the heavy handedness and overwrought acting immediately turned me off to the whole thing and it was months before I picked up the show again. And once I did I realized that, for all the hate that it received, season 2 is not nearly as bad as critics made it out to be. With the unfortunate exception of Lin’s episodes.
So when he was selected to take over directing of the next installation of Star Trek I did not do a happy dance. And when the first Beastie Boy’s riddled trailer dropped, advertising him as the director of the Fast and the Furious movies, the part of me that still held out some hope for the series returning to its roots died a painful, lonely death. I was not alone in this, however. The internet threw a collective shit-fit in the direction of Paramount Studios who immediately course corrected in the second trailer with a more sober, grounded tone, mostly free of dirt-bikes. So I was totally back on board, hope renewed. Everything was sunshine and rainbows. Well, not so much.
For some reason it’s become acceptable to shrug off the complaints of the fans of the original shows and films, as if we’re all overreacting, silly nerds drunk on nostalgia, furious over a fun adaptation of a show that wasn’t that exciting to begin with. To which I reply, fuck you. I know divisiveness is a sensitive topic these days but there used to be a balance to things. Star Wars was about the spectacle, Trek had the ideas. And this separation was good, the rivalry spirited but harmless. But like another classic of cinema days gone past, Revenge of the Nerds III: The Next Generation, the nerds grew up and became the cool kids, the spectacle and funny one-liners replaced the conversations about philosophy and political allegory. And everyone is happy because they don’t need to know the canon to enjoy these big dumb movies. Because that’s what they are. Big and dumb. But what made Star Trek special is missing from that spectacle and I refuse to let that go. The world is having a hard time admitting it lately but it needs nerds, it needs philosophical conversations and political allegory more than ever. And what’s sad is that it doesn’t have to be missing, it is possible to make an intelligent film that appeals to a wider audience, if only the owners of this franchise would bother to try.
After the film…
I am absolutely sick of tent-pole franchises. I am exhausted of big budget CGI clusterfucks with no regard for physics or visual fidelity. I want to the era of meaningless clouds of nebulous undefined doomsday particulates to die a quick death, taking Shaky-Cam fight sequences into the grave with it to be buried alive in complete agony. I want every producer that subscribes to this dogmatic screenplay axiom that requires a sanitized action beat every ten minutes in order to re-engage the mouth breathing masses who have the collective attention span of a 9 year old high on Mountain Dew and lithium to be thrown into a canyon filled with broken bottles and tetanus. I want to see a film that is made by adults with an artistic vision and a respect for what the medium can inspire in an audience.
Instead, I get Star Trek Beyond. In all honesty, Justin Lin does a fine job with the characters and the overall tone. In fact, the beginning and the end were my favorite parts, these are well rounded dynamic personalities. I like watching them talk, I like their relationships and Lin succeeds at capturing and expanding on their arcs. So kudos, Justin. How surprised was I to walk out of the theater more disappointed with the writing than the directing. And not because it was particularly bad but because it was extraordinarily safe. For a film with the word BEYOND in the title, there is nothing in this movie that does anything that hasn’t been retread or explored in any previous iteration. Worse, the villain in this has the exact same illogical hatred of the Federation that both Benedict Cumberbatch and Eric Bana’s villains subscribed to. “Something bad but not really intentional happened to me by something loosely associated with the Federation. SO I WILL MURDER MILLIONS OF RANDOM STRANGERS.” Come, the fuck, on. Did we really need another revenge plot? I mean, is that it? Star Trek: The Motion Picture was like the visual representation of a handful of Ambien soaked in warm milk, it was so damn boring but when you find out what the primary antagonist is all about your mind is temporarily blown before you fall back asleep. And that was the first film, at least it had the courage to have some imagination, some science behind it.
Let’s get something cleared up right fucking now. The Beastie Boys cannot exist in this Universe, it doesn’t make any sense. And not because it’s weirdly convenient that the music they listen to 300 years in the future just so happens to be contemporary to the audience watching it, but because in the song Intergalactic one of the lyrics is, “Your knees’ll start shaking and your fingers pop. Like a pinch on the neck of Mr. Spock.” They reference Star Trek in their music. So how the fuck can the characters in Star Trek listen to the Beastie Boys. I will accept that I am pissing in the wind when it comes to trying to turn such a huge franchise back into stuffy scientists in space who talk about stuff, I know that argument is futile. But the fact that the song Sabotage plays such an intrinsic part of the plot, it’s like I’m the only one who still gives a shit.
The really depressing thing about Star Trek Beyond is that, at times, it really does feel like Star Trek again. Like the ghost of it, anyway, the way a smell or a song will bring back a vivid memory and it finds these tender or sincere moments whenever it slows the fuck down and looks around for a second. But that doesn’t last because, oh look, a motorcycle. I might have also taken issue with how the passing of Leonard Nimoy was handled but it was done well, with dignity. In fact, they went somewhere I didn’t expect with it and I was simultaneously moved and disappointed at the same time with how it recalled the earlier days of the franchise. But it was about the boldest thing in the whole film as far as I am concerned and that’s not nothing.
So I was really hoping to punch all my anger out and find something to enjoy about this film but something more concerning is happening; I’m having a hard time thinking of things to be mad about. And not in a good way. More because it’s not a particularly memorable movie and I don’t want to ruin what few neat moments it does have, because there are a couple. It does often charm, the cast is by far the best thing going for it and everyone seems to be swinging for the fences with what little material they have before the next big action sequence comes tumbling in like a big stupid SFX tornado. And I would be remiss if I didn’t say something about the tragic passing of Anton Yelchin. It’s a low and pitiful thing to say I knew someone who knew someone who knew him but I did and he was by all accounts an incredibly sweet, intelligent, and grounded human being. As for his Pavel Chekov, all I can say is that he did a very fine job. Cheers, sir.
The next film in the series has already been greenlit and that’s fine. It will be what it will be. But in closing I have to reference what felt like the final insult. The recitation of the Star Trek mission statement at the end of the movie, this time delivered by the whole crew which, by now, has nothing to do with what actually takes place in these rebooted films. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Her continuing mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and civilizations. To boldly go where no one has gone before. All right. Well, fucking prove it.