Was it a movie I saw since August 22nd, 2009: Yes. #440
1) The preproduction for this film was slightly troubled. JJ Abrams was committed to Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens so co-writer of the first two films Robert Orci signed on as director. He ended up leaving production though, taking his cinematographer with him, and it was a little while before Justin Lin (Fast and the Furious 3 - 6) was hired to replace him. Writers Simon Pegg and Doug Jung reportedly wrote the script in a bit of a hurry as they still had a release date to meet. But at the end the film turned out really well, so everything worked out in the end.
2) This film was released during the 50th anniversary of the Star Trek franchise.
Having said that, the work done by writers Pegg and Jung as well as Lin’s direction I think help to make the film feel like a balance between old Trek and new Trek. I’ll get into more details on that as I go along.
3) The opening scene.
The opening has an incredible sense of fun and humor to it (with the aliens Kirk is trying to break peace with seemingly gigantic and ending up being the size of a chihuahua) and honestly feels like it could be the concept of an episode for the original “Star Trek” TV show (says the guy who’s never seen an episode of the original series). It establishes some of the lighter/funner tone this film will feature compared to the titular darkness of Into Darkness as well as Kirk’s initial conflict in the film. It is a wonderful beginning.
4) Kirk’s tiredness.
Kirk is three years into his five year mission in space (which, in a not-so-coincidental-way, is how long the original series got before cancellation) and it is starting to weigh on him.
Kirk [in his captain’s log]: “As for me things have started to feel a little…episodic.”
There’s no direction in space, it is just infinite and that is starting to weigh on Kirk. It has him questioning the point of it all. It has him questioning who he is.
Kirk [after commenting he’s now a year older on his birthday]: “A year older than [my father] got to be. He joined Starfleet because he believed in it. I joined on a dare.”
Bones: “You joined to see if you could live up to him. [Mentions how Kirk has spent all this time trying to be like his dad.] Now you’re wondering what it means to be Jim.”
And it is through the fire of conflict in this film that Kirk will reclaim his identity and who exactly he is.
5) The release of this film was given an unexpected dose of sorrow as actor Anton Yelchin tragically passed away about a month before the film’s release.
There is a scene early in the film where Bones and Kirk drink some Scotch they found in Chekov’s locker. They pour three glasses, the third one being for “absent friends” (as in those we’ve lost who could not be here now). The absent friend I believe was meant to be Kirk’s later father, who the pair are talking about. But in the wake of Anton Yelchin’s passing the scene takes on a much more somber meaning and feels more like a tribute to him. After the film’s release I read on IMDb that the scene was included to pay tribute to Yelchin, but I can no longer find that piece of trivia suggesting it may have been false. Either way, it is impossible to divorce Chekov from that scene or the unintended tribute it pays to the late actor. I’m going to miss seeing you in the movie, Anton.
Yorktown is quite possibly the stand out new element introduced into the film. The space station/outpost/colony/whatever is visually outstanding. Most space stations in film are defined by rigid edges and sharp boundaries but Yorktown is circular. It’s fluid, it’s organic, it moves into and through each other like a planet. Some of the camera tricks and technical aspects used to show off this new location is great. It also has an incredible atmosphere to it which ties directly into the sense of hope this franchise is all about. The air is clean, the sky is bright, multiple alien species are working in unity, and Giacchino’s again excellent score just lifts up the sense of optimism that bleeds through this place. It is a wonderful addition to not only this film but Trek lore as a whole.
7) This film introduces what I believe is Star Trek’s first canon gay character by revealing that John Cho’s Hikaru Sulu is in a partnership with another man.
“I hoped instead that [Star Trek creator] Gene Roddenberry’s original characters and their backgrounds would be respected. How exciting it would be instead if a new hero might be created, whose story could be fleshed out from scratch, rather than reinvented. To me, this would have been even more impactful.”
I personally disagree with Takei. As a film student I can say that there seems to be this strange devotion to the “vision” of something. A decision will or won’t be made based on its support of the “original vision”. The original vision of something is almost totally irrelevant to what something actually is, however. Takei’s statements seem to be largely out of his respect for original creator Gene Rodenberry, which I can understand. But imagine some gay kid today LOVES the Star Trek movies and its characters. That kid is not going to care about Gene Rodenberry’s original vision, he is going to care about what Star Trek is today. I think seeing an already established (and incredibly important character) like Sulu express his sexuality in an open and accepted way is very much in line with what Star Trek is today (and will also have more of an impact on that kid than introducing a new character who they have no emotional investment in, but that’s just my personal belief).
The franchise has transcended Rodenberry or any one person involved. It is about unity (a major theme in this film), diversity, tolerance, and hope. And as long as it respects these core beliefs which make Star Trek what it is than I think it does more than respect Rodenberry’s original vision. It respects Star Trek.
8) I am going to talk about Spock and Uhura’s breakup and Spock Prime’s death, I promise. Just later.
9) Even though JJ Abrams did NOT direct this film, Greg Grunberg is still featured in it!
Grunberg is JJ Abrams’ lucky charm, appearing in almost all his films (notably absent from Star Trek into Darkness) in one form or another. And even though Abrams serves only as producer on this flick Grunberg still gets a part. Yay!
10) I like that Commodore Paris (one of the Starfleet higher ups at Yorktown) takes the time to say this to Kirk:
Commodore Paris: “It isn’t uncommon you know, even for a captain. To want to leave.”
It’s a common problem people have in life, the loss of identity. And of course it makes sense that it happens to Starfleet officers. Nothing is defined in space. It’s just space.
11) The skirmish between Kraal’s crew and the Enterprise is great.
As a way of introducing the primary plot into the film, it shows a clear lack of preparedness on the part of the Enterprise crew which is a great place to start the conflict and move forward. A, “started from the bottom,” type way. The film opening with such a heavy thrashing and the destruction of the Enterprise leaves a strong impact on the audience. You know these bad guys are people you do not want to mess with, you don’t even want to be in the same room as them. They just took down one of the best starships ever in a matter of minutes. The scene features great action, nice surprises, and is incredibly well paced. As the first major action set piece for the film, it is truly great.
Kirk: “Abandon ship, Mr. Sulu.”
There is literally NO question from Sulu and only a the hesitation needed to process that request. He doesn’t even say, “Sir?” There’s no doubt in his mind. That is how much he trusts his captain and that is how well he knows his ship to admit when it’s done.
13) Idris Elba as Krall.
I will forever be upset that Suicide Squad won the Oscar for Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling when this film is PACKED with some of the most amazing practical creatures and aliens I have seen in years. You don’t have to look any further than Krall to see that. Idris Elba is not giving an animated performance, he’s not motion capture (not to knock motion capture actors, they’re some of the most under appreciated geniuses in Hollywood). That’s him. He is able to deliver a menacing and powerful performance through strong physicality. Elba does not play Krall as human and he shouldn’t. A huge factor for the character is that he’s lost his humanity. He is a beastly shade of his former self, motivated only by madness. I think Krall may be the best villain of this new trilogy (although it’s hard for me to be objective because Nero is still my favorite). Honestly, Elba freaking kills it as Krall and I don’t think they could have cast anyone to do a better job.
From a writing standpoint, Krall just gets more and more interesting as the film goes on.
Krall [after Uhura claims he has made an act of war against the federation]: “Federation act of war!”
But more on this later.
14) This film benefits from unique groupings for a good part of the film. Bones/Spock are the most prominent, but it’s not often you get to see Kirk and Chekov interact one-on-one or Uhura and Sulu. But for now, let’s talk about Bones & Spock.
I don’t think Bones and Spock get as much one on one time as they do in this film and I am so grateful for that. It provides a unique examination of their usually humorously tense interactions which was touched upon in The Search for Spock. I’ll discuss this more as I go (in one scene in particular), but they are able to be vulnerable around each other. Let their guards down, be totally honest, and make their friendship even stronger.
15) Sofia Boutella as Jaylah.
I fucking love Jaylah. So much. I want more Jaylah.
To start, her design is incredibly unique and memorable. It helps her standout from not only the rest of the Enterprise crew but the rest of the inhabitants on the planet as well. And from the strong visual you are able to build into a living, breathing, unique character. She fits into the crew dynamics (particularly through her relationship with Scotty) wonderfully well and she is a kick ass queen. She is a technical genius with no training or teaching, able to set up a number of booby traps/cloak the Franklin/keep auxiliary power going. She has this deep pain that is in direct relation to Kirk’s. Her father - her entire family - died trying to save her, just as Kirk’s did. She has fears, she has strengths, she loves punk music! Jaylah on paper is amazing and actress Sofia Boutella is incredible in the part. Boutella is able to portray all of Jaylah’s wonderful layers - her badass exterior, her painful past, her growth and dealing with her fears - beautifully. Boutella is a star on the rise in Hollywood (already having starred in Kingsman and appearing as the title character in the new Mummy film coming out soon) and to date this is - I think - her best performance. She is just SO good.
A quick final note: it has been said by the filmmakers that they will not be recasting Chekov after Anton Yelchin’s death. I want Jaylah to take his place on the bridge. Because I fucking love Jaylah.
16) The relationship Jaylah and Scotty forge is so fun and heartfelt. Jaylah is able to constantly surprise Scotty and show that she’s his equal in a lot of ways, but when it comes to the pain of her past Scotty is able to help her deal with that. It’s one of my favorite relationships explored in the film and I hope to see it continue in the future.
17) The relationship with Kirk and Chekov is explored a little more subtly than say Bones and Spock but it is still there. The fact that Kirk is able to signal Chekov to help him trap the traitor amongst their midsts, and then of course this wonderful piece of dialogue.
Seeing any two characters have this back and forth suggests they’ve done it before. There’s a comfort there that Chekov is able to talk to Kirk so honestly about his doubts and…I’m sorry, I’m just laughing thinking about this scene. I love the exchange between the pair.
18) So it later turns out that Krall is a captain named Edison from VERY early in the Federation’s life span.
Krall: “Federation has taught you that conflict should not exist.”
Krall [MUCH later]: “We knew pain, we knew terror. Struggle made us strong. Not peace, not unity.”
He is an outdated relic, an ancient ideology in a progressive time who thinks HIS way of life was right. And he’s willing to commit mass genocide because of his outdated and hateful ways. There’s also a lose of identity there, as he tells Kirk in the climax, “I’ve missed being me.” That lose of identity in the face of infinite space is exactly what Kirk is at risk of going through, so there’s a connection there between the two that ties back in to Kirk’s main conflict (something that I love). All in all, Krall’s pain is utterly unique in the Star Trek films I’ve seen and I am impressed with the elegance they were able to write it.
19) Spock and Bones having a heart-to-heart about where Spock is in life is one of the best scenes in the film.
It is in this moment when Spock is at his most vulnerable, and it’s with Bones. He speaks as to how being one of the last Vulcan’s effects him, how it was that and the death of Spock-Prime which upset him so deeply he even broke up with Uhura because he thought he had to. He’s planning on leaving Starfleet. But Bones is an excellent friend in this scenes, listening to Spock and offering some kind non-judgmental words. He even gets Spock to laugh! It’s a great moment between these two characters who have been around for 50 years and I think one of the best character moments in all of Trek.
20) Did I mention I love Jaylah?
Jaylah [about her punk music]: “I like the beats and shouting!”
21) If I haven’t made it clear before, this film has some very well done humor. I think this is largely a result of Simon Pegg’s work on the script, but it wouldn’t have worked if cowriter Doug Jung hadn’t worked with him on it. Some examples…
Scotty: “I have an idea sir, but I’ll need your permission.”
Kirk: “Why would you need my permission?”
Scotty: “Because if I mess it up I don’t want it to be just my fault.”
22) So 2009′s Star Trek was about Kirk and Spock moving past their conflict to form a respect and kinship with each other. Star Trek Into Darkness had them solidifying their friendship. And now we’ve reached this point:
Spock [while severely injured]: “We will do what we’ve always done, Jim: find hope in the impossible.”
23) I think something the filmmakers really use to their advantage is taking problems and solving them in a creative way through the sci-fi genre (where aliens are a norm and we have artificial gravity and such). A brilliant example of this:
Also this is all practical makeup. Did I mention this film lost the makeup and hairstyling award to Suicide Squad? I’m bitter.
24) The funniest freaking part of the entire movie!
25) I know I mentioned this before, but Jaylah’s past trauma with her family is incredibly strong for me.
Jaylah [talking about Krall’s hostage camp; refusing to take Kirk and company to their crew]: “Everyone who goes there he kills!”
And it is just another great example of the relationship Scotty and Jaylah have made.
Kirk [after Jaylah leaves & Scotty moves to go after her]: “Let her go.”
Scotty: “She’s lost people too, Captain.”
The fact that Scotty is able to help Jaylah through her grief in a respectful but pressing way speaks a lot to me. And Kirk overhears this, specifically that Jaylah’s dad sacrificed himself for her. Hmm, why does that sound familiar?
The entire scene is great for me for those key reasons: it develops Jaylah, it strengths her relationship with Scotty, and it ties into Kirk’s conflict in the film.
26) The entire diversion/rescue scene on the motorcycle is awesome and one of the strongest set pieces in the entire film. It is brilliantly and intelligently choreographed, keeping the audience and Krall on their toes through the use of decoy projections. It also features a fight between Jaylah and Mannix which ties directly into her arc as he is the man who killed her father. And Kirk - who said to, “Let her go,” about ten minutes earlier - risks himself to save her. She’s a part of his crew now and I love that.
27) Remember how in the 2009 Star Trek Sulu messed up the take off of the Enterprise the first time? Well, I think the phrase, “started from the bottom now we’re here,” applies perfectly to this moment.
30) I just love Jaylah’s face when she sees Krall’s planet drift away in the distance. That place was her hell. Her family was murdered there. She never thought she’d be able to escape. And now…
31) Ladies & gentlemen: the most badass moment in Star Trek’s 50 year history.
Kirk saying, “That’s a good choice,” tying directly into Young Kirk rocking out to this song in the 2009 film.
Bones: “Is that classical music?”
Chekov toe tapping.
Just how f***ing awesome that moment is. It gets you pumped!
I don’t know who had the initial idea to put this scene in the film, but I love them and I want to give them an award or something. This is glorious.
32) The climactic fist fight between Kirk and Krall is a lot of fun. Similar to Syl’s alien head hiding an important piece of technology, the filmmakers are able to use the concept of artificial gravity in a space station to their advantage by choreographing a unique and fun fight scene.
33) And with this Kirk resolves his conflict of identity in relation to his father.
Kirk: “Better to die saving lives than to live taking them. That’s what I was born into.”
34) I love that Kirk says this but for a weird personal reason. It’s something I learned as a film student and something I wish other directing students (and a lot of professional directors) would learn.
Kirk [after Commodore Paris says he saved the lives of everyone in Yorktown]: “It wasn’t just me. It never is.”
35) Holy shit, I honestly cannot believe I forgot that Spock found this in Spock Prime’s belongings:
Not only is this a wonderful thing to include in the 50th anniversary of Star Trek but also it is something Spock REALLY needed to see. He wanted to live the life Spock Prime did and he thought that meant continuing the work on new Vulcan. But then he sees that Spock Prime was with the Enterprise crew DECADES into a future. He had a family for life. And so does Spock.
36) It’s hard for your eyes not to fall on Anton Yelchin when Kirk makes a toast, “To the Enterprise and to absent friends.”
37) The fact that the entire main crew of the Enterprise gives the ending monologue for the first time speaks greatly to themes of unity present in the film and Kirk’s giving them credit.
38) And now I’m sad again.
39) “Sledgehammer” by Rihanna.
It’s not often that I talk about an end credits song for a film, but I felt I should make an exception this case. Rihanna is a major Star Trek fan, saying:
“This is something that’s been a part of me since my childhood, it’s never left me, I love Star Trek. It was automatic. I would do anything in terms of music. It’s such a big deal not only as a fan, as a musician… because Star Trek is such a big deal across the globe.”
You can feel the love for Trek come across in the song. Not necessarily a radio pop hit, I love this song nonetheless. I find it moving and it’s themes of fighting back after you get knocked down very much tie into the hope and resilience which is Star Trek. I think it is a wonderful composition and a great addition to the Star Trek musical library.
I love Star Trek Beyond. Although the 2009 film introduced me to the franchise, this film has the potential overtime to claim its place as my favorite Trek film. It is an absolutely perfect balance of old and new Trek, featuring standout writing, amazing effects, new ideas, a vibrant visual design, and a standout cast (with special mention to Sofia Boutella as Jaylah). It is a totally wonderful that taps into the hope and sense of adventure that the series has always been about. If you were disappointed with Star Trek Into Darkness or are looking to reclaim some love for the series - or even if you’re watching for the first time - give this film a viewing. You won’t regret it.