Release Date: July 22, 2016
Both Kirk and Spock are feeling the strain of their five year mission. While contemplating new career paths, the Enterprise is summoned to an emergency distress signal deep in a mysterious nebula.
Hey, look! A visual homage to a much better movie. Yeah, I said it.
Kevin: So this movie was touted to me by several friends whose opinions on Star Trek I respect as the most "Star Trek" of the Abrams movies. I will start by saying that I agree with that assessment, but it is probably a low bar to clear. The movie does at least engage issues like friendship and the collaborative nature of the Federation and Starfleet. I loved watching Kirk question his career choices in TMP and Wrath of Khan, so it is at least noteworthy they are doing it here. I would say that the problem is they didn't do the ground work to really make those elements sing. I'm going to try to be charitable since they've only had about 5 hours of screen time to lay that foundation, where as the prime universe had 80 to give us a sense of Kirk's relationships and career goals. That said, in this universe (apparently now officially christened the Kelvin timeline), Kirk joined Starfleet on a drunken bet and spent his career getting kicked out and not actually graduating the academy. This Kirk has never been shown to take his career seriously, so I find his dissatisfaction with it a little light on impact. I did appreciate the attempt to fill in the daily tedium of an open ended exploratory mission and wish they hadn't played it just for laughs. The same thing goes for the depiction of Kirk and Spock's friendship. Kirk talks about relying on Spock etc., but we never see him do that. Up to now, there's been nothing but some racial barbs and rank disrespect between the two. Matt asked a question during the podcast that really brings these problems into focus: if this were the first Abrams movie and not the third, would I like it, and possibly the franchise more. I think I would, actually. We are actually discussing the elements of Star Trek I like, and I think I would be more charitable to the issues of having less time to lay foundations for these elements, and I would have been more eager to see what they do with the next movie.
Matthew: Like you, I think the character elements are welcome, and better executed than the previous movies. But one thing I dislike is the way Kirk's life is portrayed - as boring. He sighs through a captain's log entry, glibly pooh-poohing "establishing firm diplomatic ties" and saying how he can't tell when one day ends and the next begins. I think this is a problem. TOS Kirk loved being Captain. He loved his job. We could see it in his every interaction, and it made the later film question of whether he left it too soon a poignant one. How is this supposed to make us feel? Either Star Trek is boring or it's just Kirk that doesn't like it. What should we be rooting for? For things to blow up? For Kirk to get a new job? Spock's character dilemma is a tad more interesting - he feels pulled to... mate with Vulcans, I guess? I suppose we should be thankful they didn't go for a pon farr angle. With all of this said, I appreciated at least the attempt to make life on the Enterprise feel real. You know, for like ten minutes, before it exploded.
Kevin: The villain's motivation and plan don't really bear any kind of scrutiny. He clearly has the ability to overwhelm Yorktown's defenses with his available ships. Why wait to do it with magic? He was a Starfleet officer who presumably knew he would be going farther and faster than humans had gone before, so getting irrevocably lost is a real possibility. Now, I think exploring the difference between theoretical and actual isolation would be fun, and rogue captains were a staple of TOS, but again, we haven't seen enough of the Federation to be invested in its ideals and we don't get enough of an actual story with Krall to understand how or why he broke with them.
Matthew: There were so many half-baked ideas with Krall. The genetic alteration of a human into an alien being. A Starfleet captain going rogue because of isolation. A Starfleet captain going rogue because of philosophical differences with the Federation. Enslaving families and spaceship crew members for some reason. Being some sort of energy-leeching vampire. None of them stick. I don't understand why Krall is so pissed off. I don't understand why he wants to kill tens of millions of people. I don't understand why having the MACO unit disbanded and being given a ship instead is so upsetting. I don't understand why he remembers his humanity at the very end, but remains so honked off at every one and thing. Was he just a psychopath? Did he have some legitimate grievance? Was he under the influence of an alien genome? During my first viewing of the movie, I felt certain that Krall was going to be from some race that had been wronged by the Federation, based on several lines of dialogue (e.g. "the final frontier pushes back," "the Federation is an act of war"). Surely there was some reason for his antipathy, and desire to inflict maximum carnage. Maybe his race had not been saved due to the Prime Directive? Maybe his culture disappeared under the influence of the Federation's utopian "root beer" influence? Nope. Nada. He's just an angry guy, I guess. It almost feels like multiple drafts exist of this story, and something was lost in smooshing them together.
Kevin: I liked Jaylah well enough. She's as sketched out a character introduced in the movie is going t be, and I at least felt nominal sympathy for her cause. I was a little irked at the ersatz Yoda syntax and actively annoyed at the motorcycle nonsense, but she had a briskness to her character that at least kept me interested while she was on screen. Her interactions with Scotty largely provided effective comic relief.
Matthew: Liking Jaylah and understanding what function she serves in the story are two different things. First of all, there were a lot of really similar looking aliens in this movie. It seemed like Jaylah was the same race as Krall initially, which would have provided a potentially interesting contrast between the way she deals with the Federation and the way he does. Her enjoyment of Earth music and language could even have played a role. Instead, she is apparently present to... be a moderately attractive female presence who kicks things?
Kevin: A few clean up nitpicks. I did not like the teaser opening. The joke is they look like small dogs? Eh. It continues of a trend of never showing Kirk actually being good at his job, and I still don't understand or care what the artifact was or what it does. Star Trek has gone to the 'ancient race of INFINITE POWER" plot before, but compare to something like TNG's Contagion, they did the work to give the Iconians some back story and to give Picard some independent investment in them, so they felt less forced in the story. Lastly, Prime Spock's picture of the prime crew. It was cute, but it only served to remind me what was lacking from this one. I mean, maybe I'm biased (just maybe), but more genuine camaraderie radiated out of that picture than from three movies with this crew.
Matthew: Yeah, Kirk was annoyingly nonchalant about his mission to make peace between two races. I do want to take the time to praise the continuity references to Enterprise, and I enjoyed the notion of the crew using an older ship to accomplish their aims. With that said, the destruction of the Enterprise, while looking nice, was completely pointless, and lacks the emotional weight of Star Trek III, Generations, Cause and Effect, and any other instance you'd like to mention. First of all, it has never felt like a real place. But secondly, it happens so early in the movie, and by surprise no less, that it just comes off as oddly premature rather than moving or disturbing. Then, they just make a new one in the same movie (just like Kirk was resurrected ten minutes after his "death" in the previous film). Lazy, emotionless writing.
Kevin: I think the main cast did a good job, overall. I've come to be less enchanted with Saldana's Uhura over the movies, though I don't think that's her fault, I think it's the way she's written. Just as Karl Urban effortlessly evokes DeForest Kelley's lov able curmudgeon, I always associate a kind of radiant serenity with Uhura. Her job literally was to sift valuable information out of the din and relay it to the captain and back in a way that made the flow of information appear effortless, and Nichols had a presence that matched that perfectly. Pine was fine as Kirk, but again, the writing doesn't really support him.
Matthew: Karl Urban again towers over everyone else, because he is both funny and believable in his emotional output. Chris Pine still doesn't have the gravitas for the main chair. He can deliver a comedic line with good timing, and he definitely seemed world-weary (which is problematic for reasons listed above), but his anger just doesn't register for me. Uhura was basically a non-presence in the movie, and so I have little to say. John Cho's Sulu was even less present, except for a little bit of gay marriage caressing (hey, great, but how about some dialogue?). So yeah. Nothing much to say for the lot of them.
Kevin: In terms of the rest of the crew, I think this was Pegg's best performance. He captured Doohan's manic energy while balancing it with Scotty's competence. His conversations about fixing the Franklin reminded me of Scotty's line in Relics. "Are ye daft? It will take a week just to get started, but we don't have a week, so there's no use crying about it." Quinto's Spock felt nakedly emotional this time. I wish they had either committed to explaining this Spock chose an explicitly more human path, or that the ghost of Leonard Nimoy had started causing power outages and cracking mirrors or something until he reigned it in. Anton Yelchin did a much better job this time too. Partly because he wasn't played for comic relief, but just as a young and eager officer, I found him not grating at all this time. It drives home how particularly sad his untimely death was, since it was obvious he would have had a long, successful career ahead of him.
Matthew: I agree on Pegg, especially during his Franklin scenes. I was over Quinto's Spock after he left Vulcan in the first movie. Nothing here alters that view. He is dour and pissy with an "emo" streak a mile wide. His portrayal has none of the depth of feeling or the lightness of humor that Nimoy brought to the role. It's all surface, and I don't care a whit about him as a character. Yelchin got action stuff to do, and did just fine with it.
Kevin: I would comment on Idris Elba, but I don't think he was actually in this movie. Beneath a meter of CGI make-up and voice modulation, I don't know how much acting he was asked to do, as opposed to be the model for the CGI person they were building. It kills me because I think he would be a perfect foil for Kirk's flippancy. He has a presence both physical and personality-wise that would dwarf Kirk a little, and seeing him face a fallen captain who was indefinably better at his job could have provided some interesting story opportunities as well cognizable drama for the audience. I mention him in the podcast, but one of the best fallen Starfleet officer stories is Admiral Leighton in DS9, precisely because he was calm, competent, and while his actions were immortal and illegal, they flowed from a good faith assessment as to their necessity and a genuine desire to do the most good in an impossible situation. That kind of bad captain would have given Elba (and us) something to care about.
Matthew: Anything would have been better than the mustache-twirling caricature we got. "Idris Elba," the interesting human actor, disappears until the last ten minutes of the movie, when apparently the producers decided they forgot he was in the movie at all and decided to take off his rubber mask to give us a look.
Kevin: I'm going to end this section by lamenting the sad underuse of another actor, Shohreh Aghdashloo. She is an Iranian actress of some renown, and for her gravelly voice alone, she practically drips gravitas. She easily has the presence of say, an Admiral Nechayev or Captain Janeway, and I can tell she tried, but given she was only looking at green screens and only talking about character motivations for a character I'm not overly invested in, it feels like a missed opportunity. I would have really preferred to see her in the center seat in a protracted battle over Yorktown.
Kevin: Abstracted from the underlying plot, the destruction of the Enterprise is good. I liked a lot of the skeletal metal work we get to see, and the saucer separation was well done. I think they did too good a job of attacking the Enterprise. Shouldn't severing the nacelles mid-flight cause a pretty large explosion? Also, I am not a fan of yet another series of dark colored ships we never see clearly. The battle scenes in Wrath of Khan have become something of a gold standard here at Treknobabble for fight choreography and it holds here. It was so visually chaotic, I don't really connect to anything. I will say the scenes of gravity malfunctioning or the saucer being tipped on its side were well done in the corridor scenes.
Matthew: Yawn, another swarm. Been there, done that. Folks, when you're using an effect that's been done since 2003's "Matrix Revolutions," and you're not even doing it as well, it's time to go back to the drawing board. The destruction of the ship looked neat and had a nice music cue, but for other reasons rang hollow. I found the scene of the saucer tipping over and Kirk and Chekov running away from it to be painfully stupid. Sliding down the damn thing should have killed them, and then there should have been no way to escape it.
Kevin: Yorktown. Hmm. I appreciate the attempt at scope. I do. The problem is that it typifies for me a trend in a lot of modern sci-fi and action movies. It reaches for "looking cool" over filling in the details. It has to be extremely disorienting to look up and see basically a gargantuan Escher print every day. How would people's circadian rhythms be maintained while living in a glass bubble? I suppose I like that they tried to explain that a new construction was politically more practical than appearing to favor one world over another, but they went to far in the execution. Matt and I have said over and over again part of Star Trek's appeal is creating a universe I would live in, and while a technical achievement, I also know I'm looking at a fake place when I saw the Yorktown model. I am also divided on the shot of the Enterprise under the pond(?) in Yorktown as it docks. A huge interior space in the prime universe mushroom cap Spacedock makes sense at it facilitates access to the ship. A narrow corridor running under a pedestrian thoroughfare seems like a lot of complication for no practical goal. It looked neat as hell, which I suppose was the primary objective.
Kevin: Once again, we get like three inexplicable uniform changes, including one that happens in the middle of a ship-destroying emergency. Enough guys. Particularly for Aghdashloo's Admiral Paris, the grey jumpsuit looked like we caught admiral on her way to her yoga class, and reminded me of the early, jumpsuit style admiral uniforms from TNG Season 1, and that's not a comparison you want me to be making.
Matthew: Yeah, changing uniforms while blasting out of the ship in an escape pod is just fucking stupid.
Kevin: This is a 2 for me. So, hey, yeah. Best Abrams Movie to date, for whatever that's worth. They are at least paying lip service to things in Star Trek I care about, and that's more than they've been doing lately. I wish they had taken the time to build a little bit more of those interactions on screen rather than just talk about them. Particularly for the Trek audience, I think you can trust us to take ten minutes to build a character story we will actually care about. The first third of the movie has scenes of both characters acting like human beings and some brisk, technically well achieved action shots. But the story falls apart because not even the villain seems to know what his motivation is, and it just sucks the life out of the last 45 minutes. If this were their first at-bat, I would be encouraged that they cared about the things I want to them to care about and would hope for even more next time. As its their third, it's too little, too late.
Matthew: 45 minutes in, I thought this might be a 3, which was pretty shocking to me. It had enough interesting character elements, and the bare bones of the action plot seemed like something to build at least a moderately interesting conclusion out of. But what we got was over an hour of mindless drivel action on the back end (now with dirtbikes!), and for the reason you identify - there was no story that made sense to tie the scenes together into a coherent and interesting whole. A villain with no motivation is just an annoyance to the viewer. A method of destruction that relies on some amazing weapon that is outclassed in destructive power by the weapon the villain uses to get it is just dumb. And to top it off, we get yet another movie in which some guy wants to indiscriminately kill gobs of people for some reason. That makes, what - five in a row for this franchise? So yeah, it devolves into a classic "2" by our scale - a deeply flawed story with redeeming facets. So that makes for a total of 4.