By Jeanne Tan (17A01B), pictures from wegotthiscovered.com and space.com
This article may contain spoilers! If you have not watched the film, do be aware of this.
Here’s my opinion on this movie: you could delete this entire movie out of the continuity of the Star Trek reboots, keep churning out sequels, and it would make no difference.
That is not to say that the movie is bad. It is what it is: a fine movie with absolutely no impact whatsoever on the characters, world-building, relationships, or plot – nothing. It adds nothing to enhance the arcs of previous movies; future movies could survive without it.
I won’t attempt to argue against the 83% Fresh rating that this movie has on Rotten Tomatoes, for those who agree with that site and its professional critics. There was valid reason for the movie to do well.
The visuals were stunning; with its camera-flare shots of space, the bits of computer-generated flying debris during the impressive (and inevitable) crashing scenes, and the amazing action sequences that were all captured with wonderful camera techniques, this was a movie made to be seen in IMAX.
The pacing was consistent and easy to follow, the action was kept up and everything made sense. The dialogue was made to be enjoyed, playing especially into fan-favourite comedy bits: “Dammit Jim I’m a doctor not a–”, Bones v Spock: Dawn of Sass, Spock not understanding metaphors, Spock getting high from blood loss and cracking up, etc.
Besides that, there were nice tributes to the two major cast members who had passed on: Leonard Nimoy, the original Spock, who died in February last year, and Anton Yelchin (Chekov), who passed on in June.
So there are plenty of good things about this movie. None of these things, however, penetrates beyond the superficial. It’s enjoyable if you enter a restaurant to eat a slab of white icing.
There was no significant character development in this movie. It felt like every character was either going through a superficial generalisation of what people assume their arc is, or none at all. Besides the main duo Kirk and Spock, no other character goes through any kind of memorable development.
Notably, you may have heard that in keeping with the Star Trek franchise’s history of representation, Sulu (played by John Cho) was revealed to be gay in this movie. With a cute East Asian husband and a cute little East Asian daughter, the lack of relevance of this perhaps evokes the true spirit of minority representation.
Similarly, major character Uhura (played by Zoe Saldana) seemed to have nothing to deal with emotionally except being somewhat angry at Spock. Besides her arbitrary function as Source of Jargon and the occasional audience surrogate, I suppose a minority side character could never have many hangups in the first place.
Besides this, the movie took care to give several female characters significant screen time, who I would mention, but none of which you would ever need know of if you intend to watch future Star Trek movie.
The most prominent example is the new character Jaylah (played by Sofia Boutella), who was ironically featured as the central point of the promotional posters.
Continuing the interest in minorities taking leading roles, the actress is of Algerian descent. However, Hollywood manages to maintain its roots by defaulting to the trend of casting women of colour as aliens and subsequently painting over their skin (think Zoe Saldana in Guardians of the Galaxy).
Despite all the trouble, while generally interesting and bringing some nice props in, Jaylah herself was completely irrelevant to the central conflict.
Was the point to set her up as a side character for future movies? Because you could sum up her backstory, including this movie, in one throwaway sentence, thus negating any need for her presence in this movie at all. But that could be said for literally every element of this movie, including the movie itself.
Not to limit this to only the minority characters (who are traditionally made disposable in many a Hollywood flick), the presence of this element of uselessness applies too to the white men that dominate the screen.
The conclusions to Kirk and Spock’s ‘conflicts’ were so clearly foreseeable from the first angst-ridden look that the glossing over of the journeys was probably in the movie’s best interest. Other major characters include fan-favourites Scotty and Bones, who were there mostly for the sake of being there.
Even the game changer, the one thing that could have made this movie stick despite everything else, the villain Krall (played by Idris Elba), completely failed to bring anything memorable to the movie. Although Krall was interesting enough of a villain in terms of his backstory, he failed to inspire any real fear due to the lack of explanation. There were so few hints about his identity that there was no real impact in the final reveal.
So after examining the movie, there was nothing in it that had any foreseeable lasting impact on the crew, or the world they exist in.
Despite fan’s anticipation, the destroyed beloved U.S.S. Enterprise’s was quickly replaced only to be rebuilt in a montage that lasted less than a minute, fast-forward style, at the end of the movie. There were no new discoveries, since the main conflict happened on an unpopulated planet. (Kirk and Spock decide to stay on the Enterprise. Nobody was added to the crew, nobody died except the redshirts. Spock and Uhura resume their relationship; nobody else developed any new ones.)
Perhaps this is the product of a growing trend of ensemble movies – they focus on coherence and equality of screen time rather than character arcs, and sacrifice depth for light enjoyment. It may be sacrificing the core element of what made the original show successful, but with the current tempestuous movie climate, palatability could be the way to go.
Or perhaps it’s a subtle play on Kirk’s question at the beginning of the movie about the meaning of his exploration: how each mission gets more repetitive and less meaningful, until he loses his vision altogether.
Clearly, that’s what this movie executes to perfection, so I could be spot on about this. That would play into the philosophical question of space discoveries: understanding one’s own insignificance in the cosmos, and embracing that lack of purpose. The more I think about it, the more it eerily lines up with my views on this movie. If only the issues were as easy to resolve as Kirk’s.
But hopefully, despite the more realistically lengthy learning arc that movie trends are on, major franchise movies can reach the same conclusion: a renewed sense of direction and unity, and a purpose to explore new boundaries, and go where no man has gone before.
Rating: 7/10 for general viewing, 4/10 for close viewing. A fun watch, but skipping it won’t make much of a difference.