Sunday, July 24, 2016

Bring the Noise

Last night I saw Star Trek: Beyond with my BFF, and it was exactly what I expected it to be: The Fast and the Furious in space! This is the third NuTrek flick, and I'm pretty sure we're never going to get one of these that is actually what Star Trek should be, but I'm OK with that. (Read: I've given up. Please pass the Kool-Aid.) This one's messages were the usual self-congratulatory tropes that now pass for deep insight (we're stronger together, peace is better than war, blah blah blah)—all delivered at 22 million miles per hour, as director Justin Lin slammed every kind of vehicle you can think of into high gear for pretty much the entire two hours. It also had a few touching moments that this lifelong Trekkie really appreciated. Plus the always awesome Idris Elba and a brief appearance by Shohreh Aghdashloo, who plays one of my fave characters on The Expanse. So, winning.

That is to say: Even though it's really just a very expensive piece of fanfic, this is way more fun than the previous one.

I made the mistake, however, of reading the L.A. Times's roundtable interview with Lin and (pictured above) co-stars Zoe Saldana (Uhura) and John Cho (Sulu). I say mistake because the interviewer said something so bloody stupid it made my blood boil. In this case, it was one of those moments in line with a general unfortunate tendency by writers of today to want to put down what came before in order to elevate what is now. To wit:

For all of “Star Trek’s” groundbreaking inclusion in 1966, Uhura was kind of a switchboard operator. Sulu was kind of a driver. How have you guys worked since 2009 to make more space in the story for them, to give them more agency in the story?

OK, let's address the Sulu thing first. Yeah, he was the senior helmsman, so I guess one could say he was the "driver." But he was also a command officer, third in the chain on the starship Enterprise, aka the goddamn flagship of the United Federation of Planets! He was not a chauffeur FFS. And we got some pretty good glimpses at things he was interested in outside of his job, so he was hardly just the dude wearing the cap in the front seat.

Now, Uhura. A...switchboard operator?????? What the actual fuck. Lt. Uhura of the 1960s was the chief communications officer of the aforementioned flagship. She also did science. And she took the helm and navigated when needed. So, really, Marc Bernardin? It's like you've never even actually watched TOS.

Also, agency doesn't just mean giving underrepresented characters more time on screen. The quality of that time counts too. And the thing that is not addressed here is that 1960s Uhura had more agency as a character than her NuTrek counterpart. That is improving now that J.J. Abrams has moved on, but...where original Uhura was just another bridge officer expertly doing her job (which was all on its own a huge deal), in the first film of the reboot, we find Uhura in love with Spock (Zachary Quinto). Sure, she's also a kickass chick who's fluent in all three Klingon dialects, etc. etc., but—and this is not a reflection on Saldana, who I really like in the role—most of what we see her doing on screen is fawning over Spock and worrying about him and trying to make sure he's OK. Or yelling at him for being overprotective of her. No other main character has this sort of thing going on. Spock is into her, sure, but he doesn't reciprocate in kind because he's half-Vulcan and can't be expected to have things like emotions (although frankly new Spock is much more in touch with his human side than original Spock). Original Uhura never spent any time mooning over her loverman and his pain. (That was Nurse Chapel's job, hyuck.) That Abrams chose to saddle Uhura with this romantic b.s. was typical for his storytelling style but unfortunate for the character, to say the least. And yes, I'm still mad about it two movies later.

Anyway, under Lin, Star Trek feels more, uh, energized for sure. Lots of fun banter, many incredible explosions, a fair amount of oh-mah-gawd-nooooo! moments. Really liked Sofia Boutella as Scotty's new pal, Jaylah. It was bittersweet and at times painful to see the late Anton Yelchin's swan song as Chekov, though. It felt as though he, like Saldana, got more to do this time, too, and that left me feeling a bit more sad.

In conclusion, Beyond had a couple of little surprises but was mostly totally predictable, and yet that didn't stop it from being an exciting ride. I spent a fair amount of time laughing out loud at the ridiculousness of it all...but mostly laughing with it. So go—boldly.

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