Today’s song: well, I’m
writing a review of a Star Trek movie, what do you expect
?

So, last night I finally
got around to watching the new Star Trek movie, Beyond. And it prompted me to
write this review. Especially because of the writing, because the acting was
quite good, the special effects were, well, special, and the science was
non-existent, but that’s about par for the course, I don’t watch Star Trek for the
scientific credibility. (If you do, please get out of this blog as it’s likely to offend you.)

So, what’s with the
writing?

It was spectacularly bad.
And it was, above all, spectacularly failing to be Star Trek.

The ”spectacularly bad”
is quickly recapped, and I don’t think there’s even going to be any spoilers
in here. The action sequences were far too long, and failed completely to move
the plot in any direction at all. The first big action sequence introduced the
antagonist after about three minutes, and then went on for another fifteen
minutes just to get the Enterprise crew down onto the planet, while I was yawning
and wishing they’d get on with the movie.

This was a common feature
of the action scenes. They went nowhere in particular, and took forever to get
there. When they drag on for so long that you can figure out how they’re going
to end, they’re too long. The viewer (or, when you’re writing, the reader)
should never be allowed to get ahead of the plot; that way lies boredom. It’s
important to keep in mind even if you’re writing an emotional drama, but when
it happens in a thriller, you’re failing the one basic requirement. (Hint: it’s
in the name of the genre.)

And then there was the
antagonist. Oh wow, the antagonist. It started out so incredibly promising. An
alien with a grudge against the Federation.

This could be Star Trek
at its finest. This could be, say, an alien race that had joined the
Federation, which had destroyed their ancient way of living. The Federation
acting, from a certain point of view, like the Borg, assimilating everything in
its way to turn in into identical copies of itself. The antagonist could parade
some ancient values, have some very legitimate grievances. And Kirk and Spock,
or better still Uhura, could explain why they were not the Borg (without
actually mentioning them, of course, this is before Picard, after all), how
individual freedom can sometimes lead to changes, but we can never judge those
changes without judging the people who thought a different way of living was
actually better than the old, how the filter of nostalgia will lead us to forget everything that was bad about the old ways, how freedom of choice must mean that we accept
that choice, even if we disagree, and generally win the day on moral arguments alone.

Did you notice how
extremely well this fits with a narrative of the modern world? How Star Trek, in
the best Star Trek tradition, explains why progress is a good thing, overall,
even if something is sometimes lost along the way? And yes, how this is not
even a defense, but a celebration of the modern and the liberal over the
ancient and the tribal? And how right-wing populists all over the world would burst
just as many veins as they did when Shatner and Nimoy had black female officers
and Russian officers on the bridge and celebrated peace in the future on TV while
the Vietnam war and the Cold war went on in reality?

Alternatively, they could
see it as a grand tragedy. I’m with the Federation, I don’t really care much
how Trump or Farage see it.

But noooo. The antagonist
hates the Federation because he was shipwrecked and couldn’t manage to get an
SOS through because there was a nebula in the way. He hates the Federation
because the radio broke. In essence, the antagonist is bad because antagonists
are bad. He’s not even right in his own, distorted view of the world, he’s just
gone nuts. The cheapest, laziest and most profoundly uninteresting antagonist you
can think of if you sit down and deliberately try.

Don’t do that. Your antagonist is every bit as important as the protagonist. The antagonist needs to be cunning, skillful, and, from his own perspective, the protagonist of a tragedy. The protagonist will need to win the day by being morally superior, and maybe smarter. If your protagonist is only able to win over incompetent idiots by being better than them at fighting, all you have is a piece of rather inferior, morally questionable violence.