Wil Wheaton disliked it, too


I saw Star Trek Beyond. So did Wil Wheaton. I detested it and was considering walking out halfway through it…and I should have, because it got worse and worse as it progressed, rather than improving. Wheaton also disliked it, and has a long list of reasons why. I agree with every one, but I have to add another one, and it’s also one of the reasons Star Trek Into Darkness was so bad.

This is a story about a far future civilization that spans a large chunk of galaxy, that has ships that travel faster than light, with immensely powerful weapons like phasers and photon torpedos. They are deciding the fate of entire worlds.

And they always end up resolving everything with…fist fights. Men and aliens punching each other. Often these fist fights take place in absurdly improbable architecture, or at ridiculous altitudes or on machines moving at deadly velocities. Galactic conflicts and the survival of interplanetary civilizations are all settled with two guys in a slap fight on the equivalent of a 3-D platform video game. It totally deflates the scope of the story.

Superhero movies have become little more than exercises in urban demolition. Star Trek movies seem to have settled into the rut of having star ship captains hammering out their disagreements with a couple of bare-knuckle brawls.


  1. Jake Harban says

    In the future, our conflict resolution will have improved markedly. Instead of raising huge armies to try and destroy any civilization we declare an “other” we simply name a champion, have them do same, and let the two champions fight to decide the outcome of what would otherwise be a war.

    Sure, we’re still “resolving” conflicts with violence, but it’s still an improvement— your odds of dying in a conflict are now basically zero as long as you belong to a privileged demographic. We’re still working on clothing-color-based prejudice though. #redshirtsmatter

  2. says

    Starship captains resolving everything with fist fights? I kind of want to see a Wuxia Space Opera now (to the extent that Star Wars already isn’t that, I mean).

  3. taraskan says

    To be fair, Kirk never shied away from a fist fight. The thing is it was always just one possible form of resolution. Traditionally he was but one part of a trio, where Spock (Head) and Bones (Heart) kept Kirk balanced as he dealt with problems. This dynamic doesn’t exist in the new films, where even Spock punches people and Bones is underused self-parody. In the past entire episodes (and even films) revolved around these other characters, but in the reboots they are minor jesters. They’re essentially paying Karl Urban millions of dollars to show up in an itchy shirt.

    But nobody who hasn’t been living under a rock should expect anything from these reboots. They’re just awful piles of crap, and they won’t be getting my money.

    It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, since at its heart Star Trek is about politics, and in the 21st century that means fist fights.

    The studios employ focus groups and are willing to do reshoots depending on the results they get. This is what they’re getting. So you can’t put all the blame on Hollywood machinery, bloated and useless as it is.

  4. whheydt says

    If you want wars resolved with vast fleets of heavily armed spacecraft and immensely powerful weapons, try E. E. “Doc” Smith. In one series, he destroyed a planet by hitting with another traveling about 15 times C, with another such planet turning the system star into a supernova just to make sure. In another, the protagonists destroyed two galaxies while using a third for a safe haven for the humans living in the one where they wanted to eliminate their enemies. Smith did tend to think big and had to top himself from one book to the next.

  5. Demeisen says

    Even if you don’t count the fist fights, the way Star Trek portrays their conflict resolution is almost comical. I don’t mean that they fight wars, as almost any civilization will encounter edge scenarios which can’t be resolved solely by peaceful means. What’s absurd is the idea that FTL-capable powers would fight their wars by way of ships crewed by slow, delicate bags of meat: It’s laughable to think that biologicals would remain relevant in a tactical sense within any civilization with the technology demonstrated by the various Star Trek races. Actual engagements would be best fought by faster and more durable machine intelligences, with the extra energy and payload resources used for life-support and anti-inertial systems reinvested into shielding, propulsion, and weapons instead.

  6. karpad says

    Is your problem with the fist fighting that they don’t do it by interlacing their fingers, slamming double fists into their foe’s stomach, and then striking their head with the double fist to finish them?

    because it’s established in universe that this is a nigh-unstoppable combat technique perfected by the Federation, and allows even mere science officers to best Jem Hadar shock troops.

  7. Vivec says

    Meh, I’m not a hard sci-fi fan, so I kinda like me some “Spaceships are just boats in space” sci-fi battles and punching.

    That being said, this movie was pretty bland. It kinda came off like a Star Trek Checklist. Like, if someone made a list of things you had to do to make a generic sci-fi plot tie in with Star Trek, this movie would be it.

    (This is pretty much my review of every movie in this reboot series, by the way. The most blatant example that comes to mind was the obligatory tribble in Into Darkness. )

  8. dogfightwithdogma says

    The fist-fighting as a means of resolving conflict is just a symptom of the much deeper problem with the new Star Trek franchise: the near complete abandonment of Gene Roddenberry’s vision.

  9. microraptor says

    To be fair to the new Star Trek movie franchise, a lot of the original movies sucked too.

  10. Nemo says

    I’ve been skipping the J.J. Abrams Trekverse, and I guess I’ll continue. But I’d been hoping for better with this one, since I heard it was written by Simon Pegg.

  11. Michael says

    The thing that really bothered me was the reveal of the villains backstory. When we find out that he was originally a human(oid) captain, who felt abandoned when no one replied to his distress call, but found a way to stay alive for hundreds of years, I gave up on the movie. Aside from being a disappointing back story, it opened up a ton of unanswered questions:
    – where did he get all his ships from? I assume not from the alien tech on the planet, since he could have rescued himself if there were spare ships there.
    – where did he get his army from? Are they his descendants?
    – how did he get enough victims to stay alive long enough to capture others? There were only a couple of survivors. Kind of hard to reproduce and kill people to stay alive.
    – why did he stay in the nebula once he had his fleet? Just wanted to wait until he had a big enough target for revenge?
    – how did the ships overcome shields?

  12. Athywren - not the moon you're looking for says

    I actually really enjoyed this – thought it was a beautiful return to Star Trek form!
    Mind you, I am comparing it against Into Darkness… so….

  13. Athywren - not the moon you're looking for says

    (Although I will admit that I preferred the Dune approach to sound as a weapon, even if that wasn’t in the source material.)
    “Sabataage sabataage saabbaattaaaaggee ssaaabbbaaatttaaaaaagggeee BOOM!”
    “….my jam is a killing word!”

  14. latsot says

    Throughout the first half of the movie I was cautiously optimistic because at least: a) it wasn’t as bad as the previous one and b) did not contain Benedict Cumberbatch. I know everyone else in the world loves him but history will reveal he is the second worst actor in the world, after Orlando Bloom.

    So it was going better than expected, if not great…. until the damseling happened. This amazing woman who has survived against all the odds for years suddenly becomes someone for Kirk to rescue the instant he turns up. How much better would it have been if SHE’D been the one to rescue HIM? At the very least it would have made the plastered-on-with-a-JCB morality tale more convincing.

    I’ll have to watch it again sometime to make sure, but was Uhura even *mentioned* outside the context of her relationship with Spock?

  15. says

    I don’t resolve my problems with fist fights like Kirk. But like Kirk I do sashay around with one shoulder of my shirt ripped in a provocative manner.

  16. unclefrogy says

    when J.J. destroyed Vulcan as if it was nothing I lost all interest in what ever they might do with the visuals there was no longer a federation which was the heart of Roddenberry’s story.
    just another sci-fi western with white hat and black hats and a big showdown is all they know
    uncle frogy

  17. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    Into Drunkness is a pretty low bar to clear, but Beyond exemplified its name and went far (above and) beyond that bar.
    Yeah the ST story was so ST it sukked, but the interaction between the main cast harkened back to its TOS roots.
    ST was all about the bridge crew squabbling over how to address the weekly crisis. The crisis story itself was only motivation for the squabbles and should be examined to closely.
    Drunkness violated all physics, even ST Physics with “maaaagic”.
    It somewhat redeemed its silly story with all the gentle memorials to Nimoy (LLAP :-( ).

  18. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    And the Uhura thing:
    yes they reduced her to Spock’s girlfriend who dumps him, who he then stalks. Better than TOS, where she was just Communcations officer relaying Kirks word’s to space or pushing buttons, saying “no responses”.
    Making her a Spock “love interest” was kinda yuk, but …
    They could’ve (should’ve) given her a much better role in the story, than a plot device to embarrass Spock (you know that’s a tracker right?, says McCoy to Spock to which Spock startles/shrugs).
    still, I thought it better than JJ attempt at turning her into the kickass heroine, rescuing Spock in Drunkness
    Regardless, I for one liked Beyond, hated Into Darkness *mic drop*

  19. Snarki, child of Loki says

    The “Star Trek” era (28th century?) seems to have forgotten some useful technology.

    Like circuit breakers in their control panels.

  20. lotharloo says

    This is a story about a far future civilization that spans a large chunk of galaxy, that has ships that travel faster than light, with immensely powerful weapons like phasers and photon torpedos. They are deciding the fate of entire worlds.,

    It’s pretty difficult to find a sci-fi movie where this does not apply … let’s see:

    Matrix: A story about a computer simulation made by robots and computers where the machines dictate all the rules and use powerful programs to perform mindbogglingly complex operations such as morphing random people into their agents … yet the faith of the world needs to be decided with fist fights.

    Any starwar movie: A story about a powerful civilization equipped with time travel, weapons capable of destroying entire planets but the most important form of combat is … sword fight!

  21. markgisleson says

    Growing up we all wanted more science fiction movies but the “suits” wouldn’t give them to us. So we grew up and became the suits and now that’s the only movies we get but they suck because suits have no soul and are not driven by visions of the future. They reduce movie making to a formula, investing in special effects to reap a box office bonanza.

    When money people rule your universe, this is what you get: crappy movies not worth watching.

  22. Le Chifforobe says

    #25 nailed it.
    I think that Beyond has pushed me to give up on Star Trek movies. If I wanted a twisty, turny rollercoaster with no real story, the amusement park is open at least until Labor Day.

  23. Pierce R. Butler says

    slithey tove … @ # 21: ST was all about the bridge crew squabbling over how to address the weekly crisis.

    You mean I’m not the only one who saw the Enterprise control deck as a family room where everybody gathered around Daddy to watch the big-screen tv?

  24. Zmidponk says

    Ever since I saw the first one, I’ve been of the opinion that the Abramsverse Trek movies aren’t really Star Trek movies. They had their flaws, but the previous Star Trek series and films always had a bit more thought and depth to them than your typical action movie, but the Abrams ones are just that – action movies in a sci-fi setting, suffering from a major case of lensflareitis. I’ve not actually seen the third one yet, but, from what’s posted here, it follows the trend, in that regard, of the first two.

  25. anchor says

    @#25markisleson: Bingo.
    When the imbeciles who refer to ‘science fiction’ as ‘sci-fi’ took over, they transformed the genre into crap.

    However, that very problem was already well-seated when Roddenberry promoted the genre for television. Not his fault – he simply wished to popularize it. The suits in the TV industry turned his vision into puke.

    In spite of many who have been favorably inspired, the post WWII printed genre itself had reached a golden age and got clobbered. It took quite a bit of effort for it to recover partially – writers still say it never has or can completely. Not as an exploration of the arena of potential worlds and cultures that classical science fiction once enjoyed playing out with fantastic abandon.

    One thing is certain: with very few exceptions, every decent written science fiction concept ever taken up (or stolen) by thrifty TV or filmmakers has been turned into profit-making schlock.

    The result? Today, you will not find many in the audience who can distinguish the difference between crap delivered from cartoon comic books, appallingly idiotic (however popular) fantasy excursions into zombie and wizardly ways, tediously unimaginative gamester universes that tap into killing the pests (the bad guys), or what they have been habituated to recognize as “sci-fi” – and what SCIENCE FICTION used to be as an authentic genre that attempted to intelligently explore alternative worlds and cultures.

    All that valuable promise got thrown out.

    And we’re talking about how THIS version of Star Trek sucks more than others??? Feh.

  26. Steve Caldwell says

    anchor wrote:

    One thing is certain: with very few exceptions, every decent written science fiction concept ever taken up (or stolen) by thrifty TV or filmmakers has been turned into profit-making schlock.

    I was pleasantly impressed with the “The Expanse” series on SyFy last fall.

    After watching the first season, I went out and read the novels and shorter works that cover that fictional universe. I will be interested to see how the rest of the adaptation goes.

    The first season so far does a good job of exploring both classism and imperialism where Earth and the Mars colony are metaphors for the first-world nations and the asteroid belt and colonies on the outer planet moons are third world nations that are exploited by Earth and Mars.

    In addition to the “space opera” stuff, there is also a future version of the 1940s hard-boiled and jaded police detective in the story.

  27. emergence says

    I don’t get the complaint about fist fights. As a means of defending yourself, hand-to-hand combat is probably never going to go away. Hell, people still fight with their bare fists today even though we have access to ballistic missiles, drones, and fighter jets. No matter how far we advance technologically, we’re still probably going to fight unarmed occasionally because we’re likely going to always have arms and legs. Besides, these sorts of fights tend to be smaller in scope, more personal, and less likely to have collateral damage.

    I think that the best way to avoid the whole “fate of the world rests in a round of bare-knuckle boxing” thing would be to just have the smaller-scale fights as occasional obstacles on the way to the huge conflicts that actually decide the fate of millions of people.

    My biggest problem with Beyond was that the villain’s motivations felt weak. Besides a feeling of abandonment, his other main motivation was that he was a warmonger who believed in conflict for the sake of conflict.

    As far as the rest of the film goes, I think that the Sabotage scene was actually pretty funny.

  28. says

    Since this is about films, I’ll link to a scene from Ken Loach’s Tierra y Libertad (in Spanish – needs subtitles). Democracy and human (and non-human) rights could just as easily characterize the distant future. The justification for showing undemocratic dystopian scenarios should be to awaken people to the dangers of not fighting for democracy in the present, not to naturalize rule by force in the future.

  29. says

    How often does the captain of the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise get into hand-to-hand combat with the leader of enemy forces?

  30. Rob Grigjanis says

    I want Babylon 6 with Commander Susan Ivanova. She wouldn’t get into fist fights, but you know she could.

  31. microraptor says

    @33: How often to aircraft carriers close in to within visual range of their targets? Nothing about combat in Star Trek has ever been realistic.

  32. ohkay says

    “…the rut of having star ship captains hammering out their disagreements with a couple of bare-knuckle brawls.”

    Reminds me of what Dustin Hoffman said about the overuse of guns in films — ‘There’s nothing interesting about guns.’

    “Directors are often guilty of using violent scenes to bolster a plot because “the script is lacking”. Hoffman complained that a gun was “rarely used in film in a way that it feels like in life,” adding: “It’s simplified into being a cartoon experience.”

  33. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    To slithey tove in 22

    yes they reduced her to Spock’s girlfriend who dumps him, who he then stalks. Better than TOS, where she was just Communcations officer relaying Kirks word’s to space or pushing buttons, saying “no responses”.

    What? No. Absolutely not.

    If you’re going to do an honest critique, you need to take into the context in which it was made. The original series may be shit now, but to dismiss it like that .. no.

    The original Star Trek series was set at the end of Jim Crow in the United States. In this show, she may have been a mere token character, and the miniskirts are appaling by a decent feminist critique, but in terms of race relations, it was way ahead of its time, and arguably even in terms of feminist critique, it was a positive improvement. Here is this black woman, on the bridge, as an officer, an equal, third in line to command of the ship, treated with respect, and treated as an equal. It’s part of Roddenberry’s vision of a better future.

    Just as one example, the Kirk Uraha kiss was the first white-black kiss on American television.

    At one point, Nichelle Nichols wanted to quit, but Martin Luther King Jr talked her out of it, precisely because of the things that I named above. It was a huge step forward for television of that time in America.

    Uhara of the original series was not a character. She was not written as a character. She’s a plot device, to show the better race relations of the future, and also to show that women can be equals in the future. Don’t judge the original Uraha as a character, because that’s not what she is intended to be.

    It’s pretty difficult to find a sci-fi movie where this does not apply … let’s see:

    Some of the original Star Trek movies did it. Of course, there was still fist fighting, but I felt they were better on average. Off the top of my head:

    Star Trek 1. IIRC, no fist fights at all. Everything is solved by talking.

    Star Trek 2. There’s some fist fighting, but in the end of the day, they win through outwitting Kahn: By tricking Kahn via a coded message, by hacking Kahn’s ship to lower its shields during the fight, and by the “Kahn does’t think in 3d” out-maneuver.

    Star Trek 3. Too bad they didn’t make a #3.

    Star Trek 4. Comedy.

    Star Trek 5. Ugg.

    Star Trek 6. The climax of the film was solved through science!, with some of my favorite dialog in all of the Star Trek universe.

    SPOCK: Gas. …Gas, Captain. Under impulse power she expends fuel like any other vessel. We call it ‘plasma’ but whatever the Klingon designation is, it is merely ionised gas.
    UHURA: Well, what about all that equipment we’re carrying to catalogue gaseous anomalies? …Well, the thing’s got to have a tail pipe.
    SPOCK: Doctor, would you care to assist me in performing surgery on a torpedo?
    McCOY: Fascinating!
    (the ship is hit again)
    KIRK: Hard to starboard!

    And earlier they quote Sherlock Holmes to solve another problem, which is part of my other favorite parts of the entire Star Trek franchise; “If you elimate the impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth”.

    There was even some minor motivations IMO to paint the Klingons like the soviets, as an misunderstood enemy, who feels threatened and trapped, and who is responding with a degree of reason and rationality to the hostility of Star Fleet and The Federation, and it shows some of the warmongers in the Federation, and tries to explain how they’re wrong.

    I will always love this movie.

    And this is probably about the point where I stopped caring about Star Trek movies.


    And we’re talking about how THIS version of Star Trek sucks more than others??? Feh.


    The original Star Trek stays quite true to those Star Trek roots IMHO, and TNG does as well, and Voyager to some extent. They commented frequently on sensitive political issues like racism, sexism, classism, xenophobia, LGBT (even if the episode was so so bad), etc. They also intelligently discuss other interesting concepts, like what amount of moral rights should we give to non-human and artificial intelligences, i.e. Data and The Doctor. Given the context of what they had to work with, the earlier Star Trek shows and movies were often excellent and faithful continuations of the science fiction genre.

  34. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    The original series may be shit now, but to dismiss it like that .. no.

    Correction: I meant to say that Uraha, and the depiction of women in general in the TOS, is really bad by today’s standards, but arguably Uraha in particular was a marked improvement, as I described above.

    I really like the show.

  35. Azkyroth, B*Cos[F(u)]==Y says

    This amazing woman who has survived against all the odds for years suddenly

    …holds her own in a fight against a trained soldier with decades-if-not-centuries of experience and significant physical enhancement, and ultimately uses an opportunity Kirk happens to help present to defeat him with “outside the box” tactics and simultaneously avenge her loved ones that he killed while efficiently getting herself back to the task of getting the hell off this rock.

    I feel like “damsel in distress” is a stretch here.

  36. rorschach says

    Dislike and reject the Abrams pseudo-Star Trek franchise. Commercial sensationalist “try to attract a wide audience” bullcrap that has abandoned the Trek canon, and in fact negates it.
    The actors can be congratulated for making the best out of a terrible script. But casting Cumberbatch as Khan was the last nail in the coffin of this trainwreck.
    Not watching, not even getting the torrent. Just totally not interested.
    The new TV series, I might take a look at.

  37. mailliw says

    The main theme was a Brit rebelling against the “Federation” so I suppose it was kind of topical.

  38. emergence says

    PZ @33

    I’ll give you that. What about my suggestion that if one of these movies has martial arts battles, they’re just side-obstacles encountered by the frontline troops instead of being the big events that decide the outcome of the story? Then again, maybe action movies taking place in outer space should just take advantage of the setting and avoid too much direct fighting between people.

    Another solution, one that might actually make for more compelling plots in science fiction action movies, is to have a setting and plot where smaller-scale fights make some amount of sense. You’ve complained before about action movies having plots and battles that are too huge and apocalyptic to be compelling on an interpersonal level. How about a science fiction movie where the stakes are on a smaller scale than the fate of millions of people, and any fighting that takes place carries personal emotional weight between the combatants?

  39. says

    I also agree with many of the points Will Weaton made like it was “fast & furious” in space although I liked the Sabotage scene because I like the song and the Beastie Boys video for the song.

    My main problem with the film was it sure showed a lot of detail of people being killed yet made only a cursory response to all those lives lost. It was just like in Man of Steel where the destruction and deaths of thousands of people were a mere prop to advance a plot.

    However the point made here complaining about the fist fights, I remember quite a few episodes of TOS through Enterprise where fist fights were the climax of many plots. Usually in the earlier series it was because it was cheaper than showing a space ship fight and as a dramatic device it is still one way of resolving a story.

  40. DanDare says

    Errand of Mercy where Kirk tries to save the Organians from the Klingons had all the elements I like about Star Trek. All sorely missing from the new movies.

  41. johnhodges says

    On a tangent, perhaps…. I recently watched the DVD’s of seasons 1 and 2 of “Bitten”, a story about the tribulations of one particular werewolf pack. I noticed that even though they were fighting life-and-death battles, with life or death in the balance for many people beyond themselves, they never fought with weapons other than their bodies, clubs, or knives. Usually unarmed. One character used a pistol, but he was a human serial killer for 20 years before being bitten. This might be defended as a byproduct of lycanthropy… werewolves just don’t think in terms of fighting with weapons. Also… Watching the DVD’s of “Xena: Warrior Princess” (SPOILER WARNING) was spoiled for me when I noticed that even though fights often included swordsmen, the swords never did anything but clash against each other. No one was ever cut or impaled; never a drop of blood spilled. The fights were always decided by kicks, punches, and blunt instruments. So… This focus on fistfights you see in Star Trek may be pervasive in fantasy cinema.

  42. devnll says

    I just couldn’t get past the “Oh woes is us! We’ve been stranded for centuries a 5 minute stroll from the largest starbase in history, only with a fleet of working spaceships” premise. What? You never thought about just popping over and asking to borrow a cup of sugar? And the snow globe construction crews didn’t even think of using the massive super-dense asteroid field floating _just there_ as a source of raw materials?

    On the other hand, I don’t see how Wheaton can complain about them destroying the Enterprise. How would you even know it was a Star Trek movie if they didn’t?

  43. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Xena: Warrior Princess
    So… This focus on fistfights you see in Star Trek may be pervasive in fantasy cinema.

    I believe that for Xena, it’s a result of trying to be like the show’s precursor, the Kevin Sorbo Hercules show, and both seemed to be aiming for a family friendly vibe, and hence no actual bloodshed. When Hercules punches someone out, it’s ok, because it’s just “non-lethal”, and they’ll totally get perfectly better in about a day, because that’s how being knocked out works (/sarcasm).

    I don’t know how much that extends to other works of television or movie fiction, but I can definitely explain this one as particular circumstances.

    I also imagine that doing fisticuffs is simply cheaper production compared to sword cuts and fake blood.

    PS: I liked Hercules with Kevin Sorbo, and I still do, in spite of my particular disdain of the actor Kevin Sorbo as a person. It was campy, feel-good, fun.

  44. microraptor says

    EnlightenmentLiberal @48:

    I don’t know how much that extends to other works of television or movie fiction, but I can definitely explain this one as particular circumstances.

    Yeah, that’s pretty common. Limiting on-screen violence against humans and human-like characters to punching and kicking or futuristic laser weaponry that fire beams that either render the target unconscious or cause them to instantly vanish in a burst of light is considered more family friendly than realistic sword or gunshot injuries. It keeps the censors happy. Now, against obviously inhuman foes like bug monsters or robots, bets are off.