It’s About The Theme, Stupid

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Over the past two weeks I’ve seen two movies.  STAR TREK: BEYOND and last night SUICIDE SQUAD.  I only went to see the Trek film because I had been asked to do an interview about it.  I had been actively looking forward to Suicide Squad.  My reactions to both were polar opposites of what I expected.

NOW THERE ARE GOING TO BE SPOILERS!!!!!!!  YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED

I ended up enjoying Beyond far more than I expected, (I kept murmuring to myself, “why oh why couldn’t we have had some humor and charm in Next Generation?” while I was watching, but I digress.  It wasn’t until I sat down for the interview that I realized why it worked.  And it all comes back to something that I write about with great regularity — Simon Pegg who penned the script, had an actual theme. 

Kirk in the opening is a man who is finding his role as captain of the Enterprise confining.  It’s routine missions, patrols.  Nothing very exciting is occurring.  He chafes in the harness.

Krall is a former Star Fleet officer who had led men into battle against alien threats.  When the Federation was formed and forged peace with many of these former adversaries Krall was furious and disgusted.  He viewed the peace as a betrayal of the men and women who had fought.  Then his ship gets stranded, Star Fleet doesn’t send help and his bitterness becomes rage.

Of course in his own mind he is the hero of the piece.  Krall is a man trying to make it clear that human kind can only advance through conflict, war, loss, and ultimately military victory.  He leads the assault on the space station partly for vengeance, and mostly to shock the humans out of their complacency.  He does not believe that through unity there is strength.

Krall is the cautionary tale for James T. Kirk.  During the course of the film Kirk realizes that his chafing at the confines of the Federation could lead him to the same place as Krall.  He accepts that his duty is to his crew.  It is in this movie that his full maturation occurs.  He was a callow, cocky man in the first film.  The second film — well, lets just pretend that one didn’t happen.  In Beyond Kirk becomes a man and a leader.

There is a wonderful visual moment at the end of Beyond when Krall sees his reflection in a shard of glass and realizes he has become a monster.  Which led to one of the major missteps for me in the film.  If this had been classic Trek Krall would have recovered his identity as Captain Edison and helped Kirk save the station.  Instead he continued to fight.  I actually viewed the final fight through that lens and assumed he had helped Kirk, but apparently that was me reading into the moment.

There were silly little things in the movie that bugged me.  How is it that Krall and his remaining crew forgot where they parked their ship?  Why didn’t anybody stop by now and then and check on the old bucket?  How did they learn that the missing part of the alien bio-weapon was aboard the Enterprise?  And who flies around with a motorcycle parked on the bridge?  But again, those are nits.  What worked was there was a narrative that had subtext, dealt with larger issues and didn’t beat me over the head with The Message.  (I couldn’t help but feel the script was a direct rebuke of Trumpism, but of course that is serendipity.)

And then there is Suicide Squad.  *sigh* I have no idea what this movie was trying to say.  That the only way you accomplish anything is to be a stone cold killer?  Even our supposed good guy Amanda Waller portrayed by Viola Davis (who made a heroic effort to salvage this film) is a murderous psycho.

Will Smith also gave it his best to inject some humor and honest emotion into the movie, but it fell flat.

When a movie has to spend the first, at least, thirty minutes doing a “let’s look at the files and give you the backstory” to introduce the characters you’re in trouble.  Truthfully it felt like an hour had passed while Waller briefed government guys.  When Rick Flag was introduced I thought he was going to be the tough but compassionate commander who brings them all together.  At last, I thought, this will become the Dirty Dozen.  Instead he had all the personality of a wet dish rag.  I can’t fault the actor.  He literally had nothing to work with. 

The story was an incoherent mess.  Was the Joker the villain?  The Enchantress?  Granted she was building a big unexplained argle, bargle, gazpacho (hat tip to Jim Wright Stonekettle Station for this wonderful turn of phrase) machine to destroy all the humans.  Because they no longer worshiped her and her brother?  Hey, honey, if you kill all the humans then there’s no one at all left to worship you.  Tiny flaw in your plan.

If I’m incredibly generous I could say the theme of the film was people acting out of love.  Deadshot out of love for his daughter.  Flag for the archeologist.  Joker for Harley Quinn, El Diablo trying to expiate his sin for not loving his family enough or the right way.  But man am I being generous.