It’s About The Theme, Stupid

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.


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.

18 Responses to It’s About The Theme, Stupid

  • Melinda Snodgrass says:

    And before anybody gets offended. I use stupid in the free floating sense. As in “It’s the economy, stupid.” I’m not calling anybody in particular stupid.

  • Mark Simon says:

    I haven’t seen Suicide Squad and may only see it when it comes to Netflix. I am glad you are posting about the Theme and look forward to the application of the Theme in the Wild Cards series (one of many reasons I am looking forward to the Wild Cards!)

    I also like the homage to Jim Wright with the “argle bargle gazpacho”.

  • I agree with you completely on “Beyond.” Nicely said, thank you, ma’am.

    I was irked at Suicide Squad, more than let down. (I expected bad, and wasn’t disappointed.) I thought that the complete removal of the Joker and shrinking of the team would have helped it, but actually saving would have required a different plot.

    I completely fail to understand why this movie happened *now.* It should have been seven or eight years from now, and contained villains from the various interim DC movies.

    I’m just glad that the DCEU has been placed in the care of Geoff Johns, who runs the CW-DC-verse. I think that he’ll push things in the direction that they really need to go; away from grim and gritty, into hopeful and optimistic.

  • rand says:

    Star Trek: Beyond” disappointed me in many ways. There are very few if any black people, besides Uhura, depicted in the ST universe. No black males in prominent positions until this film. & to finally portray 1 as a dehumanized monster who, having transformed himself by choice, blindly rages against those he perceived as betraying him, without understanding his plight or allowing him to evolve, was very painful to watch. For a lifelong Trekker particularly. The drive of the narrative made the case this man had no reason to be angry & actually had the tools to save himself (but didn’t have the smarts to know the location of his own ship), but chose instead to allow his rage to overtake his reasoning.

    & once again, the reduction of Uhura to having to be rescued by her boyfriend, which, in her relationship with Spock, seems to be her only reason for being, was not very Star Trek or progressive, either.

    As for the theme, it’s merely another variation on the fight against revenge of the last 2 movies & the cores of ST: 2 & 6. Also, while the effect set pieces were beautiful, the pace of the movie was more suited for Lin’s other projects. Instead of all of the fighting & destruction, more character development would have been appreciated.

    It’s my hope, someday, someone will create a Sci Fi franchise that really depicts a positive, inclusive future where everyone is portrayed with respect & fairness. (HINT! LOL)

    • Melinda Snodgrass says:

      Those are very fair knocks on ST: Beyond. The theme did buried under the weight of some of the action. I guess they thought having kick ass girl would take some of the heat off of Spock riding to the rescue despite his guts falling out. I took it as more of him realizing he’s not going to go off to New Vulcan and “swim up stream”, that Uhura was important to him.

  • Marsha_R says:

    I think we need to remember at least the first bits of that second movie, where Kirk found out that no, he really couldn’t go off on a joyride in Enterprise without consequences. Getting busted for that hurt and he learned from it. We can skip the middle if you like, but I think that’s where Jim started to get his head on straight.

    The first time I saw Beyond, I thought Krall was helping at the end too. The third time I figured out that he wasn’t really.

    • Melinda Snodgrass says:

      I was sure he was helping too. Probably because that’s what I wanted to happen and it was a little unclear from the action. Missed opportunity.

      • Jawallaby says:

        I thought it was a little of both. That maybe he knew he should help but was too far gone to make it back enough to stop fighting. I thought that was part of the point; that it’s possible to cross a line there is no returning from.

        • And that choice would have changed how I saw this movie. I probably still would not have liked it, but the unrepentant supervillian actions of the antagonist definitely hurt it for me.

          I wish I could say I picked up on the connection you saw between Kirk and Krall. I am going to see this again, that is a given, and you gave me a lot to watch for when I do. But while I know you just spoke to not wanting things spelled out, I think a moment of “My God, Bones, is this where my bitterness could have led!” would have tied the internal and external conflicts together. A big criticism I am seeing from many people who do review blogs is that they don’t see any connection between the internal and external conflicts, and until you pointed it out, I was in that school of thought as well.

          Now I’m thinking, a little more polish to the script and this could have been great! 🙂

          • Melinda Snodgrass says:

            “My God, Bones, is this where my bitterness could have led!” Little too “on the nose” as we say in Hollywood. I do think it could have been highlighted a bit better. But it was all there. Just as in Thor it’s all about the relationship between fathers and sons. It’s so elegantly handled in that money. I use Thor when I’m teaching and discussing theme.

    • rand says:

      But in ST:ID Kirk was still rewarded by getting command of the Enterprise. He was never actually punished for violating the PD on Nibiru. He just got the ship back due to the death of Christopher Pike. In fact, that type of recklessness played right into the hands of Admiral Markus, who used him to incite the Klingons by sending the Enterprise to retrieve Khan. IMHO, Kirk has yet to be made punitively responsible for his behavior. Instead, he’s constantly rewarded (again, like the 1st movie where Pike was kidnapped) with the Enterprise because of actions engendered by (plot) twists of fate.

  • (Spoiler comment) In defense of Suicide Squad, which I did not expect to enjoy but did, the movie came together for me when the “heroes” realize everyone expects them to fail and they are given the option to walk away (realistically, once Wonder Woman got back from Mars or whatever the “good guys” were up to, the ridiculous end of the world plan still would have been averted, so walking away was a valid option for this group, I think they would have seen the sun rise either way, but maybe I am reading into it)

    In any case, the choice they make to come together and try again even though it’s just for self respect and pride, and even though they have every reason to think their attempt will fail, speaks of the human tenacity even in the worst of us. Sure, it’s an overdone theme with superheroes, especially Spider-man, but when it’s the villains making this choice, I think it adds a fresh coat of paint to the idea. It was enough for me to forgive it its sins.

  • Darynda Jones says:

    I love this, Melinda, thank you!

  • Haven’t seen Suicide Squad yet, but I note a couple of interesting things: 1) I read an interview with Jared Leto where he seemed bewildered because what was onscreen was not the movie he thought he was in. 2) The director’s cut (to be released in Jan, I believe) is reported to be more than a half hour longer than the theatrical release. The restored footage is suggested to be mostly scenes with the Joker in them.

    Perhaps, in the Director’s Cut, we’ll get a chance to see what David Ayer intended the movie to be. …and perhaps it will actually be a movie worth seeing.

    Not holding my breath though, so I’ll be sure to have plenty of popcorn to throw at the screen 😀

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