The Frontier Strikes Back
(Minor spoilers? Probably not.) I made my peace with the newest Star Trek movies long ago. They're decent action movies, but not the Star Trek that I got hooked on.
This is fine.
I enjoyed the newest installment, Star Trek Beyond more than the last one- which means that if you count Galaxy Quest as an honorary Star Trek movie (and I do), then the even-odd rule still applies.[ref]Even numbered movies are good, odd-numbered ones are bad. By my count, Beyond is 14.[/ref] More than the others, there seemed to be an idea behind the story, which informed everything about the characters and the plot.
Specifically, this was the crew losing their sense of purpose several years into their mission, and the building tension driving them apart. In order to overcome adversity, Kirk and co. needed to learn to work as a team again (although apparently no one besides the main bridge crew is needed to defeat the bad guys.)
There's a distinction drawn between Kirk and Krall, too. Kirk's crew is made of distinct individuals, while Krall's crew are a swarm of drones.[ref]Apparently the human-looking dudes carrying guns that board the Enterprise are all robots.[/ref] The villain is a cautionary tale of what happens when someone stays out on the frontier too long.
Ideas are important because to me, they're what make Star Trek Star Trek. This isn't a shoot 'em up heroic fantasy like Star Wars. This is an entire episode with the Captain and an alien trying to say hello. Or a debate on android sentience.
The movies are generally more focused on the characters than a sci-fi idea, but they were never mindless violence, either.
One of Krall's lines proposed an idea that sounded really interesting to me: "This is where the frontier pushes back!"
Star Trek's thesis is all about exploration and meeting new alien races, but there's a conformity implied in making first contact with them: "This is Captain Picard of the Federation Starship Enterprise." "Federation? How wonderful! Can we join?" Another Krall line, "Federation is an act of war," seems to allude to this.
The TV version's best villains have played with this idea- the Borg and the Dominion are more or less evil versions of the Federation. The Borg assimilate and wipe out individuality, while the Dominion are a diverse collection of aliens who conquer anyone who get in their way.
With all the numerous examples of imperialistic explorers forcing themselves on indigenous populations and then wiping them out, having a villain like Krall push back against the Federation's main purpose could have been really interesting.
Krall's motivations aren't really explored in that much depth, though, and another explanation entirely is offered in the last few minutes. Spoiler here:[ref]By having Krall/Edison turn out to really be human all along, it undercuts any perspective he'd have on being an alien overrun by Federation exploration.[/ref]
I love it when a villain actually has a good point, even if their methods are flawed. It's easy to make a stand against power hungry sadistic dictators. Legend of Korra, the sequel to the animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender, was really good with this.[ref]Even if the problems the villains complain about don't really get solved. Cough!Cough!Bender supremacy!Cough!Cough![/ref]
Star Trek Beyond isn't really interested in doing this, though. Which is fine. Really.
I can dream, though.