There's a lot to love about Star Trek: Beyond — after the previous two films in this continuity divided the fanbase, Beyond takes it back to Gene Roddenberry's vision in the best possible way, with tons of Easter Eggs and nods to Trek's history. The plot is fairly straightforward, but what Beyond really excels at is the dynamic between the characters, and the sense of fun with which it embarks upon a new adventure.
On a less analytical note, Beyond just feels like Trek: While 2009's Star Trek shook the foundations of the franchise and splintered into a new timeline, and Into Darkness questioned the morality of the Federation itself, Beyond has the optimism essential to Star Trek. A lot of that is thanks to Krall, the nefarious villain played by Idris Elba — a despot who thrives on conflict, Krall is determined to bring chaos to the Federation, and acts as a perfect counterpoint to what makes the Federation such an optimistic vision of our future.
His motivations, when revealed, build him up to be one of the franchise's best villains. And yet, there's something lacking in Krall's development, or lack thereof.
Krall's Not The Villain, We Are
One of the reasons Beyond feels so much more Trek-y than the previous reboot films is because of the attention to in-universe continuity. Although this film exists in the Kelvin Timeline, not Prime, there's plenty of Trek's history that is still canon at this point in time. For Beyond, that meant they could reference plot points from First Contact and the short-lived TV show Enterprise — and the Krall twist relies heavily on this.
Revealed just 15 minutes before the end, it turns out that Krall is not some alien fanatic, but a human — Captain Balthazar Edison — who served in Starfleet before the Federation was formed.
As explored in Enterprise, before the formation of the Federation, Earth became embroiled in several conflicts with the Romulans, while the Xindi organized several vicious attacks on Earth. Edison served in these wars, and saw the Federation's creation as bowing to the enemy rather than defeating them.
This resentment only grew when Edison's ship — the USS Franklin — crash landed on Altamid as a result of a wormhole displacement. At the time, Starfleet had only achieved Warp Five travel, and their technology was not advanced enough to discover where the Franklin crashed.
But Krall's mission against the Federation isn't just vengeance for being abandoned. He spouts rhetoric on peace making humanity weak, while before they supposedly thrived on conflict.
This isn't just an interesting counter to the entire point of Roddenberry's vision, but it's also very relevant to today. Because Krall is actually the human Edison, he represents humanity's past — or from our perspective, humanity's present. This makes our generation the villains of the piece, along with all the generations that come until humanity achieves universal peace. Which makes Beyond have a bitter edge to it, as we see Krall as the reflection of all the problems that humanity creates for itself.
A Lack Of Exploration
But for all that this twist makes Krall one of Trek's best villains — because the entire point of his character is to hammer home Roddenberry's intentions in creating the franchise — this significance is lost somewhat on the last few minutes of the film.
Uhura's discovery of Krall's real identity is a fantastic moment, as she uses her time as a captive of Krall — the two constantly verbally spar, with Uhura bombarded with his dystopian rhetoric — to solve this mystery. From then on the film becomes a race to find Krall and stop him from wiping out all life on Starbase Yorktown, in a thrilling final act. And yet, the enormity of the reveal is so much that this all feels rather rushed.
It's unfortunate that this plot twist was revealed so late on, but it adds that extra bit of weight to the final race to stop Krall, so it doesn't make sense to reveal his identity earlier. The solution would be to draw the plot out from this point — if the story were allowed another 30 minutes, we could follow a wounded Krall as he recuperates and waits for the perfect opportunity to unleash his super weapon.
Extra time would also allow Krall's past to be explored through flashbacks. There's a tantalizing line Krall screams at Kirk in the final battle, which makes so much sense if you're familiar with Trek's in-universe history. Before first contact with the Vulcans, Earth was ravaged by the Third World War, which decimated the population. First Contact gave us a glimpse into what life was like in this post-apocalyptic world, as survivors battled each other for supplies.
Although First Contact is set a hundred years before the USS Franklin went missing, it's likely that while Edison was growing up this post-WWIII mentality still permeated society. It takes a long time to move on from such a devastating war, and with Earth under attack from new alien threats — the Xindi in particular — this could be exactly what Krall meant when he said he was born into conflict.
But What's The Solution?
Revealing the Krall twist earlier would have distracted from the crew's mission to escape Altamid, and robbed the final act of its impact. The solution? Time, which is something Beyond — as a film — just didn't have. While I for one would have loved a 2.5 hour long Trek movie, that may have dragged for most viewers.
If Beyond's plot were used in a television show, it would work perfectly as a two-episode finale to one season, culminating in the Franklin saving Yorktown, with Uhura's discovery of Krall's secret as the cliffhanger ending. We'd be left with the knowledge that Krall — actually Balthazar Edison — was still out there and intending to complete his mission.
The conclusion could be another 40 minute episode, following Krall as he hid among the inhabitants of the Yorktown. In classic Trek fashion, he would remember what it was like to be human, and start to question his plan to kill the people who took him in and tried to heal his wounds. That's when we could see those flashbacks detailing not only his past, but how he formed his army — which is a pretty huge unanswered question in Beyond. The diversity of species in Krall's forces seem to suggest that they're all the enemies of the Federation — or are they just people who crashed on Altamid? We'll never know.
In the final battle Krall could reconsider in the last moments, helping Kirk and dying in the process. As Devin Faraci of BirthMoviesDeath points out, Krall repenting would make for a far more optimistic Trekkie ending — and bonus points if Kirk talks him down.
But Beyond is a movie, not a three-episode arc of a TV show. And to be honest, it's better off that way. We needed a really fun, optimistic, and thought-provoking Star Trek movie — and Beyond gave us just that. Maybe one day we'll get a comic or novel exploring Krall's origins, but until then at least this is a very small niggle with the film. Even without development, the revelation that Krall was actually Edison is still one of the best things about Beyond, and Idris Elba's performance is delightful to watch.