Monday, April 18, 2016

Batman v Superman: Happy Funtime

So recently I saw this movie from a director who many believe has made more bad films than good ones. It's a visually-rich, strangely-paced film that was almost universally panned by critics; one especially famous one called it "a stunningly interesting visual achievement, but a failure as a story." I'm talking, of course, about Blade Runner.

Today, of course, Blade Runner is widely regarded as a classic, and as director Ridley's Scott's best film. But back in 1982 most critics (including Roger Ebert, whose review I quoted above) said the same kinds of things they're now saying about Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. I finally got to see BvS this weekend, and I have to say it was much better than I expected considering the shellacking it's received from critics both professional and amateur.

Am I saying that Batman v Superman: Could This Title Be More Cumbersome? is as good as Blade Runner? No. I'm saying that although it's not a perfect film, I still enjoyed it.

Are there any perfect movies? Name one if you can, and I guarantee I can point out one giant story-derailing plot hole in it, or a bunch of little plot holes and imperfections that will completely take you out of the movie every time you see it from now on. Movies and TV shows are designed to entertain us during their running time. But somewhere along the way the Internet decided that in order for something to be good, you have to be able to watch it again and again and again and again and again and again and again into infinity without noticing any imperfection. Otherwise, that movie or TV episode sucks.

Of course, the most fanatical proponents of the Infinite Rewatchability Standard have their own personal lists of things they believe should be excluded from it, things that they love even though they're flawed. But that is not the point. The point is that the Internet often arbitrarily decides that things are bad, even if they share many common characteristics with other things that the Internet loves.

For example, early on in BvS there's a scene where an African terrorist warlord is holding a gun to Lois Lane's head, using her as a human shield to get Superman to back down. I was instantly reminded of a similar scene in the first Iron Man movie, when a bunch of Afghan terrorists hold guns on women and children to get Iron Man to back down. You remember what happens: Tony Stark uses the technology in his suit to target the terrorists and shoot them all at once, and not with tranquilizer darts, either. The outcome in BvS is similar; Kal-El uses his super speed to knock the warlord through several walls. We don't see the guy after that, but it's pretty safe to assume he's dead. I've seen lots of complaints about this, and oddly enough they all come from people who think the DC films should be more like Marvel's.

Do I thrill to the sight of superheroes killing bad guys? No. I'm just pointing out that the people who make the loudest noise about Superman or Batman killing villains have absolutely no problem with Iron Man or Captain America doing the same thing. They're just grasping for reasons to validate the decision they made to hate the movie way back when it was first announced.

So, what did I like about Batman v Superman: How Many Focus Groups Did It Take To Come Up With This Title? Well, as a Superman fan I really liked how the movie treated him. Look, the first Christopher Reeve film is one of my favorite movies ever, but it's almost 40 years old. This Superman can't go to the Fortress of Solitude and have the giant floating head of Jor-El tell him what to do whenever he has a problem. The people of Earth don't instantly accept him. And a lot of the time his efforts to save people spawn unintended consequences, some of which are engineered by Lex Luthor in a deliberate effort to discredit him. In light of all that, is it reasonable to expect him to be the smiling Superman that Christopher Reeve portrayed? Of course not.

In the final act of the film, Lex Luthor did something that he's done many times in the comics but never in the movies: give Superman in a genuine moral dilemma--does he kill Batman or allow his mother to die? When he leaves Lois to confront Batman, he seems resigned to killing Batman. But he doesn't. Even when Batman reveals he can hurt him with his Kryptonite gas, Superman continues to try and get him to stop, rather than just heat-visioning his face off. And in death, this Superman does something that we never really saw in the Donner/Reeve films: inspire people. He inspires Bruce Wayne to be a better man. He inspires Wonder Woman to come out of retirement. And he inspires the people of Earth to come together. The scene of the multiethnic crowd holding a candlelight vigil at his monument was maybe the most inspiring Superman-related scene we've ever seen in live action. All of these are good things. I've seen people complain that DC did the Death of Superman too soon, but in this universe Superman needed to die heroically for the world to embrace him.

Of course, there's stuff I didn't enjoy so much, like Jesse Eisenberg's over-the-top performance. And the killing. Let's talk about that again. Near the end of the movie when Batman is firing the Batplane's machine guns at Luthor's henchmen on his way to rescue Martha Kent, I realized that this is the world we live in now. Batman has been killing his enemies on the movie screen since 1989, and the world is an even grimmer place today. A majority of Americans favor the torture of captured terrorists, even though the facts are that torture is not a good way to extract reliable intelligence. Politicians running for office get big cheers from their supporters when they promise to massacre the families of suspected terrorists. Back in the early 1950s when the Comics Code Authority forbade comic book heroes from killing their enemies, these kinds of things would have provoked outrage. But to modern audiences, someone who identifies as a "good guy" taking the Judge Dredd approach to crimefighting seems justified, if not praiseworthy. I don't like that at all, but it's not an issue that's restricted to this movie; it's part of the cultural soup we're all cooking in.

Another thing that a lot of people didn't like/were confused by were the strange dream sequences that were never explained, and mostly seemed to be shoehorned in there to set up the upcoming Justice League movies. I don't mind a movie having weird stuff that's not explained, and since I read the spoilers ahead of time I mostly understood what I was seeing. Still, it wouldn't surprise me at all if the writers threw those scenes in there just because they seemed cool, without any firm idea how they would fit in with the Justice League films. You know, kind of like what the Battlestar Galactica writers did with the Opera House visions. If that's the case, I foresee many Internet tantrums in the future.

Overall, Batman v Superman: I Can't Believe They Actually Went With That Title was a solid, interesting movie that tried to explore the implications of someone like Superman in our world. I wouldn't call it fun, and I'm not sure if I'll buy the Blu-Ray when it comes out (if I do, it definitely won't be the R-rated extended cut) but it didn't provoke the vitriol in me that it did in so many amateur critics.

I guess I'm getting soft in my middle age.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The Star Trek 2017 Wish List

For a while now, I've been trying to write something about my hopes for the new Star Trek series that premieres in 2017. Lots of fans have their wish lists, full of stuff like what timeline the show should be set in (Prime or JJverse) what the characters should be like, and so forth.

I really don't care about any of that minutiae.

What I want more than anything is for Star Trek to return to its roots by grounding itself in reality once again. Now I know what you're thinking: how can a show about people who zip around at faster-than-light speeds and teleport back and forth to alien planets were the natives always speak perfect English possibly be grounded in reality? Well, back in the late Sixties the only other "space show" on the air was Lost In Space, a program that did not take itself or its audience seriously:

Yes, that's a carrot-man

Meanwhile, the Gene Roddenberry-penned Star Trek writers and directors guide contained this important paragraph:

... translate it into a real life situation. Or, sometimes as useful, try it in your mind as a scene in GUNSMOKE, NAKED CITY, or some similar show. Would you believe the people and the scene if it happened there?
Those words are the most important single guideline for good Star Trek storytelling that has ever been given. Sadly, future iterations of the show pretty much ignored them.

A huge chunk of the blame goes to Gene Roddenberry. By the time The Next Generation went into production he had almost totally lost his marbles, and he decreed that 24th century humans had none of the flaws and foibles that every storyteller in human history has used to craft dramatic tales. As I wrote in an earlier article, this led  The Next Generation and its spinoffs (especially Voyager) to lean way too heavily on technobabble to tell stories. Instead of the Man vs. Man or Man vs. Himself plots that drive a lot of dramatic stories to this day, TNG-era Star Trek gave us the Holodeck Malfunction story, the Weird Space Anomaly story, and the Time Travel/Time Paradox story. Any of these stories are fine as one-offs, but towards the end of its run TNG was going back to them more and more frequently.

Fortunately, TNG went off the air before it could really start embarrassing itself (it waited until the movies to do that) but Voyager picked up right where TNG left off. The first episode after the two-hour pilot was a Weird Space Anomaly story. The very next episode was a Time Travel/Time Paradox story. And so it went, for 170 more episodes. Ronald D. Moore worked on Voyager very briefly before leaving in disgust, and in an interview afterwards he had this to say about how technobabble-based storytelling had damaged Star Trek:
"It’s a lot easier to tech your way out of a situation than to really think your way out of a situation, or make it dramatic, or make the characters go through some kind of decision or crisis. It’s a lot easier if you can just plant one of them at a console and start banging on the thing, and flash some Okudagrams, and then come up with the magic solution that is going to make all this week’s problems go away." source
The first season of Ron Moore's Battlestar Galactica reboot ran concurrently with the final season of the last Rick Berman-era Trek spinoff, Enterprise, and it's very instructive to compare the two. Although Enterprise's fourth season is its best, it still feels rooted in that 1990s brand of TV storytelling that Rick Berman-produced Trek could never break away from. And while BSG was doing what Star Trek used to do in the '60s--use science fiction to tell stories about current events and the human condition--Enterprise was just checking off items on Trekkie wishlists while awaiting its inevitable cancellation.

The problem was that Enterprise was a spinoff of a spinoff of a spinoff. It never did anything original because Star Trek wasn't based on reality anymore, it was based on previously-existing Star Trek. The franchise was caught in a self-referential Irrelevance Loop.

So what are my hopes for the new Star Trek? A clean start. No compulsive references to previous Star Treks, no trips to the Well of Tired Plot Devices. You want to do a show about a group of  space explorers? Then have them actually explore space. Real space is vast and mysterious, lonely and inhospitable. Show that. If you're way out on the edge of explored space, you can't be zipping back and forth to Earth whenever you want. You can't have instantaneous Skype sessions with Starfleet Command. We know so much more about our universe and the phenomena it contains that we did in the '90s when the last iteration of Star Trek was at its peak. Use those discoveries. Show us spaceships that are bound by Newtonian physics, not swooping, diving, and banking like the ships in Star Wars. Use the show to comment intelligently on current events and the human condition with Star Trek's trademark optimism.

Of course the new show will have to take shortcuts for dramatic convenience. Every TV show and movie does that. But that doesn't mean that Star Trek can't reclaim its mantle as sci-fi for thinking people, as the show that inspires kids to become astronauts, scientists, doctors, and engineers.

I hope this is what Bryan Fuller, Nicholas Meyer, and the rest of the Star Trek 2017 team will do. Because if they bow to the wishes of the most vocal members of the fan community, then the new Star Trek will be a tired retread of previous Treks, a spinoff of a spinoff of a spinoff of a spinoff.

And it'll remain trapped in the Irrelevance Loop.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Batman Is Stupid

At some point, Batman became the DC universe's favorite superhero. In the comics, Batman can defeat any adversary with enough preparation. Green Lantern, the Flash, Superman, and even Darkseid are no match for Batman's intellect and array of bat-gadgets. Heck, I wouldn't be surprised if someone (Frank Miller, probably) eventually writes a story where the Dark Knight sneaks into heaven and beats up God.

But Batman shouldn't even exist.

Think about it: young Bruce Wayne swore to fight crime after a mugger murdered his parents. He's a billionaire businessman, maybe the most important person in Gotham City. And how does he choose to fight crime? By using his wealth and influence to attack the root causes, perhaps? Maybe nonprofit foundations and strategic partnerships with law enforcement and educational agencies to help lift people out of poverty and cure the ills that afflict Gotham's slums? Nope!

Instead he puts on a bat costume and randomly punches criminals.

Batman has no superpowers. He can't fly over the city using his super-hearing and super-vision to spot trouble, then zip down and stop it at super speed. So how does he go about his Batmanning? Every night he drives downtown, parks the Batmobile, and swings from building to building with his Batarang and Bat-rope looking for criminals to stop. Maybe he has some audio tech in his cowl to help him listen for things or some night-vision tech so he can see what's going on, but still his effectiveness is limited to whatever area he's in at the moment. He doesn't have super speed like Superman or The Flash, so he can't zip across town at will if the Joker or Killer Croc starts attacking people on the opposite side of Gotham City. And anyway, his "jump from rooftop to rooftop" method of patrolling the city would only work in some podunk place with a tiny downtown area of a few blocks. Gotham is supposedly the size of New York! Ah, but maybe Batman's stopping of a few random crimes here and there will serve to scare Gotham's criminal element straight! Sure, but has that ever actually happened? Gotham City is routinely depicted as a corrupt, crime-ridden dystopia that makes Detroit look like Disneyland. Obviously Bruce Wayne's "don a bat costume and punch whatever random criminals you happen to encounter" crimefighting scheme is about as effective as trying to fight fires with a flamethrower.

Also, it's ridiculously illegal. Kind of like those Death Wish movies where a fed-up Charles Bronson decides to make his neighborhood a safer place by going on a murdering spree. Only a psychopath would think Bronson's character is a good guy. In real life, he's a serial killer. Sure, Batman doesn't kill people, but the principle is the same: he chucks the legal system and dispenses vigilante justice to whoever he thinks deserves it.

But maybe you're thinking that Batman is necessary in a world where you have deranged super-criminals like Two-Face, Penguin, and the Joker. Except that each of those guys is a take-off on the ridiculously smart criminal trope you see on TV crime dramas, just weirder-looking. And you know what? Those guys always get taken down by ordinary cops who are not into cosplaying as winged rodents. But what about the bad guys that have superpowers? Don't the cops need Batman to step in with his array of anti-supervillain bat-gadgets? Well, in the Superman comics the Metropolis PD has a Special Crimes Unit that's specially trained and equipped to take down the various superpowered criminals that attack that city. They even have a specially-reinforced prison to contain them. Why doesn't billionaire Bruce Wayne make a donation to the Gotham PD so they could set something up like that?

I know, because the Gotham police are all corrupt except for Commissioner Gordon, right? Well then, gee, why doesn't billionaire Bruce Wayne use his connections to get some national media attention for the issue or get the US Justice Department to investigate Gotham the way they're doing in other real-life cities right now?

Look, I know the superheroes we love are basically just decades-old kids' entertainment. They weren't meant to withstand the endless scrutinizing and deconstruction that we do in the 21st century to make ourselves look smart on the Internet. But the conventional pop-culture wisdom that Batman's lack of powers makes him a realistic superhero is ridiculous.

In his hilarious reviews of Frank Miller's insane All-Star Batman and Robin comics, Internet reviewer Lewis Lovhaug (ne√© Linkara) posits that Miller's unhinged Batman is really Crazy Steve, a violent nutjob who somehow got his hands on a batsuit. I say that Crazy Steve is the real Batman. And he's no hero.

Friday, January 15, 2016

The Star Wars Universe Reset

WARNING: This article contains spoilers for Star Wars Episode VI: The Force Awakens, which has been out for almost a month now and has been seen at least once by everyone in the Western world.

A big complaint some folks have about The Force Awakens is that it takes away the happy ending we saw in Return of the Jedi. In what seems to be kind of a trend these days, the movie has a ton of backstory that's only addressed in ancillary material (books, comics, etc). Supposedly, after the events of Return of the Jedi, our heroes reestablished the Republic and spent a good many years kicking the Empire's butt all over the place. But eventually a newly-armed Empire reinvented itself as the First Order and came roaring back with a vengeance thanks to the New Republic's complacency.

I have no idea what historical parallel they're trying to draw here
In the movie, the First Order destroys the Republic's seat of government and space fleet with their totally-not-a-Death-Star, so now our heroes are essentially back where they started in the first trilogy: part of a tiny resistance against a more-powerful Empire, and some fans are not happy about this.

My question to this upset group of fans is: what did you think would happen when Disney announced that they were making a sequel trilogy and that Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, and Harrison Ford were coming back? Did they think we'd get three movies full of Luke, Leia, and Han reveling in how trouble-free their lives are now? That the new trilogy would be named Episode VII: Life Is Good, Episode VIII: No Problems Over Here and Episode IX: Let's Take The Rest Of The Day Off?

When Disney decided to move ahead with this new Star Wars trilogy, they had three basic options:

  1. Set the story a hundred years or more after the original trilogy when the original characters have all died.
  2. Have our heroes face a completely new threat that's not the Empire.
  3. Have the Empire rise again and spoil Return of the Jedi's happy ending.
Any of these options would have let to some kind of fan complaint. In this day and age, unfortunately, being a "fan" of something too often means complaining on the Internet about how much you hate the newest iteration of it. 

If Disney went with Option 1, the fans would have complained that they missed a golden opportunity to bring back Luke, Han, and Leia.

If they went with Option 2 and ditched the Empire altogether, the fans would have complained that the new movies didn't feel like Star Wars.

But maybe you're saying: "I'm not mad they brought the Empire back, I just don't like how they did it. It should've been more like the Thrawn Trilogy: everything's going well and then the Empire shows up. They didn't need to break up Han and Leia or have Luke exile himself after his students got killed."

I sympathize, but I think the way things were ultimately handled is far more compelling. Part of the fun of The Force Awakens is figuring out the new status quo. We're thrown into the middle of things and have to figure out what's going on.  And I like how the mystery of Luke Skywalker drives the plot along,  making his final reveal a very powerful moment.

As for Han and Leia, it was never going to have a happy ending, anyway. As soon as we knew Harrison Ford was definitely returning, I knew Han Solo was going to die. Both Ford and screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan wanted it to happen in Return of the Jedi thirty years ago, and I assumed Ford would insist on it as a condition of returning. Han and Leia breaking up over their son's fall to the Dark Side of the Force may not be very happy, but it does feel very real.

Also very genuine is Luke's failure with Ben Solo (a.k.a. Kylo Ren) and the destruction of his new Jedi Order. Remember, Luke barely had any Jedi training, and most of what he did get came from Yoda, whose rigidity was a big reason why the Jedi in the prequels were blind to Palpatine's machinations until it was too late. And I have a feeling that Luke's failure will be more understandable once we learn more about Supreme Leader Snoke.

I certainly understand why some longtime fans are upset with The Force Awakens, and they're entitled to their feelings. But I found it to be a pleasant reset of the Star Wars universe, and I'm excited to see what comes next.

NOTE: Because the topic of the post before this one is very controversial within a certain Internet fan community that rivals the Westboro Baptist Church in its tiny size and irrational hatred for anyone who even slightly disagrees with them, I've enabled comment moderation for the time being. Thank you for understanding.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The Axanar Meltdown

In June 2014, Star Trek fans were treated to the release of a truly original fan film: Prelude to Axanar.  It was a History Channel-style documentary about a war between the Federation and the Klingons twenty years before the adventures of Captain Kirk, with a professional director and professional actors and crew. The stellar cast and special effects that were within a whisker of feature-quality got a lot of people excited about the production team's intention to make a full-on movie about the Battle of Axanar itself.

Thanks to generous Internet publicity and even the public support of George Takei, it raised over $1 million through Kickstarter and Indiegogo campaigns. The production team used the money to rent a Los Angeles-area warehouse to convert into a studio and began to build sets with the promise that production on the film would begin in January 2016. People attached to the production grew fond of saying that Axanar was not a fan film, but a professional independent Star Trek movie.

In retrospect, these things were huge red flags. And an article on The Wrap back in August entitled "How $1.1 Million ‘Star Trek’ Fan Movie Has Escaped Studio Shutdown (So Far)" contained this ominous quote from CBS:
“CBS has not authorized, sanctioned or licensed this project in any way, and this has been communicated to those involved. We continue to object to professional commercial ventures trading off our property rights and are considering further options to protect these rights.”

But Axanar had blossomed into a mini-movement in Star Trek fandom, and its supporters remained optimistic about the film's prospects. Conventional wisdom said that CBS and Paramount would never risk the negative PR backlash that might come from going after a fan film, that they believed that the existence of fan films was good for the Star Trek franchise as a whole.

That conventional wisdom was torpedoed last week when CBS filed a lawsuit in federal court against Axanar seeking monetary damages for copyright infringement and an injunction to have the project shut down. 

I'm not going to discuss the legal side of this whole affair since I have no expertise in that area. Instead, I'm going to talk about what really fascinates me: the truly unhinged reactions of the Axanar fan community. If you read this blog primarily for its Disney-related content, then you probably never heard of the Axanar fan community prior to right this minute. But it exists, and it's an extremely devoted bunch of folks. And by "devoted" I mean "a lot of them are crazier than a bag of enraged ferrets". Very generally speaking, the online comments by Axanar supporters in the wake of the lawsuit have taken one of these two forms:

"That guy I never met who died 25 years ago? He would totally agree with me."

Incoherent rage with a smattering of Klingon words

Amazingly, that last comment appeared in the comments section of--I kid you not--The Wall Street Journal. I suspect that if you were to meet these folks in person, they would come across as perfectly normal, rational, well-adjusted human beings. Well, maybe not that second guy. But my question is this: what is it about this situation that makes perfectly normal-seeming people react so embarrassingly? I think it's more than just the natural ability of Facebook and Internet comment sections to bring out the stupidest side of people. 

As I said earlier, Axanar has become a mini-movement in Star Trek fandom. For the record, I do not believe that Axanar head honcho Alec Peters cynically set out to unite disaffected Star Trek fans into a movement around his fan film to get money or satisfy his ego or whatever. I do believe he recognized what was happening and encouraged it to help crowdfund the project. But why did the Axanar movement coalesce in the first place? 

For at least the last 20 years or so, there's a segment of Star Trek fans who's been growing progressively angrier. They haven't liked the newer TV shows and movies, and as each new Star Trek installment has ignored them and aimed at other, more profitable segments of the entertainment market, they've come to feel abandoned, disenfranchised, and yes, hopping mad. A common refrain among these angry fans is that Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry would never approve of these newer TV shows and movies, that the new stuff is"not their Star Trek", and that it's time for the fans to take Star Trek back. Some of these folks are enthusiastic supporters of fan projects that aim to re-create the Original Series, like Star Trek Continues. But Axanar has become this group's cause celebré.

Let's really break this down: we have a group of angry people: predominantly white, male, and middle-aged. They're passionately devoted to a thing to the point where they feel a certain ownership of it, and they're mad because the people who control that thing aren't managing things in a way they agree with. They fervently believe that, were the founder of this thing still alive, he would completely agree with them. They feel like the people in charge have abandoned the founder's original intentions, and that it's incumbent upon them to take this thing back so that the founder's original intention for it can be restored and things can be like they were in the good old days. Does any of this sound familiar?

Yes. Axanar fans are the Star Trek Tea Party. Now, this is not a political blog. Both it and myself are politically neutral, so I'm not saying that the Tea Party is good or bad. Just that the Axanar fan community is demographically very similar, and if you swap out a few proper nouns ("George Washington" for "Gene Roddenberry", "America" or "the Constitution" for "Star Trek") a lot of the stuff they say sounds very similar.

But Axanar supporters are united by more than just anger and discontent. Axanar has given a lot of these people a sense of community and belonging to an important cause. And since the CBS lawsuit threatens the existence of that community, they've become defensive. And honestly, I feel sorry for them. I hope that each of them can take something positive from this.

I said earlier that I wouldn't discuss the legalities of the situation, but since this is, after all, my blog I'm going to offer my personal, non-expert opinion:

Axanar is finished. It has no leg to stand on. Star Trek fans (myself included) sometimes express the romantic notion that Star Trek belongs to us, but that is not true in a legal sense. It belongs to CBS and Paramount. Maybe it's true that the existence of an Axanar film would do no harm to Star Trek Beyond's box office earnings or the viewership of the as-yet-untitled TV series. But as the intellectual property holders, CBS and Paramount are within their rights to shut it down, and ignore all the other fan productions if they choose to. Maybe that doesn't seem particularly nice or fair. 

But that's real life, isn't it?

Saturday, December 26, 2015

What Is Star Trek?

In the run-up to the Star Wars premiere, we whose hearts belong to that other sci-fi franchise with "Star" in the name got a treat: the first trailer for July's Star Trek Beyond.

Perhaps you think Star Trek fans rejoiced at the new trailer the way Star Wars fans did at the first trailer for The Force Awakens

Don't be a fool. Star Trek fans reacted to this trailer the way they have reacted to every new Star Trek thing since at least 1987: well thought-out critiques angry temper tantrums. A common fan accusation in the wake of the Star Trek Beyond trailer is that this new film is not "real" Star Trek. But if you ask individual fans what constitutes "real" Star Trek you'll get different answers, all of which boil down to "whatever version of Star Trek I, personally, grew up with."

So how can you tell what constitutes "real" Star Trek? Well, since the new films are a reboot of the original 1960s TV series, let's start with the founding document of that series: the pitch Gene Roddenberry wrote in the spring of 1964 to sell Star Trek to TV executives. At its inception, what was the essence of Star Trek? Roddenberry explained:

STAR TREK is . . .
A one-hour dramatic television series.
Action - Adventure - Science Fiction.
The first such concept with strong central lead characters plus other continuing regulars.

After a list of story possibilities and an explanation of the mathematical probability of the number of Earthlike planets our galaxy may contain, the pitch continues:

STAR TREK is a "Wagon Train" concept--built around characters who travel to worlds "similar" to our own, and meet the action-adventure-drama which becomes our stories . . .
The time is "Somewhere in the future". It could be 1995 or maybe even 2995. In other words, close enough to our own time for our continuing characters to be fully identifiable as people like us, but far enough into the future for galaxy travel to be thoroughly established (happily eliminating the need to encumber our stories with tiresome scientific explanation).
There's nothing here that precludes this new movie from being accepted as Star Trek. It's action-adventure-science fiction. It has strong central lead characters (Kirk, Spock) and other continuing regulars (Uhura, Scotty, McCoy, etc.) who travel to worlds similar to our own and meet with action, adventure, and drama. So far, so good. 

"But wait!" you say. "Isn't a real Star Trek story supposed to contain some kind of moral or message?" Right you are, imaginary person I conjured up for the sake of this article! And Star Trek Beyond is totally going to have that! Director Justin Lin spoke in an interview about how the Federation's expansionist philosophy will be questioned and weighed against the philosophy of the movie's principal antagonist. And Simon Pegg clarified what he meant when he said the studio wanted a story that was "less Star Trek-y" than the first draft that Bob Orci was to direct.

The problem, I think, is how that message or moral is conveyed. In the revised Writers and Directors' Guide for Season Two of the Original Series, Gene Roddenberry had this bit of instruction for how this should be handled:

Yes, we want you to have something to say, but say it entertainingly as you do on any other show. We don't need essays, however brilliant.

The Writers and Directors Guide also contained this important directive:

Build your episode on an action-adventure framework. We must reach out, hold and entertain a mass audience of some 20.,000,000 people or we simply don't stay on the air.

And if you watch the Original Series, that's exactly what it did. Yes, many of the stories had a message of some kind, but it was usually delivered by Captain Kirk after he'd spent the entire episode running, jumping, and punching out the aliens of the week. When modern movie studios spend over $100 million on a summer blockbuster, they expect an even higher action quotient. Star Trek was always intended to be mass market entertainment and has always made certain compromises as a result, as Gene Roddenberry once explained in a letter to Isaac Asimov.

"But, but" you sputter, "the new trailer has this in it":

"Do you see that? Do you? Huh? Captain Kirk on a motorcycle! That's too stupid to be Star Trek!"

Sure. Captain Kirk on a motorcycle seems a mite ridiculous. Almost as ridiculous as Mr. Spock having a jam session with space hippies:

When fans complain that Star Trek Beyond (or the other J.J. Abrams Trek films) aren't "real" Star Trek or "their" Star Trek, what a lot of them are saying is that it's nothing like The Next Generation. And that's true. The Next Generation was a completely different animal. I love TNG to death, but probably the signature scene of the show was this:

Seriously. Almost every episode had a scene with the characters sitting around the conference table watching a Space PowerPoint presentation or debating the Prime Directive or whatever. And you just can't get away with that in the 21st century, any more that you could get away with having Captain Kirk fight a stuntman in a fakey-looking lizard costume or have Uhura whimper "Captain, I'm frightened," when faced with a tough situation.

Other than Gene Roddenberry's increasing loopy ideas about the future (by the mid-1980s, poor Gene was totally coo-coo for Cocoa Puffs) a big reason why TNG had more staff meetings than phaser battles was because it was too expensive to do it the other way around. In an era of digital technology and $100 million budgets, that's no longer the case.

Star Trek has always been a product of its time. In the 1960s, this meant lots of miniskirts and sexism. In the 1990s, it was aliens with fake rubber foreheads and too much technobabble. And in the 2010s, it's explosions, gunfights, and lots of yelling.

Maybe it's not what you grew up with. Maybe you don't like it.

But that doesn't mean it's not Star Trek.