Star Trek Beyond

"This is where the frontier pushes back."

Star Trek Beyond is an enjoyable movie, touting the Federation virtues of unity and diversity, motorcycles and rock music. It's more mature than the first two movies, a bit more focused on a consistent story, even though that story isn't exactly new.

A lot of long time Trek fans aren't crazy about the reboot movie series, and believe me, I get it. There were 79 episodes of the original series as well as six (okay, seven -- I try to forget Generations ever happened) movies, which is a long time to explore its well-established characters and try out many different types of stories. (Which is what I'm hoping the new television series Star Trek Discovery series will do this coming January.)

I rewatched the first two movies this week (Star Trek and Star Trek: Into Darkness) before I saw Star Trek Beyond, and I enjoyed them; I gave them both good reviews when they first came out, and I'd do it again. But honestly, neither movie stayed with me, and I never felt compelled to watch them a second time until now. In contrast, I've seen The Wrath of Khan, The Voyage Home and First Contact so many times that I know a lot of the dialogue, and TWoK makes me cry, every single time. The reboot movies, while offering a lot of charm with the practically-perfect-in-every-way recasting of the original characters, have centered on action, action, action. The director of this movie was Justin Lin of Fast and Furious Fame, and Beyond is indeed fast and furious. Is it wrong of me to have wanted something deeper?

What works

I absolutely love Zachary Quinto as Spock and Karl Urban as McCoy. These two characters and the actors playing them are the best thing about the reboots for me. It's like the two of them are actually channeling Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley -- I get little frissony flashbacks to the original series while I'm watching them.

This time, Spock and McCoy got several enjoyable and touching scenes together as Spock worked through some personal issues surrounding his romantic relationship with Uhura and the passing of his alternate timeline self, Ambassador Spock. (I assume that's not a spoiler, since Leonard Nimoy's passing was such big news.) The most moving moment in the movie was Zachary Quinto's Spock looking at a photo of the original series cast in a publicity shot from their last movie, and of course, the movie is dedicated to Leonard Nimoy as well as Anton Yelchin, the young actor who played Chekov. (There has been news recently that if there is a fourth movie, Chekov will not be recast. I think that's wise.)

There were so many great little call outs to the original series that I really enjoyed, like the universal translator, Shakespeare, the "big green hand," the seat belts, and the celebration of Kirk's birthday, which was a plot point in The Wrath of Khan. I also loved that Greg Grunberg got a small role, as did the wonderful Shohreh Aghdashloo (24, The Expanse) as Commodore Paris. (Was that a petit homage to the Voyager character Tom Paris?)

I also liked that Sulu had a family on the Yorktown Base, a husband and a young daughter, although I know that little plot point has been a bit controversial since George Takei took it as a reversal of Gene Roddenberry's original choices for the character of Sulu, instead of the homage to Takei himself that it was intended to be.

I'm also happy to report that Chris Pine was absolutely more Kirk-like than he's ever been before. In the two previous movies, Kirk was more like a hyperactive, brilliant kid who took too many risks but it somehow came out okay. Here, he'd grown up and discovered that a five year mission of exploration had its boring moments. I'm not quite sure how they did it, but Chris Pine looked a lot more like William Shatner in the original series than he ever has before, and he was a lot more believable as a starship captain.

In fact, all of the main characters got some good moments in this movie: Uhura's courage as well as her skill with all forms of communication, Sulu as an absolutely amazing pilot, Scotty as the droll miracle worker, Chekov with his youth and enthusiasm. I also really, really liked Sofia Boutella as a new alien character named Jaylah. She was smart and incredibly fun to watch, and I enjoyed every one of her scenes. Her stunning make-up reminded me a bit of Chiana on Farscape, only better.

And the effects in this movie were absolutely terrific. I kept thinking of the word "tactile" while I was watching, because it felt like I could reach out and touch the Enterprise and the damage it sustained, as well as the twisted, jagged rocks on the planet where a lot of the action takes place. The bioweapon thingies swarming looked organic, much like bats, and the universe seems more "lived in" while still retaining its Star Trek feel.

What doesn't work

This was yet another reboot movie about a supervillain bent on destruction, and while I am a huge Idris Elba fan, he was wasted here. It might have helped if there had been better establishing scenes for Krall going back further, and if you've seen the movie, you'll know what I mean. But the first two movies centered around a big villain, too. As I said above, I wanted something new, something more thoughtful and complex than another big action movie.

Not that Beyond isn't a good action movie, because it is. I think it was better than Into Darkness, more focused on its core story. And it had Yorktown Base, an immense, gorgeous space station. Frankly, if it were real and I could afford the moving costs, I'd want to live at Yorktown Base.

So I liked it. Do I recommend it? Probably.

I've tried to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible, but the comment section is a free for all -- say anything! If you haven't seen the movie yet, you've been warned that there might be spoilers in the comments, so you might want to come back later,

Billie Doux loves good television, especially science fiction, and spends way too much time writing about it.


toby martin said...

I just came back from watching this and I agree with what you said. I kinda liked the Idris Elba bit at the end but they should of gone more into it. It was a really fun movie though and it didn't feel like 2 hours to me.

sunbunny said...

As a non-Star Trek fan whose only experience with the franchise is the new movies, I feel the exact same way you do, Billie. It was an enjoyable way to spend two hours but far from being a cinematic triumph. Karl Urban was a highlight and Idris Elba was totally wasted.

Heather1 said...

Just saw it last night and loved it. I do see what some are saying about it being more action movie than Trek... however, there were many characters beats and the overall story about people getting lost, I felt, was very Trek indeed. However, my one issue is a biggie... and it's another thing that most people are saying... the waste of Idriss Elba. When you have an actor of his stature (both physically and within popular culture), who can command an audience and the screen, you USE him. When we saw the Klingons in the last movie, I thought it was set up to feature them in the next one. And I believe much of the story could have been tweaked to use Klingons instead of the other aliens (although their "swarm" ships were really neat). Can you imagine Elba as a Klingon? Although he would have had to wear a lot of makeup, he could easily have been recognized (think Christopher Lloyd in Search for Spock). To quote the Klington, Kor, from the original series: "It would have been glorious!"

Mark Greig said...

While stronger than Into Darkness, I still came away from this film feeling underwhelmed. As everyone has already pointed out, Idris Elba was completely wasted as the main villain. His motivation was flimsy and his evil masterplan dodgy. I was also disappointed with now Earth-like the planet they crew were stranded on was. Major missed opportunity there. Finally, for a summer action film none of the action sequences were really that exciting. The final fight was almost embarrassing in how badly done it was. The best thing I can probably say about Star Trek Beyond is that it at least gave everyone in the main cast something to do.

Josie Kafka said...

I also really, really liked Sofia Boutella as a new alien character named Jaylah. She was smart and incredibly fun to watch, and I enjoyed every one of her scenes.

Amen to that!

The sound cut out for about 10 minutes in the theatre where I watched this. (Actually, only some of the sound: the score and sound effects remained, but the dialogue was silent.) It was a rather stark reminder of how little the dialogue matters in a film like this; although it was an important planning and development section of the film, I had no problem following what was going on.

But it was fun.

Thomas Ijon Tichy said...

Short take: I enjoyed this movie, and I hated the first two reboot films. It didn't try and fail at high-concept or recycle old plots for an inferior result, instead opting to borrow from stuff like Galaxy Quest and Mars Attacks! It set out to tell a minor story and it told it well.

The first two movies had practically no memorable scenes save those they stole from Wrath of Khan. As a contrast, I will never cease to chuckle at the best line of this movie, from Bones to Spock:

"You gave your girlfriend a tracking device?!"

Great fun. Plus the "swarm" somehow reminded me of the concept from Stanislaw Lem's "The Invincible" which is always a plus.

Deborah Gallegos said...

Really LOVE Karl Urban and he is totally rocking it as Bones - best part of this movie! Jaylah was a close second.

I have to agree with Billie on just about all her observations on the characters, actually.

Although, I'm feeling Quinto Spock isn't very logical. He mostly has a scowl on his face whereas Nimoy Spock had an impassive look and Quinto seems angry a lot. Quinto doesn't usually act very logically and Spock would at most be irritated or observant of everyone else's lack of logic.