“Star Trek” Goes “Beyond” its Predecessors

 

First things first. Do not sit in the very front row of a movie theater if you can help it. I had to do that when I saw Star Trek Beyond. It’s uncomfortable and saps some of the fun out of the theater experience. But, this is one of those movies that best seen on the big screen, so it’s was worth it. Now, onto the actual review.

I have self-identified as a Trekkie for quite some time. I’m a really big fan of the “prime universe” (the branch of the multiverse that the Original Series, Animated Series, Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, Enterprise, and the first ten movies take place in), but, for varying reasons — liberties taken with the franchise materials, characterization, lack of depth — I’ve found that the “Kelvin timeline” (the parallel universe that the reboot films take place in) very disappointing. So, I wasn’t sure what I’d think of the third reboot film, Star Trek Beyond.

STAR TREK BEYOND
Scotty, Jaylah, and Kirk plan their mission on Altimid in Star Trek Beyond

“How are we going to get out of this one?” Kirk asks during the film. “This one” being Altamid, an unexplored planet in unexplored space. The Enterprise went to Altamid to answer a call for help. In orbit, they were attacked by the indestructible fighter fleets of the planet’s alien warlord, Krall. Scattered across the planet in the aftermath of the one-sided battle, Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty, and the rest — including a new ally, maroonee Jaylah — will need to find a way to reunite and stop Krall’s plans, with no ship, and over nine-tenths of the crew prisoners. How are they going to get out of this one, indeed?

 

I was actually very pleasantly surprised by this movie. While heavier on the action than classic Star Trek, it does have some very impressive set pieces. The Enterprise’s last stand against Krall’s fleet is a different kind of battle. There’s been nothing really like it before in the franchise and is one of the best Star Trek space battles of all time. Some of the hand-to-hand fight scenes are a little chaotic and shaky, but they get the job done and are engaging. The final space battle also has a plan that perfectly melds the old school Trek solutions with the trappings of the reboot.

One of the smartest things the filmmakers did in the movie was to keep the stuff that actually did work with the previous films. Karl Urban and Simon Pegg were bright spots as McCoy and Scotty and still are (more on that later). The humor keeps things entertaining. Michael Giacchino, who’s my favorite score composer — excusing John Williams, of course — returns to the reboot series with a wonderful score.

The cast has finally come into their own. My big problem with the previous movies was that I didn’t feel like the characters, save for McCoy, were the same ones from the TV show. By extension, I also felt that the movies were sorely miscast. Based on this film, I think the problem rests squarely on the scripts. Prior, I really didn’t care what happened to the characters. This time around, I was invested in what happened to them, as much as I would’ve been had they been the original incarnations.

The reason for the difference is that, overall, Beyond uses the characterizations from the TV show and original movies, something the cast successfully captures. Chris Pine (Kirk) benefits the most from this shift. I immensely disliked his portrayal previously. Here, we get the guy I remember from the TV show, introspection on off-hours, and working up plans to beat the odds on duty.

Karl Urban (McCoy) is easily the best recasting in the series,period, and the most criminally underused in first two reboot movies (largely due to the misguided idea to make Uhura the third member of the central trio). But here, McCoy gets his due, with extensive screen time with Spock that recaptures the sorely missed character interactions from the TV show.

The rest of the cast is generally good, although some of them are given less to do. Splitting them up into groups, though, was a smart decision. Jaylah, the new character, works well. Having her play some role in the followup would be welcome. The main villain, Krall, is easily my favorite villain of the reboot series and the first one to act as a foil to the leads. Krall also has an unique backstory and was perfectly cast with Idris Elba in the role.

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Spock and McCoy respond to the attack at Altamid. The duo’s scenes are among the movie’s strengths.

A final detail that really sold me on the movie is that the pre-reboot Star Trek series’ has been finally afforded respectful treatment. A good chunk of the background material builds off of Star Trek: Enterprise, and is even correct in the historical details. Leonard Nimoy’s real life passing is incorporated into the story in a meaningful way that’s both a plot point and tribute. There’s another little touch at the end of the movie that will mean a lot to those of us introduced to the franchise through the original iterations. Unlike its predecessors, which tried so hard to replace them, Beyond understands that it stands alongside other stories, and utilizes that in a way to tell a story that couldn’t have been told otherwise, fulfilling the purpose of the reboot in the first place.

There are a few a missteps. While having Kirk and Spock question their life paths fleshed them out considerably, it would’ve made a stronger movie if it was a plot thread through the story instead of bookending everything. The Kirk and Spock dynamic doesn’t work quite as well as it did with William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, but having the characters act like themselves for once does compensate, somewhat.

It’s very unfortunate that Into Darkness’s Alice Eve didn’t come back as Carol Marcus for this adventure, especially since the end of Into Darkness made a big deal about her becoming the new member of the core cast. (Marcus was lost in the rewrites, as was the in-universe explanation. Hopefully, she comes back for movie four). Also, can we please have some actual Star Trek aliens in these movies?

So, is Beyond the best film in the franchise? No, there are others I like better. But I think it’s the best of the reboot series. It’s unashamedly a Star Trek movie that offers something to old school fans without snubbing the new ones and is a fun ride on its own merits. If you like Star Trek or sci-fi blockbusters, I’d say it’s worth seeing on the big screen. So, what do you think? Reply in the comments and may you not only live long and prosper, but also find hope in the impossible.

Extra Notes:

– Stay tuned during the credits for tributes to Leonard Nimoy (do I really need to tell you who he played) and Anton Yelchin (reboot Chekov), both of whom tragically passed away before Beyond was released. Additionally, the two birthday scenes were modified to include meta tributes to Yelchin; the glass in the first and the editing of the second.

– While explaining all the connections to the original Star Trek timeline and Easter egg in-jokes would be a post of its own, Beyond draws heavily from Star Trek: Enterprise season three for some background details.

– The movie takes place three years into the mission the crew received at the end of Into Darkness, set in AD 2260 (five years ahead of the one in the Original Series). So, Beyond takes place in 2263, three years before the timeframe of The Original Series season one.

– The Beastie Boys song that pops up in this movie, “Sabotage,” was previously used in the Corvette scene of Star Trek (2009).

– Chekov receives his assignment for the big rescue plan due to the engineering experience he had, per Into Darkness.

– A big deal was made by the announcement that Sulu would be depicted as a gay character despite being established as being straight. For all the fuss that was made about it, though, this was never explicitly explained in the final film and only there for a few seconds screen time. In fact, from the movie alone, you can’t prove that Sulu is gay, much less married.

The decision to make the new Sulu gay was actually a nod to Sulu’s original actor George Takei, gay himself and heavily involved in related activism. Ironically, Takei himself objected to the decision, saying:

I’m delighted that there’s a gay character. Unfortunately, it’s a twisting of Gene’s creation, to which he put in so much thought. I think it’s really unfortunate.

Simon Pegg, who wrote Beyond in addition to playing Scotty, was the guy who made the change. Pegg felt that the parallel universe setting gave them the license to change this:

the Kelvin universe can evolve and change in ways that don’t necessarily have to follow the Prime Universe at any point in history, before or after the events of Star Trek ‘09

Discussing whether Pegg’s explanation works within the Star Trek canon (since author statements don’t outweigh onscreen evidence) is a whole other blog post, but I personally agree with Takei in regards to whether Sulu should’ve been changed or not.

– Incidentally, Sulu’s partner(played by Doug Jung, one of the writers) was not given a name onscreen, nor was the daughter. Memory Alpha gives the former the first name “Ben.” The popular theory is that the daughter is named Demora, as a nod to the original Sulu’s much younger biological daughter, Demora Sulu, from Star Trek Generations.

– Paramount didn’t market this movie that well. This is the first trailer, which I hated (as did Simon Pegg!) although, after having seen and enjoyed the movie, I find it a lot more fun.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XRVD32rnzOw

Now, here’s the one that made me decide that I wanted to see the movie.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bzD8H6o1awQ

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