Star Trek Beyond
July 25, 2016
That was a lot of fun, and something of a huge relief that the new incarnation no longer seems determined to rehash previous plot bunnies to death. I understand new writers and a new director are to be credited. Huzzah! So what we get with this movie ends up being something unusual after fifty years of Star Trek: not just a new story, but a kind of story that Star Trek hasn’t really done before. Which was very cool I must say!
One of my friends was unhappy with the promotional images for Star Trek Beyond because they show the Enterprise getting destroyed. It isn’t that he hates seeing the Enterprise getting destroyed — it’s just that it’s been done so often by now, and what was spectacular and horrifying at the end of The Search for Spock is now just the thing that Star Trek does to try to shock people, which isn’t actually shocking anymore.
So the movie starts and things happen and the Enterprise is destroyed — in the very first act. And it’s spectacular. And we all think, “Holy cow, now what?” Now what is Star Trek without the Enterprise. The crew has all survived via escape pod and are now scattered on the planet below, being hunted by the alien baddy. (Who is actually the weakest part of the whole story. There’s a baddy, there’s an alien Macguffin Device of sorts that the baddy is after, and it might have been the two margaritas I had beforehand but none of this was entirely clear to me. Partly because none of it mattered. It was just a necessary obstacle to provide the crew with the excuse they needed to be awesome.)
This was actually a great setup for a Star Trek story. Uhura and Sulu get captured by the bad guy and do what they need to to hold the line and take care of the rest of the captured crew. McCoy is marooned with a rather severely injured Spock, and they banter, as one expects. Kirk and Chekov do the bulk of the adventuring, in tracking down the others. Scotty meets the alien refugee who’d previously been marooned on the planet, and who has discovered the still-functioning wreckage of an earlier crash, an older Starfleet vessel that our lovely crew can now get up and running again in order to save the day.
This all gave us something that had been missing from the previous two films: a crew, working together. This isn’t the Kirk Angst Show. This isn’t the non-stop Kirk-Spock buddy action drama. This is a movie about the whole crew, about Starfleet, about their mission, about the good they can do.
Star Trek movies have tended to be big, to justify their existences on the big screen. Giant existential threats against the whole of the Federation, Starfleet, whatever. The two Abrams movies seemed to need to double down on that — altering timelines, destroying planets, etc. This movie really felt like it just wanted to celebrate the little things that have always made Star Trek great: very cool space stations. Making friends with aliens. (I must say, I loved kick-ass alien Jaylah in spite of myself. She was kind of a big ol’ trope, but she was super-earnest. And she seemed really excited about being invited to enter Starfleet Academy, which I just had to love.) Each person on the crew having a job and being awesome, and not just being a satellite for Kirk. The idea that Starfleet wins fights against power-hungry bad guys because of community and optimism.
The layer of meta: in-universe, we learn that Ambassador Spock has died. This felt important, because in the Next Gen timeline, he never died, he moved to Romulus and that was the last we heard of him. So this was really the death of that character, the beloved old timeline character, which was a little strange to think of. This was, in fact, a memorial to Leonard Nimoy, and it was gently done, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. They only had time to add a “For Anton” in the credits for Anton Yelchin. But for me, I think I cried a little bit every time he appeared on screen.
As has been said elsewhere, this isn’t the best Star Trek movie. But it’s a good one, and is a good sign for more to come.