And so we continue the “Summer of Sequels” with Star Trek Beyond. The third installment of Star Trek no longer has J.J. Abrams at the helm, though he’s still producing (Side note: I find it hilarious that Abrams was criticized for making Trek movies that felt too much like Star Wars, and then he made an amazing Star Wars film). It’s now in the hands of Justin Lin, who’s credited with saving the Fast & Furious franchise. Combine Lin’s franchise mojo with a screenplay written by Simon Pegg (who doubles as Star Trek‘s Scotty) and Doug Jung, and you get Star Trek Beyond, a fun, action-packed movie stuffed with Trek nostalgia. It’s more cohesive than Star Trek Into Darkness, but it still has some issues…
After venturing into deep space for three years (with two more still to go), the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise makes a provisions stop at the Federation’s new Yorktown base. There, they encounter Kalara (Lydia Wilson), whose ship was attacked in a nebula by an alien named Krall (Idris Elba), leaving her ship and crew trapped on an uncharted planet. Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) sets out with his crew to rescue Kalara’s crew, until the Enterprise itself is attacked and its crew is taken captive by Krall. With the help of alien Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), who’s been stuck on the planet for years, Kirk, Spock (Zachary Quinto), Chekov (Anton Yelchin), Bones (Karl Urban), and Scotty must rescue Sulu (John Cho), Uhura (Zoe Saldana), and the remaining crew and thwart Krall’s plan to destroy Yorktown.
It’s not a great story, but at least there’s not a scene devoted entirely to Alice Eve’s boobs. The good parts are Kirk having an existential crisis about being a captain with Starfleet, losing himself in deep space, and oh yeah…daddy issues. Spock also has an existential crisis about whether his responsibilities lie with Kirk and Starfleet or with building a new Vulcan society. We also get some great moments between Bones and Spock on a mismatched-partner adventure across the planet, Scotty being Scotty (i.e., the best part of every Star Trek film), and newcomer Jaylah kicking alien ass and blasting good music (or as she calls it “the beats and the shouting”) like Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” and Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage.”
But the not so good part of the story? There’s so much going on that Sulu and Uhura get the short end of the stick. They’re relegated to the sidelines as captives while everyone else enjoys the action (though poor Chekov doesn’t have it great either since he basically follows Kirk around everywhere). Sure, they figure out what Krall is doing, but that just means they’re plot drivers at best. For Uhura, this isn’t anything new. These movies have yet to figure out how to best utilize her without her story being dependent on Spock.
As for Sulu, everyone made a huge deal about him being gay, and it was five seconds (if that) of him greeting his husband at the base. That’s quite a lot of internet freakout for five seconds of what felt more like a concocted press game than inclusive storytelling. Worse, the filmmakers mentioned that Sulu had a kiss that they cut. Look, I understand ditching it if it didn’t feel authentic, but by taking it out, it seems non-committal, which just adds to the “doing it for press” feeling. We could also argue that the fact the filmmakers felt the need to make a big deal about Sulu being gay only draws more attention to how being gay is still viewed by many as “otherness,” which defeats the purpose of LGBTQ representation.
Krall is also a huge waste, given how talented Idris Elba is. He throws Kirk around and yells at Uhura, but that’s the extent of his villain factor. Even his story is lame. He’s only out for revenge against the Federation and Starfleet because he and his crew got lost on a mission, and no one found them. Not exactly stakes-raising motives. It’s a lot like Khan from Into Darkness. Seems scary, but doesn’t really do much that makes you concerned for Kirk and the Enterprise crew. I think Star Trek may have a villain problem.
Interesting how all of the actors of color are the ones who don’t have well-developed characters, don’t get a lot of screentime, or are covered in makeup. Coincidence or inclusivity problem? Hmm…
But what the story lacks, the movie makes up for with special effects and cool visuals (With a $185 million budget, those special effects and visuals better be good). For the most part, everything looks awesome. Krall’s ship is constantly surrounded by a swarm of what looks like “bees” (They’re ships), and the way the swarm moves through space and attacks other ships is pretty impeccable. And the panning views across the Yorktown base is like Inception meets Halo. Ironically, the more practical stunts, like Kirk driving a motorcycle on the ground, make the CGI look glitchy and cheap.
This Star Trek is also more “throwback” with more references to the TV show and movies. Kirk saying his life is “becoming episodic” is a hilarious joke about the show. And Kirk’s toast to “absent friends” references toasts made by William Shatner’s Kirk and Patrick Stewart’s Piccard. There’s also a beautiful tribute to Leonard Nimoy that Quinto’s Spock gets to build his story around. (I’m barely scraping the surface on these easter eggs, by the way.) If you love old Star Trek, you’re going to have a blast.