“…boldly go where no man has gone before.” – These words end the latest instalment in the Star Trek universe, a franchise that will be celebrating 50 years of continued domination of all things geeky on September 8th.
Since film culture has evolved from being obsessed with trilogies, when J.J. Abrams announced plans to make a fourth Star Trek movie with the new cast, an audience primed by the X-Men and Marvel cinematic universes didn’t respond with self-righteous outrage. Instead it felt right that the long-running, underfunded TV show about the space adventures of a team of explorers would morph into a big-budget film franchise with no end to it in sight (more so than Star Wars in this reviewer’s humble opinion). The first movie established the characters, the second worked on the coherence of the team and now, Star Trek Beyond brings the first real adventure of the now familiar crew of the USS Enterprise.
This third movie slows things down a bit. Even though the fate of the whole United Federation of Planets still rests on the shoulders of Kirk’s crew, it feels somewhat smaller than Into Darkness. I like the fact that the writers don’t seem concerned with making everything bigger, more epic, by cranking up the power of the villain in every new movie, a thankful deviation from the simple narrative formula epitomized by the Dragon Ball franchise. Visually the movie is just Guardians of the Galaxy eye candy, with scenes that would make even the most stoic sci-fi fans giddy with delight.
Beyond pits the Enterprise against a villain whose reason of being evil is a deep-seated hatred of friendship. It sounds silly, but for a PG-13 blockbuster this works just fine. In a couple of scenes, the main bad guy goes on in monologues about how only strife can make us stronger and how the Federation has hampered progress through fostering peace. To make the central thesis of the movie even more obvious, it turns out that the villain had been driven to the edge of sanity after having lost his team, which places him in stark contrast to Kirk. It’s the classic tyrant-against-democracy tale - familiar but far from boring.
There is a slightly nagging idea running through the story of this movie though. At the start we see a scene which shows the routine of the crew three years into the five-year mission which the Enterprise is on. After it we see Kirk getting drunk on the eve of his birthday, thinking about abandoning Starfleet altogether. A few scenes later Spock, the second in command, is also contemplating the same. After going through the ordeal of saving the Federation and surviving by a hair’s breadth they both emerge confident about remaining with their crew as never before, but this poses a question as to whether the exploratory mission statement of Starfleet figures much into their commitment to stay.
Also, in a movie that aims to make a big statement about the great benefits of teamwork the Enterprise seems to be a lone superhero keeping the United Federation of Planets safe. In Beyond this great organization is literally represented by a snow globe in space, a fragile system of Halo-reminiscent superstructures, completely helpless against the forces of evil. As Into Darkness already established, authority figures above James T. Kirk are not to be trusted and you have to wonder whether there is an upper limit to the size of an effective team these movies imply.
Unfortunately, in real life the production of Beyond was surrounded by a few unfortunate events. The reveal that Lt. Sulu has a daughter with another man sparked controversy due to being called “really unfortunate” by George Takei, the actor who portrayed the character in the original series and who came out as gay in 2005. In addition to that Anton Yelchin (who plays the iconic math prodigy Pavel Chekov in the reboot movies) died in a freak accident only a month before the premiere, giving it a sombre mood, reminiscent of Heath Ledger’s untimely demise following the filming of The Dark Knight.
Regardless of that Star Trek Beyond is a great film to start the Fall movie season on, giving hope that the legendary franchise will indeed live long and prosper.
4.5 out of 5
+ Great Visuals
+ Fun Space Adventure Mood
+ Enterprise Team Chemistry
- One Dimensional Villain