The newer Star Trek films aren’t in any manner terrible but they’re films that appear worse and dumber the harder you actually think about them. J.J. Abrams made them both look pretty and implemented heaps of exciting action, although the things that don’t ad up are easily spotted and the on-the-nose fanservice mixed with the nonsensical retconning got old faster than their attempts to pass Cumberbatch off as Khan.
Abrams, however, only produced Star Trek Beyond, with the direction done by Justin Lin and the writing done by, among others, Simon Pegg. The latter name is the most promising sign, since Pegg has always been a man who cares deeply about science fiction and nerd culture. Let’s see then if he got it right (which you’ll already know he mostly did if you so much as glanced at that white thumb in the upper right corner).
In Beyond Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) leads the crew of the USS Enterprise to a humongous space station known as Yorktown (a fascinatingly designed and mind-bending place), where they shortly encounter a lost alien woman (Lydia Wilson) who warns them of an important weapon they hold that is being sought after by an army of swarm aliens led by the terrible Krall (I will not reveal which actor wears the makeup). This inspires Kirk and his crew to go on another voyage into space, where the swarm ambushes them and causes them to crash onto an uncharted planet, short on resources. Luckily they ally with a steadfast scavenger named Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), who has a way for our heroes to remain one step ahead of Krall and his forces. Commander Spock (Zachary Quinto) and Lieutenant Uhura (Zoe Saldana) contemplate their relationship-of-sorts throughout, but not so much so that it ever gets in the way or halts the story flow.
The rest of the Enterprise crew are of course along for the mission. Karl Urban returns as medical officer Leonard McCoy, Pegg plays Scotty, the late Anton Yelchin portrays navigator Pavel Chekov (along with Leonard Nimoy, the film is dedicated to Yelchin’s memory), and John Cho plays helmsman Sulu – who, as you may already have read in an angry forum post or two, is officially a homosexual as of this movie.
Maddox recently released an episode of his podcast wherein he discussed whether this decision was a legitimately progressive push for more equality and representation in media, or if it was an exploitive attempt to cash in on the rampant political correctness advocacy that goes on in the modern world (George Takei, the original Sulu and an actual gay man, reportedly didn’t find that the decision added anything to the story and also that it was a forced out-of-the-blue alteration to “his” character). I’ll let the lot of you decide.
Despite its shortcomings, something about this movie made it feel notably more Star Trek-esque than any of the other two reboot films. It has all the thoughtful messages, zany ideas (there is a zero-gravity fist fight towards the end that many will find exciting) and enjoyable characters that the fans want to see. Jaylah is as resilient in combat as she is sympathetic, Spock is more Spock-like than ever (when you have him angrily scream the name Khan in a truly misconceived moment of fanservice, chances are you don’t understand how Vulcans work), and Scotty is still both funny and courageous – if you agree with the definition where true courage doesn’t mean absolute fearlessness but rather doing things in spite of how much they frighten you.
The flaws in Star Trek Beyond come in the form of disagreeable choices made by the characters in-universe, plus a handful of technical issues. I won’t harp so much on the glitchy 3D that occasionally placed the wrong objects at the wrong depth, but I did find that certain action scenes (while mostly fun to watch) were shot too shakily and edited too rapidly. I noticed a popping sound during a certain cut, implying they forgot to do a cross-fade, although I doubt “normal” movie-goers will have a gripe with things like that.
Then there’s some of that same type of confused fanservice that Star Trek Into Darkness also suffered from. My dad pointed out after we saw it that you don’t need to throw in a bunch of references to the old series and the Shatner era to please the veteran fans; the fact that it exists on the big screen again is enough. Besides, what joy will the new fans that you’re supposedly rebooting the franchise for find in references to a show they very plausibly haven’t watched?
Talking about the visual effects, smashing as they are, is impossible to do without addressing the big Mugato in the room. Approx. 900 people worked on the VFX for this film, but Paramount allegedly only put 300 names in the closing credits for reasons incomprehensible (it’s not like we live in an age where celluloid shortage is an issue). That means two-thirds out of the people who surely did more than half of the actual work on this movie received zero credit for doing so. The reason it’s not a larger controversy is either that it’s not an entirely accurate story, or that nobody who “loves film” actually cares about anything important and are busy sharing news stories about what someone said on Twitter regarding Ghostbusters.
Star Trek Beyond is, in any event, a fun time at the cinema with some things to admire. It has good character interactions, elegant camera work (sans the odd shaky action moment), amusing music choices, top-notch makeup work, an adventurous plot, and stunningly beautiful visuals. I do hope 3 out of 3 people were at least paid.