Geek Review: Star Trek Beyond (NO SPOILERS)

Star Trek was, originally, more than just a show about space adventure.  Ideas mattered, particularly the ideas of creator Gene Roddenberry, and his vision of a more utopian future where conflicts were largely resolved and humanity worked together to explore the greater unknown.

The newer movies have mostly attempted to take the original crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise and put them into a more action-packed setting, more akin to Star Wars than Star Trek.  While those ideas are fine in and of themselves, the third film featuring this younger cast is now out with a script co-written by new Scotty actor Simon Pegg, a Trek fan.  How is it?

Truth be told, this one may be the most true to the original Trek concept.  Speaking as someone who largely enjoyed Star Trek Into Darkness, the biggest problem with that movie wasn’t necessarily that it was bad, but more that it was trying to remake what was probably the best of the films that featured the original cast, namely Wrath of Khan.  Remaking that one as what was basically an action film with a lot of lens flare didn’t sit well with longtime fans.  This time around, the movie manages to stick with the new action-oriented manner of the newer films while actually bringing in some of the core Trek concepts of using ideas to explore the setting.

That’s one way where this film improves over Into Darkness.  That movie, and to a certain respect the first of the rebooted Trek series, divided focus largely between Kirk, Spock, and Uhuru.  Heck, Scotty doesn’t even appear in the initial reboot until the movie is maybe two-thirds done, and he’s removed from the Enterprise early in the second to have a subplot of his own that largely keeps him off-screen.  Beyond gives all the different members of the main crew a bit more to do.  It’s far from perfect while each crew member has a task to perform to save the day, but the best of the older films likewise made use of each member of the crew, giving them each something important to do to save the day, and long practice with the rolls meant the actors always gave a good turn in a familiar set of shoes.  The new cast hasn’t had the time to do that yet, and probably never will all things being equal, but Beyond takes a step in the right direction, particularly for the characters of McCoy and Scotty who’d been relegated more to the background in the reboot thus far.

That more Trek-like feel extends to the film’s central conflict.  Krall, played by Idris Elba, has a distinctly philosophical problem with the Federation.  To say more would be to reveal spoilers, so let me say that it was nice to actually see Elba onscreen.  Like Benedict Cumberbatch before him, he’s probably overqualified for the role he’s playing, but this is his fourth movie this year, and after ZootopiaThe Jungle Book, and Finding Dory, getting Elba’s physicality into the movie makes for a welcome change of pace for cinema goers.

That sense of tribute even makes its way into the movie in very meta ways.  Early in the movie, Kirk complains in his Captain’s Log that he feels like after three years into his five year mission, his life has become highly repetitive and episodic.  Leonard Nimoy’s passing is actually acknowledged in the movie, and young Spock gets a moment to look at a framed photo of the original cast.

But the action scenes are still fun and tense.  The emphasis is always on teamwork for the crew, and even the closing credits reflect that by listing the main cast in alphabetical order rather than start with Chris Pine and work down in his chain of command like most Trek films and TV series do.  Ending with a dedication to both Nimoy and Anton Yelchin, I would say the movie is fun but nowhere near perfect.  Eight and a half Beastie Boys songs out of ten for me.

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