Written by: Simon Pegg & Doug Jung
Direct by: Justin Lin
This review, like all on this site unless noted otherwise, will contain spoilers but since the movie just came out, I wanted to warn you.
My Trek Watch is being shifted a bit in honor of Star Trek Beyond which opened in theaters today. Star Trek Beyond is the third film in the Kelvin Timeline (previously dubbed JJ-verse by many, myself included) and the 13th film of the franchise. The movie was co-written by self-proclaimed Trekkie and Trek actor, Simon Pegg and directed by Fast & Furious director Justin Lin, another self-proclaimed Trekkie. The film stars the returning cast which includes Chris Pine (Kirk), Zachary Quinto (Spock), Karl Urban (Bones), Zoe Saldana (Uhura), Simon Pegg (Scotty), John Cho (Sulu), and Anton Yelchin (Chekov). We are joined by two newcomers in the main villain played by Idris Elba (Krall) and a new protagonist played by Sofia Boutella (Jaylah). You might remember Sofia Boutella from Kingsmen, as she plays Samuel L. Jackson’s #2, the woman with the blade legs.
Alright, let’s talk about the film. Star Trek Beyond takes place just about 3 years into the Enterprise’s Five Year Mission. This might even be a bit of a nod to The Original Series, since it was canceled around the time this movie would have taken place. I love the way the movie begins. We are shown a Captain Kirk who is bored, tired, and disenchanted by the chair. He even makes an inside-joke about things feeling episodic. I laughed. What I liked about this was the parallels to Captain Pike of the Prime Timeline in “The Cage”. Both characters had lost their sense of adventure and drive for exploration. They had lost themselves a bit and didn’t know what their next step would be. Both even thought about leaving the Enterprise.
In the meantime, we had Spock’s interesting arc of conflict dating back to the 2009 film. He is constantly struggling with his duties to Starfleet and his duties to the Vulcan people in the aftermath of Nero. In a truly touching tribute to Leonard Nimoy (Spock Prime), Spock learns that the Ambassador has died. This is an incredibly complex situation. What does it feel like if a version of yourself dies? How can one know?
Things don’t stay dark the whole time, though. In fact, I found that the film brought a sense of light and brightness to the franchise we had not seen since Star Trek: Insurrection. I found that this movie enjoyed the spirit of The Original Series but did so in the 21st century when movies are more fast paced and action packed.
The overall plot is solid. I also really liked the origin of Krall, even if some critics claim they caught on immediately. I did not. I found Krall to be a menacing character as well. He is powerful, intelligent, and dedicated to his cause. The characters have fun and/or important arcs that are all more or less resolved by the end of the film. Again, Chekov has the least going on but he did get more screen time than Into Darkness. Jaylah was a nice breath of fresh air too. Her speaking style, visual appearance, and attitude made the movie more enjoyable and brought a sense of wonder with her.
The character relationships are the best part of this movie from a story perspective. Bones and Spock have some wonderful moments both humorous and serious in nature. When Spock is close to death, it is their respect and friendship that keeps them going. Since 1966, we’ve watch Bones and Spock trade barbs. McCoy would throw a “green blooded” insult and Spock would reply with something intellectual yet sarcastic. What some don’t realize is that they were true friends with deep respect for one another. Beyond showed this better than any film before it and I loved every second. Seeing the characters paired up differently was also fun. We had Kirk and Chekov, Uhura and Sulu, Scotty and Jaylah, and Bones and Spock as I mentioned.
What sold this movie to me, as a Trekkie, is its understanding of the franchise and canon. While the 2009 film obviously referenced the Prime Timeline it didn’t add anything outside of Spock Prime. At the same token, Into Darkness ignored the Prime timeline all together with the exception of Khan’s existence. Star Trek Beyond does exactly the opposite throughout the film. First, we have all of the Star Trek: Enterprise references like the Xindi and Romulan Wars, MACOs, and the formation of the Federation. We even got a glimpse of that era’s uniforms and the USS Franklin is clearly based on the NX-01 Enterprise design from the TV show, even if it’s different. But that’s not where it ended. We got references in basic dialogue like Chekov’s tale pertaining to the origins of Scotch, straight from TOS. Kirk even makes a statement about “absent friends” in his toast toward the end of the film. The birthday references are there too. These were echos of The Wrath of Khan and The Search for Spock but in a different light for different incarnations.
The resolution for the film is fun, for me at least, but flimsy at best. I saw some similarities to how the Borg were handled at times during Voyager with the whole disrupt communication concept and I can appreciate all of the ships in the swarm functioning that way but I don’t understand why they blew up anymore than I understood it in the Voyager episode “The Swarm” when those ships exploded due to a phaser feedback… but at least that was an actual weapon. But, as I said, the scene and music is fun, so I’m going to let it slide because Trek has done worse before and it’s my only serious gripe for the film.
Finally, we had the major tribute to Nimoy. Quinto’s Spock is looking through a box of items from Spock Prime. He then pulls out a small case where a photo slides out. I expected just a picture of Nimoy as Spock, maybe young, maybe old but just something to say goodbye one last time. We got so much more. We got the iconic photo of the original crew, similar to the one below. We got to see the Kelvin Timeline not only honor Nimoy in his passing but honor his Spock, his Kirk, his Enterprise, and his crew. It was a picture I never expected to see in new Trek and an acknowledgement of the franchise’s history that was perfectly deserving on its 50th year.
In the credits, we got a final goodbye to Nimoy and the film’s dedication to Anton Yelchin. While Nimoy’s loss was a major one for many in the Trek community and beyond, Yelchin’s was shocking and painful. He was so young and his presence will be missed in everything he could have been a part of. I fully support Abrams’ and the studio’s decision not to recast Chekov.
To end on a positive note, Star Trek Beyond was a fantastic birthday present to a franchise half a century old that has hit every corner of this globe. It captures the spirit of The Original Series while pushing forward in its own right, respecting the franchise every step of the way. I loved it and can’t wait to see what’s in store for Star Trek 4 and the upcoming TV series on CBS.
May you all live long and prosper.
For more of my thoughts on the film, catch the Screen Heroes podcast episode #31 with a live broadcast Tuesday, July 26th at 8PM CST at twitch.tv\griddaily or listen to the recorded episode at griddaily.com