Scott and I finally made it out to see Star Trek: Beyond on Sunday.
I don't write reviews on this blog. Not really. MYOST is about me and my experience with or thoughts about Trek rather than a compilation of graded reviews. That being said, I loved this one.
Spoiler Free Thoughts:
Star Trek Beyond is the first rompy "episode" of this Star Trek "series." It's fun. It's wild. It's weird. It's self-referential. It doesn't take itself too seriously but still manages to tug at the heart strings which, if you're like me, you'll feel that in your lower right side. I absolutely, without reservation, recommend it.
Alright. You've been warned.
References: Beyond was written by a longtime fan and it shows. References fly not only from TOS but also the two most maligned (and, of course, my favorite) series, Voyager and Enterprise. Part of this comes from the fact that the only canon Trek history pre-TOS-era is from Archer's time but they could easily have ignored it and just jammed in more technobabble and new history. Instead, Beyond is flooded with terms, costume designs, and history from Enterprise which, I loved. LOVED.
Chicks, Man: Beyond is the first of the rebooted Trek to feature multiple women with real agency. Amanda (Spock's mom) and Carol Marcus (Kirk's love interest) were both fine. Both actresses did a great job but their roles weren't expansive and you can sort of tell that by the way I've reminded you who they are. They are characters who exist to help deepen two main (male) characters. But here we have:
The Commodore played by the amazing Shohreh Aghdashloo has incredible gravitas. She's the only person in authority Kirk deals with in this movie and she conveys a deep understanding of his situation at the beginning and end of his story in Beyond. And, her name is Paris. Guys, I literally started crying when Kirk said he'd spoken to Commodore Paris. I just completely broke down. At that moment this movie said, "Yes, I am for you."
Kalara, the (apparently) alien woman who escapes to Yorktown from a nearby unstable nebula has a lot going on. She manages to dupe everyone at Yorktown and lure The Enterprise and its cargo back to the hands of her captain. Her screen time is ultimately limited but she manages to set a lot of story in motion.
Jayla. Alright, I love Jayla. She reminds me a lot of Lori Petty's character, Noss, from the Voyager episode, Gravity. She's tough, resourceful, brilliant, and she's been stranded on a hostile planet for years. She also manages (like Petty) to have a weird sort of punky/spunky quality that I found really refreshing. Given Anton Yelchin's tragic death, I found myself wondering/hoping that she might be on the bridge for the next film.
Big, Dumb, Fun: There are movies that you laugh at and there are movies that you laugh with. And there are movies where you do both and enjoy every second of it while it's happening. Beyond falls into that last category. In the (almost) climax, the key to defeating the hive of alien ships, comes down to disrupting communication abilities and they do this with... Sabotage. The same song from from the 2009 reboot. Waves of enemy ships explode like fireworks as the Beastie Boys blast into deep space. The moment this happened I immediately had that same old feeling I get when I watch Trouble With Tribbles, Trials and Tribulations, Mirror, Mirror, Author, Author, Hollow Pursuits, or any of the episodes in the long, long tradition of rompy Trek.
Hell Yes, Optimism: Beyond is unapologetically optimistic without being saccharine. An alternate title might as well be Star Trek: Friendship is Magic and I would absolutely be alright with that. Trek has always been about the power of unity, of friendship, of kinship among crew and Beyond gets at that in multiple, fantastic, resonant ways. Beyond sends a message that we are always more powerful together than divided. And that's a message I think we all need to hear right now.
Broken Captain: This is a trope that goes all the way back to TOS and occurs in pretty much every Trek series. Some captain has had it up to here with the Federation and their... ways. And he totally loses it and freaks the hell out and its up to our captain (and their trusty crew) to defeat them in a way that makes us all sad and yet grateful for our friends who somehow keep us from turning to the dark side. Idris Elba is the latest in a long line of broken captains and he does a lovely job of portraying a man who has done everything, everything for his crew and, in the process, has lost his humanity. He (physically) makes strides back to it throughout the film in a way that is pitch-perfect in it's Star Trek-ness.
Sulu's Family: Much has been made of Takei's reaction to the fact that Sulu has a husband in Beyond and, I suppose I get it. He feels ownership over this character and thinks about Sulu's life and legacy in ways that none of us can anticipate. However, several years ago I considered trying to start up (what would've been a largely ignored) campaign to Give Sulu A Boyfriend. I've been in favor of this idea since before it was an idea so, I'm happy. I think it's a great tribute to the character and the actor and it's high time we finally had an LGBTQ character in Trek.
Some Issues: The action is a mess. The bulbs in our theater were a little dark so that might've been part of the problem but I'm a huge fan of frenetic, fast action and so much of the action in Beyond was just confusing and disorienting. This is surprising given that the director is known for action but it is what it is. Action scenes are dark, the framing is constantly askew, the camera is always shaky. Which is, in an otherwise lovingly written, powerfully acted movie, unfortunate.
Still, action was never really Trek's strong suit. So, I guess it's not the worst thing that ever happened:
One of the most beautiful things about this movie is its acknowledgement of history. Both days gone by and the people we've loved and lost. Anton Yelchin passsed away suddenly in a time that I wasn't writing a lot. I was really sick and my hands were a mess and when Scott broke the news to me I had no emotional space to process it. When, For Anton, came up on the screen during the credit sequence, I smiled, teary eyed. That kid was brilliant. A perfect Chekov. And his work in Beyond (as in the first two films) was wonderful. He was gone far too soon and he will always be a beloved part of Trek.
Of course, Yelchin wasn't the only Trek star we lost recently.
Nimoy's death had a profound impact on Trek fans and his loss was carried into Beyond with the death of Ambassador Spock and the effect it has on young Spock. Toward the end of the film, Spock opens the box containing the Ambassador's belongings. Inside is this photograph:
Two, I love the choice that Spock made. The fact that this photograph was in his belongings meant that when he initially boarded The Jellyfish to chase after Nero, when he knew he might never come back, when he knew he might die or he might be stuck on the wrong side of an inescapable wormhole, he took this photograph with him. The most meaningful thing to him, the thing he refused to leave behind, was his crew, his family.
So, basically, Beyond has the thing I'm always going on about, the thing that means so much to me about Trek—Beyond has heart. I can't wait for more.