Star Trek Beyond: A mostly non-spoilerish review


I don't normally get out to see movies in theatres these days, except for two cases: the film is aimed at kids, or it's either Star Trek or Star Wars. I'm kind of predictable that way. Well, a new Star Trek movie has hit theatres, and I got a chance to see one of the 3D showings. With Fast and the Furious director Justin Lin at the helm, did this still feel like Trek? Read on to find more. The only spoilers refer to the official trailers.

Movie Star Trek vs TV Star Trek

Like the 2009 reboot of Star Trek, and the hot mess that was Star Trek Into Darkness (Khaaaaaaaan!), Star Trek Beyond is clearly an action film. This shouldn't really come as a big surprise, as the TNG films were also heavily shifted into action movies. TV Picard was the anti-Kirk, being a philosophical diplomat. Encountering Q, he quoted Shakespeare at him. Sisko punched Q in the face, and never met him again, but Picard, he needed to debate philosophy, at least in the TV series. In the films, Picard was an action hero, doffing his command jacket to pick up a phaser rifle.

TV Trek probably relied more on dialogue because dialogue is much cheaper to film on a TV budget than special effects heavy action sequences. This is clearly not an issue with Star Trek Beyond.

I am Kirk's angst

From the second trailer, we hear Kirk talk about how his father joined Starfleet because he believed in it, Kirk pretty much just joined on a dare. The implication is that Kirk isn't really sure he belongs in space, possibly because he's been kicked out of all the female crew quarters by that time.

There is some, albeit minor, philosophizing about the nature of being a captain in Starfleet. The comparison is to submarine crews, where people endure long isolation from the rest of the world.

Character Driven

All things considered, this film is really quite character driven. I suspect that it's nearly impossible to write a film with these characters that isn't to a large extent character driven. Kirk, Spock, and Bones have become archetypal characters. The trick is to write scenes that feel right, without mirroring scenes that happened on the show, or in earlier movies. There's a moment where Kirk and McCoy meet for a drink that felt like vintage Deforest Kelley.

Most of the best quotable moments in the film involve the witty repartee between McCoy and Spock, although Scotty holds his own against anyone he's talking to.

Progressive Trek

The 2009 reboot and Star Trek Into Darkness took some well-deserved flak for their gratuitous shots of scantily clad women, in scenes which do not advance the plot. That has clearly changed in Star Trek Beyond. As part of a montage sequence, there is a shirtless Kirk being kicked out into the ship's corridors.

When the ship arrives at a starbase, there is a simple shot of Sulu meeting his partner and their child. It's simple, and powerful, but raises more social questions. In TNG, Miles and Keiko O'Brien raise their small child Molly on the Enterprise. Why can Sulu not have his child on board? Oh, well, from the trailers, it should come as no surprise that the Enterprise is catastrophically destroyed. So I suppose having children on board might cause some problems there.

Star Trek Beyond in 3D and musical choices

Once again, the reboot brings in some modern music, and once again, that music is the Beastie Boys in Sabotage. It seemed a bit gimmicky in the 2009 reboot, but in Beyond, I think they worked it deeper into the plot, at a crucial point. It helps of course, that I'm a fan of the Beastie Boys.

I've not seen a lot of movies in 3D. It usually seems gimmicky, especially when you can pick out the parts of a film which were aimed at a 3D audience. In Star Trek Beyond, nothing reached this level of gimmick, although the flyovers around the Enterprise seemed almost pornographic, caressing the curves of the starship in various flyover scenes. Other scenes use the concept of screen distance rather effectively, in the major climax of the film. The most disturbing parts of the 3D experience were actually some of the rotational drift in the zero gravity sequences.

Is it worth seeing?

Yes, yes it is. It's clearly better than Into Darkness, and has the distinct advantage of being able to skip the introductions that the reboot needed to do. The Enterprise enters battle at the 30 minute mark, leaving lots of time to develop the story. For movie Star Trek, this is one of the good ones.