I finally got to see Star Trek Beyond today; I was excited enough to want to see it the opening night, but perhaps part of my fascination with space is that it is, by and large, empty. My theater on this hot Monday afternoon resembled the same.
I’m making this a spoiler-free review; while Star Trek topped the box office, plenty of people can’t or don’t see it right away, and all I will tell you is:
See it. If you’re not sure if you want to see it, you should see it. I may see it again. I enjoyed it that much.
In this 50th anniversary year of the original Star Trek series, Beyond does everything that Star Trek does best. It serves as a tribute to the entire franchise, while standing as a really cool space adventure story on its own.
Aside from doing great space adventure well, Star Trek finds its more enduring cultural significance in the way it presents the future of humanity at its best. “At its best” is a qualified phrase – we are a flawed species, and always will be, but the crux of this installment of the Star Trek franchise is a humanity, a part of the Federation, that has moved beyond war. The film begins with Kirk attempting to broker a peace accord between long fueding species, with the arguments for continued hostility portrayed almost as caricature; the film finds its primary conflict in the question of whether unity makes us stronger, or softer against potential threats, as our villain suggests that it is in the struggle, in the crucible, where we find our strength.
The diversity has been present in Star Trek from the first episode, and if you’ve had any interest in the movie, you can’t have missed that Star Trek Beyond breaks new ground in presenting Sulu as gay. What was wonderful about this wasn’t the inclusion itself, but the way the film handled it – it wasn’t a big deal. The media has made a bigger deal about it than the film did. That’s part of the hope for the future, I think – that 300 years in the future, people can just be, without being a political or social statement. Sulu’s domestic relationship is not an issue beyond the five seconds it is on the screen; Sulu spends the rest of the film as the strongest supporting crew member, outside the Kirk/Spock/Bones triumvirate. Star Trek has more power than other franchises to make a powerful impact on our attitudes of inclusion; Star Trek is not long ago in some galaxy far away, it is a vision of our future – a future where the crew is judged by the content of their character and their ability, and not by race, gender, sexual orientation, belief, political affiliation, or national (or planetary) origin. Star Trek needn’t be a fantasy – it can be a goal.
But this is science fiction – I can’t just marvel at the social vision presented. The first view of the Enterprise is always a magnificent moment – Kirk’s own tall ship, just searching for a star to steer by. Into Darkness gave us an amazing view of a future Earth, but Beyond gives us Yorktown – the star station of the future, a last stop of civilization before the wildnerness of the vast space beyond, either a space station suspended in a snow globe, or a working M.C. Escher design, depending on your point of view. We have an enemy inspired by insect swarms in its devastating attack formations; Jaylah is fun and capable as an ally – and in her favored choices of classical music.
Space is the final frontier, and in that void, we find new worlds and new civilizations, but we also find ourselves. The central vision of Star Trek is just one possible vision, and the series itself has never been afraid to challenge it – and from Roddenberry to those continuing to boldly go forth, the series has always concluded that we are stronger when we are united, when we seek deeper understanding of each other, when we meet our challenges with our wits rather than our brawn. “We find hope in the impossible . . .”
Star Trek Beyond is a fun action movie, but it solidly IS Star Trek. While Beyond is the third movie in the reboot series, the original series is always right at the heart of the films. From the start, when Kirk laments over another ripped shirt, the film is filled with Easter eggs for the fans of the entire series. The film was in post-production when the new Chekov, Anton Yelchin, died, and a brief memoriam was made in the credits. Throughout the film, however, are tributes to Leonard Nimoy, the definitive Spock, and director of two of the Star Trek films starring the original cast. I’m not ashamed to admit I was close to tears a couple of times.
Star Trek Beyond is as good as anything done in the franchise, and in my eyes, beats the more spectacular blockbusters in the Star Wars and Marvel pantheons. If you haven’t seen it – go Beyond. If you have seen it, go again. Be entertained. Be inspired.
And live long, and prosper.