Film Review | Star Trek Beyond (2016)

star trek beyond chris pine zachary quinto sofia boutella justin lin poster star trek the motion picture doug jung review 50th anniversary

We will find hope in the impossible.

I’m always unclear on what the deal is with the colons on these movies. Star Trek Beyond, rather than Star Trek: Beyond, seems to be the case. Not quite sure how I feel about that.

Anyway, I watched this movie yesterday; I’d been looking forward to it for a while, despite the dismal first trailer, because of quite how positive word of mouth has been recently. The reviews have resoundingly attested that Star Trek Beyond was a really good movie, and one that would return to the heart of the Star Trek ideals that had, in some ways, been missing from the previous two reboot movies – just in time for the 50th Anniversary, too.

It was undeniably a good movie, in any case. A very entertaining way to spend a couple of hours, if you’re so inclined; it’s very exciting, has some great action set pieces, and it’s the most visually impressive of all the three reboot movies. I want to draw particular attention, actually, to the warp drive effect; though we didn’t see much of it, it was a standout sequences and possibly the most unique way I’ve seen the process conveyed on screen. Another quite effective scene was the destruction of the Enterprise by the swarm – again, it stands out because it’s quite different from the manner in which we’ve seen various Enterprises destroyed before. On the whole, the film looked great, and I think it’s absolutely fair to say that Justin Lin did a wonderful job directing this movie.

One of the other things which stood out about this movie was how well it handled the characters, particularly in comparison to Into Darkness. There’s a danger with ensemble movies to lose focus of the group, and end up with a movie that’s essentially just the Kirk and Spock show. Both Star Trek and Into Darkness had suffered from this a bit; Karl Urban has quite openly said, in fact, that he almost hadn’t returned for this movie as a result of how he’d felt McCoy was marginalised previously. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case with Beyond; it was evident that Simon Pegg and Doug Jung, the writers, had gone to a lot of effort to give each character due level of focus. (Perhaps somewhat ironically, though, given the level of focus on him in the run-up to the movie’s release, Sulu probably had the least screentime of all the bridge crew.)

I really appreciated the fact that this movie put in a greater effort with the characterisation and emotional arcs for their characters. In fact, I thought that Kirk and Spock’s arc was particularly fitting for this movie; they both waver somewhat as to whether or not they’re going to stay with Starfleet, but ultimately reaffirm their desire to stay on the Enterprise. This was quite appropriate, I think, and in some ways reflected the manner in which Beyond intended to bring the reboot movies closer to the original spirit of Star Trek.

Did it succeed in doing so? Well, perhaps. It’s much more immediately obvious that this movie was written and directed by fans, in contrast to the previous ones; there’s a lot of self-referential, tongue in cheek humour there. (A particular favourite was Kirk’s downbeat “I ripped my shirt again”, as if this happens to him a lot.) It also feels a lot more in tune with the rest of Trek, from its unexpected-but-appreciated extensive references to Enterprise, to the vivid colour palette that’s so reminiscent of the original series. There’s a lot more of a focus on exploration than there had been previously (although still not a great deal) and there’s also that lovely moment with Sulu that reaffirms Star Trek’s commitment to diversity and representation.

And yet.

During all the associated press interviews and whatnot prior to the movie, Simon Pegg said that when writing the script, he “wanted to […] question the idea of the original vision of it. Gene Roddenberry’s original idea of the Federation was like a UN in space. We wanted to ask whether it was a good thing or more like a colonising force.” The movie was being presented as a post-colonial, structuralist critique of the original Star Trek, and it was this that had excited me the most about the new movie – the potential for some quite complex themes and a nuanced internal debate. To me, that’s the heart of Star Trek, and something I’ve felt was missing from the most recent movies. Indeed, it particularly appealed because that sort of post-colonial lens is one I find to be quite interesting generally, so to apply it to Star Trek sounded like it’d be really compelling.

In the end, though, that doesn’t really come across. Krall, our villain, does little to present a truly opposing viewpoint to the Federation; his military jingoism is something we’ve seen before, and there’s little time to properly delve into what he’s saying. At times he often seems to contradict himself; despite dismissing unity as a concept, his swarm technology is entirely reliant on being unified, and he mourns the death of his friend towards the end of the movie. Further, I think the revelation of his identity actually undercuts a lot of those themes; given that Krall was never colonised, there’s not exactly anything approaching those sorts of ideas. As ever, DS9 did it best with “You assimilate people and they don’t even know it” back in the day.

Ultimately, Star Trek Beyond wasn’t what I had hoped. The villain was a bit weak, and there were a few minor issues throughout. But it was a movie that emphasised the need for progress, that dismissed xenophobia and jingoism, and took care to reaffirm the ideals of inclusivity, diversity and discovery.

For the 50th anniversary of Star Trek, that’s rather appropriate.

7/10

Related:

Star Trek: The Original Series reviews

Star Trek: Discovery reviews

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