In Star Trek Beyond, the follow up to the J. J. Abrams reboot Star Trek and Star Trek: Into Darkness, Kirk and the crew of the USS Enterprise are three years into their five-year mission, and we get to catch up with the goings on the ship, their interpersonal connections and struggles, and their general daily lives. Kirk in particular struggles to find the meaning and purpose in their mission, and what role he truly wishes to play in Starfleet.
He is not the only one among his crew pondering their place and role on the Enterprise, but before any of them find resolution, an escape pod emerges from a Nebula close to the star base Yorktown, with an inhabitant calling for help in rescuing her stranded ship.
Having the necessary technology to withstand the Nebula’s harsh environment, the Enterprise is sent on a rescue mission. However things are not as they seem, and the Enterprise and her crew are flying in to danger. What awaits for them in the Nebula? Will they be cunning, able, and united enough to face that danger?
Of course fans of the J.J. Abrams reboot will find a lot to love here. This film has the same charismatic cast, the same energy, the same humor, and they all live up to the standard of the previous films very well. This film has a great deal of action, both in space and on the ground. It has great interpersonal drama, character building, and character interaction. It will appeal to fans of the genre, of the franchise, and of action films in general.
Interestingly, I feel that this film will also appeal to fans of the classic Star Trek series perhaps more than the first two did. This film does not have the same wonky elements like red matter from the first film, ridiculously close planets, or magic blood. But more importantly, this film strives to include broader themes and philosophical underpinnings that felt largely absent from the previous films, even though they get a bit of a bad rap in that regard.
Star Trek Beyond manages to both avoid the weaknesses of the previous films and continue the good elements that made those two a blast to watch. It is clever, with an excellent script, witty dialogue, and a strong plot that has its own identity and purpose. The same excellent cast returns with some great new additions, and their acting is fantastic across the board, even when particular characters are not given much to do.
The action is thrilling and interesting, both conceptually and visually, and it feels impact full and meaningful. The humor is fun and never detracts from the plot, though, to be fair, one moment goes so over-the-top ridiculous and epic that I could see some killjoys feeling it ruined the seriousness of the scene. Some people just need to learn to have fun.
What struck me most while watching this film were the intellectual elements that felt missing or muted in the previous two films. That is, this film has themes that apply to our current world situation, even if they are a bit simplistic in their examination. It was a pleasure to think about the ways in which the villain embodies a number of the problems in our current social landscape, and how his problems with the Federation and his conflict with Kirk speak to the rifts in our society. That wasn’t a line of thought that I’d felt compelled into after watching the other two films. It is refreshing.
While no single moment met the heights of the first Abrams film, and while the villain isn’t as intimidating and powerful as Benedict Cumberbatch’s turn as Khan from the second, Star Trek Beyond has the most consistently good quality across the whole run time, and beyond that, it is the most “Star Trek” of all three. As of right now, Star Trek Beyond is my favorite of the trilogy, and there is no doubt that it is…
If you want to know more about my rating systems, check out what each rating means HERE.
If you enjoyed this review, keep on reading for “The Long Take” which goes into more detail, but avoids major spoilers, and “Spoiler Talk,” where I can and will talk about anything I like. Don’t forget to support me on Patreon!
The advertising campaign for this movie made me really worried at first. The music, the action, the quips, all made me think that this movie was going to be just dumb action and no brain. I was worried they weren’t even going to have the heart that made the previous two films feel worthwhile. However, the advertising campaign in no way conveyed the reality of this film. The final product that we have here is so much better than what the trailer was promising.
Don’t get me wrong! This film is full of action. It has quips, rampant humor and lightheartedness. Even the Beastie Boys’ music play a bigger role in the events of the film than I had at all anticipated. Yet, all of those things are done very well and not at the expense of either brain or heart. There are many poignant character moments, and there are many themes and ideas to go over.
Chris Pine’s Captain Kirk is struggling to find his own motivation and purpose. He has let his life be defined by ego, and the role and desires that others have had for his life.
Zachary Quinto’s Spock is having to deal with the continuing fallout of the first film, as well as a new personal tragedy, and the relationship separation between himself and Lieutenant Uhura.
Zoe Saldana’s Uhura never becomes entirely helpless, even when she is put into terrible situations. She remains strong and capable and shows that just because she is the communications officer, that doesn’t mean she is not one of the best of Starfleet.
Karl Urban‘s Doctor McCoy has many interesting character dynamics with the other crew members, especially between himself and Spock, that add layers to both his character and those around him.
John Cho‘s Sulu is placed in a position in which she must protect those he loves, and comes into his own as a commander, to a degree.
Simon Pegg’s Scotty manages to not only keep the ship running but also forms an unlikely friendship with the strange alien character Jaylah, played by Sofia Boutella.
He has several bonding moments with her, that gives us more insight into both of their characters. Speaking of Jaylah, she is a fantastic new addition to the cast, with motivations, fears, strengths, technical and martial skills, and a killer look. She has a distinct self-reliant personality that sets her apart from the rest of the cast, and she kicks some serious ass. I would love to see her return in the future installments and the franchise.
There are many storylines, motivations, and character arcs to follow throughout the course of the entire film. Despite their number, they each feel worthwhile and interesting in their own right. Importantly, everyone feels like a real person and those with only brief screen time still manage relevance.
Idris Elba plays Krall, a villain that feels bland and typical for the first two acts of the film, but in true Star Trek fashion, we find out that there’s a whole other layer to him in the third act. Ultimately, he is an archetype of many previous Star Trek villains throughout the franchise’s history.
Despite this, his motivations, and the way he fits into the plot, as well as the conflict he has with Kirk, all play a pivotal role in the themes and ideas of the film. He may not be as imposing as Khan, and he may not be as deadly as Nero, but I thought a lot more about him and what he represents.
The plot manages to both be complex and makes sense. There are no major holes that I could see. I will say, there are some questions regarding the backstory and origin of the villain that the film hints at but never flatly answers for the audience. I could see some people who don’t catch those hints, or don’t think hard enough to put two and two together, might think of them as plot holes, but I believe it to be a minor quibble.
On top of all of this, the visuals of the film are absolutely stunning. From the design of the ships and space stations, to the aliens both friendly and not, there’s a lot to please the eyes here. The key space station, the Yorktown, was especially stunning. It reminded me of stuff out of Mass Effect, like the citadel. Those sorts of amazing visuals and mind bending designs add to the atmosphere of the story, and the Yorktown’s rotating globe design led to one of my favorite scenes in the whole movie, which I will talk about in the spoilers.
Conclusion and Star Rating:
I had a blast with this film. Not only that, I like it more and more the more I think about it. I liked the first J.J. Abrams film because of how well it nailed the characters while adding a sense of humor and especially urgency that sometimes felt absent from the original series. I enjoyed the second one quite a bit, and I think that it gets an unfair treatment amongst fans for some of its flaws. Both of those films are great, but as much as I love certain elements of them, other elements also brought them down a bit for me.
There is nothing like that in this film. There is no scene or moment or idea that tarnishes the good. Because of that, “Star Trek Beyond” is my favorite of the three, and the best overall of this reboot series. Star Trek Beyond is a “Great” movie.
There are many references to past films and television series throughout this movie. There are honestly too many to go over here, but I will mention a couple that stuck out to me. In particular, I was surprised at the amount of love that the Star Trek: Enterprise series received. The crashed USS Franklin is the same type of ship as the Enterprise was in that series. There are also references to MACOs, the Xindi and the Romulan Wars.
There are also references to the original series episode in which the Enterprise runs into the “god” Apollo, or more specifically, they reference the green hand in space. Star Trek has always been a little absurd, and that is upheld in the film by the number of times it references things like that green hand. So, the fact that the USS Franklin ends up surfing a fiery wave (literally a wave like those on the shores of the ocean) of exploding drones while blasting Beastie Boy’s Sabotage is no less absurd, but all the more glorious for it.
The film used science jargon, as is the franchise’s heritage, in such a way as to make the scene just plausible enough that it didn’t break my suspension of disbelief. It was entirely, epically, awesome. As I said above, only people who don’t know how to have fun will have a problem with it.
Perhaps my favorite scene, however, is the final battle between Krall, unveiled as Captain Bathazar Edison, and Kirk in the wonky-gravity of the center of the globular space station. The way they used gravity, the movement of the glass, and the way they staged all the action built tension very well while providing a stage for a battle between ideals – that of the conflict-makes-strength mentality of Captain Edison, and the ideal of unity and diversity embodied in Kirk, representing the Federation.
On one final note, I would like to address the change that was made by the filmmakers, in which they changed the sexual orientation of Sulu from straight to gay. I do not want to address whether they should or should not have made the change. That is not what I want to do now, if anything it would be a post for another time. Instead I want to talk about what the change does for the film. The theme of the film is that we are stronger for our unity and diversity. Having grown up in the south, homosexuality was, and still is, seen as a very negative thing. There is a lot of programming that I have to try to overcome. My reaction at seeing Sulu with his husband on the screen was to be immediately weirded out a bit, even though intellectually I had no problem with it. If anything, that shows how important it was to the theme of the film to include such a thing for modern times. I’m glad they did it.
That’s it for now. Until next time!