Star Trek Beyond: A quick review

Beyond is the third Trek movie in the reboot line. It features the original Star Trek characters but with a new cast and a kind of alternate history. Like all the films so far it caters to nostalgia for the original while putting a modern spin on the pacing, characters, and storylines.

The story is a straightforward one. The enterprise is tasked with finding a lost science vessel, only to be set upon by an alien warlord with a desire to take revenge upon the federation. His soldiers possess a dangerous technology and his ideology of strength through conflict stands in opposition to the federation’s goals of peace and unity. The actual plot adds some richness to the telling but this is by and large an action story with near constant space battles, chases, and one-on-one fights.

The original Star Trek formula was: Strong Characters, Mysterious Challenges, Exploration of Ideology, Daring Adventure, and Technological Imagination. All those elements are in Beyond, though not in the same measure as the original show. Here, the Daring Adventure has swapped places with Exploration of Ideology in prominence. While the federation’s peace and love is contrasted with the villain’s strength through conflict ideology, it is given a kind of Saturday morning cartoon treatment. Meanwhile, the action and adventure elements are non-stop.

No doubt it is a product of my age, but for me, Star Trek requires a certain amount of thoughtfulness. Intellectual and moral challenges are as much a part of the conflict as is blasting aliens. In Beyond, this only comes into play in the final moments when we learn the background of the villain and its implications. We are left to reflect on it but for the crew and the movie itself, it seems of little import or weight. Only for the villain himself does it seem to have any real meaning.

As with the other entries in this series, the actors do a great job with these beloved characters. Everyone on the crew is charismatic and distinct and the writers pay them appropriate homage while giving each a twist to make them unique to the series and not just mimics of the originals. Scotty (Simon Pegg) is especially fun here. While he looks very little like James Doohan, he captures the spirit of the character perfectly. The only character essentially missing from this film was the Enterprise herself. In the movies and the series, the characters have a deep love of their ship. In this film, it plays only a scant role and is soon forgotten.

There were times I felt that the banter and implied history shared between characters was unearned. The movie makes it clear they have had many adventures between the first movie and this one, and we know that the characters have a long history consistent with what is portrayed by the script. Yet somehow, because these are new actors, and the characters are in some ways their own, we don’t feel that long history between them the way fans of the original show did by the time original series movies made an appearance. It makes for an interesting examination of actor+character as a unique expression of identity. Somehow their familiarity and close relationships don’t feel earned just yet.

All in all, I enjoyed Star Trek Beyond. It provided a couple hours entertainment watching beloved characters in a beloved world do battle with a worthy foe. That said, it will not go down as a pivotal moment in the saga for me, just one of the many adventures of the crew of the enterprise.

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