Friday, July 22, 2016

Star Trek Beyond review

Star Trek Beyond is a hugely successful continuation of the 2009 reboot series.  As directed by the experienced Fast & Furious franchise hand of Justin Lin, it resonates throughout franchise lore, and makes a profound statement anyone can appreciate.  On the latter score, that's a somewhat unique achievement in the film series, of which this is the thirteenth overall installment.

This is a movie that outlines everything you need to know about James T. Kirk, both personally and how he confronts his duties as a Starfleet captain.  His exploration of deep space has left him questioning why he's doing this at all, especially after unrewarding experiences like the one that starts out the movie, in which he fails spectacularly at bridging the gap between two alien worlds, despite the best of intentions.  He's ready to walk away, and then another crisis breaks out.  As he's always been, Kirk is at his best, and most effective, when dealing with crises.  The whole movie is about him finally realizing what he brings to the table.  It's no longer about justifying himself to Starfleet (as in the two previous movies), but to himself.

The big threat is Krall, who depicts the antithesis of the Federation mandate: he believes unity to be a weakness.  As the film progresses, we learn who and what Krall really is (something perhaps more elegantly handled in Beyond than its predecessor, Star Trek Into Darkness), and how he came to his conclusions.  It's a story ripped from the headlines, as with the best Star Trek plots.  Just as we're confronted with an Arab world bewildered by the advances of the West, we have members of our own society equally baffled by the demands of change, and the effects of war.

It's also a story of the frontier.  Star Trek is the last of the great Westerns, in some respects.  Originally conceived as a Western in space, seldom is that concept more relevant than in Beyond.  Krall's opposition to the Federation may also be correlated with the encroachment of white settlers in Native American territory, and how this frequently proved to be impossible to reconcile.  We've been so busy thinking of the Federation as the good guys, it's truly startling for anyone, other than implacable foes like the Klingon and Romulan races (who were represented as such in the last three movies, and others besides, not to mention many instances throughout the TV adventures), to present another view.

This is an expansive vision, with a rich depiction of Star Trek's vision of the future, the clash of cultures and what it means to be a part of it (from Kirk to Krall to resourceful refugee Jaylah, who helps Kirk defeat his enemy).

Idris Elba (Krall) and Sofia Boutella (Jaylah) are both wonderful additions to Star Trek's acting family, adding richly to its diversity in a number of ways, both in their casting (Elba is the first black actor to play a villain in a Star Trek movie) and their voices (Boutella's accent is equally unique in franchise lore).  And they're only part of the increased diversity in the film, from the aliens to the sexual orientation (Sulu is famously depicted as gay in this movie, yet another first for Star Trek).  In addition, the fears everyone had of Deep Roy's Keenser being turned into a Guardians of the Galaxy figure were lightly rebuffed (his colds, however, are not to be messed with!).  Shohreh Aghdashloo's presence lends further dramatic and cultural credibility to the proceedings.

Filled with wonderful character moments, some killer comedy beats, and a deep plot, Beyond joins the elite of Star Trek movies, not just as, arguably, the best of the reboot era, but one of the best, period.  It's a heck of a way to celebrate the franchise's fiftieth anniversary.


  1. Are the movies separate from the television series, or do they cross over a lot? I've never quite understood the symbiosis.

    1. You don't need to watch any of the TV series to understand the movies. If you were curious, I would maybe start with this one. It adequately encapsulates the charm of the whole thing.


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