Star Trek Beyond; a (Mostly) Spoiler Free Review

Star Trek Beyond; a (Mostly) Spoiler Free Review

For a while now, I’ve wanted to write my thoughts about the latest Star Trek movie (and the new franchise as a whole). I hope by the time this goes up most people who really want to see it will have. I intend to avoid spoilers (aside from some details about the ‘scene’ involving Sulu being gay) but if you haven’t seen the movie you might want to hold off reading.

First, some background; I discovered Star Trek in high school. I started with Voyager, though many fans decried it as the worst of the bunch. I humbly disagree; Voyager may have fallen into a lot of silly tropes (temporal prime directive anyone?), but it had some interesting characters and a lot of heart. I was particularly drawn to Janeway. Surprise, surprise, a young teenage geek interested in space travel was drawn to the Star Trek show which featured a female captain. Voyager was still making new episodes at the time. I remember when the show ended, they did a big interview with Kate Mulgrew, who played Janeway, and I asked my grandmother if I could keep the TV-guide with the article in it. I must have read it a dozen times.

Towards the end of high school, I moved on to The Next Generation, which I loved even more than Voyager, in part because it covered a lot of hard-hitting topics and in part because of Data. It wasn’t until later I finally sat down and watched the original series, including all of the movies. Of course now I could probably quote Wrath of Khan by heart (which is why I’m never going to forgive Into Darkness) and I’m not sure who I love more; Data or Spock. I’ve seen enough of Deep Space Nine and Enterprise to be familiar with the characters and plots, though honestly neither really caught my attention.

There’s something about Star Trek that has stayed with me. It’s why I’ll watch the re-runs any time they’re on television even though I’ve seen most of them a dozen times. It isn’t just that I love science fiction, or that for the longest time I wanted to be the first person on Mars. It’s that Star Trek speaks to the best of humanity, to our intelligence and our capacity for kindness, to all the great things we can accomplish if we stop our petty squabbling and look to the horizon together. It’s a powerful, heady message, especially for a teenager who grew up in an age of school bomb threats, post-columbine and 9/11.

The first Star Trek reboot movie lacked a lot of the intellectualism that served as the franchise’s backbone. Gene Roddenberry wasn’t telling science fiction stories; he was writing morality plays. He just had to dress them up as sci-fi to get them past the censors. The first Star Trek reboot was a riot of nostalgia, but it was really a glorified action movie. I think the only reason it didn’t bother me was that it brought all my favorite characters back to life and paid homage to a lot of the classic moments even if it was mostly about lens flares and explosions.

But Into Darkness dashed my hopes. I won’t go into all the details here (I’m pretty sure I already did…) but suffice to say that what they did to Carol made me puke in my mouth. So I had little hope when I saw the trailers for Beyond. In fact, the trailers were so disheartening I had decided not to see the movie until some fellow trekkies on Tumblr mentioned that the trailers were horrible at conveying what the movie was actually about. And that if I liked the original Star Trek I might actually want to give this one a try.

They were right. Beyond goes back to Star Trek‘s roots and it served the movie well. They’ve finally matured the characters into the familiar people we fell in love with, though there’s still just enough difference in the timelines to keep it fresh and interesting. There are a lot of great callbacks to the original series, and the first Star Trek reboot. There are a lot of interesting reversals too. But I think the thing that pleases me most is that they’ve finally given the underappreciated members of the crew the screen time they deserve.

I’m serious when I say just giving Bones more screen time improved this movie about twenty fold. Spock, Kirk and Bones were designed as a triumvirate. Bones represents passion, Spock logic and Kirk is the balance between the two. They don’t write characters like this any more, but it’s a big part of what makes the original series work. Not only that, we finally have our sassy Sulu, our quietly powerful Uhura, our energetic Chekhov and Scotty (no adverb needed). I really loved the alien character they brought on board for this movie. They did a great job of making her seem alien and keeping her consistent. She wasn’t an over the top lynch-pin to the plot, but she fit into a nice little niche. I would love to see more of her.

Star Trek Beyond is a step in the right direction for the franchise. I would like to see a little more of the intellectualism that made Star Trek so great. I would like to see the hard moral questions. There are hints of some heavy moral philosophy in Beyond, but it can’t compare to old classics like Undiscovered Country.

My biggest issue isn’t actually with the movie – it’s with the media hoopla surrounding making Sulu gay. I’m not sure who decided to make a big deal of it, as if they had done something grandly progressive and wanted to pat themselves on the back. The ‘scene’ which depicts Sulu as gay is more of a distance shot where Kirk watches Sulu and his partner hug and then walk off arm in arm with their daughter. Gay couples don’t get to kiss on screen, after all, despite three movies of Uhura and Spock eating face. I really wouldn’t have cared if they hadn’t made such a big deal about it prior to the movie’s release. There’s nothing to be proud of here, just the same old tropes. Sulu’s partner never even speaks, nor is he ever introduced as Sulu’s partner, though they do at least carry the thread of Sulu’s family throughout the movie.

If it hadn’t been for the articles, I probably would have thrown a party. But the hype leads to a letdown that sticks in my craw. The LGBTQ community deserves more.

But the movie was still refreshing. We saw it twice – I haven’t seen a movie in the theater twice since Mad Max (and I waited something like 5 years for that movie).

TL;DNR version: I’m a huge geek who has loved Star Trek a long time. I lost hope that we would ever get really good Star Trek movies again but Beyond gave me hope (I sense a new evens/odds rule coming on…). If you’re a Star Trek fan on the fence, give it a try. It’s not the disaster of Into Darkness and, if we all cross our fingers, we just might get more of what we really love.

Though I’m absolutely heartbroken that we’ve lost such a fantastic Chekhov when he had only just gotten a chance to shine. I wish I could write a better tribute to his performance, I really do.

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