Movie Review: “Star Trek Beyond”

If you want the short version, here it is: Star Trek Beyond is the finest installment of the franchise reboot, and I absolutely loved it.

Of course, short versions are always a little simplistic, so allow me to wax eloquent for a few more paragraphs 😉

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Over the past year I’ve become a walking, talking Star Trek: The Original Series encyclopedia. I’ve watched most of the episodes more than twice, I read LOTS of Star Trek novels, I browse Memory Alpha, I enjoy reading about the show’s production and its cast, and the characters are some of my best fictional friends.

Hence the reason why I never loved J.J. Abrams’ movies the way I loved the old show or its follow-up films like The Wrath of Khan or The Undiscovered Country. They were fun and I do enjoy them, and I really respect Abrams as a storyteller–but they didn’t feel like Star Trek.

Star Trek Beyond is totally different. My mom remarked that “it’s a film for the old fans.” If you don’t know much about Star Trek, I can see why this one might be bewildering. It can be campy at times (just like the old show). The science is iffy at best (just like the old show). References to “giant green hands in space” and lines like “Did you know Scotch was inwented by a leetle old lady in Leningrand?” or “I ripped my shirt again” will seem really random…if you don’t know the old show. It’s crazy, it’s fun, it’s character-driven, just like…well, you get my drift.

It finally feels like the old show, just on a grander, cinematic scale.

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We can thank Simon Pegg, his co-writer, Doug Jung, and new director Justin Lin, for this welcome shift from “boldly going into dark gritty angsty drama” to “boldly going into starry-eyed exploration and adventure.” They know the Original Series like the backs of their hands: they grew up watching and loving it (unlike Abrams, who admits that he always preferred Star Wars) and would reward themselves after a hard day of screenwriting with an original episode. Simon Pegg even credits Memory Alpha’s resources for helping him with the script.

The plot is simple, but compelling. The Enterprise walks (or rather, flies) into a well-laid trap and gets destroyed in a nerve-wracking, gut-wrenching scene. The crew is split up; most of them (including Sulu and Uhura) are captured by a mysterious villain, Krall, who literally drains the life out of his prisoners in order to regenerate himself. Others are stranded in the middle of nowhere on the other side of Krall’s planet: Kirk and Chekov land together in a forested area, Bones tries to keep a wounded Spock alive in an unhospitable cave, and Scotty makes friends with the fearsome yet adorable Jaylah, who makes her home in an old, downed Starfleet vessel, the Franklin.

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The stranded pairs, of course, have to find each other in time to rescue the captured crew and Starbase Yorktown. Throw in emotional subplots like the death of Ambassador Spock (AKA Leonard Nimoy), Jim struggling with whether or not he ought to accept a promotion to the admiralty, Jaylah’s loneliness and determination to avenge her dead father, and Spock and Uhura’s struggling romance…and you’ve just got a lot of feelings to deal with here.

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Jim Kirk IS Jim Kirk in this movie. Gone is the devil-may-care jerk of the first two films: this guy walks, talks, and acts like the old Captain Kirk we all know and love. Spock is more physically vulnerable in this movie than he has been since The Search for Spock, and more emotionally compromised than he has been since the original episode “The Naked Time.” With anyone else, it would feel out of character; with Spock, it’s like you’re discovering yet another layer of complexity. Dr. McCoy, meanwhile, steals the show with both his dry, no-nonsense humor and his surprisingly kind counsel to both Jim and to a Certain Vulcan he only pretends he can’t stand. “I’d throw a party if you left,” my foot. If Spock left the Enterprise, Bones wouldn’t know what to do with himself.

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Lieutenant Uhura is Queen of Trek, as always; her steely-eyed defiance of Krall is nothing short of awesome. Plus, she’s head-over-heels in love with a Certain Vulcan and he’s head-over-heels for her, and it’s ADORBS. I ship it so hard now. There was a lot of controversy over Sulu’s character this time, since he’s revealed in this universe as being (*ahem*) not straight. But for those of us who are uncomfortable with this change, we can be thankful it was revealed in an extremely discreet, 30-second scene.

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Chekov spends most of his time with Jim and had several good moments, including a full scene where he and the captain sneak into the wreckage of the Enterprise. Scotty spends most of his hilarious screen time rebuilding the Franklin with Jaylah, the somewhat naive, very fierce, but good-hearted alien girl who ultimately helps the crew save the day. It’s Scotty who soothes Jaylah’s fears with the same truth that Uhura uses to challenge Krall: there’s strength in unity, and “as my wee Granny used to say, ‘ye cannae break a stick in a bundle.”

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Yes, there were some plot holes, mostly involving Krall’s background and abilities/powers. We still don’t know exactly where Jaylah gets her uh-may-zing technology, either. And yes yes, I know, blasting the Beastie Boys at incredibly high frequencies won’t ever really defeat your enemies and rescue a starbase from complete annihilation (kids, please don’t try this at home). But hey, we live in a world that thrives on stories about scrawny American kids becoming superheroes by being dosed with VitaRays. I think we can handle “the beat and the shouting!” 😉

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One more thing before I close. Star Trek Beyond was released a year and a half after Leonard Nimoy’s death, and about a month and a half after Anton Yelchin’s. Beyond has several poignant tributes to Nimoy, the most obvious of which is the death of Original Spock and Reboot Spock’s conversation with Bones about him; a more subtle one would be the Franklin‘s serial number, NCC-326 (Leonard Nimoy’s birthday was March 26th). The time frame didn’t allow for many tributes to Anton Yelchin, but director Justin Lin did purposefully add a shot with Chekov when Kirk makes a toast to absent friends, and there’s a dual dedication to both Nimoy and Yelchin mid-credits.

In conclusion: yes, I’m a very happy Trekkie right now. Yes, I’m investigating a delightful little fanfic idea. Yes, I’m listening to the soundtrack on repeat. Yes, I’m budgeting for FunkoPOPS. Yes, I’m in a Star Trek Beyond mood, and nothing hurts.

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Live long and prosper, peeps.

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13 thoughts on “Movie Review: “Star Trek Beyond”

  1. It is abundantly clear that you and I haven’t talked Star Trek in far too long. You know more details from TOS than I, so I can see why this film resonated with you so much. Part of me still likes the plot and well-developed villain of Into Darkness over the less-explained villain and his motives from Beyond, but the adventurous vibe was definitely enjoyable. Liked I mentioned to you the other day, I loved “Montgomery Scotty” and Jaylah’s friendship. 😉
    And then there’s the tributes to Nimoy and Anton. *sniff* I’m glad Lin made the effort to include them.
    Ok, I could delve into a several other things I noticed, but I think I shall wait until we can talk in person. 😛
    Love ya!

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    1. (*giggles*) Yeah, we definitely need to get together so we can nerd out! Like I said, I’m a walking, talking TOS encyclopedia these days. I creeped Emmy (and myself!) out yesterday in the pool by waxing eloquent on Vulcan customs as seen in one particular TOS episode.

      That said: I re-watched Into Darkness the day after I saw Beyond and I still thoroughly enjoy it! It’s a great movie, well-written and well-executed, and of course you can’t go wrong with Benedict Cumberbatch. But it didn’t have the TOS vibes like Beyond did, which is why I have to nudge it into 2nd place.

      Jaylah was a wonderful addition. “They’re breaking my houuuuse!!!” “You take my house and you make it fly!” “I do not know what is a welcome mat.” “I like the beat and the shouting!” XD

      The most painful/beautiful tribute, for me, was when Young Spock was talking about Ambassador Spock, and this one tear ran down Spock’s cheek. Ugh. And I’m reading Shatner’s book about Nimoy right now, so THAT background didn’t help the state of my emotions.

      But now this comment is getting long and I’m rambling–so yes, we need to talk in person ASAP. Love ya!

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  2. Hello Maribeth,

    Your review was professional, like one featured in a magazine. You have an ability to focus your unbridled enthusiasm into a smart, concise and friendly article that I find entertaining.

    I’ve come over to your way of thinking about the perfect formula for stories: 5% plot, 5% setting and 90% character driven. Without likable, engaging characters that I can relate to and want to share an experience with, I might as well be reading TV Guide.

    The look-a-likes on McCoy and Spock are jaw dropping shocking. I’m actually forgetting they are not the original actors. I’m basing that on the photos, I haven’t seen the movie yet (but thanks to you, I kinda feel like I have).

    I’m happy when I get a chance to read your writing.

    Always your fan, Mark

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    1. Thank you so much for your kind comment! To be honest I had started a draft of this post and worked on it earlier in the week…but when I came back to it I just didn’t like it. It was all over the place. So I scrapped it, started over, and had this whole post finished in an hour and a half, haha! So if it sounds “smart and concise” now it’s only because it WASN’T before and sometimes you just gotta start at the beginning 😉 But I’m glad you enjoyed the finished product.

      I hope you get to see the movie soon. If you love TOS, I think you’ll really enjoy it!

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      1. Well, that is a trait of a pro writer, being able to put your writing down and come back to it in a few days with a fresh perspective. The first draft was already in you, you just organized and crafted the language until it suited you.

        Many times I completed a story believing it was the best story ever written, in this or any other universe (a candidate for the Noble Prize in Literature), only to discover the next morning, that it may have been the worst thing I had ever read.

        I’m curious Maribeth, do you like any of the other four Star Trek television series? I like Voyager with a Kirk-like female captain, who punches her way through the galaxy.

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      2. I’ve seen one season of The Next Generation, and while I *like* it, I don’t love it. It’s too heavy, in my opinion, and I miss the Kirk/Spock/Bones dynamic. I do really want to see Deep Space 9, though. Out of all the other series, I think I’d like that one the best (from what I’ve read, anyway).

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      3. I don’t know if you know this, but here is something interesting.

        You’ve seen the original series episode, “The Trouble With Tribbles. Well, Deep Space Nine does a high tech tribute episode to the original series by – get this – blending both crews together, sending the DS9 crew back in time to Kirk’s enterprise. Lt. Worf (Klingon security chief for DS9), explains why the Klingons of that era were green complected. The two crews from different time periods, fist fight on the same side against the Klingons in the famous bar scene. Scotty fights back to back to transporter chief Miles O’Brien, who is also Scottish.

        The DS9 episode is titled, “Trials and Tribble-ations”.

        This would be like one more original series episode you can look forward to watching.

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      4. Oh yes–our TOS Season 2 DVDs include “Trials and Tribble-ations” on the special features. I love how they made Jadzia Dax such a fangirl, gushing over “retro design” and swooning over Spock. She represents the Trekkies well, haha!

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      5. Well then, all is right with the world…or…the Star Trek universe…as we boldly know it. (:^) )

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    1. Thank you so much!! I love tags and it’s been forever since I got one. I’m going to have to start following your blog too! 😀

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    1. Thank you for asking! My family and I are okay; my brother and his wife had to evacuate to our house, but they’re safe and sound now. I’m going to make a post about the whole thing within the next few days.

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