In the film Star Trek Beyond, the crew of the Enterprise heads to deep space to rescue a stranded ship and finds themselves a pawn in a terrible plot. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to finish Star Trek.
It’s so weird that this is the last one. This is it, y’all, at least for the time being. (I can’t say when I’ll have time to slot Discovery into my schedule, given that I can’t do Double Features for a while and I’m all scheduled out pretty much through 2018.) It’s a good place to end this journey, however. If “These Are The Voyages…” had been my final Trek experience, this would have not been quite as pleasant. While the people behind these reboot films had some massive shoes to step into, Star Trek Beyond truly felt like the first of these three movies to be an extended episode of the show.
Which is a strange thing to say, of course, because that same component is what made me feel like some of the other movies weren’t as good. While there’s a means to accept that the reboot films are only tangentially canon, I mostly went into them believing that they were their own thing.
But Beyond is smart to exist within both its own framework and the general tonal quality of the television series. It opens in the middle of the five-year journey we first heard about in The Original Series, and because of that, we actually get a sense that this crew has been on countless adventures and missions together. That comes through in the camaraderie and chemistry between these people (most especially Spock and Bones, who I did not expect to be paired up), and it’s believable.
Since three years have passed since the events in Into Darkness, the script for Beyond introduces two character plots that fuel the emotional motivations of Spock and Kirk. Spock’s decision to leave Starfleet gave me reminders of T’Pol in Enterprise, especially since he felt a duty to return to New Vulcan and help his people after they were attacked in the first film. Kirk, however, gets a very interesting plot: he’s tired. After three years exploring the distant edges of the galaxy, he isn’t sure that exploration is his thing. It’s such a surprising story for Kirk to get, but I found it pretty satisfying, especially as this film unfolded.
The rest of the cast has a decent amount of screen time, though I felt like Sulu had the least out of the group. But we saw his husband! Which was neat, but CLEARLY NOT LONG ENOUGH. Also, why couldn’t they kiss? LET GAY/QUEER COUPLES GET ON-SCREEN AFFECTION, OKAY.
Anyway, my only real complaint about this was the story of Krall. (I’ll get to that in a second.) Because holy shit, this movie is FUCKED UP?!?!?!?! Once Krall and his forces ambushed the Enterprise, this movie basically became a relentless parade of NOPE. I’m so used to the Enterprise getting fucked up but generally turning out okay that this TRULY MESSED WITH ME. I was reminded of how Voyager looked during the Year of Hell arc, except this movie actually destroys the Enterprise beyond repair. It was horrifying to watch, and that moment where Krall’s swarm sheared off the nacelles will forever go down as one of the most shocking Trek moments I have ever seen. My instant reaction was CAN THEY DO THAT, IS THAT EVEN ALLOWED. And it wasn’t even the worst thing to happen. The ship becomes a very physical element in this film, and it is royally destroyed.
From there, the crew is split off into multiple groups, and the script masterfully follows all of them. Spock and Bones’s scenes were my favorite, especially since there was LOTS OF ANGSTY BONDING. Then there is the PERFECTION of Jaylah, one of the coolest original characters in all these films. I love that we get such an incredible glimpse at just how resilient and creative she is, and the movie doesn’t sideline her or force her into a place where she needs to be rescued. Instead, her story is all about her desire to get off of the planet where she was stranded, where she watched Krall murder everyone she ever knew, where she only knows violence and desperation. When she meets Scotty, she sees a means to an end. His Federation insignia is the first thing she’s seen in ages that might provide her with a way of escaping a wretched existence.
And then there’s Uhura, who provides the moral rejection of Krall’s political philosophy of nihilism and violence. While I do have some shit to say about his character, I did appreciate that he was designed to be the antithesis to Star Trek’s sense of hope and community. A community is merely something to be obeyed in Krall’s eyes. It’s how the swarm is able to decimate ships so quickly, but Krall doesn’t actually care about unity except as a means to an end.
So how does one get to that point? I kept assuming – up until that big reveal towards the end – that Krall was a member of a species that had experienced something negative due to the expansion of the Federation. Indeed, Krall seemed to focus on the idea of pushing back against the frontier, so I wondered if this was all some thinly-veiled criticism of imperialism. By that point, it was a bad critique of the concept, though namely through omission. We knew so little about Krall that his motivations were paper thin. He wanted this weapon created by the indigenous population of the planet he was on. (How did he get there? How did he find out about this place? How did he discover the weapon?) He then wanted to use this weapon against the Federation by striking the Yorktown base because… because he hated the Federation? I guess?
The reveal that Krall was actually Balthazar Edison, the captain of the Franklin, helped me make sense of this. I was TOTALLY shocked by the Xindi reference because I never expected any mention of the Star Trek: Enterprise timeline. Yet after being forced to ally with people who were previously an enemy of Earth, Edison felt adrift within a world where he wasn’t a soldier anymore. So, not a criticism of imperialism, but a commentary on the military-industrial complex? Maybe? I mean, there’s just so much going on here. Edison felt abandoned by Starfleet, both literally and figuratively, after being cast through a wormhole to the planet where he began exploiting the native tech to prolong his life by stealing that life from others. Which also mutated him? And he found out about that piece of the tech he needed… how? Because he tapped into Starfleet databases, I guess?
He’s not the best-designed villain, but it was fun to see Idris Elba play this character through such a long journey, and that whole fight at the end in Yorktown was pretty exciting. Still don’t understand how venting that tech into space saved everyone? Wouldn’t those things still have been able to kill any living things? I DON’T GET IT.
I don’t have to get it, though, because I still felt like this respected the spirit of the Trek that came before it. Like I said, it was a great way for me to bid goodbye to the Star Trek franchise, which has occupied my life for more than three years. I had a great time with this film, but I had an even better time watching hundreds upon hundreds of episodes that all shared the same fictional universe. I’ll get to Discovery some day, but for now? This was one hell of a journey.
As a reminder: Person of Interest now takes over this spot/time for the remainder of its run, since I need to retire Double Features for a long while to tackle a billion other writing projects that need my attention. Thanks for the understanding!
The video for Star Trek Beyond can be downloaded here for $2.99.
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