REVIEW: Star Trek Beyond

31 07 2016

I took a bit of an unconventional route to “Star Trek” fandom: academia. Ok, fine, a high school mini-course. A history professor’s class, called “Making The World Safe for Democracy,” used the original Gene Roddenberry television series to illustrate the kinds of political tensions being played out in America during the ’60s … only on the small screen.

Perhaps more than any series, I have always approached “Star Trek” with tinted glasses. J.J. Abrams’ first two trips down an alternate timeline contained some faint elements of this social consciousness. But as both fans and malcontents of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” know, the director often spends more time paying fan service than charting bold new territory.

Abrams left the “Star Trek” series in entirely different hands when he departed for that galaxy far, far away. (Fear not, he retains a producer credit.) Director Justin Lin, along with writers Simon Pegg and Doug Jung, make a compelling case for the more frequent shuffling voices in franchise with their take expressed in “Star Trek Beyond.” While the film may lack the polish of the Abrams entries, it excitingly pushes the universe into both classic and unfamiliar territory.

Pegg’s influence most clearly rears its head in the startling humor of “Star Trek Beyond,” far more self-effacing and tongue-in-cheek than any portion of the canon I have experienced. Perhaps now that a new generation is more familiarized with Kirk, Spock and the Enterprise crew, more opportunities present themselves for character-driven humor. The gags are more developed than the plot, which often plays like a good outline still in need some additional finer details. The story often proves difficult to follow beyond generalities, a direct reversal of what made the last two scripts from Robert Orci and Alex Kurtzman glisten.

Chris Pine in Star Trek Beyond

Yet with the events in distant nebulae a little cloudy, “Star Trek Beyond” maintains a clear-eyed perspective on our planet Earth. The film feels highly engaged with our current dysfunctional world, and far beyond the lip service to present problems in lines such as, “Unity is not your strength – it is your weakness.” Every section of Pegg and Jung’s script is devoted to exploring diplomatic relationships, be they with those who seek to help the Enterprise team, those who wish to harm them, or those within the crew themselves.

An early attack on the starship fragments the crew into pairings far too perfect to be random. (Obviously, they were far from chance occurrences.) Karl Urban’s Bones and Zachary Quinto’s Spock being stranded together pits rough-hewn pragmatism against plain-spoken rationality. The assertive confidence of Chris Pine’s Kirk foils nicely against the quiet naïveté of Anton Yelchin’s Chekov. “Star Trek” is so often known for the dialectic established between Kirk and Spock, so seeing the deck shuffled a little bit makes for a nice change of pace.

Speaking of changes of pace – how comforting it is to see people with different perspectives, philosophies, backgrounds and species coming together to table their issues and collaboratively find solutions their problems. Just like what we see on cable news, right? B2halfstars



One response

2 08 2016

I’m more Star Wars fan than a Trekkie, but Beyond (to me) was actually pretty good. Wasn’t the greatest and brightest of the franchise, but was still a fun sci-fi romp.

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