Director: Justin Lin
Screenwriters: Simon Pegg, Doug Jung, Roberto Orci, Patrick McKay, John D. Payne
Chris Pine: Captain James T Kirk
Zachary Quinto: Spock
Karl Urban: Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy
Zoe Saldana: Lt. Uhura
Simon Pegg: Scotty
John Cho: Sulu
Anton Yelchin: Chekov
Sophia Boutella: Jaylah
Idris Elba: Krall
It is striking to realize that the original Star Trek series, dubbed by Gene Roddenberry, its creator, as “Wagon Train To The Stars,” first aired on television on September 8, 1966. I watched it, and have been a fan, with varying degrees of devotion, since. I’ve enjoyed parts of all five Star Trek series–the Original, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager (my least favorite of the five) and Enterprise. While I watch relatively little network television, I am looking forward to seeing what becomes of the newest iteration of the Star Trek franchise, due in the fall of 2016.
Bit of Interesting Trivia: The first interracial kiss on television was passed between Captain Kirk and Lt. Uhura. They were being forced by a malevolent entity, so it squeaked by.
My Trek background requires that I consider the newest movie not only as a stand-alone film, but as part of a long story line dating back to the time I saw that first episode on a little black and white screen in my parent’s living room. This is fortunate, however, as Beyond works well not only as an engaging action film, but as a fitting continuation of a timeless story.
The first impression one might have of Chris Pine’s James T. Kirk, particularly if one has seen Star Trek (2009) where Pine debuted as Kirk, and Into Darkness (2013), a sort of Kahn prequel, maybe, is that James T. Kirk is really hard on vehicles. Pretty much everything in which he rides ends up badly damaged or destroyed.
But before the Enterprise is reduced to suitcase-sized pieces, we are reintroduced to James T. Kirk, older, wiser and three years into the five-year mission promised at the end of Into Darkness. Speaking of that movie, consider this from my critique (link in the previous paragraph):
James Kirk is young, untried, arrogant, unable to admit error, and displaying enough hubris for every Greek tragedy ever performed at the Dionysia. Viewers are more than justified in wondering what such a reckless juvenile is doing as an officer, to say nothing of being the captain of a starship, in any man’s space navy. But most of all, James Tiberius Kirk has no idea of his limitations. In fact, he thinks he has none, as evidenced by the fact that, yeah, he’s had his rear end repeatedly kicked, but he’s always managed to pull the rabbit out of the hat. Sure, lots of people have died, but he’s always triumphed, in every case thus far, bringing the Enterprise home in such horrific shape it’s taken a year or more to make her spaceworthy again.
But. James T. Kirk is one of the most brilliant and intuitive commanders anyone has ever seen. There are good reasons that his exploits are required reading at the academy long after his death, and Captain Pike, and others, understand this.
However, can Kirk make the sacrifices necessary to truly be a good commander? Can he sublimate his own desires and ego, and take care of his people and his friends? Can he follow regulations–well, not entirely because he’s James T. Kirk–at least well enough not to cause intergalactic incidents every five minutes? Can he do the right thing, regardless of the consequences?
That’s what Into Darkness is really about, the growth and redemption of James T. Kirk, who not only comes to understand that he has limitations, but that others have strengths, strengths he desperately needs. We all like to believe we’ll have second chances, and we all like to see the uplifting cultural characteristics we cherish upheld by attractive (sometimes underwear-clad), interesting, even heroic characters we care about. What characteristics? Self sacrifice, dedication to duty, friendship, loyalty, honor, teamwork, truth-telling, and bravery. At its best, Star Trek has delivered those characteristics. It has failed when it got away from them, leaving characters mired in moral navel gazing.
While there is some character development in Beyond, it occurs quickly, and is expressed by a quick comment here, a meaningful glance, thoughtful look or frown there. There is relatively little dialogue. Plot elements are quickly explained, and then it’s on to the next action sequence, and the next, and the next and the next…
The style and pacing of Director Justin Lin is obvious to anyone that has seen more than one of the Fast And Furious franchise, a series of movies Lin mostly directed. At their worst, they were tedious and formulaic. One was so lame Vin Diesel, the hero of the franchise, wisely begged off. Even the better movies in the franchise are little more than a series of wildly implausible, but well staged and filmed action sequences loosely tied together by sparse dialogue, improbable plots, avoidance of the laws of physics, and the occasional grimace by Diesel.
The beginning of Beyond sets the stage: Three years into the five-year mission, James T. Kirk is bored. He’s not getting much action–of any kind–even though the crew and ship have settled in nicely and are humming like a top. Stopping at a huge space station, the crew takes a bit of well-deserved leave, and we learn that Kirk has applied to take a slot as vice-admiral, in command of the station, but first, a rescue mission of a missing ship and crew in a nearby mysterious nebula take Kirk and the Enterprise, boldly, where just about no one has gone before, and the Enterprise is quickly turned into confetti by a swarm attack of seemingly thousands of little pointy, insect-like ships.
From there, the rest is simple and fore ordained: Kirk must gather what forces he can find, pick up an alien babe to help, rescue what remains of the crew from a really bad villain, and stop his evil plot to kill the millions on the space station with an ancient biological weapon.
Chris Pine is entirely comfortable in Kirk’s skin. His Kirk is more confident, well-respected and not just thought of as a loose cannon, yet retains the humor and daring that the character requires. The plot frequently plays on little sight jokes and references to character quirks evident since the original series, and they range from amusing to delightful, to laugh out loud funny.
Zachary Quinto’s Spock has become more human, hence, more comfortable, though in several scenes of the film, it looks as though his hair as been sprayed on. He is even capable of meeting the emotional needs of Zoe Saldana’s Uhura. Saldana has quite a bit of screen time, but she is seldom the focus of the action or the audience’s attention.
Karl Urban’s Bones is becoming more reminiscent of Deforrest Kelly’s Bones in his overall role in the crew, while still being a new creation. Even Urban’s facial expressions help to create the sardonic, pessimistic Doctor. Still, he and Spock actually share a semi-tender moment.
Simon Pegg’s Scotty is a delightful character, and helps hold this loosely glued movie together. John Cho’s Sulu takes on a larger role than in previous movies, and this is a good thing, as Anton Yelchin was killed in June of 2016 in a freak accident when his car rolled down a hill and crushed him against a brick pillar. Chekov is essentially Kirk’s sidekick in much of Beyond, but audiences will have to get used to a new Chekov–maybe.
One other change in Beyond is the incidental death of Leonard Nimoy’s Ambassador Spock. Nimoy died in February of 2015 at the age of 83. Shooting for Beyond began about four months after his death, and he was slated to appear, but because of his failing health, had to decline.
Learning of Spock’s death from several Vulcans, Quinto/Spock is in a quandary: does he stay with Kirk and explore the galaxy, or go to New Vulcan and help to reestablish the Vulcan race?
The action sequences are blindingly fast, and the CGI up to contemporary professional standards. The imagery of the massive space station–unlike anything imagined in Trek or elsewhere to date–is truly impressive. Sets, props and costumes are first rate, though the crew, and particularly Kirk, seem to have a bewildering variety of uniforms. Rank insignia from uniform to uniform are confusing, at best.
There are, of course, several “what the…?” scenes, such as one where Kirk creates a diversion by riding a motorcycle(?!) around an enemy compound, except he keeps doing it long after any diversionary value has vanished, while Sophia Boutella’s Jaylah, a beautiful martial arts alien in the mold of Daisy Ridley’s Rey from the Star Wars universe, has a hand to hand battle with the evil henchman of the main evil alien. Jaylah’s and Kirk’s rescue is equally improbable, brought about by an nearly ancient transporter from a long crashed federation ship even older than the Enterprise from Enterprise.
That ship figures prominently in Kirk’s salvation of the space station (oh quit whining. I’m not giving away anything you didn’t know; Kirk always saves the day), but of course, he crashes it too. Using rock and roll, or something like it, our intrepid heroes cause the thousands of insectoid ships attacking the space station to crash and obliterate each other, and it’s down to Idris Elba’s Krall, who is actually someone else, and Kirk, and it looks like curtains for Kirk, but he is rescued at the last second by…
The final scene, a birthday party for Kirk, ties up the plot threads, and all is well in the Trek Universe. The audience leaves happily, anticipating the next Enterprise adventure. It’s not yet known if Chekov will be replaced, or if his character, like Nimoy’s Spock, will be killed in the Trek universe.
There are several moral messages in Beyond, the most obvious being the importance of love, and the understanding that adventure is, as Amelia Earhart said, worthwhile in itself. It’s what makes life worthwhile for the individual, and what advances civilization, as we boldly go where no one has gone before.
Beyond is certainly worth seeing in the theater, and it will take several viewings on DVD to catch everything impossible to see at first viewing. It just moves too fast, though not frustratingly so.
This is not a philosophically deep movie, but it is full of characters we have come to love, swashbuckling adventure, and eternal plot lines that have inspired us since The Odyssey and before. That’s more than enough.