Thoughts on Star Trek: Beyond
I probably should have been watching Mike Bartlett’s Wild yesterday, but given what’s happening in the U.S. at the moment I knew I was likely to have little patience with reflections on the theme of whistleblowing. And I knew I needed to get away from the news, so I decided to go to the movies, and I’d been planning to see the new Star Trek film. I was a little leery because (despite being a long time Star Trek lover), I was neutral on the first film of the reboot and I emphatically did not like Into Darkness.
All of my usual reservations about these movies aside (which occur here as well — with the exception of Zoe Saldana as Uhura, the principals are mimics, not actors; too much violence; unnecessary sexism; the annoying frontispiece vignette with “weird” aliens that makes the anthropologist in me cringe), I really enjoyed this film. It starts off with the right script: I feel like it returned to themes of classic Star Trek that the last two films abandoned, starting off with the notion of an optimistic future and the regrounding of Star Fleet as an exploratory rather than a military organization. It’s the film I wished I could have been watching while the RNC dramas played out, with its consistent message that diversity is positive, strength lies in unity, and cooperation in a pinch can help people surmount any problem. The film got extra points from me for its awareness that convincing villains aren’t just born bad — there is always a reason, something Into Darkness forgot. This villain’s problem was rooted in the history of the Federation as an institution, which I found both convincing and interesting on an allegorical level. And the critique that Krall (Idris Elba, under way too many prosthetics) consistently presents — that the Federation is too peaceful, too weak — sounds so familiar from our own political sphere that the viewer has to at least think about whether he could be right.
Best of all — the film was funny. It was space opera at its best. I was worried about this when I saw the trailer — too much smash ’em up and bro-ey antics — but the film wasn’t like that at all. I loved both that Kirk got to ride around on a motorcycle as a decoy and that Uhura was just find with saving herself when she was in trouble. The addition of Sofia Boutella as Jayla also provided a source of humor, energy, and the cultural fillip of the use of a Beastie Boys song to disrupt the enemy at a crucial point. I felt great about the rest of Michael Giacchino’s score. And the opening vignette — about a species that doesn’t want to make peace because it is afraid it will be eaten — contributed to the whole message of the film this time rather than simply being silly.
I will always miss Leonard Nimoy. Seeing Anton Yelchin as Chekov made me teary. Elba is underused. It is impossible for me not to like Simon Pegg in the role of Scotty.