REVIEW: Star Trek Beyond

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A very solid movie that I just can’t work up much enthusiasm for.

I was actually kind of apprehensive heading into Star Trek Beyond; for one I thought the trailers were surprisingly bad [It looked overly action focused and blowing up the Enterprise in a Star Trek movie is so played out. The trailer is just built of clichés: like “I am counting on it” and “Hold onto something.”] and also I wasn’t really a fan of the last movie Star Trek Into Darkness, which played into city destruction cliches that have become so overdone and suck the fun out of summer blockbusters at this point.

Into Darkness also had its own unique problem as it was the absolute nadir of J.J. Abrams simply reanimating old movies to hit audiences nostalgia buttons. The way it starts ripping dialogue directly out of Wrath of Khanactually makes the movie unwatchable garbage. Also I kind of hate Benedict Cumberbatch so that’s kind of a problem.

I am kinda overselling how much I dislike Into Darkness though, because honestly the best part of this series of Star Trek movies has been the cast and they make the best of bad material. And the big problems of Into Darkness are very specific to that movie and don’t carry over. The important thing is getting to see this cast on a new, fun, adventure, and y’know what, Star Trek Beyond delivers on that.

The big criticism you can level at this current Star Trek film series is that they don’t really feel like Star Trek; and a big part of that is that their focus has been on the emotional baggage of its characters: Kirk’s daddy issues, his insecurity about being fit for command, Spock and Uhura’s relationship [and petty bickering]. A big problem with the way Into Darkness positions Khan [besides the actual script swiping] is the way they try to position Khan as some defined emotional and moral opponent to Kirk; something inherent to the bones of the universe. [Honestly Wrath of Khan itself does a little of that: C’mon Chekhov you never even met Khan calm down.] Star Trek is honestly at its weakest when it’s about emotions; because Star Trek is about solving problems and when you make emotions a problem to solve you’ve kind of missed the point. Khan is intimidating because of the legitimate threat he presents; because of what he can and will do.

That’s where Star Trek Beyond actually stands out, and why it’s almost certainly going to be the most rewatchable of these movies: the focus here is much more straightforwardly about solving a problem and just dealing with the situation our characters find themselves in.

Beyond the standard main cast Sofia Boutella is fucking great playing the best new character of this series. Idris Elba is compelling if a little forgettable as the main villain, considering he’s buried under makeup and honestly doesn’t get that much to work with beyond an interesting idea.

There is a part of this movie that’s nuts and amazing that I don’t want to spoil, although I will say that even there I thought it could have been better.

But I also Think Star Trek works much better as a TV franchise, so I can’t help but feel like this really good cast has been wasted on only making 3 movies over 7 years instead of even several years of a TV series. The first movie was exciting in part because of the potential it pointed to, but watching Beyond I couldn’t help be disappointed that it took this long to get what basically just feels like a decent 2-parter from a TV show we never got. I actually started waxing nostalgic about the show Enterprise while watching this movie, because that series was much more ambitious with its big episode plots than this big budget movie franchise is.

Star Trek Beyond is a solid Hollywood blockbuster, the best of the modern Trek movies and the most true to the spirit of the series. But what I really want is a new Star Trek TV series, and this movie isn’t so good that I feel like it’s made up for that absence at all.