So we have finally come to the apparent end of our reviews for the latest additions to the Star Trek universe of films and I can personally say that we are ending on a good note. Despite a couple of minor quibbles that a Trek fan would have with the final film, I can honestly say that I really enjoyed Star Trek: Beyond. One of the difficulties that I have in reviewing this movie for the website is that the movie is still out. With the other films, I had the advantage of the films being available to watch for years at this point and could review them with a sense of nostalgia. I will endeavor to relay my opinion of the film without spoiling the plot, but if I do, forgive me.
As with the previous two films, this new film takes place three years into the Enterprise’s Five-Year mission into deep space and the toll on the crew is palpable. New relationships have begun and some have ended in the course of the last three years and the little snippets of that aspect of ship life that was never explored on the show is actually gratifying to see. During the mission, the ship’s crew is granted shore leave on Starbase Yorktown where the ship is due to be resupplied.
I was really impressed with the look of Starbase Yorktown. It seemed more like a small planet than the more antiseptic look of Starbases on the television show. It almost reminded me of the Dyson Sphere from the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Relics”. The exterior and interior look both beautiful and functional. The scene with the crew disembarking and scattering is really good and the moment with Sulu and his family is both revelatory and endearing at the same time. I personally don’t understand why it was considered controversial, because it seemed matter of fact, like you would hope that scene would be.
This wouldn’t be an adventure film if the central conflict didn’t smack you right in the face and the plot point that does is a runaway escape pod. The pod emerges from an uncharted nebula and its lone inhabitant begs Starfleet to help rescue her crew who has crashed on a planet inside the nebula. As the only Starship berthed on the station, Kirk volunteers the Enterprise. This leads to an ambush that destroys the Enterprise and strands the crew on an alien planet where they have to fight for their lives.
As disappointed as I was that they seemingly made my point again about how flimsy this ship is, the battle itself was gratifying and the destruction of the ship did have a necessity to the plot. During the battle you are introduced to Krall, the leader of the ships who attacked the Enterprise and is played by Idris Elba. His motives for attacking the ship and the Federation are nuanced and personal. The reveal of his journey throughout the movie make his acts have meaning. You aren’t rooting for him to succeed, but you understand what he went through on that planet once you discover who he is.
One of the things that I also like about this movie is that the writers (Simon Pegg, who plays Scotty is one of the writers and is a huge Trek Nerd like myself) pay the fans service by really establishing that this is an alternate timeline, but that the events that took place prior to the Kelvin incident are still valid. They seemed to really want to give fans a reason to remember the established Star Trek timeline by both subtle and blatant references back to the series Star Trek: Enterprise.
Backstory: Star Trek Enterprise aired on the UPN network from 2001-2005. The series was set 88 years after First Contact with the Vulcans (Check out my article on Star Trek First Contact) and almost 90 years before Star Trek: The Original Series. The show focused on the adventures of the crew of the Starship Enterprise NX-01, an experimental deep space ship with a top speed of Warp 5. As this show was a prequel to the Star Trek timeline that had been established, most of the episodes dealt with the discovery of the species and technologies that we had been used to seeing across the other shows. For example, this Enterprise had polarized hull plating instead of shields, phase cannons and missiles instead of torpedoes and the crew traveled by shuttle rather than transporter because the tech was still being developed and only being used for cargo.
During the end of the second season and throughout the third, Starfleet (there is no Federation at this point) is under attack and at war with a group of aliens called the Xindi, who are using advanced weapons to attack Earth. Enterprise is sent to stop the Xindi and Starfleet expands creating new ships in the NX series and a new military force called MACO’s as ground troops. At the end of the Xindi War, the creation of the Federation and the end of the Romulan War, the military wing is disbanded and Starfleet returns to its exploratory roots. Keep this in mind because all of this becomes relevant to Krall and his desire to destroy the Federation. The reveal of who Krall is more satisfying because it is directly related to the events mentioned.
As non-spoilery as I can, I will tell you that an NX series spacecraft is involved in the final act and final battle of the film and the call backs to the Xindi, the MACO’s, and the Romulan War go a long way towards redeeming this franchise as a Star Trek film to me. Every member of the cast is given their moments to fully embrace their characters. Sulu and Uhura are teamed together and their interactions while trying to keep the captured crew safe and uncovering Krall’s plans give them plenty of moments to shine.
Scotty is teamed up with an alien scavenger named Jaylah and their moments highlight the comedic moments in the movie as well as the technology.
Spock is teamed with Bones and their interactions and relationship could not have been more pitch perfect. Every time the two of them were on-screen together, I could envision Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelly bantering and bickering back and forth. Kirk is teamed with Chekov to find the remaining members of the stranded crew and to retrieve the artifact that Krall has been hunting for to complete his mission. Kirk is given plenty of moments in the film to be the action hero all the while dealing with the ramifications of his choice to join Starfleet. There are moments in the film before the action where we see the vulnerability of Kirk as he questions whether he made the decision to join Starfleet for the right reasons and whether he truly belongs. They made a huge shift in his arc from the previous two films where he was kind of a douche and I appreciated it. He seemed less impulsive and prone to trusting in his crew, which were traits that Kirk embodied in the original series.
The third act of the film was stunning to look at. The battle with the swarm ships and the subsequent battle aboard the Yorktown and between Kirk and Krall were all satisfying and thrilling. At the end of this film, I felt relieved as a Star Trek fan and actually excited to see what they do next.