Star Trek Beyond

I was pleasantly surprised. I have been going into these reboot Trek showings with mixed feelings; there are many story elements in them that are extremely implausible (even by Trek standards), and the previous installments have been more generic action movies than either Star Trek or science fiction. But Star Trek Beyond (and I like how the titles have no colons!) is the most Trek of them all, and a fairly decent one at that.

I should note that I saw the 2D version; I’ve learned I get sick in 3D movies and so cannot comment on the third dimension.

What is Trek in this movie is an extensive acknowledgement of the Enterprise’s five-year mission of exploration, and the rescue nature of the mission that starts the main plotline of this movie. There is also an explicit and plot-relevant acknowledgment of Starfleet’s nonmilitary primary mission.

What is not Trek in this movie is just about everything else. The main conflict is (with a nontrivial science fiction twist) standard fare for action thrillers. Despite Starfleet being nonmilitary, there is an awful amount of military action by and against Starfleet in this movie. The solutions to plot problems are (to the extent they are not just technobabbled away) physical action in nature; there is no deep thinking or diplomacy involved. There are no big ideas involving the human condition.

I liked how the movie made a plot point of the Enterprise’s military weaknesses in a way that all other Trek tends to ignore (though I fear they will forget the lesson in future movies). I liked the nature of the key antagonist. I liked how there was a tasteful acknowledgement of the death of Leonard Nimoy (and, doubtless added in the last minute during post-production, of the death of Anton Yelchin). I especially liked how they did not do any overt homages to the previous Trek incarnations (though I did notice several tiny nods). And I liked quite a bit how they portrayed the universal translator.

Yet, there was a lot of things wrong in the movie. The science was appalling (even by Star Trek standards). The career of James Kirk in this timeline remains ridiculously meteoric, and treating a vice-admiralship as a realistic notion at this stage of his career just compounds the error. I could go on, but that would be too depressing.

I am too immersed in Trek to be able to see whether this movie would work for the uninitiated, but I suspect it works better for a newcomer than for a Trek fan (as long as one does not expect anything more than a typical action movie). Speaking as a fan, I find this to be the strongest offering in a rather weak Trek series. I hereby rate Star Trek Beyond at 3/5.

Star Trek

It is curious to see that the eleventh movie in a series is the first to bear the series name with no adornment. It is apt, however: Star Trek is a clear attempt at rebooting the universe and basically forgetting most of the decades-heavy baggage. It seems to me that the reboot was fairly well done, too.

The movie opens with the birth of James Tiberius Kirk, and follows his development into the Captain of the Enterprise. Along the way, we also see the growth of Spock from adolescence into Kirk’s trusted sidekick and also into … well. Despite the fact that the action plot macguffins are time travel and planet-killer weaponry, it is mainly a story of personal vengeance, personal tragedy, and personal growth. Curiously enough, although Kirk gets a lot of screen time, it is really the personal story of Spock.

Besides Kirk and Spock, we also get to meet reimagined versions of Uhura (I like!), McCoy, Sulu, Chekov and Scott. And Christopher Pike, the first Captain of the Enterprise. The appearance of Leonard Nimoy as the pre-reboot Spock merits a special mention and a special thanks.

I overheard someone say in the theatre, after the movie ended, that the movie was a ripoff and had nothing to do with anything that had gone before. I respectfully disagree. The old Star Trek continuum had been weighed down by all the history into being a 600-pound elderly man who is unable to leave the couch on his own. This movie provided a clearn reboot, ripping out most of the baggage, retaining the essence of classic Star Trek and giving a healthy, new platform for good new stories. One just hopes Paramount is wise enough not to foul it up again.

It was worth it, I thought.