I’m on record as absolutely loving the Star Trek reboot. It’s been done in such a way that doesn’t alter what you loved before, but reimagines it in a new way and in its own space. What if you took Gene Roddenberry’s idea of a utopian ideal then threw a huge 9/11 event into it? How would that change the ideals? How would it change James T. Kirk? Spock? Bones? The crew? Even the Enterprise?
The actions of Nero in the first film were a 9/11 event to Roddenberry’s idyllic scene. The surprise destruction of the Kelvin by what the Federation thought was the entire Romulan Empire, followed by the destruction of Vulcan, changed everything from our heroes’ origins to the very design of Starfleet’s ships to be much larger and more capable of offensive action. As we have seen with our own reaction to 9/11, a surprise exposure of vulnerability can rip the very fabric of a society. In that regard, the terrorists win. Into Darkness explored our own reaction to 9/11 by giving us a Star Trek where elements within the Federation were willing to cast about for any solution to protect themselves from the next threat, including researching, discovering, and waking up Khan. Khan, metaphorically, is waterboarding and drones and Guantanamo. It sets up a compromising of Star Fleet’s own code as summed up by Scotty: “Is that what we are now? Because I thought we were explorers.”
For those who hated that aspect of deconstruction and 9/11 metaphors in the Trek reboot can take heart.
Star Trek Beyond builds. It does not deconstruct. It takes the idea of strength in unity and drives it home several times. Its central villain wants revenge because he felt he was abandoned and thus lost his way. But maybe he wasn’t, frontiers are just dangerous. The film leaves that for you to ponder. Kirk for all his personal internal conflict never wavers from the point of the promise of the Federation, and neither does the crew.
We join this film with the five year mission in progress. The characters now banter and jibe much better together than in previous entries. The foundation laid down by the previous films actually shines here as these cast members have a little fun while not tipping the hand wholly into camp. It feels like the third Harry Potter film where you can think to yourself “Yes! There it is! Now we can get started!”
Some specifics of the plot could use 4 minutes or so of some more exposition. Some things are solved too neatly (and with some silliness). But our heroes are torn from their five year mission at a moment of existential crisis, only to find their purpose again. The means to get to that point are well played out and don’t jar harshly like the previous films.
This film is fun, poignant, and sometimes silly. It’s a summer blockbuster formula for sure and the affectations from Abrams’ other films flow through as callbacks, but it’s good Trek and will leave a smile on your face if you let it. Each character has something personal to confront and resolve, nods are made to previous entries and to previous timelines (including the least successful Star Trek TV show), but the message is that the Federation is the best hope for the galaxy. Unity and tolerance in all its forms should always win over seeking to conquer to make us stronger.
This is probably one of the most feel good Trek films I think I have seen since Star Trek IV. The stakes are high but not at the intent of ripping the mythos. The motivations are conflicted and personal but not in a way that makes you feel it’s making a large statement about where we are today. The nods and comedic beats are (with a few exceptions) earned honestly.
Go see it. Although the fourth film has been greenlit, this is good Trek. Worth your time.
Stay for the credits. For Leonard. For Anton.
NOTE: My spoiler filled review will have to do with the Kirk/ Spock/Bones moments in the whole three films and a couple of other specific things. I will wait to post that until Monday.