Odd numbered Star Trek films are never good; so goes the rule, and Star Trek Beyond isn’t just an odd numbered film in the sequence, it’s also Star Trek XIII. Doubly unlucky. Except of course that such talk is rubbish. Plenty of odd numbered Trek films have been fantastic, while some of the even numbered ones have hardly set the world on fire. This one won’t either, but not because it’s a bad film, but simply because of the straight forward, old fashioned nature of its story, and the fact that, like its predecessor, the inexplicably maligned Star Trek Into Darkness, Star Trek Beyond is endlessly derivative.
It’s a film that everyone can enjoy, due to the fact that its core story derives from ideas and sagas much older than Star Trek itself.
While that was always going to be the case with this film, coming as it does in the year that Star Trek celebrates its half century, don’t let that put you off. Sure, this is a film for Star Trek fans and if you’re not knee deep in Trek lore some of the references might escape you, but it’s also a film that everyone else can enjoy, due to the fact that its core story derives from ideas and sagas much older than Star Trek itself.
At its heart this is a story about family, a theme that will resonate every time you see the late Anton Yelchin on screen.
At its heart this is a story about family, a theme that will resonate every time you see the late Anton Yelchin on screen. Kirk’s weariness at growing older, his reluctance to celebrate his birthday since it’s also the day his father died. Spock’s turmoil over the death of his future self (one of two subtle but beautiful commemorations of Leonard Nimoy’s passing last year) and the way it has led him to break things off with Uhura as he begins to embrace a more Vulcan centric future. Even Sulu’s wistful longing for his husband and daughter; all are tied together as the Enterprise is ripped to pieces by an alien swarm and the crew captured by Krall, a nasty space vampire (he has a machine that draws the life force out of people to sustain his own body) with an unfathomable grudge against the Federation.
Even Krall, who seems somewhat two dimensional, ends up fully realised.
Even Krall, who seems somewhat two dimensional, ends up fully realised, and the twist in the story comes with the explanation of why he hates the Federation so much. That explanation comes with a contemporary resonance that places Star Trek firmly in the optimistic camp when it comes to discussions of Humanity’s future. Krall’s anger and his motivation find their echoes in those of the Nazis, or of ISIS today, but Star Trek Beyond does not display the kind of questioning ambiguity that Battlestar Galactica showed. There is no moral equivalence, nor any hope of redemption for Krall. He is well and truly beyond the pale as Star Trek’s moral compass, always an essential component of the franchise is pointed firmly towards what is right and just, and the people who uphold that notion.
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So yes, Star Trek Beyond is classic Star Trek, with the values and ideas that made the show a beacon for hope in the 1960s just as relevant, and just as much at the heart of its storytelling today. Nothing could embody this more than Yorktown, a floating super city populated by millions of peoples from all across the Federation, living together in a city which bends and curves around itself in a way that only Science Fiction could envision. Perhaps that’s a metaphor for how we all need each other. Perhaps it’s a metaphor for how we all need to work together and make sure no one is left behind. Either way it’s what Star Trek has always been about once you get beyond the bright corridors and garishly coloured uniforms of the Enterprise; a show that’s never been afraid to take the moral high ground, yet can do so without feeling as if it’s preaching to its audience. A film for Trek fans, and a film for people who’ve never seen Star Trek, which seems a fitting tribute to the all-inclusive ethos that has underpinned this franchise for the last fifty years.
By Gareth Wood