Time for another new Star Trek outing; this one is called Star Trek Beyond, and it is the third film in the “Reboot” series. That’s the one distinguished by Chris Pine as an adequate Kirk, Zachary Quinto as a dark, handsome and snarky Spock, Karl Urban as a startlingly human “Bones” McCoy, and Simon Pegg as Simon Pegg as Scotty. (Disclaimer: I am a huge fan of Simon Pegg as Simon Pegg as just about anybody, so that’s all good.) Normally this cast list would include Zoe Saldana as brainy-yet-badass Uhura, but brainy-yet-badass Uhura didn’t have that much to do in this flick and that’s too bad.
The rest of it is better than the rest of the outings in the series. Not great, but better. Simon Pegg wrote it, so it was clever and a bit funny (and if Scotty gets a lot of the good bits, well, Pegg is used to writing for himself so that’s to be expected), and it was directed by the creator of the great “good junk” Fast and Furious series, so it was action packed and well paced, with solid character moments. Above all, don’t pay attention to the reviewers who claim that this movie is hobbled by its low stakes plot. It’s the low stake plot that saves it. Star Trek gets stupid when it deals with large subjects and apocalyptic plots. ( If I have to see one more alien attack on an undefended Federation home world, I will personally strangle the entire Star Fleet Admiralty. They may have cool uniforms but if they haven’t figured out that a major function of a space navy is to prevent random aliens from blowing up whole planets and slaying trillions of sentient beings while the admirals look out the window at them and point, then they should revise the syllabus at the Academy. Two words: planetary defense. Look them up.)
But when you turn down the plotting intensity and make a movie that’s a larger and more decorative version of an feature episode of a good Star Trek TV series, well, then you get good Star Trek. Not brilliant Star Trek, but at this point we will settle for good.
Read more behind the cut, and meet the most horrible girl in the world. (OK. I’m probably not being entirely fair on that last one. But still. Read it and tell me what you think.)
What Star Trek Beyond is, besides a really expensive episode of a deluxe Star Trek series, is a pretty decent space opera. It has a good villain, played by a distinguished actor in disguising makeup. It has a cool alien planet, populated by alien beasties. It has a stranded crew that ends up separated from each other and has to meet up before they can escape. It has a beautiful young woman who has been stranded on the planet who helps the crew escape. It has a secret spaceship and some hidden history. It has a correctly scaled threat to something that represents the heroes’ culture but does not equal it. It has hand to hand battles and personal adventure, and also space battles that involve creative strategies and tactics. It has a McGuffin and a clever trick ending, and the villain has a philosophical death scene. It has a final roundup where the basic truths are affirmed and the deserving are rewarded. Old fashioned, but it works, and we haven’t seen it in a while so it seems rather refreshing than otherwise.
— I liked the beginning of this story, which is slow and quiet and both unsatisfied and unsatisfactory. But Quiet Kirk and Quiet Spock are knocked out of it pretty fast by the filmaker’s choice to do the One Thing You Aren’t Allowed to Do In The First Ten Minutes of a Star Trek Movie. And they do it really, really well. That’ll wake ’em up big time.
–I’ve never seen that particular very effective swarming tactic in a space battle before–and the little plot twist at the end where it reveals an unexpected vulnerability is really quite clever.
–Yorktown: a great place to live. I want to explore this vast and well designed space habitat very, very much. I would probably move in.
–The beautiful young woman who is stranded on the alien planet is better written and more interesting than you might expect from this type of character, and she shows her great intelligence in the context of the story rather than somebody telling us about it.
–Of course Kirk can ride a dirt bike. A hundred year old dirt bike. On an alien planet. While using an unknown imaging device. Of course he can. It’s a very Kirk skill.
–There’s some pretty good old fashioned Spock/Bones interaction in this movie.
–Plus, if you watch Star Trek Beyond you will learn how to bump start a starship. Not that you’ll ever be brave enough to do it.
And then there’s the Most Horrible Girl in the World. She and a young man I was interpreting as her boyfriend (him: geek, her: not) were seated a few rows in front of us in the sparsely populated midafternoon theater. I thought they were going to be a major annoyance since they talked quite a bit in the early part of the movie, but they settled down before I was too sorely tempted to Speak To Them, so it was cool. And then the credits were rolling and the audience paused in their shuffling for an informal moment of respect as Leonard Nimoy’s name paused on the screen. (And yes, no Star Trek video story will ever be the same without a chance of Old Spock turning up with wisdom and an eyebrow.) So we were all looking at Leonard Nimoy’s name in that Star Trek font, and thinking about how it might be the last time we saw that on a new project and about Spock and what he meant to us.
And the Most Horrible Girl in the World said “Who’s that?”.
I know it’s probably not entirely her fault. She’s not a geek and she doesn’t have to be. She can’t help when she was born. Nobody knows everything. But if getting old means living in a world where people sit through Star Trek movies without knowing who Leonard Nimoy is, it’s going to be harder than I thought it would be. The arthritis in my right elbow is a lot less painful.