Richard Cocks and I joined our friend Dick Fader earlier today to see Star Trek Beyond in the local Oswego cinema. Richard and I are longtime inveterate Star Trek fans and Fader, as we call him, if not quite a fan, is at least an interested party who knows the history of the franchise. The management screened Star Trek Beyond in the big auditorium, nowadays equipped with roomy lounge chairs, but in tilting them into a reclining position the movie-goer risks taking a nap. It is a temptation to which I never yield.
Star Trek Beyond is an enjoyable commercial proposition whose purpose is probably not much more than to keep the franchise open. The movie refuses to take itself too seriously and manages to tell a story sufficiently interesting as to suggest to its viewers that they have traded their money for something of equivalent value. Beyond is the third installment of Paramount’s “reboot.” In the first installment, events occurred that altered the background assumed by the original television drama, its many theatrical reiterations, and the four serial spin-offs of the 1980s, 90s, and early 2000s. A Romulan usurper bent on revenge destroyed the planet Vulcan, nearly annihilating the Vulcan race. A fold in time permitted an elderly Spock to confront his younger self and to give guidance. Kirk, despite being a bad boy who ought to have been thrown out of Star Fleet Academy, managed nevertheless to become captain of the Enterprise.
Beyond proposes for its villain a character remarkably similar to the Romulan usurper of two movies ago. Kraal is another vengeance-seeker who has come into possession of a super-weapon. Once again, the Enterprise suffers destruction and crashes onto a planet. Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty, Uhura, and Sulu must fight their enemy planetside without a ship. They are assisted by a young woman, Jaylah, who has also been marooned on the uncharted world. The plot, however, is almost by the way. Beyond puts the spotlight on the formation of the friendships and tensions among the characters that gave so much strength to Classic Trek during its three-year run in the 1960s. The actors do a remarkable job of living into characters created fifty years ago by other players, many of whom are now deceased. Karl Urban, as “Bones” McCoy, has acquitted himself with particular virtuosity in living into the crusty Texan originated by Deforest Kelley. Kelley was Georgian. Urban is a Kiwi, like my friend Richard Cocks, but his accent never betrays it.
The long-running television sitcom The Big Bang Theory alludes constantly to Star Trek. Actors from the Trek franchises have put in guest appearances on the show. Producer J. J. Abrams and director John Lin seem to be returning the favor. A good deal of the humor of Beyond, which rarely passes up a chance to play the story as comedy, comes from the romantic relation that has sprung up between Spock, as played by Zachary Quinto, and Uhura, as played by Zoe Saldana. Quinto plays his Spock against Saldana’s Uhura rather as though Spock were Sheldon Cooper. Saldana, however, is nothing like Theory’s Amy Farah Fowler. It is rather as though Sheldon was negotiating romantically with Rajesh’s ninth-season girlfriend Emily, who is far and away above his league.
Simon Pegg, as Scotty, is thrown together with Jaylah, for whom he seems to form an attraction although not much happens. Jaylah, played by Sofia Boutella, struck me as cut-and-pasted from the latest instance of the Star Wars franchise. Her makeup is distinctly “Sith-like,” she can fight like a ninja, but she makes common cause with the good-guys. When she turns out to be a feisty gamine, like Daisy Ridley’s female protagonist (Rey) of The Force Awakens, viewers have a distinct sense of déjà-vu. The villain of Beyond is played, incidentally, by black actor Idris Elba, in a studiously villainous way that I admired. Perhaps the un-politically-correct casting choice of assigning a black actor to so dastardly an antagonist-role should not surprise me. It did, even so.
Oh… And we discover that Lieutenant Sulu’s daughter has two daddies, concerning which, apparently, George Takei, the original Lieutenant Sulu, is not happy. Takei argues, with the integrity of his craft, that he never played the character that way, and that the alteration is untrue to the Trek tradition.
Beyond demonstrates a principle that we all know to be true: Really loud, really bad rock music can disrupt the telepathic connection that permits the alien horde to coordinate its attack. Beyond demonstrates another principle that, while less well-known than the previous one, is no less true: Just because the CGI geniuses can layer twenty-thousand details into every frame of an action-sequence, that fact never necessitates that they should. Many of Beyond’s action-sequences are visually indecipherable. Richard’s reaction was that he simply wanted them to be over. I endorse his judgment.
Beyond pays quiet tribute to Leonard Nimoy, whose death came between the present movie and the last, in which he appeared, and to Anton Yelchin, the new Mr. Chekov, who died after filming wrapped, in an absurd automobile accident.
I attended in my Star Fleet uniform.