Having recently seen Star Trek Beyond a second time in theaters, I walked away wondering if I should make a post detailing my thoughts. Being that this is a blog with a more-than-small emphasis on Star Trek, I felt that it would be warranted, however at the same time I wondered if it would be no more than a drop of water in the sea of recent reviews. Of course I came to the former conclusion, just as I always tend to do whenever wrestling with the dilemma of deciding to write something or not.
Given the fact that there are indeed plenty of reviews already floating around the internet and there is already a general positive fan and critic consensus surrounding the film, I’ll just get this out of the way: I liked it. In fact, I liked it very much. Is it my favorite Star Trek film? Definitely not, but it undoubtedly reinvigorated my excitement for the future of the franchise after having been somewhat pessimistic after 2013’s Star Trek: Into Darkness (note: As a fan, I still enjoy Into Darkness, but it didn’t seem to capture what I love about Star Trek – more on that another time).
Better critics and writers than me have written extensively about how Beyond fares cinematically, acting and plot-wise, so what I wanted to take the time to look at is what the film is trying to say. Ever since its inception 50 years ago, Star Trek has always been a “message” kind of franchise. Underneath the space opera has always been the philosophical – something many will argue has been missing from the newer film incarnations. In my opinion, Beyond is a return to form, or at least a step in the right direction.
Leaving the cinema after having seen the film the first time, I got the very basic message: peace and unity are more powerful than divisiveness. Simply put, that idea seems to be stating the obvious, but looking at the political climate of our world today, it begs repeating. From Krall’s (the primary antagonist) perspective, what we call peace and unity he sees as passive contentedness or weakness. Krall believes true strength comes from struggle and hardship.
After watching the film for the second time, as well as having the context of of Jordan Hoffman’s interviews with Simon Pegg & Doug Jung from the Engage podcast, I was able to dig into that theme a little deeper. In Hoffman’s interview with Pegg, they discuss the idea that Krall represents a very prominent attitude in our global political climate today – something I was able to notice and appreciate more during my second viewing. Globally, we’ve seen increased trends towards isolationism and nationalism, manifested through initiatives such as the recent Brexit as well as the phenomenon that is Donald Trump. The character of Krall embodies that attitude, seeing the idea of open arms (or open borders) as a weakness rather than an opportunity to pursue peace and harmony.
On the other side of the coin, the Federation, and by extension, the crew of the Enterprise, represent the prosperity of peace through strong alliances, unity, and diversity. It’s important to note that in the film, this core idea is not simply lip service. Star Trek Beyond makes a point to represent characters of diverse species, ethnicities, genders, and sexual orientations, yet at the same time makes the point that none of this is really a big deal. It is simply the way things are, and everyone accepts it (save Krall and crew) as the better way.
Much of how the Federation is presented gives credence to the phrase, “representation matters.” It’s one thing to discuss and talk about the merits of diversity, but it’s a much bigger step to truly show it. I was happy to see that in Beyond this idea was not only prominent within the story but through the production and casting as well. As evidence of this, we see the biggest additions to the cast are Sofia Boutella’s Jaylah and Idris Elba’s villainous Krall, and to a smaller extent, Shohreh Aghdashloo’s Commodore Paris.
Just as importantly behind the camera, Justin Lin served as Star Trek‘s first non-white film director while making it a priority to showcase the franchise’s progressive ideology, including representation, social commentary and self-reflection. “That’s in the mission statement when you’re part of Trek. It’s our job to try to be bold and push forward. You have to be conscious of that,” Lin explains in an interview with USA Today, “Star Trek is not just about literal exploration, but also the exploration of ourselves.”
All of this put together is what makes for good Star Trek. Justin Lin along with writers, Simon Pegg and Doug Jung, have crafted a fun and thought-provoking final product. It may not be perfect as there are plenty of plot elements and character motivations that I wished could have been fleshed out further, but the combination of the crew, cast (who, by the way, were all simply fantastic in their chemistry and portrayals) and the underlying spirit of the film, have returned the franchise to form – giving us Trek fans a sense of optimism for the future once again.