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 has undoubtedly reinvigorated my excitement for the future of the franchise.
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 In this regard, Star Trek: Beyond is true to form.
Leaving the theater after having seen the film the first time, I got the very basic message: peace and unity are more powerful than divisiveness. It’s a simple idea yet still an important one. From the perspective of our primary antagonist (Idris Elba’s Krall), 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 mentally process that theme a little more. In the interview, Pegg & Jung discuss the notion that Krall represents a very prominent attitude in our global political climate today – something I noticed and appreciated 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 flip side, 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.
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, there are plenty of plot elements and character motivations that I wished could have been fleshed out even further, but the combination of this crew, cast and the underlying spirit of the film have made for a fantastic addition to an already storied franchise.