Saturday, July 23, 2016
Growing up Trek as a kid wholly enamored with the possibilities of pluralism in space, I opted to attend school miles from home because of a greater mixture of kids my age. As colorful as my childhood background was, the world of Starfleet was something that had become important to my personal development while a few took on the traits of their less than at ease parents. A part of me longed for a future where a poor kid from a largely migrant farmer community would become a supporting player in this greater realm of play and cooperation. It's a belief that continues to drive my every decision from how I socialize to who I support intellectually and politically. A lot of this is still so important due to Gene Roddenberry's science fiction evergreen. And while many continue to wrap themselves into seemingly irrevocable knots over JJ Abrams' take on the world of the Enterprise and crew, a great deal of that optimism and belief in family shines through with Star Trek Beyond. With Justin Lin now at the helm of the Kelvin Timeline, we find ourselves at a course correct complete with reverence for every incarnation thus far with warmth as beacon.
Now, three years into its five year mission, the crew of the Enterprise has begun to settle into a groove of episodic regularity. Expressed with charm, the captain's log of James T. Kirk(Chris Pine) denotes a growing sense of "what now", as his role has found itself into a groove. Now reaching a birthday one year older than his late Starfleet hero father, weighing in on the future seems to hover over him. Beginning to think that maybe leaving command and moving on might make for a good new move. Even more troubling, Spock (Zachary Quinto) has received news that his elder alternate universe self, Ambassador Spock has passed away(a sweet nod to the late, great Leonard Nimoy), all while having broken up with Uhura (Zoe Saldana), he contemplates heading back toward helping his now fledgling kind on New Vulcan. There is a sense of crossroads for our heroes, as they have now become the classic characters, endlessly encountering troubled spots across the universe.
But upon arriving at the Federation's latest achievement, Yorktown base, a humongous multigravity space station and community, an emissary comes knocking. Leading to an encounter with a hostile force bent on capturing nearly all of the Enterprise crew, and taking them to a hidden class-m planet where Kirk, Spock, Bones(the ever wonderful Karl Urban), Chekov( R.I.P. Anton Yelchin), Scotty(Simon Pegg, who's scripting duties here help immensely), Uhura, Sulu, and the rest must band together to escape an increasingly hopeless situation. All with the assistance of the resourceful Jaylah(Sofia Boutella), the crew find themselves against the imposing Krall(Idris Elba), a creature seemingly bent on not only capturing the starship, but breaking everything they stand for. His belief that unity between beings is a weakness, and that conflict defines all beings is echoed throughout, often placing isolationism first. And with an ancient object found by our heroes, Krall's plan may at last find fruition after he is through with them.
Beyond is one part affirmation session, equal parts celebration of the mythology and ideals of Trek. Not merely concerned with nods to the past, and more about breaking these archetypes down, and examining why they're still beloved 50 years later. One clever conceit that helps bring up Beyond, are the script's needs to split characters up, forcing them to better open up about where they are now, and what they face together or alone. Through the crisis, McCoy and Spock are stranded together with the Vulcan injured. A decision that forces the often bristling duo some much needed exchange about what comes next. Meanwhile, Kirk find himself with Chekov (In a choice that feels so eerily prescient now), which pits youthful optimism with a growing weariness in the captain's brow. There are these quiet moments sprinkled throughout that help in ways that even Abrams' entries could not. With us now fully invested in who these characters are, the action at last finds itself well balanced enough to pop. We've finally moved past the recycled father issues and time travel baggage, and are at last more concerned with the here and now, which is refreshing for a film series that took a bad left turn previously.
And while the action department at times suffers from either a lack of winning timing or energy, it's hard to fault everything else. This is also where it bear mentioning that Star Trek Beyond, is also a very funny film. Lin has always had a knack for finding good humor in the absurd, which is perfect considering this version of the Trek timeline. If we aren't going to delve deep into the supposed hard science of Trek, we could at least focus on what makes these characters so universal. Beyond is also willing to use the now cookie cutter "stranded antagonist with an axe to grind against the Federation" toward discussing something more prescient, and less venal. By taking what was hinted at with Into Darkness, in this case a militarized state, and placing it against the explorer nature of Starfleet, we at last have a case for what makes Kirk and crew so worth rooting for. By not making the film Kirk-centric, we finally have a case for Roddenberry's ideals and also explore the cost of laying that foundation. The implication is that none of this is easy, and that shifting gears between the two is often fraught with peril, and the possibility of a population of those left behind by time. While it isn't entirely successful in breaking free from the need for a killer Macguffin to be featured in an action finale, Lin and co. do make up for it with a lot of charm.
So for all its laughs and sense of breeze, Beyond remains a safe means of celebrating what helped shape me as a young one. I do not expect the Kelvin world to be one that flirts with godlike beings, or time travel shenanigans in Depression era New York. And it's perhaps all said knowing full well that Into Darkness didn't happen according to this film. Which is all for the better honestly. This cast deserved a much better trip to the races than they got last time. What we have here, is an appropriate and refreshing take on old leftovers. A beloved mixtape from an old friend. Faith, reaffirmed. Here's to the challenges ahead.
We're back on track with Trek, and all is well.