Kate McCabe wouldn’t describe herself as a Trekkie, but a strong cast and pacey plot mean the latest instalment welcomes fangirls and newbies alike. So off she boldly went to check it out.
I had to look up what this latest chapter of the Star Trek cinematic universe was titled after viewing it. It’s not that I dislike the franchise, I just don’t have room in my waking nerd-life for yet another property to be slavishly devoted to.
Yet… whenever I go see one of these popcorn-munchers, I am at the very least TEMPTED to pledge my loyalty to the Federation. What’s not to love about the premise of a team of futuristic explorers bent on sharing knowledge and spreading peace? Now more than ever, it seems a lofty ideal worth embracing.
Turns out this chapter is called Star Trek Beyond. It’s the third of the JJ Abrams-produced iteration of the crew of The Enterprise’s adventures.
Compared to the bombast of some of this summer’s other big premieres, Star Trek Beyond‘s promotional effort was noticeably muted. (Paramount elected not to show any footage at the Cinema Con in December) leading to speculation the film was a bit of a dud.
Those fears aren’t entirely unfounded. The Star Trek cinematic universe has sailed through some choppy waters. Five of its 13 films come out as ‘rotten’ on Rotten Tomatoes.
“The incredibly subtle reveal in the film was enough to make me well up and I think that only worked because Sulu is already a beloved part of Star Trek‘s history.”
The rebooted franchise, that is to say, the modern incarnation of the original crew, has received predominantly good reviews and happily, that trend doesn’t stop with Beyond. In the hands of Fast and Furious director Justin Lin the two hours are a breezily paced bit of summer thunder, though not a film which makes a particularly deep impact.
One thing that the franchise excels at is assimilating the non-fan into its universe. This is why ANYONE can go see a Star Trek film… not just the fangirls and boys who keep up with the TV series. Beyond the fact that so much Star Trek vernacular is already widely used in our common vocabulary (warp speed, beam me up, etc..), the franchise uses strong characterisation and seamless exposition to get you up to speed.
Indeed, all the familiar faces are back, including Chris Pine’s handsome, caterpillar-browed Kirk (Banded Woolly Bear version) and Zachary Quinto’s Spock, who also has caterpillar brows (Cecropia Moth Caterpillar version).
Part of the joy of the latest string of films is the strength of the cast. The ensemble fit together like an easy jigsaw, with perhaps Karl Urban’s Dr Bones McCoy getting MVP on this particular adventure. Algerian actress Sofia Boutella is also welcome as the canny and capable alien ally, Jaylah. We have yet to see if she’ll join the crew on future escapades. The tribute to Anton Yelchin at the end was a sad reminder that this was the last time we’d see the talented actor play Chekhov.
The other bit of buzz around Star Trek Beyond was the news that the character of Hikaru Sulu, as played by John Cho, was going to be revealed to be homosexual. George Takei, who played the character for 30 years, was critical of the move calling it a ‘twisting’ of (creator) Gene Roddenberry’s creation.
He also suggested introducing a new character would have eliminated the feeling of ‘tokenism’. Simon Pegg (Scotty), who took a co-writing credit for Star Trek Beyond, defended the choice by suggesting that Roddenberry, known for a progressive and inclusive outlook, would have welcomed this direction for Sulu.
From the viewpoint of an LGBT cinema-goer, though I sympathise with and respect Takei’s feelings about a character he’s dedicated more than three decades of his life to, I must agree with Pegg’s take. The incredibly subtle reveal in the film was enough to make me well up and I think that only worked because Sulu is already a beloved part of Star Trek‘s history. The introduction of a new character, regardless of how fierce or fabulous, may not have had the same beautiful impact.
The film’s greatest weakness may lie with its villain, Krall. The peril is sufficiently heightened by the time the action reaches its third-act crescendo but I was anticipating a bad guy back-story with a bit more bite. The conflict didn’t feel as emotionally resonant or challenging as some of the other chapters have felt. We’re unlikely to remember Krall’s name by this time next year, despite a serviceable performance by Idris Elba. The stakes felt very physical but hardly personal.
Then again, if every chapter of a franchise felt cataclysmic, none of them would. Sometimes that’s what you want in a summer movie – a distraction that you won’t think about for too long after the credits have rolled. It just seems, especially in this post-Brexit, Trump-tolerating world, that they missed an opportunity to play on what is arguably Star Trek’s greatest strengths, its unfaltering faith in humanity.
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Kate McCabe is an American comic living in Manchester. When not gigging as a standup, she improvises with ComedySportz Manchester, and contributes to local TV and radio including The Gay Agenda on Fab Radio.