The crew of the Starship Enterprise is some three years into its five-year mission: “To explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.”
But, honestly, all that’s getting a little old.
It’s not that Captain James T. Kirk doesn’t love and admire his friends and crewmates. And it’s not that finding new civilizations isn’t cool. But he has been wondering what all that deep space wandering has really accomplished. In fact, he’s sorta thinking maybe it’s time to hang up his yellow uniform shirt and make a career change. There’s a plum position at the sleek star base Yorktown that’s looking kind of sweet.
I know, that doesn’t sound like the Captain Kirk we all know and love. But it’s indicative of the sense of malaise that has really started to impact Kirk and his crew.
Turns out Commander Spock has been giving some thought to making a change, too. He recently received word of his demise. Well, it was the demise of his future self, Spock Prime, who had ventured back in time and was working on rebuilding the lost Vulcan home world. Anyway, with the demise of that venerated man, Vulcan needs a new leader to move that vital mission forward.
But before Kirk and Spock can come to a melding of the minds, a female alien arrives at Yorktown in a damaged craft. She reports that after a terrible accident, her entire crew was left stranded on a planet in a distant nebula.
This looks like a job for the Enterprise. Only Kirk and his crew have the expertise, the ship, the equipment to handle such a rescue. So they step up, gear up and head up … into a trap.
The menacing reptilian warlord Krall has been slithering around, watching the Federation’s movements in the area. He’s been observing Kirk and his crew. There’s a certain artifact that Kirk has acquired in his travels. It’s a weapon containing power so great that the slightly bored Starfleet captain doesn’t even know what he’s got.
But Krall knows. He knows how these humans work. He knows their weaknesses, their frailties. And he knows that destroying this captain named Kirk—shredding his precious starship into so many pieces of scrap metal and enslaving his precious crew—is the key to all his malevolent plans.
Kirk may be a hard-driving, leap-into-action kind of guy, but he also readily thinks of others first. For example: Kirk has an easy escape if he simply rides away from an endangered alien woman named Jaylah; but instead he wades headfirst in to help her. He also jumps into a potentially deadly encounter in the hope of saving a city full of people.
In the course of the film, others in his crew (and even the far- less-inclined Jaylah) follow suit, risking everything to protect or aid someone else. The baddie Krall actually believes this compassion and unity-focused tenacity is his foes’ greatest weakness, and he says so repeatedly. (He espouses suffering and struggle as the only true sources of strength.) But the Enterprise crew’s sense of hard-fighting comradery eventually proves the warlord’s undoing.
Kirk’s shown sans shirt. Two crewmembers kiss, and another walks shirtless out of female crewmember’s room. Mr. Sulu has a picture of a young girl on his console. Later in a crowded space station, we see him meet another man who’s walking with that girl. (The unstated implication is that the two men and the girl are a family, something that would be far from clear apart from recent high-profile publicity in this world that’s trumpeted Sulu’s homosexual identity.)
The violence can be intense, especially during two major attack scenes. Krall controls thousands of ships that rip the Enterprise into pieces. Vicious explosions slam people into walls and corridors inside the ship. The bodies of the dead lie scattered around, and some people are sucked out into the vacuum of space. Similar destruction takes place when Krall’s bee swarm of ships crashes and smashes into the giant snow globe-like exterior of the Yorktown station.
We also witness up-close-and-personal battles. Hand-to-hand melees are filled with blows, punches and flying jump kicks. Handheld phaser blasts are frequent. In some cases, such as in the brutally pounding fights between Krall and Kirk, the participants are left bloodied. A thumping fight between petite Jaylah and one of Krall’s chief thugs (whom she says elsewhere killed her parents) is particularly wince-worthy.
After a rescue pod crashes, Spock emerges with a huge piece of metal sticking out of his side. Bones cauterizes the wound (off camera) with superheated metal. We see Spock’s bloodied clothes (green stains, of course) and pained movements.
Krall can suck the life force out of people. We see the shriveled corpses of several such victims, and we watch as the villain tortures two others with that power. Krall’s also superhumanly strong, sometimes picking people up by the neck.
Elsewhere, a huge ship crashes down on a woman, crushing her. And two people are consumed by the insect-like devouring power of a deadly weapon.
Dr. McCoy regularly exclaims “My god, man!” and “Good lord!” in his demonstrative speaking style. In addition, the movie’s dialogue contains a few uses of the s-word and a handful of uses each of “a–,” “h—,” “d–n” and “b–tard.”
Kirk and Bones have a few glasses of strong drink. The crew toasts the captain’s birthday with alcohol. In fact, Jaylah sits in front of about 10 empty glasses at that party, an attempt, she says, to “take her edge off.” (She doesn’t appear inebriated, however.)
Scotty’s alien sidekick has a cold and spews mucus that has the corroding power of acid.
The Star Trek franchise has warped on from its original “five-year mission” to this, its 50th anniversary. Amazingly, the series is still cranking out summer blockbusters. But, then again, maybe that isn’t so amazing. After all, nostalgic throwbacks such as Ghostbusters and Pokémon are still on people’s lips around the water cooler these days, too.
Speaking of which, there has also been quite a bit of lip-flapping about this film going where no Star Trek property has gone before. So let me start there. You may have heard that one iconic crew member is revealed to be gay in the course of this movie. That decision was reportedly a tip of the hat to actor George Takei, who played Mr. Sulu in the original series and who has subsequently come out himself. The much ballyhooed reveal is present for those paying attention, but it’s so subtle you might have missed it were it not for all the press surrounding that story.
The more obvious transformation is the fact that director Justin Lin, of Fast & Furious film fame, has now taken the directing helm here. That makes this newest Trek a snappy, dilithium crystal-fueled adventure that surges forward with enough intensity and explosiveness that you barely even notice the sci-fi plot holes that might normally stand out like the green skin tone of an Orion slave girl.
Stylistic tweaks and adjustments aside, though, this latest theater treat for Trekkies definitely harkens back to the ’60s sci-fi television roots from which it springs. There are many “live long and prosper” nods to that first crew. And this pic’s plotline brims with optimism and feels as if it could have been beamed right out of the original series (albeit, with a more stellar production budget and the inclusion of s-words).
As was the case with those episodes from yesteryear, Star Trek Beyond offers a deep space exploration of heroics and optimism. It presents an imagined future where men and women work best when they rally together and fight against impossible odds as one. “You cannae break a stick in a bundle,” Scotty declares in his iconic Scottish brogue.
And while the brave Captain Kirk and his crew are ready to put their lives on the line for each other and for the good of all, they also recognize that taking positive steps to avoid those life-threatening situations in the first pace is always the best course. “We change,” Kirk opines. “We have to or we spend the rest of our lives fighting the same battles.”
So if you want to look, uh, beyond the photon torpedo-filled interspecies conflicts of the latest Star Trek for deeper statements about war, politics and, perhaps, racism in our roiling real world, you can. If not, well, this is a fan-boy film with a whole lot of shoot-’em-with-a-phaser-and-punch-’em-in-the-mouth action.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.