Karl Urban and Zachary Quinto

Karl Urban as Dr. McCoy and Zachary Quinto as Mr. Spock in Star Trek Beyond;
image courtesy Paramount

Star Trek Beyond:

Better Than Its Slow Box Office Numbers

| published August 15, 2016 |

By Maggie Nichols, Thursday Review contributor

Okay here’s the news: I am a sucker for Star Trek stuff—the movies (basically all of them), along with nearly all the variations found on TV during the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s (Star Trek Voyager, Star Trek Deep Space Nine). As long as the side stories keep supporting the central thesis as framed by Gene Roddenberry and his cadre of fellow writers, I am good with the continuing attempts to reboot and take the subplots where they will lead.

As for the recent major reboot of the story through recent films, I am generally pleased despite the complaints of some older fans of the original televisions series that the new series—which star Chris Pine (Kirk), Zachary Quinto (Spock), Zoe Saldana (Uhuru) and John Cho (Sulu)—play it fast and loose with the core story and the backbone of the old plots. Despite these mostly minor alterations to the narrative, I have no complaints, even when I admit that this Star Trek series is a somewhat altered state, a parallel universe of Star Trek character developments and two-way and three-way interactions not found—or perhaps only barely hinted at—in the original TV series.

For those reluctant to see this one—named aptly Star Trek Beyond—get over your ungrounded fears and make the trek to your nearest theater. It is worth shelling out the cash or cracking open the debit card to see it on the big screen, as opposed to lollygagging until it arrives on a premium channel or Netflix.

The movie, as you may have already heard, is not doing nearly as well at the box office as its promoters and producers would like. The epic beast cost some $135 million to make, and it now faces a massive potential deficit on the back end if ticket sales do not quickly ramp up. Its opening weekend went well, but most theaters report that things tapered off almost immediately—the result, some suggest, of an ill-timed release sandwiched in between too many big budget action-adventure yarns (Captain America; X-Men Apocalypse; Suicide Squad; Jason Bourne, to name but four). Others have suggested that the aging Star Trek culture is losing steam and shedding its once lavish spending habits: growing more frugal, they are content to wait for HBO or Netflix, or even until Star Trek Beyond appears on DVD or Blu-ray on the endcaps at Target for $10 or $12.

Besides, how big a screen does one need to watch the USS Enterprise get destroyed by a fanatical super villain bent on galactic tyranny? I guess the answer is subjective; in my case, I would prefer to see any Star Trek theatrical release on the larger screen.

The plot is straightforward. About three years into its most recent “five year mission,” which is where we left things for the Enterprise at the happy ending of Star Trek Into Darkness, Captain Kirk is (grudgingly, we believe) sent on a diplomatic mission to negotiate an initial treaty with some lovably annoying and easily irritated creatures who take a gift being offered by Kirk as an insult. Think of North Korea if they all looked like giant Gummy Frogs. After a violent and pointless fracas over the diplomatic overture, Kirk openly yearns for more real action and exploration—the kind that involved going into deeper space—and less politics.

Since Star Trekpeople are loathe to read further without spoiler alerts, I will spoil nothing but to offer a standard internet based plot summary: after a brief but critical narrative burnishing stop-over at the space station and resupply center Yorktown, the crew of the Enterprise do travel further, and do indeed go into serious adventures—a rescue mission to locate the source of a distress call from a largely unchartered area of Federation space.

It’s a classic case of being careful what you wish for, for your wish just might come true. The Enterprise and her crew encounter a vicious, unknown race of creatures with a military and technological might to crush the Federation. Using wave after wave of “swarm” tactics, they overpower the Enterprise, force its near total evacuation and abandonment, and strand many crew members on a remote planet, where they must fend for themselves while also attempting to reorganize to fight what may be a universal threat to the general peace and to all sentient creatures within the Federation.

Star Trek Beyond also gives us more opportunities to watch the character developments and interpersonal struggles now threaded into the complex backstory of the original Star Trek. Kirk’s mentors, his long-deceased father and the recently departed Captain Pike, now cast their own shadows and legacies over Kirk’s ambitions and vision, as well as his sometimes rebellious moral code. We also get to watch the developments of all the other central players: Spock (Zachary Quinto), Uhuru (Zoe Saldana), Dr. McCoy (Karl Urban), and Pavel Chekov (the late Anton Yelchin). We also get a deeper look into the tenacity and resilience of chief engineer Scotty, played by Simon Pegg, in part because Pegg himself served as one of the primary writers of the screenplay. (This pattern of actors taking the helm of the Enterprise plot-making and direction is par for the course: Leonard Nimoy, William Shatner, Jonathan Frakes and Patrick Stewart all took turns at writing and directing over the decades of the series).

The film has lots of big screen action and massive, dazzling special effects. Those wanting to see large things explode and watch our principal characters hanging from precarious cliffs (in some cases literally) will not be disappointed. Some critics are in disagreement over whether the film serves the cause of reinforcing and burnishing the relationships between the various core characters: some argue that not enough screen time is spent working on these matters, others arguing that the balance between the interpersonal and the action is just about right. You get to decide, and the answer may again be subjective.

I give this film a high score, and recommend that you see it in its most natural venue: the large screen at your nearest movie theater.

Related Thursday Review articles:

Leonard Nimoy, Rest in Peace; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; February 28, 2015.

Revenge of the Nerds: Science Guys on the Big Screen; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; January 23, 2015.