A Brief Review of Star Trek Beyond

It was pretty decent! With the exit of Abrams, Kurtzman and Orci as director and screenwriters, respectively, the series appears to have made the executive decision that they don’t need to rehash previous plotlines. They’ve written a new one for this film, gave Simon Pegg co-screenwriting duties and let Justin Lin (previously of the Fast and Furious franchise) do his thing. And it works — the movie zooms, the script is good, and the nods to the previous timeline are brief and fitting. This is Star Trek Now, and it is good.

One complaint I do hear from longtime Trek fans is that the new Trek films don’t give enough lip service to Gene Roddenberry’s humanistic ethos, and I have a couple of thoughts on that. The first was that while that ethos was and is laudable, Roddenberry was as subtle about it as a sledgehammer, which is why TOS episodes sometimes now play like Very Special Episodes where learning happens (some TNG episodes play that way too, notably in the first couple of seasons). As a viewer I don’t actually want the Roddenberry Moral Sledgehammer. I’m not a child. The second is that as it happens Beyond is the Kelvin-era film that most overtly signals in the direction of that Trek ethos, both in what it says and what’s on screen. And for me it was the right amount — enough to know it’s there and important, not enough that you feel like you’re being lectured by a tiresome hippie uncle.

This is not a great film, or one that will held up as a highwater mark of science fiction cinema. But it is a zippy, fun time at a summer movie, competently and cleverly done, and in a summer of ponderous and ponderously long films, one that warps in, gets its business done in two hours and warps back out feels like a winner. It’s not the best Star Trek film (still Wrath of Khan), but it is the best third Star Trek film, handily beating Search for Spock and Star Trek: Insurrection by a far stretch. It also makes me excited that the next Star Trek film has already been greenlit. I like this cast and I like this version of Trek. I’ll be around for the next one.

43 Comments on “A Brief Review of Star Trek Beyond”

  1. I liked it too, for the same reasons. Then, perhaps like you, had those feel-good/feel-sad feelings (still miss you, Leonard Nimoy, and Anton, alas) melted into slag when I heard The Bloviator on the news.

  2. I prefer the first and fourth movies to Khan. I am amazed at how good the first movie looks even by today’s standards. Contrary to myth, it did not lose money; it just cost more. It still made a decent profit. If you found the first one too long and slow; ST IV is the most entertaining of the series and the only Trek movie that was genuinely funny. I even like the retread Undiscovered Country better than Khan because Plummer is a better actor than Montalban and Melville is less obvious than Shakespeare.

    That said, if you are right that they really are moving in a different direction from XI and XII, then I might give XIII a shot, which I was not likely to before.

  3. Now I remember it’s the other way around on Melville/Shakespeare. So let the gatekeepers rejoice in banning me from Treksylvania. It’s a fair cop.

  4. I think that Kahn is the best film of the Star Trek series (so far?), but Whales in Space is the best Star Trek film, if you’ll appreciate the difference.

    Hopefully this will prime the pump for the new TV series. Star Trek really is character driven at its best, and a longer season always gives more room to grow.

  5. I’ve lived my entire life with Star Trek being an actual thing. Heck it was an actual thing on TV when I was born–not yet canceled thing.

    Some of my contemporaries have hated on the new movies, but I, and my older brother have both enjoyed them? Could they be better? Sure, but so could most any movie you care to name.

    Like you John, I don’t need to be bludgeoned with a sledgehammer. I believe however that the sledgehammer was needed at the time though. And there are some great moments that come out of that bashing people in the head.

    I can’t wait to go see this new movie because The Swarm looks like it could make even the Borg step back for a moment. I’m ready for popcorn, a large soda my bladder can’t possibly hold (but will!), and just showing that world Gene Roddenberry wanted us to have is a real thing, without being preachy about it.

  6. I must say I’m surprised that some of the uniform designs seem to have been influenced by the ST: Enterprise uniforms. That was my favorite series since the original, which I’m (barely) old enough to remember when it was first on. After the first two of the new movies, though, I’ll doubt I’ll see this one. It’s not the lack of moralizing, it’s the lack of optimism, and a fundamental misunderstanding of the characters.

  7. I love and respect ya, MR. Scalzi……but I have to strongly disagree with you here. I just got back from the movie and thought it was dull as heck. I just about dozed off twice. And this is coming from a life-long TREK fan, since discovering the series via daily re-runs in the early seventies.

    “Zippy” action scenes (and there are plenty of such set pieces in this film) are only exciting if you care abut the context in which they are displayed. i didn’t care about any of the characters and I didn’t get the villain’s motivation. And we’ve seen the poor old Enterprise destroyed and re-built in these movies so many times it’s now become more of a joke than a shock or loss.

    I couldn’t get past Pine’s Kirk actually being BORED with space exploration and wanting to QUIT as captain of the Enterprise. That’s NOT my childhood hero James Kirk! ANd that’s the message about space exploration I want to hear from TREK!!!

    I’ll agree it’s better than the first two crappy Abrams films….but the most mediocre thid-season of the Original Series would still put this turkey to shame. My last hope for decent TREK is the new CBS streaming series in 2017.

  8. Glad to hear it’s better than the Abrams atrocities. Apart from showing contempt for Trek fandom and the franchise, I could never get past the plot problems. I still gnash my teeth at the first film: So you have a time machine. You (a) go back and save all your loved ones or (b) take revenge on the people who tried to help you? It didn’t get much better after that. Ditto for the second film.

    That being said, I generally liked the actors (will miss Anton Yelchin, even though nobody will ever replace Walter Koenig in my heart) and think they’ve got a ton of potential if someone can give them a decent script, so based on your review, I’ll probably take my son to see the film rather than waiting for it to come out on TV. Still not expecting Shakespeare (not even in the original Klingon), but will be a nice break from the summer heat.

  9. I haven’t seen the new film, but I did see the ads for it. When they got to the place where they were blowing up the Enterprise, it kind of turned me off. Not this same tried crutch again… Hell, Abrams already used the destroy Vulcan crutch in place of good writing. Now this group is blowing up the Enterprise, AGAIN? Not very original and very predictable. I’ll probably see the new one (I’m a huge fan of Star Trek, particularly TOS), but I’m not in a hurry. Looks more like a summer blockbuster than a story strong on ideas (which is what I love about Trek).

    As to your taste in Star Trek movies, I have to say I strongly disagree. I don’t know why so many people online think that Star Trek 2 is the best movie. It wasn’t the worst (the one Shatner directed wins that prize, followed closely by the first one which was awful in my opinion) but Putting Retardo, can’t-fucking-act-to-save-his-life, Multabland back in Star Trek was a serious mistake. The script had some high points, but the end was a joke! My favorite, by far, is #4. It has a more interesting story and much more humor…

    Of course, feel free to disagree.

  10. I loved Insurrection and thought I was the only one (but then again I liked/loved Nemesis too) , but First Contact (my personal favorite Trek movie) and Voyage Home are in front of the Search for Spock for me… but then again we all have different taste :). Now about the morality sledgehammer. Perhaps if the layman was aware of what we do to this world on a daily basis, a subtle message would be just fine. I think sledgehammering the right values/messages is not such a bad thing though I’ll agree sometimes being subtle has its own rewards. But I can totally see why the sledgehammering could be perceived as pompous :).

    I unfortunately haven’t had the chance to watch the movie since some dimwit here in Switzerland thought that an August 17th release date was a good idea :(((. We get Marvel movies 2 days ahead of the US (already a WTF in my book but not complaining, I guess cause new releases in the US happen on Fridays, and here it’s on Wednesdays), but for Trek it’s 1, when not 2 months later. Go figure.

    Like John I also like this cast and I like these new movies as well. In fact I enjoy re-watch better of this new series than the old ones (but perhaps I’ve watched them enough already :) )

    Anyway, Live long and prosper everyone :), can’t wait to watch the movie on day 1 of its release here in Geneva.

  11. Genuine public service there Mr Scalzi; I was going to give it a miss but now I think I might just go and see it.

  12. Thanks for this.

    I liked the 1st reboot only b/c I thought they did a great job with the casting – the band was back together. And it looked good. But the plot, oh boy. I was all like, ok, they’ve established the reboot and now let’s see what they can do…

    The 2nd one (Khan with a TWIST!) was terrible. Ugh.

    So I wasn’t exactly fired up for this one (though I had heard they’d switched to new writers/director which was a good sign). The preview I saw didn’t particularly interest me.

    But I do have a pair of movie tickets I need to use, so…

  13. Haven’t seen it yet, so can’t rightfully comment on it.
    I have had great distaste for turning Star Trek into “action adventure”, especially when doing so involves habitrails for starship engineers and HALO jumping from outer space, Vulcans that can see across light years, and tactical idiocy like someone beaming aboard another starship to engage in hand to hand, solo combat.
    I don’t expect agreement from anyone, I understand that things have to move on, but for me, Trek remains only the original series, the original characters, the somewhat balance between action and cerebration, and the general simplicity and straight-forwardness of the themes.
    My problem that I can’t let it go, but do cringe every time I think of a bunch of kids growing up thinking that this Trek is TREK. The go to is no longer turning to the inscrutable alien sidekick and asking them to logically analyze the situation (whether you are going to allow emotion to trump logic or not) but has become violence and physicality instead. No matter how you slice it, that is not Trek. It may be Beyond Trek, but it isn’t TREK.
    This is my reaction, and nothing but. Not liking something someone else is passionate about does not mean I necessarily think they’re idiots (or morally corrupt, or misguided lackeys of a corporate machine) for liking what I don’t like. It may only mean that my growth is stunted. The world will not end; Paramount and CBS have no known plans to destroy the originals and negatives and it’s doubtful that President Trump will make it illegal to watch the original.
    Now let’s talk about how you pronounce “potato”….

  14. nobody will ever replace Walter Koenig
    Though I did at one point while watching a Trek film on TV find myself thinking “Why is Bester on the bridge of the Enterprise? Oh, wait…”

  15. I just got back from seeing it. I had a ball. The people who said they miss the optimism of earlier movies should definitely go see it; this movie is ABOUT hope.

  16. Another one with free movie tickets to burn; we may use them this weekend, depending on the weather (eyeing approaching hurricane). The cast, I felt, was the best part of NuTrek; there were times when Karl Urban and Simon Pegg channeled DeForest Kelley and James Doohan to an eerie extent. Now if only they could get a script that did something Trek-like besides lots of explosions. Many Trek fans (and I realize I’m not speaking for everyone) like plots that at least nod in the direction of continuity with the history of the franchise, and trying the intellectual approach before bringing out the Big Damn Phasers. Don’t use the excuse of ‘it’s a whole new timeline’ to write a weaksauce script whose main point of congruence with previous Star Trek is name recognition.

    We’ll see if this movie salvages ST:ID.

  17. Good to hear. Like others here, I don’t need the overt moralizing of TOS and I realize that you can do things in a 22 episode season that aren’t going to work in a 2 hour movie, but Star Trek needs to be more than generic SF/space action and adventure. The entire reason to call it Star Trek (marketing aside) is that it somehow embodies the overarching themes of exploration, discovery, hope and questioning about purpose. If there’s action TOO? Awesome, I love that too. But if you could file off the numbers and it works just as well as a generic space film… meh.

    I’ll still see it though. :)

  18. Sounds fun! I should definitely check this out. My husband’s always looking for films we can enjoy together (we have different tastes), and this sounds like it could work. Thanks for the review!

  19. I have had great distaste for turning Star Trek into “action adventure”

    I’m a little gobsmacked by this. Action adventure has been baked into the Star Trek genes since Gene Coon sat in the producer’s seat. It’s indeliably made what Star Trek what it is…it’s the combination of action/adventure (e.g., THE DOOMSDAY MACHINE, etc.) with strong character driven stories that what makes Trek, at its best, what it is. You can go too heavy on one side or the other, but you HAVE to have both in Trek (and arguably more so with the movies).

    That said….

    Take one star off for a couple plot holes big enough for a Borg cube to sail through.
    Add a quarter point for making Chris Pine act like James T. Kirk.
    Add a quarter point to giving almost all the crew something to do.
    Add a quarter point for giving Scotty the stirring thematic speech.
    Take a half point off for reducing Uhura into the girlfriend.
    Take a half point off for AGAIN destroying the Enterprise.
    Add a quarter point for some battle tactics that made sense and were set up earlier in the movie.
    Add a quarter point for introducing some intriguing themes (one a call back to THE CAGE)
    Take a quarter point for not developing them
    Add a quarter point for a touching tribute to Leonad Nimoy, Take a quarter point for not developing it at all.

  20. I love how everyone is suddenly an expert on Trek and Roddenberry as soon as a new movie comes out. I kind of always thought that Star Trek was about your personal take-away, but then, I’m not old enough to have been involved in TOS fandom (just watched it in syndication on Saturday afternoons with my dad). I’ve long said that TNG did more to build my moral compass than any parental or school lesson over the same period (my impressionable teens), though I’ll grant that the first two seasons were stiff and clunky. Interestingly, it was AFTER Roddenberry’s hold on the writers was loosened that it smoothed out.

    To me, the movies are a different entity than any series, and when I go see them, I want a different experience. (And I AM old enough to remember seeing all the films save the first in the theater.) I want my Trek movies to be zippy and fun and explosive and yeah, go ahead and blow up the Enterprise – at this point it’s tradition. It’s two hours of escapism, and as long as they’re not utterly destroying characterization (which I don’t think Abrams did at all, nor do I expect it of this film), I’m good with simple story-lines. It’s the series that I get critical about, and they’ve got the goods to stand up to that kind of criticism, given the long-haul nature of television series. I’m glad that your review affirms everything I want from my Trek movies. It will definitely get my dollars while it’s in the theaters!

  21. All the positive stuff I’ve been hearing about this new movie has just convinced me that rebooting the franchise has reversed the polarity on movie quality. Which is to say that where previously it was the even-numbered Trek films that were good, now it is every even-numbered one.

    I mean, it’d be easier to keep track of if these films had numbers with them, but I think it still holds up.

  22. Current cultural state of the US may require a Roddenberry-esque sledgehammer again.

  23. I have been a Star Trek junkie for 50 years and I am not ashamed to say that. I thoroughly enjoyed this movie, liked the humor, the adventure, the look and feel of it. Beyond the moralizing (which came second in the original Star Trek run), we often lose sight of just how entertaining TOS was – and with that as a measure, this was pretty entertaining.

    Don’t get so caught up in the whole “what would Gene do” thing. Go because it is a really enjoyable way to spend an evening.

  24. It’s not so much about ‘what would Gene do’ as it is about having the same flavor we have come to associate with Star Trek over the decades. Gene Roddenberry, despite being the inspiration behind TOS and some of TNG, had very little hand in the writing, which was farmed out to dozens of scriptwriters. All of them seemed to be able to ‘get it’, about the Federation and their interaction with the other entities that lived in the same galaxy. No one had a plotz about the introduction of the Borg, the Dominion, the Maquis, or Section 31, because they all were aspects of the same universe. In this regenerated vision, we are seeing a very different version in some cases from what we have come to expect of the universe we know and love.

    Let me put it like this: Would you be okay if a redo of Star Wars made Han Solo a merciless killer (for perfectly justifiable reasons)? Or Harry Potter a Slytherin, with all the baggage that implied? IMHO, it would take a hella lot of retrofitting to make that work for me.

  25. Also a fan since the first episode was shown on television in 1966. Not all old fans are cranky and miss the TOS days. There was considerable room for improvement, as we must admit. Spock’s Brain, anyone? I was thrilled to see Trek on the big screen again and happy it’s coming back to television. This one nailed the characters, had meaning and hope, good pacing, and growth. Just the antidote to the current political climate of cynicism and ugliness. May we survive to the 23rd century,

  26. I enjoyed the movie, but did anyone else notice the subtle difference in Spock’s haircut? In the first two movies, the front of the banks was gently curved, but in Star Trek Beyond, it was cut straight across.

    Not important, I know, but I noticed it. :)

  27. I liked it. It was not groundbreaking but it wasn’t too nostalgic in telling a story that isn’t a retread of an earlier story (star trek origin and wrath of khan) but instead told a story that had elements of a tv episode on a larger stage. There was a lot nice character interaction, Uhura got to show her competence…actually all of the characters got to show their competence… i would want them to work on their villains (good ones are slightly likable…you should want see them get a little further in their plan like Heath Ledger’s joker, the original Khan, or Hannibal Lector and figure out that happy medium between cgi and practical makeup effects but we do get some good filler of how star fleet works.
    And we have stop destroying the enterprise.

  28. It was decent. Villain was meh but better than the last 4. Destroying the Enterprise needs to stop but worked OK here. Character work was generally good. Homages to old Trek were decent, though I could have done without the ENT crap, since I don’t like to be reminded that that pile of racist sexist idiocy exists. All in all, a decent but not great movie.

  29. Not to be spoilery, but one character has a line that he was a soldier in the “K____i and Romulan wars”. Now that’s a crossover movie I would watch!

  30. Originally, I pretty much feel the same way. I was very skeptical about new actors filling the old roles, and rebooting the whole timeline. But the new cast has done quite well and the new timeline has given the franchise new breathing space.

    The tribute to Leonard Nimoy was touching and very appropriate.

    The plot maintains the Roddenberry ethos of diversity (Sulu’s family, the makeup of the Yorktown population, the overall optimistic feel about the future) and optimism without, as you say, beating you over the head with it (see, e.g., “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield”).

    And most importantly, it was a fun movie! The plot got a bit ridiculous at times, but it was action packed, there was just enough humor to enhance the cameraderie of the characters without turning it into a joke fest, and you left hoping there’d be another movie with the same cast (although tragically without Anton Yelchin).

    The mission continues.

  31. I just back back from seeing it. Destroyed Enterprise (again) along with massive casualties is getting tedious and I hope they give up on this.

    I loved it though. I was going to talk in detail about the bits I loved but decided not to spoil. Briefly: Jaylah, awesome new weapon, assorted verbal sparring matches, Jaylah (again), tracking device, Shoreh Aghdashloo.

    I’ll be missing Anton Yelchin in future films – such a terrible waste.

  32. Actually, the best ST movie is Galaxy Quest.


    Also, I saw the previews and went “Did Kirk blow up the damn ship AGAIN? If I was Starfleet, I wouldn’t give him command of so much as a shuttlecraft.”

  33. @BornInOz

    “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” has been one of the few times when I felt beating people over the head was correct… but then I was born and raised in the South. Too many off my neighbors needed that beating.

    I was born when TOS was still on air. I came to love it on Saturday afternoons in syndication. Yet, I grew up. I liked TNG, then came DS9 my personal fave. Voyager.. eh… love it or leave it. I am one of the few that enjoyed Enterprise though.

    I’m old enough ( a few months older than John Sca.) to remember the Apollo moon lnadings being a “thing”. While the first memories of Star Trek are from syndication, I was alive in 1st run, and know that because of my parents and brother I was exposed to it even as an infant. Funny thing, come the new movies, by brother and I both have loved them. Action? yes. But the friendships? OH HELL YES! Go back to the 2nd movie and watch the few minutes between Kirk and Spock… Sure it is a mirror of The Wrath of Kahn, yet to me it is even more poignant because Spock has to face his friends death, never being taught to deal with emotions like that.

    I had the same feeling about a Star Trek reboot as I did about Battlestar Galactica. In both cases, they were memories of my childhood. I’m glad I gave both reboots to be a part of my adulthood. Somewhere along the way I ditched the need to be slavishly entangled to the originals. In the case of BSG, Katee Sackhoff endeared me as a new Starbuck–my fave of the origianls. The whole cast of the new Star Trek endeared me. It is one of the few times I think the people in charge hit everything right.

  34. @TheMadLibrarian

    Han shot first. Just sayin’.

    The thing I like best about The Wrath of Khan is that it is the best ship battle in the series. I’d like to see some more like it instead of the one sided battles we usually get these days in order to justify more fist fights.

  35. Good film. Enjoyed the smart script. The scientific gibberish that it had the actors say made the characters sound real. I loved that it was an ensemble film where everyone for once got to shine. There was somethings that bugged me (i.e. shaky cam). But I don’t want to spoil.

    Also, at this point I’ve seen it twice and the good news is that the film does stand up to multiple viewings.

  36. This movie reminded me a lot of First Contact. It a good movie with some annoying flaws and a poor villain, but held together by a strong cast and allowing multiple characters to shine. It has some gigantic flaws that weight it down, but the overall quality of the cast still make it a very enjoyable film.
    -Beyond, like the first Kelvin film, finally allowed the characters time to breath and be themselves. To shine above generic action and show that they actually have been friends for years. They they are competent more than technobabble.
    -The visuals are gorgeous. Especially the space station scenes.
    – The new hero characters are complex and really interesting.

    – Even after a day I still don’t understand what the villains motivation was beyond generic anger over being fired.
    – Really cheap chekhov’s gun (2x!). This movie (for many I imagine) is likely to be the perfect go-to example of bad use of chekhov’s gun. Both instances.

    Still overall I enjoyed the heck out of it and I am really looking forward to the next one. The characters and the quality of the spoken script far outweighed the dumb plot points. I hope this same team comes back for the next one.

  37. As a life long Trek fan I enjoyed this, great characters and spectacle with a little morality thrown in. Especially loved the nods and winks to past episodes and films.

  38. So, I finally got to see the film last night. Ran into a couple that I work with (as in married couple). We sat together, had some good chit-chat before the movie, and were probably the noisiest group there. We laughed together, had the same “HOLY SHIT!” moments.

    To sum it up I don’t think we felt we had been cheated of our cash monies. I can see that the cast has grown into their roles. They aren’t just copying what came before, they’ve also breathed their own into the parts.

    Here be SPOILERS!

    I always sit through the credits. I feel that I owe it to everyone involved in making something I’ve just enjoyed, while other people just get up and walk out. These credits hit me in the gut though. People are walking out, as always while the credits roll and the soundtrack plays. …And then the screen goes black, music stops. Even the people walking out stop. We all stare at the screen. In that space I could hear others around me start to choke up. We know the dedications for Leonard Nimoy and Anton Yelchin are coming… and yes, I was one of those choking. I wonder if any of the others who come here had anything like that experience.

    TL:DR I enjoyed the movie, in company with others who enjoyed the movie.