Review: Star Trek Beyond

A little spoilery, k?

On first impressions I probably don’t strike people as the thrill seeking adrenalin chaser type. Bespectacled, literary and socially awkward in unfamiliar surroundings or around new people, I prefer to know what’s expected of me and when ahead of time in many areas of my life. I like to know where I’m going and how to get there before I start. I don’t boldly go anywhere.

Then again, I’m known to appreciate measured doses of adrenalin delivered in relatively secure surroundings. Like the flying lesson I had in a two-seater Cessna when I was 18. The tiny plane rocked like a mosquito on the tarmac, and when I pulled the choke out, midair, my heart just about fell to the ground in a death spiral as the engine slowed. But omg I flew.

Nowadays there’s not so much adrenalin. Not unless I count the hour-long peak time drive to the dentist last week and then me siting there being paralysed with fear. I didn’t run when I could’ve. For the next few months I can add a lisp to my social awkwardness. Yay.

Anyhoo, measured doses of adrenalin come packaged in bright colours and loud music at the cinema now. Which is how I come to Star Trek Beyond.

There was much to commend it. It was Heart of Darkness in space about the dangers of leadership. It was too, an ode to Nathan Hawthorn’s short stories about American settlers escaping the corruption and blood of their civilisation, only to find the frontier exposed their own frailties and histories.

In space, you need maths. Or technology to do the maths.

In space, you need maths. Or technology to do the maths.

I imagine some see the Federation as a kind of intergalactic UN. However, I see it as a kind of idealised United States of America, a bunch of disparate parts together policing the universe, or boldly inserting itself in the affairs of others for universal good, rather than for its own ends. With its ‘classical’ music, and crossing of boundaries, it might have been co-written by a British dude, but it felt American. In many ways notions about frontiers formed America, and thus Trek. And still does: shout out to Sulu and Spock and Uhura, and Scott and Keenser.

Then somehow, Beyond becomes the most quintessential American film of all. A Western. Just like a lot of space movies these days. The lone rangers Lone Ship races across the horizon nebula coming to the rescue of the marooned rancher Space Station beset by attackers to save the day. It is how this rugged band re-establish their purpose and identity even as they confront the violent and doubting parts of themselves. In that way it felt a bit like Serenity. They are united by their struggle.

Bits of it reminded me of a Doctor Who episode (the Viking one) from last year. Other times, I wondered, like Simon Pegg’s character did in Hot Fuzz, about the ‘considerable paperwork’ adrenalin seekers like Capt James T Kirk generate. He crashes his sweet rides all the freaking time, and he still gets to fly. How come Kirk’s insurance premiums haven’t bankrupted his family or the Federation? How are they hedging their investments under his command?

Uhura had a meatier role without anything gratuitous about it. And amid all the crisis, there was room for humour, pathos and team bonding. It is how crews are made. If at times it was preachy, it was countered by Idris Elba’s Krall’s actions. As with Benedict Cumberbatch’s Khan, he too is guided by a kind of loyalty as well as personal resentments at the Federation. It goes to show that the Federation isn’t perfect. No group is, and peace is never peace if individuals or groups are left behind, isolated, or forgotten, as the disaffected Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders supporters demonstrate. It got a bit patriarchal with the Saviour/Dad (captain = God) for me, but at least it’s undercut by Bones being real about everyone’s frailties.

Illustration of night time on the new planet featured in Star Trek Beyond.

Strangely historically accurate illustration of night-time on the new planet from Star Trek Beyond.

New Star Trek writers have been careful to ensure the ‘baddies’ aren’t ‘Other’. They haven’t been the stereotypical ‘Injuns’ of crude and highly offensive old Westerns. The enemies of the Federation are all the scarier, perhaps, because often they are from within. Both Into Darkness and Beyond sheet all the Federation’s weaknesses down to a shady distant past as it defends what it’s currently doing.  That sounds a lot like America as well.

There remains evidence of my thrill seeking days. There’s a VHS tape of me bungee jumping last century.  Like a long-lost ship, I might have to unpack it. Not the video. I mean my old ways. I’m not going to join up, because yeesh, anything like a Federation uniform is a no, but maybe it is time, again, for wind in my hair.

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