Movie Review – Star Trek Beyond
A week or so before this film’s release, George Takei criticized the decision to make his iconic character of Lt. Sulu a gay person. Screenwriter Simon Pegg says the decision was in honor of Takei who is openly gay, but Takei wanted the character to remain heterosexual as originally designed by creator Gene Roddenberry. Despite wanting more gay characters in mainstream films, especially blockbusters, I agree with Takei, but, in terms of going against the original design of Roddenberry, Takei is late to the party. I suppose it’s only because he portrayed the character for the better part of 40 years, but, seven years ago, when Star Trek (2009) began this current incarnation with this current cast, that movie altered not the sexual orientation but the personalities and back-stories of almost everyone. If Takei thinks changing Sulu’s orientation is a betrayal to Roddenberry, then why was he not vocal in 2009 when the filmmakers then performed what was the ultimate betrayal and that was destroying the planet Vulcan and every Vulcan person on it?
Vulcans are the first alien race that Roddenberry introduced to American audiences in 1966. Vulcans have since become the iconic aliens of that series, the subsequent films and entire franchise. Yet, the 2009 film committed near genocide of the Vulcans and strangely Takei was silent about that. The 2009 film completely altered James T. Kirk’s back-story, but again, Takei was mysteriously silent about this. He’s entitled to his opinion, but it comes off as selective and selfish.
I personally didn’t like all the changes in the 2009 film, directed by JJ Abrams, but now being the second sequel, I’ve decided to stop fighting and just accept that the characters have been altered. They’re not the characters first envisioned by Roddenberry and the films are way more akin to dumb, popcorn-action flicks like The Fast and the Furious films, directed by Justin Lin, which makes sense because this latest film is also directed by Justin Lin. Therefore, I accept it, so when the news of Sulu’s new sexuality broke, I figured it was fine and in-line with the diverse, all-inclusive message of Lin’s The Fast and the Furious films.
That being said, I was disappointed that the movie does what a lot of recent blockbusters have done. They’ve teased the idea of having a gay character in the cast, but only go as far as teasing it and nothing more. The blockbusters never allow the gay characters to express physical affection. Having a loving, same-sex-male kiss is still elusive in a major, action film. This year, both Deadpool and Independence Day: Resurgence teased characters who are gay or bisexual, and along with this movie seem to be gun-shy about letting two guys actually snog.
Chris Pine (Into the Woods and Unstoppable) reprises his role as James T. Kirk, the captain of the USS Enterprise, an exploratory spaceship. Zachary Quinto (American Horror Story and Heroes) co-stars as Commander Spock, the lone Vulcan and chief science officer who is Kirk’s right-hand man. Kirk and Spock are friends, and, as before, Kirk and Spock’s relationship is a center-piece here. Both are dealing with the same issue and go through a similar arc. After three years working together, both are now considering leaving the Enterprise and going separate ways.
For both, the issue is set-up well. Unfortunately, it never goes much further from the initial set-up. It’s addressed with a bare minimum of what’s required. Yet, the filmmakers never really flesh it out. For example, Kirk and Spock never have a conversation with each other about their issues for leaving. The movie never digs into it for the two of them, which isn’t unusual because this movie never digs into anything. It’s all superficial pleasures at work here.
Something interesting, which would have connected to Sulu’s sexuality, is if somebody asked Spock about what he thinks about being gay. Spock is a Vulcan and Vulcans are logical beings who suppress their emotions. It would have been compelling to hear what a character like that thinks about being gay. Can Vulcans be gay? If so, how does that work? What the original series in ’66 did extremely well is give us conversations where Kirk and Spock discussed or debated things. Having the thing this time be homosexuality would have been awesome.
What the original series also did extremely well is give us empathetic villains or antagonists. Traditionally, Star Trek villains were very empathetic and for whom our hearts broke. Star Trek villains, especially in the 60’s version, weren’t just dark and twisted monsters who plotted in the shadows to kill people and nothing else.
In episodes from the 60’s series like “Charlie X” or “Who Mourns For Adonais,” those episodes got the audience to fall in love with the antagonist. There were villains like the Kligons and the Romulans who 50 years ago were just aliens on the opposite side of a war or a situation like that, but that’s not who the villain is in this movie.
Idris Elba (Prometheus and Thor) plays Krall, the aforementioned villain here. Despite Elba doing his level best, I never understood or empathized with him as I did with Robert Walker, Jr. in “Charlie X” or Michael Forest in “Who Mourns For Adonais.”
As an article in The Hollywood Reporter noted, the USS Enterprise has been destroyed several times before, several times in the series Star Trek: The Next Generation and twice in the movies. At least, the way the ship is destroyed here was clever. The ship is essentially picked apart by a swarm of bees, or tiny spaceships that behave like a beehive.
However, the film goes over the top with the designs of a space station called Yorktown. It’s described as a snow-globe in space. It’s basically a city floating in space, designed with tall buildings and even a river system, but contained in a bubble where things are seemingly upside down compared to other things. It seems like it’s designed like a gyroscope. It just seemed ridiculous and impractical.
Four Stars out of Five.
Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence.
Running Time: 2 hrs.