“Star Trek: Beyond” came to theaters in San Diego the same week as Comic-Con, leaving nerds like myself thrilled with my south western corner of this country. As part of the full-disclosure the site is only too proud of, I feel the need to admit my Star Trek geek-dom up front. Without a doubt, I am the least qualified person to review a Star Trek film in an unbiased manner. I’m their fanbase. I could spend weekends binge-watching “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” – and I have. I got my wife briefly interested in “Enterprise,” but that was mostly because Scott Bakula played the captain. I have seen every episode of The Original Series, Next Generation, DSN and Enterprise. I even gave Voyager two seasons to disappoint me before I gave up on the thing. I’ve seen every film Trek has released to theaters and enjoyed most of them. With that said, “Star Trek: Beyond” is an enjoyable movie even if you’ve never seen a Trek film or episode before. If you haven’t, call me: I can loan you the DVDs.
Producer J.J. Abrams once again returns and brings little new to the third installment of the reboot of the original story line. But it is a fun ride. The cinematography is gorgeous, the special effects are what you would expect from a Trek film: slightly behind the curve of what other sci-fi franchises come up with, but enjoyable nonetheless. Gene Roddenberry’s original vision to take stories and infuse them with a utopian future where racism and poverty had been eradicated from Earth, only to be fought against in space is given a new coat of varnish as “Star Trek: Beyond” attempts to “boldly go where no one has gone before.” Director Justin Lin, and writers Simon Pegg & Doug Jung come up with a story that feels familiar and pushes the cannon forward. No spoilers here, but there is an issue that warrants discussion.
Beyond makes it a point that Sulu (John Cho) is gay and married and raising an adopted child. Pegg has stated publicly that the plot point was meant as an homage to George Takei, the actor who played Sulu on The Original Series and in the films that followed. Takei is openly-gay and he, along with his husband Brad, are active in fighting for equal rights and social justice. Takei stated he did not love the idea. Pegg stated he respected Takei’s point and in this particular film reality, the character’s sexuality was played as something nobody in the future paid two seconds of attention to and was part of everyday life. Of course, the internet exploded with opinions from all sides, laying waste to courtesy and polite discourse along the way. Takei and Pegg were respectful of each other, too many others who chimed in were not. My thinking on the whole thing was: did it make the movie better or worse? The answer is neither. It was part of a movie that brought the Enterprise into contact with a new and potentially ruthless enemy. The crew is forced to abandon ship and band together to make it out of the situation. It was part of a film with Pegg playing Montgomery Scott and Chris Pine as Captain Kirk more convincingly than in previous films. It was a film that showed Zachary Quinto as Commander Spock in ways that would make the late Leonard Nimoy proud. It was, sadly, the last time audiences will see Anton Yelchin portray Pavel Chekov. The actor tragically passed away prior to the film’s release. It was a film where Krall (played wonderfully by Idris Elba) kept the evil omnipresent and things interesting. And gay or straight, Sulu was part of the crew that had to use their brains to defeat him. In 2016, I’m sad this is even an issue that can’t be discussed in a civil fashion. Roddenberry’s reasoned voice, and charming personality would have been a welcome addition to the discussion. Instead of arguing, just go see a film with action, humor and a bunch of creepy aliens. It’s better for your soul.