The most thought-provoking aspect of my trip to see Star Trek Beyond this morning wasn’t the movie itself, which indulges in many of the most tired tropes of the 21st century sci-fi blockbuster but nonetheless offers a charming summer diversion. I’ll have more to say about it in a moment, but first, I have to acknowledge the (unintended?) portentousness of a short interstitial that played just before the lights went down at my screening. The clip features Simon Pegg, who’s played Scotty in all three recent Star Trek movies and also co-wrote the script for this one with Doug Jung, earnestly thanking the audience for seeing the movie in theaters, and imploring us to continue doing so in order to preserve the medium’s cultural vitality for future generations.
First things first: many who showed up to the first two installments in this rebooted franchise haven’t returned for this threequel, which will barely crack $150 million at the domestic box office, let alone come within striking distance of the original’s $257 million or the sequel’s $228 million. That meager figure is in line with a dismal summer at the box office — only a few big-ticket blockbusters have ignited, and critics are raising an increasingly furrowed eyebrow at the sorry state of Hollywood’s summer offerings. (Now You See Me 2: I didn’t.) It’s safe to say that, even as the statement appears reductive, movies are struggling — and there’s no way Pegg doesn’t realize it. Why else would he record a video of himself thanking people for seeing his aggressively marketed tentpole movie? It’s not as if Star Trek Beyond lacks brand recognition or built-in interest. If Star Trek Beyond were an inarguable masterpiece or a surefire smash, such a video would be the equivalent of Taylor Swift gasping with fake awe as she collects her 97th music award. Instead, it feels like an acknowledgment: This movie doesn’t work quite well enough to right the ship of a downbeat summer at the movies.