Star Trek has been a pop culture institution for more than fifty years, now. Since its initial television run in 1966, it has been the North Star for legions of nerds and/or geeks. But that love used to come at a cost. For most of that fifty years to admit that you liked Star Trek was akin to claiming comics were a viable art form—more often than not you would be laughed out of the room.
These days, however, the pop culture pyramid has been inverted. Science fiction, comics and fantasy now occupy the apex rather than the dark antechambers.
In short: the inmates are running the asylum. People like Simon Pegg, a prototypical first generation uber-geek, are writing and starring in Star Trek Beyond. And with that change there has been a reorientation of what a hero can look like. Your turn as Chekov, as well as your work in films like Green Room, are just a couple of examples of how significant the shift in cultural preferences has been. Your quiet, almost folksy charm is married to a physical presence that is difficult to categorize, but definitely leans into a skater boi aesthetic, and is an entirely different species than Chris Pine’s James T. Kirk. Chekov is more congenial and team oriented, and as such he’s an overt repudiation to Kirk’s Great Man archetype.
You are a clear marker of the messy evolution propelling big budget filmmakers. They are attempting to come to grips with an audience that simply doesn’t respond to over muscled bellicosity the way it used to. So that an actor like you, who is far more Paul Newman than Matt Damon, becomes the new template. A lot of your appeal comes from your ability to maintain a youthful enthusiasm that is never unwise. It’s a world weariness untouched by cynicism—which could very well be your most compelling attribute.
What is appealing about both your performance and the overall tone of Star Trek Beyond is how closely they echo certain aspects of the original iteration of Star Trek. Your character Chekov, and the new film itself, are giddily enthusiastic, filled with an optimistic faith in humanity’s ability to overcome any problem if we just work together (and with just the right amount of shirt tearing heroics). It is in this spirit that Star Trek Beyond is a direct response to the unhappy mess that was Star Trek Into Darkness.
You might have noticed that I’ve avoided mentioning the tragic fact that you will never read this letter. If anything about Star Trek Beyond sticks with me, it will be that it was your last film. I have followed your career since Terminator: Salvation and genuinely felt like you were an actor who would soon find your niche. You were possessed of that ineffable thing that makes people take notice of you—even in spite of your low key approach. I was truly sad when I heard of your passing.
Star Trek Beyond is a charming—but otherwise forgettable—summer movie. But because it holds your last performance, and because it’s a decent addition to the larger pop culture jigsaw that is the Star Trek franchise, it’s a film that more than justifies its own existence.
Sometimes fun is reason enough.