Almost Beyond Expectations
Small Spoilers Ahead
Star Trek Beyond, the first Star Trek directed by Justin Lin (Fast and Furious), is a fantastic sci-fi popcorn blockbuster, and succeeds in feeling more like classic Star Trek over the two previous films.
While J.J. Abram’s Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness were both highly entertaining, they didn’t really have that Star Trek spirit, in my opinion. Star Trek Beyond definitely follows in its predecessors’ footsteps in terms of production, but it also feels much more like the original show, in no small part thanks to Simon Pegg’s work on the script.
Star Trek Beyond successfully splits the Enterprise crew into small subgroups, each with their own agenda as they all work towards the grand conclusion. There’s also more time spent on the places that the crew visits, a hallmark of classic Star Trek. Yorktown, a Federation “snowglobe in space,” is very cool, and reminded me a lot of the Citadel from Mass Effect. The swooping cinematography at its reveal, as the camera flies in and around the multi-faceted, multi-gravitational metropolis, was really cool to watch, and I bet it would be great moment to see in IMAX 3D.
While the crew is on shore leave at Yorktown, a ship with a lone passenger delivers a fateful message of her stranded crew on a planet in an uncharted nebula. The Enterprise has the best scanners in the fleet, so Kirk and his crew are assigned to the search and rescue mission. Upon navigating the treacherous unstable nebula, the Enterprise is greeted by a literal swarm of ships that tear into her. Without spoiling too much, the crew becomes marooned on a nearby planet, with most of them captured by the villainous leader Krall.
It’s here that Beyond shines, as small groups of Enterprise members each take on their own role in saving the crew and defeating Krall. Simon Pegg and Doug Jung did a fantastic job in balancing the importance of each groups’ mission, while also not giving any one group too much focus. Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) and Ensign Chekhov (Anton Yelchin) spend their time with the alien who led them here, searching for a way to save the rest of the crew. Meanwhile, the engineer Scotty (Simon Pegg) befriends another stranded alien, Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), who reveals she lives in the old missing U.S.S. Franklin, and intends to use it to escape the planet. McCoy (Karl Urban) and Spock (Zachary Quinto) have a more emotional turn of events, with Spock suffering a major injury. And lastly, the remainder of the crew, led by Sulu (John Cho) and Lt. Uhura (Zoë Saldana), do what they can to plan an escape and gather intel on Krall (Idris Elba), who is a convincingly terrifying genocidal alien.
The whole cast delivers great performances. Karl Urban, specifically, does a great job as McCoy, and really harkens back to DeForest Kelley’s original take on the character. Chris Pine manages to ground Kirk in a way that we haven’t seen before, as the captain takes on a more existential crisis in the face of years in deep space. I really can’t blame Simon Pegg for writing in a much bigger part for Scotty (or for giving himself a sexy alien girlfriend), but thankfully his scenes felt naturally integral to the plot, and the chemistry between him and Jaylah is especially entertaining.
Quinto’s performance with Spock was an interesting one, as the Vulcan deals with the reality of mortality in the wake of the death of Ambassador Spock. No, not his father- himself. In a fantastic move honoring Leonard Nimoy’s passing, his character (the original Spock, reintroduced in Abrams’ first Star Trek) passes away in the film as well, impacting Quinto’s Spock in unforeseen ways. It was a great way to send off Nimoy within the series that made him who he is.
It’s even more tragic that Anton Yelchin, who passed away in a fateful accident last month, has one of the most entertaining roles in the film. As Kirk grows weary with space and the monotony of ship life, Yelchin acts as the emotional counterweight, giving life and energy to the events around him. He’s also constantly trying to get into the cabins of his fellow female shipmates. While his role as Ensign Chekhov has always been an important one, his tag team with the captain made him a standout character this time around, as he was constantly engaged in life-or-death scenarios. It’s heartbreaking to think of this as the last time he’ll wear the shirt, but he can rest assured knowing that no one will be able to fill his chair.
My only real issue with Star Trek Beyond is the in its antagonist, Krall. Idris Elba unsurprisingly does a great job, but I was left wondering too much about his character. Without spoiling the major reveal in the third act, I will say that I left the theater trying to figure out how he got to be the way he is. The origin of his power, the “technology” that existed on this planet, where his army came from- there are enough pieces of Krall’s puzzle left by the wayside that the film’s positive aspects can’t entirely make up for its antagonist’s shortcomings.
Every other character was given room to grow in this film. Hell, even Sulu got to show us his husband and daughter. Yeah, that’s right- his husband (ohhhhh myyyyyy). While already running in at 122 minutes, I really wouldn’t have minded an extra 10 to 15 to help fill in some gaps. It’s unfortunate that Krall came up short, when every other character was firing on all thrusters. That, coupled with a highly entertaining albeit cop-out finale, weigh down what is otherwise another fantastic entry in this series.
I was worried that Justin Lin wouldn’t be able to carry Abrams’ torch, but thankfully, those apprehensions were quickly dashed. Not only did he manage to make a Star Trek film that was every bit as tense and thrilling as Abrams, but he also managed to capture that spirit of adventure that made the original series so classic. Simon Pegg and Doug Jung’s script definitely pays more homage to the source material, and it works great. While the ending feels a bit formulaic, it’s still very entertaining, and if you can get over the narrative shortcomings for Krall, there’s plenty to be enjoyed with Elba’s performance.
As this rebooted series pushes further into deep space and the Enterprise’s 5-year mission, Star Trek Beyond proves yet again that the ship is headed in the right direction.
To Leonard Nimoy and Anton Yelchin,
Live Long & Prosper