Starring: Chris Pine (Into the Woods), Zachary Quinto (Margin Call), Karl Urban (Dredd), Zoe Saldana (Avatar), Simon Pegg (The World’s End), John Cho (A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas), Anton Yelchin (Fright Night), Idris Elba (Thor), Sofia Boutella (Kingsman: The Secret Service)
Director: Justin Lin (Fast & Furious 6)
Writers: Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead) & Doug Jung (Confidence)
Runtime: 2 hours
Release Date: 22 July (US, UK)
It’s hard to make a Star Trek movie that appeals to everyone. You can make an extremely faithful adaptation to appeal to the fans, but then you risk alienating a general audience with long scenes of technobabble. If you strip it down and make it more of a sci-fi adventure movie for the general audience, then the fans are going be dissatisfied because of the lack of technobabble. This is an issue that has plagued the rebooted Star Trek franchise since 2009. JJ Abrams’ first film was a fantastic reintroduction to these classic characters, but some were dismayed by the shift towards space opera instead of contemplative science fiction. The sequel Into Darkness tried to fix this by introducing more classic elements, but that only seemed to make things worse. Now with Abrams taking a backseat and Fast & Furious veteran Justin Lin stepping up to bat, there was a lot of worry that Star Trek would only further devolve into homogenised Hollywood blockbuster fodder. I am happy to report that, though Star Trek Beyond is still in the vein of its two predecessors, it shows a far greater understanding of the franchise than either of them.
In comparison to the first two films where the complicated plots involved time travel and conspiracies, Star Trek Beyond takes a far simpler approach: there’s a bad guy who needs a thing to destroy another thing, and so Captain Kirk and crew need to stop him. There’s an elegant simplicity to the story that makes it easy to enjoy, and because of that it works well as a standalone Star Trek story rather than a small part of some grander saga. Though it does tie back into the first two films through some character moments, there is no rehashing of classic characters and scenes for the sake of fan service. This is an original adventure that creates new mythos for the lore and, like all great classic Star Trek does, uses its world to explore interesting sci-fi concepts. Beyond is ultimately a film about why the Enterprise crew needs to stick together and, in a greater sense, why Starfleet is important to this universe and why it should serve as an example to us in the audience. All of this is mainly just extra flavour behind all the character banter and action sequences, but it’s all there if you’re looking for it. For all intents and purposes, Star Trek Beyond’s ultimate goal is to have fun in this universe and it accomplishes that with aplomb with fantastically breezy pacing, a good sense of humour and some creative action set pieces. If you’re still expecting this series to make a sharp turn back to the strictly introspective you’re out of luck, but I’d say there’s just enough of it here to satisfy the slightly less pedantic fan.
With the story becoming less convoluted, Beyond now instead focuses its attention on the characters and develops them in small but meaningful ways. Whilst the focus of the film remains on Kirk and Spock, it’s less about their relationship with each other like the first two and more about their relationships with the rest of the Enterprise crew. For a good chunk of the film all these characters are split apart from each other in small groups, allowing for interactions previously not focused on. It’s fun to see Kirk and Chekov working together or watch Spock and Bones endure each other, giving the movie a little bit of buddy comedy flavour in the midst of the greater adventure. The entire main cast is still as excellent as ever and have really made these roles their own whilst respecting their forbearers, and to see the film pay tribute to both Leonard Nimoy and Anton Yelchin in even the smallest way adds a tinge of sadness to an otherwise celebratory film fitting of the franchise’s fiftieth anniversary. In terms of the new cast, Sofia Boutella frequently steals the show as Jaylah. Her character is far more than a simple alien badass, adding some solid humour with her interactions with Scotty, and I hope they can find a way to bring her back for future adventures. Idris Elba’s villain Thrall, however, is probably the film’s weakest element. Elba’s performance is great and suitably villainous, bringing to mind Kruge from The Search for Spock without being a total copy, but the film waits too long to explain his character and motivation. He’s just a stock villain on the level of the average Marvel villain, and by the time he starts to get interesting the film is almost over; this is especially a shame given how his motivation ties back into the importance of Starfleet.
Justin Lin’s experience directing crazy action sequences certainly pays off here, making Star Trek Beyond easily the most viscerally entertaining of the new series. Though none of it comes close to the ridiculousness of the Fast & Furious films, the action does feel a lot more lively and varied in both on-foot skirmishes and spaceship battles. On a design level the film is in keeping with Abrams’ vision (though with his absence, the lens flare levels have significantly dropped), but little touches like the new Starfleet uniforms and some alternate ship designs give the movie its own flavour. Michael Giacchino’s score for the franchise continues to evolve and elevates every moment on screen and, though its presence in the trailer is still a little perplexing, the way they incorporate Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” into the actual story ends up creating one of the film’s standout moments.
Star Trek Beyond clearly loves the franchise but doesn’t do so by throwing in a bunch of references to the originals. It shows its love by creating a new story and expands upon the world rather than relying on what worked before. Unlike its forbearers, it’s easy to imagine this story sitting amongst episodes of the original series, but now it’s amplified by its modernity instead of hampered. It doesn’t bog itself down by trying to be too grand, instead just telling a fun sci-fi story that still works in character introspection and social commentary amongst all the action; it’s an approach to storytelling I wish more Hollywood blockbusters would take. I’m not convinced Beyond will satisfy every Star Trek fan out there, but to anyone who felt disillusioned by Into Darkness I think it more than deserves a watch.
FINAL VERDICT: 9/10