The reboot of Gene Roddenbury’s sci-fi series has been financially successful but has not gone over well with some hardcore fans. I’m a fan of the reboot series but I think it seriously went off-track with the millennial version of Wrath of Khan called Star Trek Into Darkness. It focused more on the action and visual effects, turning away to what made Star Trek such a staple in pop culture. For my more in-depth opinion, you can read my review. But this film, under the helm of Fast and Furious director Justin Lin, feels like that missing ingredient has been found along with balancing the action of the reboots.
Star Trek Beyond finds Captain James Kirk (Chris Pine) and the crew of the Enterprise deep in their five-year mission to explore the worlds they encounter an unknown enemy after crossing a nebula. A swarm of small vessel attacks, causing the crew to abandon ship on a distant planet after the destruction of their starship. While on the planet, they must go against a formidable adversary (Idris Elba) with the help of a female warrior (Sofia Boutella).
This installment is solid on the space travel, showing how the mission has worn down the crew. Uhura and Spock’s relationship has been affected and Kirk has questions about why he is in Starfleet, his father’s legacy becoming a hard thing to live up to. Overall, the aimlessness of the mission has left the crew in a funk, resulting in crewmates pairing off into relationships, engaging in spats, and a general loss of purpose. What they need is an assignment with a goal and stakes.
When the crew arrives at the starbase Yorktown (basically a twisty snowglobe in space), they are given just that while the crew is on shore leave. A female alien, who sent an urgent distress call (isn’t that how most of their missions start?) reporting that her ship had been attacked and her crew had been taken hostage by a belligerent warrior known as Krall. Kirk gathers the rest of the familiar faces (Saldana’s Uhura, Cho’s Sulu, Zachary Quinto’s Spock, Karl Urban’s Bones, Pegg’s Scotty, and the late Anton Yelchin’s Chekov) and the Enterprise departs, navigating through an awe-less nebula and squares off against Krall. To avoid going into spoiler territory, Krall’s intentions become clear as the movie continues on and the crew work to be reunited on the planet.
While it would have been great to know Krall’s plan possibly midway through the film as the different pockets of the crew went on their mini-adventures to be reunited with one another, it does pay off later on in the third act of the film. Unfortunately, that’s way too late. While the audience is left to ponder the villain’s plan (there isn’t a lot of speeches or monologues by Krall), we have mini-arcs of character development: the on-again/off-again romance between Spock and Uhura; the love-hate bond between Spock and Bones; Kirk’s personal arc as a leader. These are the best parts of Beyond. After so many missions with the main crew of the Enterprise, we never got a deeper look into their lives beyond the bridge. It was interesting as a fan to get that inside look. Some new characters were also proven to be well-crafted, three-dimensional beings; Elba’s menacing Krall and Sofia Boutella’s kabuki-skinned alien she-warrior Jaylah, are exciting additions.
Ultimately, Beyond is a movie about characters and character. But that is only half of the battle. The other half is…battle. Straight-up action. The camera angles of those scenes can give you a headache but spectacular nonetheless. While this isn’t Justin Lin’s best work, he does an excellent job in his first go-around in the director’s chair. The music of Public Enemy and Beastie Boys were welcome additions to the fun of the big-budget action scenes. We’ve also seen Kirk on an antique 20th century motorcycle from the trailer and that scene was impressive but also hearkens back to the 2009 reboot from when a young Kirk drives around in a Detroit muscle car.
Without being nitpicky, I can say that Beyond is a fine movie but not a very good Star Trek movie. A definite improvement from its predecessor but it felt like another tentpole summer film. But when is the last time we saw an actual good Star Trek movie?