Following the disappointing results and reactions to Star Trek Into Darkness three years ago, this year’s Star Trek Beyond had to correct course in some big ways if it was going to be celebrated by fans in any way. Combine that with the fact that this year marks the 50th anniversary of Star Trek, and you get a high bar of expectations that many fans and critics believed Beyond was going to be unable to live up to. Fortunately for all of us, they were wrong.
Star Trek Beyond is not the best Star Trek movie in the franchise, and it’s certainly not the most intellectual or politically-relevant by any means either. But what Beyond manages to do that Into Darkness and its morbidly boring title didn’t, is capture the same sense of wonder and heart that made the Original Series such a milestone when it first arrived. Yes, there are explosions aplenty and yes, it all does come down to a final battle with some very muddled motivations like in both of the previous two films, but at least this time, when Captain Kirk throws a punch, we know why he’s doing it and we feel the emotion behind it.
The film picks up with the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise three years into their five-year mission, as Chris Pine’s Captain Kirk is beginning to feel the “episodic” nature of his journey, and the frustration that can come from the routine. Pine plays the uncertainty well, in his most mature and best performance as Kirk to date. Other members of the crew like Spock (Zachary Quinto) are dealing with inner turmoils of their own, as each of the characters must toy with the idea of who they want to be moving forward in their lives. For Kirk, the question comes down to if he really wants to be a Starfleet captain like his father, or if he’s simply been living in his shadow long enough he thinks he does.
When he and the rest of the Enterprise crew are ambushed by a legion of ships headed by the villainous Krall (Idris Elba) in uncharted territory though, the crew members are left stranded on an unknown planet as they not only fight to reunite with each other, but also to learn the secrets behind Krall’s plan and save the Federation from complete destruction at his hands.
One of the film’s biggest successes comes when it chooses to pair off the main crew of the Enterprise into a number of unlikely duos including Kirk and Chekov (played by the late, great Anton Yelchin), Spock and Bones (Karl Urban), Scotty (Pegg) and newcomer Jaylah (played by Sofia Boutella), and Uhura (Zoe Saldana) and Sulu (John Cho). Each of the characters share either the perfect differences with each other, or have never quite been given any substantial interactions onscreen until now, even throughout Star Trek‘s immense fifty year legacy.
Unlike in the previous film as well, the Enterprise’s destruction in Beyond actually matters. Not only does the destruction of it onscreen have some legitimate weight as the crew fight to keep their beloved ship alive, but the point of Beyond is to prove that even without the Enterprise, the crew and their Captain are still able to get the job done. They can succeed over sometimes insurmountable odds, and even when their vessel has been torn apart (quite literally here), their beliefs and reasons for fighting are not.
Out of all of the pairings, Bones and Spock are easily the most enjoyable to watch, with Bones being the perfect antithesis to the normally calm and cool-mannered Spock. Their interactions not only warrant the biggest laughs in the film, but also provide some of the best insight into their reasons for being in Starfleet in the first place. Beyond also wisely gives Karl Urban enough screen time to actually stand out here, and because of it, he emerges as possibly the movie’s MVP.
Quinto gives possibly his most dynamic and fun performance as Spock here also, and the incorporation of Leonard Nimoy’s unfortunate passing last year into the movie’s story is not only well done, but lends some sentiment and heart to the film fairly early on. After all, Kirk isn’t the only one living in the shadow of someone who came before, and the same can arguably be said for the film itself. With touching tributes to both Anton Yelchin (one that made me and my entire row choke up) and Nimoy, Beyond has managed to pay homage to what came before while also proving its place in the Star Trek legacy as a deserving one.
While the makeup covering Idris Elba’s face is well done and interesting to look at though, his Krall is arguably the weakest part of Beyond from a storytelling viewpoint alone, as the film keeps his motivations and actual place in the Star Trek universe a mystery for too long that a number of his more sinister actions in the film don’t quite have the weight that they should. When his true identity is finally revealed though, the movie progresses into a strong and fun third act battle between he and Kirk. I just wish it hadn’t taken so long to get there.
Krall’s the least impressive aspect of the movie by far, but for a film that finally focuses more on its heroes than its villain (unlike most blockbusters nowadays), he might be the perfect antagonist for Beyond. Narrative flaws and all.
Taking over for Abrams as well, Justin Lin has given us one of his best outings to date as the director here. Bringing the same eye for action and thrills that he demonstrated beautifully in the latest Fast & Furious films, along with his real passion for Star Trek to give us a movie that fits into today’s modern blockbuster world and scale well, while also feeling the closest to the Original Series out of any of the modern films yet.
All in all, Star Trek Beyond is one of the most fun times in the theatre you’ll have all summer. It doesn’t quite bring the same intellect or political undertones as some of the best Trek films and stories, but it doesn’t need to either. Sometimes it’s nice to just see a movie have as much fun hanging out with the characters as the fans themselves do, and more than anything else, Star Trek Beyond proves that the 50-year-old ideals of Gene Roddenberry can still exist in today’s world, and you can have just as much fun with unity and hopefulness as you can with anything else in theatres right now. A much-needed reprieve from the cynical, pessimistic world we live in, both on the silver screen and off of it.
Star Trek Beyond is set to hit theatres on July 22nd.
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