It’s now three years into the USS Enterprise’s five-year mission, and the crew is beginning to feel a little…strained. They have encountered numerous wonders in their journey through the stars, experienced thrilling adventures, and witnessed the awe-inspiring beauty of deep space. However, they’ve also learned that space can be as cold and lonely as it is fascinating, and when you are venturing this far from home into the uncharted vastness of the universe, it is all too easy to get lost — both literally and figuratively.
The beginning of “Star Trek: Beyond” finds Captain James T. Kirk feeling both lost and lonely. He is now a year older than his father lived to be, and he is questioning his own purpose in Starfleet. His father joined Starfleet because he believed in the mission; Kirk just joined on a dare. He wonders what he is really accomplishing, and if his work really means anything. It takes a dangerous mission that strands the Enterprise crew on a hostile world — and the resurrection of some ghosts from Starfleet’s past — to remind Captain Kirk why it’s important to keep boldly going where no one has gone before.
After the somewhat controversial “Into Darkness,” “Star Trek: Beyond” will be, for many fans, a welcome return to form. It doesn’t really venture into new territory for the franchise, but that’s actually okay. It feels like a jumbo episode from the Original Series, with a great mix of humor and action, plus a chance for the characters we know and love to shine. It’s a worthy addition to the franchise. (Note: This review is mostly spoiler free, and the brief spoiler I did include has been clearly marked, in case those who’ve seen the movie want to discuss that plot point in the comments.)
I’m actually a fan of both J.J. Abrams Trek reboot films, even though I know some fans did not like “Into Darkness,” which re-imagines the famous Khan storyline. However, I am glad that with “Beyond,” the film makers chose to pursue an original story and introduce some new characters, rather than trying to recreate another storyline from the Original Series. Justin Lin takes over the helm this go-around, and while I admit I was initially a little skeptical about the director from “The Fast and the Furious” franchise taking on Star Trek, he proves to be more than capable of handling the job. It did take me a bit to adjust to his tone, which is a little different from Abrams’ style, but I was impressed by the way he handled the characters and the story. He takes the viewers on a fun ride.
It’s always great to see the Enterprise on the big screen, and although there’s now almost a running joke about how many times the Enterprise gets destroyed in these films, Justin Lin does destroy the ship in spectacular fashion. The film’s primary villain, a mysterious alien named Krall (Idris Elba), commands a fleet of ships the Enterprise crew members nickname “the bees” since they fly in a terrifying, overwhelming swarm. These “bees” dismantle the Enterprise in space and send it crashing towards a planet where more dangers await.
The story is fairly simple and straight-forward, which allows plenty of time for nice character moments. I think sometimes Chris Pine is underappreciated as an actor, and I’ve really enjoyed how he has grown his character throughout this series. Captain Kirk starts out the Trek reboot films as a reckless, womanizing delinquent who’s running from his destiny; in “Into Darkness,” he’s come a long way, but we still get the sense he doesn’t fully appreciate the solemn responsibility of command. Now, in “Beyond,” he’s still brash and tends to leap before he looks, but we can see he has matured as a captain. He has lived up to the sense of promise Christopher Pike saw in him years ago.
These Trek reboot films really have been perfectly cast, and each character gets a special moment in this film. I loved how the film maroons Spock and McCoy (Zachary Quinto and Karl Urban) together on the alien planet, apart from the rest of the crew. We haven’t gotten a chance to see as much of their love-hate relationship in the newer Trek films, so it’s nice to see them get an opportunity to both bicker and deepen their friendship. We also get to see some good moments with Scotty (played by Simon Pegg, who also helped write the film). I enjoyed the introduction of a new female character, Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), who can more than hold her own in a fight.
The film’s main weakness is actually shared by many summer blockbusters: not *quite* enough development for the villain. Idris Elba is a fine actor, and I liked how he played the character Krall. I also appreciated the twist at the end involving his character. ***Spoiler alert!*** Krall is actually an officer from the beginning of Starfleet who has mutated and unnaturally prolonged his life. He wasn’t able to adapt to Starfleet’s new mandate to pursue peace with its former enemies, and he’s been waiting a long time to seek revenge. It’s an interesting concept for a villain and seems very relevant considering the violence our world has been experiencing of late. It’s not always easy to forgive what’s happened in the past and choose peace instead of revenge, but it’s always the better path. I think the film could have done just a little more to flesh out that theme, and the character. ***End spoiler!***
Overall, “Star Trek: Beyond” is a fun action film that leaves plenty of time for character development, and I believe most Star Trek fans will be very pleased. I’m excited to hear Paramount is already planning a fourth film, although it is a somewhat bittersweet announcement. “Beyond” does address the passing of Leonard Nimoy, and it also marks the final outing for Anton Yelchin, who plays the young Chekov and passed away earlier this summer due to a tragic accident. I understand his role will not be recast in the next movie, and I think that’s a nice gesture. It would be great if the film would reference Chekov being promoted to first officer on another starship; I like the thought of his character still out there, exploring the stars.
“Star Trek: Beyond” gets a big thumb’s up from me, and I hope the franchise continues to go boldly into the future.