It was a sweltering hot summer day that introduced me to the classics of science fiction; braving the heat outside was a fool’s errand so the world of television was the most viable outlet to combat boredom. Nothing peaked my interest until I flipped to the Sci-Fi network, which was playing an old black and white episode of The Twilight Zone. I immediately spun into a binge of watching every episode that came on that day, enamored by the themes and ideals spun into a web of science, magic and dark situations. Developing an appetite for this same wave of programming, I randomly decided to watch an episode of Star Trek, thus beginning a love affair for the worlds, characters, ethics and relationships crafted by Gene Roddenberry. With the return of Star Trek back onto the big screen in the form of Star Trek Beyond, as well as the 50th anniversary of the iconic franchise, all eyes are aimed at what hopes to be the next big hit of the franchise. After the mixed reaction to 2013’s Into Darkness, can this next movie arch the series back into the good graces of casual moviegoers and hardcore fans? Or has the ‘Kelvin Timeline’ stretch of movies reached its end?
Star Trek Beyond is the first of the “Nu Trek” films to be helmed by a director other than J.J Abrams. This time around, Fast and the Furious maestro Justin Lin takes the captain’s chair and wisely steers the franchise back to its iconic television roots. The principal cast of the past two films are back, still exploring the abyss of uncharted space, when they’re confronted with a vicious enemy in a test of will that separates the crew from each other, their ship, and any way to contact the Federation. Stranded on a hostile planet, the crew of the USS Enterprise races against time in order to stop the diabolical plan of this unknown aggressor. Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto and Karl Urban once again reprise their roles of Kirk, Spock and Bones, alongside John Cho’s Sulu, Zoe Saldana’s Uhura and Chekov, played by Anton Yelchin, who tragically passed away last month. Simon Pegg embraces double obligations in this film, holding writing duties and returning as Scotty, with new additions to the already star-studded cast arriving in the form of Idris Elba’s Krall and Sofia Boutella’s Jaylah.
Star Trek Beyond is a return to form for the series, capturing the essence of the contained planetary adventures of the 60’s show while maintaining the visceral energy found in the newer films. There is a potent mix of ‘classic Trek‘ and ‘Nu Trek‘, but the blend never becomes one-sided – the chemistry between the characters of the original 60’s series is emulated in the modern crew’s relationships, while incorporating the nuances set up within the reboot universe. It’s a wonderful tightrope balance between old and new, honed by great writing, direction and acting. If it takes Simon Pegg writing the next 80 Trek films for the franchise to be this great then so be it; the man and his team know what makes Star Trek great.
Underneath the million or so ‘2 Trek 2 Furious‘ jokes on the internet, there was always a cloud of uncertainty regarding Justin Lin manning the next instalment, however he disproves all doubt within the first act. While it’s great to have a more than competent man behind the camera, it’s a blessing to have a cast this solid pushing the material and humor in front of it. Chris Pine truly steps into the role of Kirk in Beyond, feeling much more sturdy and in command. Spock and Bones are given a great deal of screen time together and they make it work, bouncing philosophy and shots off each other in a way that harkens back to Deforest Kelley and Leonard Nimoy in the original series. Overall, all the major members of the Enterprise are given their own moments to shine and beats to advance the plot along, keeping the intensity of the situation their focus and their care for each other paramount. A highlight of the film was newcomer Sofia Boutella’s Jaylah, the chalk-white alien who holds key information about the machinations of the villains, knows a thing or two about engineering, and kicks ass. Jaylah draws parallels to Rey from The Force Awakens, as they’re two strong female characters that are both extremely well versed in technology, know their way around a fight and seek for a way off their respective planets.
Speaking of planets – no – speaking of galaxies, Star Trek Beyond has one of the most imaginative and well-produced galaxies of recent memory. The film is just outright beautiful, from the depth and full spectrum use of colors, the shots of the Enterprise hitting warp speed in space and the ‘M.C Escher-meets-Roddenberry‘ starbase city Yorktown, right down to the planet the crew is stranded on. Variety in design is truly a standout element of the film, shown in the scope of different aliens, environments and ships. It’s a film best seen on the big screen – the sheer amount of visual chaos interwoven with the actual action of the plot is a mind-blowing visual spectacle to behold. There’s a moment in the film where the famed Beastie Boys track Sabotage blasts, with the strength of the visuals and momentum of the story creating one of the year’s craziest moments, that will leave some scratching their heads, and others like myself smiling and nodding in agreement to the insanity onscreen.
It’s a wonderful tightrope balance between old and new – honed by great writing, direction and acting.
The few dents in the movie actually come from it’s biggest selling point – the villain known as Krall. The problem isn’t Idris Elba, who brings a physicality and grit to the role only few actors truly can, but the actual characterization of Krall. Yes, he’s big. Yes, he’s nasty looking, and yes, he can put Kirk in a hold like Razor Ramon – but he’s lacking in motivation and presence. Equal parts Darth Vader, General Thade, and a salamander, Krall doesn’t go about his plans arrogantly or angrily, he seems to just go about schedule, pressing on with only some slight explanation here and there. It’s only in the final act of the film that the audience learns the motivation behind Krall, which was honestly an interesting turn of character despite coming too late in the story to pack as much punch as it could’ve. Adding onto the weakness of Krall are his dollar-store Stormtroopers, a bunch of badly rendered, wannabe Chituari from the first Avengers movie donned in knockoff Halo armor. Another knock at the film is Jaylah’s character and her subplot being lost in the wind once the movie decides it’s time to wrap things up. There’s no closure to her story; made worse by the fact that it’s never mentioned again, frustratingly leaving a cool new character lacking in comparison to the rest of cast whom wrapped all their plot threads up.
Pleasing a large spectrum of fans isn’t the easiest task, but Star Trek has managed to do it once again. Sandwiched between fan-service references to numerous Trek shows, and humor that even the freshest Trekkie will laugh at is Star Trek Beyond – a fun adventure with pulse-pounding action and gorgeous visuals, complimented by strong writing, an inspired creative direction and a top-tier cast, hindered only by a villain with vacant motivation and the usual tropes that the series is known for.
Star Trek Beyond is a return to form, and one of the summer’s most satisfying blockbusters.