Star Trek Beyond is a fun return to form for the crew of the Enterprise, capturing the old Trek spirit while boldly forging a path of its own. For long-term fans or otherwise, there’s plenty here to enjoy
Ever since its 2009 reboot, the Star Trek franchise has struggled to reconcile its roots with the expectations of a modern blockbuster. The original 1966 television series was, at its best, a fun and intelligent parable on the state of humanity, while the subsequent film series would combine this with a cinematic sense of spectacle. More recently, the efforts of JJ Abrams’ brought Star Trek kicking and screaming into the 21st century, but his two glossy undertakings left many fans feeling cold. Despite delivering on spectacle, Trek’s character-driven thoughtfulness was largely ejected in favour of a more contrived, Star Wars style adventure. Thankfully, with this year’s Beyond, director Justin Lin has produced a modern Star Trek worthy of the name.
Opening some time into the Enterprise’s five-year mission, Star Trek Beyond finds Captain James T Kirk (Chris Pine) caught in something of a rut. If the universe really is infinite, he ponders, then isn’t it futile to explore its vastness? Thus, we have our first sense that Beyond is treating its characters to some level of maturity and self-awareness, quite distinct from the stencilled caricatures found in the last two instalments. Indeed, it’s the characters and their enthusiastic interplay that provides the core of this film, dealing in equal parts humour and sentimentality that seldom feels overdone.
The script of Star Trek Beyond, co-penned by sci-fi aficionado Simon Pegg, is the first of the reboot entries to feel like bona-fide Star Trek. The colourful crew of the Enterprise find themselves trapped on a mysterious planet, at the behest of a vengeful villain, and must use all their wits to find a way home. It’s a premise that could just as easily have fit into a thirty-minute television slot, and this certainly helps to recapture a familiar Star Trek charm.
However, while playing homage to what has come before, Beyond is unafraid to blaze its own trail. The intensely derivative “fan-service” which plagued 2013’s Into Darkness thankfully takes a back seat, as Lin steers the franchise into fresh territory while retaining the spirit of the original form. Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto remain excellent as Captain Kirk and Mr Spock, both of whom are developed with newfound complexity, while the rest of the familiar cast are given plenty to do. Unfortunately, the multitudinous talents of Idris Elba feel wasted on the film’s villain, Krall, an adequate yet underdeveloped rogue.
Action set-pieces are predictably spectacular, perhaps excessively so. The first act gives you little time to settle in before indulging in successive sequences of calamitous destruction, all of which are bracing and, at times, incoherent. The film’s pacing and narrative would likely have benefitted if one of these passages was deleted, and a little more time dedicated to those that remained.
Nevertheless, Beyond adopts a more confident stride as it slows down during the second act, allowing the characters and their predicament to come to the fore. Above all, there’s an overriding sense of fun to the proceedings, while still allowing time to reflect on weightier and more personal themes. The action and writing are never truly remarkable in their own right, but they nevertheless arrive as a part of a package that’s difficult not to appreciate.
If last year’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens was an enjoyable but risk-averse update to the Star Wars saga, then Star Trek Beyond similarly provides a satisfying interpretation of the Star Trek formula. It’s not quite among the best that Trek has to offer, nor does it particularly distinguish itself as a sci-fi adventure. What it is, however, is an exciting and worthwhile two hours that will reward fans and laymen alike.