This year I’ve had to review some stinkers (Hardcore Henry, X-Men: Apocalypse, Independence Day: Resurgence), a bunch of mediocre films (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, Ghostbusters, Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, The BFG), three good movies (Central Intelligence, Green Room, Keanu), and a great movie (Captain America: Civil War). Yet, none of these had me as excited to put my thoughts on “digital paper” as Star Trek Beyond,even if the film is not as mind-blowingly awesome as Civil War.
Star Trek Beyond may be my least favorite of the three Star Trek movies set in the “Kelvin Timeline” (J.J. Abram’s rebooted universe) , but don’t fret! I actually loved Star Trek Into Darkness, contrary to popular opinion, and I would give all three films 4 ½ Stars across the board!NO SPOILERS ahead. I’ll only touch on what you’ve seen in the trailers and content from the 1st Act of the film, avoiding a bummer of a Spoiler that some noticed in Beyond’s final trailer.
Star Trek Beyond is the logical continuation of the 50 year-old franchise, while actually being the most self-contained of the three modern films. Star Trek (2009) was burdened with the task of introducing the entire crew, leaving little time to do the villain, the Romulan Extremist Nero (Eric Bana), justice. Star Trek Into Darkness had tight ties to the 1st film, exploring the role of Jim T. Kirk’s (Chris Pine) father figure Admiral Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood) further and keeping the 1st and 3rd Acts on Earth/in our orbit. InBeyond we finally get to see Kirk and Crew just past the mid-point of their “Five Year Mission” which served as the basis for the Original Series that started it all in 1966.Fitting for the 50th Anniversary of the franchise, Star Trek Beyond feels more akin to an episode of the Original Series than any of the 12 films that preceded it. If Abrams’ Star Trek films had a baby with an Original Series episode, it would surely be Star Trek Beyond.
Just as Into Darkness opened with an “Indiana Jones -esque” action sequence that plays like the Final Act of an old-school episode,Beyond opens with a similar adventure involving Captain Kirk doing what he always did during the Five Year Mission; with all the humor and unique aliens you would expect. Unlike Into Darkness, this scene actually introduces a story driving MacGuffin, drawing further similarities to the Indiana Jones franchise. The film continues to feel like an original episode, with only two giant set-pieces, including the well-advertised destruction of the Enterprise and an incredible sequence on an amazingly designed Space Station that feels utterly unique. Not to say the film looks cheap or is small in scale, far from it; it has a special feeling of familiarity that every other Star Trek film lacked. Best of all, we spend no time on Earth! We’ve finally made it to deep space, beyond anyone has gone before (get the title, now?).While Star Trek (2009) was tasked with “world building” and Into Darkness put too much emphasis on Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch),Beyond gives all your favorite characters meaty material and something to do, splitting the screen time between them in what seems to be an appropriate balance. Into Darkness focused on Kirk (as they all should to an extent; he is the Captain) and gave Scotty (Simon Pegg) waaaaay more screen time and a more important role than anyone else. My favorite character has always been Chief Medical Officer “Bones” McCoy (Karl Urban), who hasn’t received his fair share of screen time since the 60’s, but has plenty to do here, as does everyone else. Scattered across an alien planet due to the attack that destroys U.S.S. Enterprise, Bones actually gets paired up with Spock (Zachary Quinto), and it is refreshing to see their relationship more in depth, rather than the usual emphasis on Kirk and Spock. But don’t worry, no matter your favorite character, Spock, Scotty, Uhura (Zoe Saldana), Sulu (John Cho), or Chekov (the late Anton Yelchin) they are all fully fleshed out and have important roles to play, with plenty of screen time.
The new alien characters, both the villainous Krall (Idris Elba) and heroic Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), are not lost in the shuffle and are both very strong additions to the long standing franchise. Krall is the second best villain in the series, behind only Benedict Cumberbatch’s portrayal of Khan (I told you, I love Into Darkness). While Khan was a mirror of Kirk, right down to his sympathetic plight of saving his crew, Idris Elba’s Krall is a complex, super-strong alien, with other fascinating abilities I won’t spoil, more akin to the classic villains of the Star Trek Universe: Klingons and Romulans. That being said, his motivation is much more intriguing than your typical Klingon, and fits in well with Star Trek canon. Meanwhile, Jaylah is a great strong female character akin to Furiosa (Charlize Theron) from Mad Max: Fury Road or Black Widow from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Both are new species – no retreads or fan favorites here – giving Star Trek Beyond a more original feel than the past two films. Two new interesting themes explored in Beyond are the idea of “Cabin Fever” and the repetition of everyday life after being on a starship for three years straight, as well as Kirk’s need to escape his father, George Kirk’s (Chris Hemsworth) long and heroic shadow.
Star Trek Beyond is fresh yet feels classic; no rehashed stories here (like Into Darkness). Justin Lin who directed three Fast & Furious films continues in the tradition and style of J.J. Abrams, not overloading it with action or making it feel like a Fast film. Writers Simon Pegg and Doug Jung also seem to have a better understanding of the Trek legacy than previous writers Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, and Damien Lindelof, and are willing to take more risks, not relying on previous characters, plot lines, or even alien species we’ve seen before.
Really, it’s a nearly perfect popcorn film and a strong addition to a storied franchise. As far as 2016 films go, it lands above Deadpool, but below Captain America: Civil War as the second best blockbuster of the year… thus far.
Now that Beyond is out of the way, I continue to look forward to Star Trek 4, which though it does not have a release date, we will see the return of Chris Hemsworth!
Live Long… and see Star Trek Beyond!