Star Trek Beyond (2016) Review

Director: Justin Lin
Cast: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Idris Elba, Sofia Boutella, Zoe Saldana, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Simon Pegg.
Plot: Three years into the Enterprise’s Five-year Mission, James T Kirk feels he has seen it all, and after accomplishing everything his father did before him, feels it’s time to hang up his command. Before he can slide into a life of bureaucracy, the Enterprise is called upon to protect the Federation from one it’s most threatening enemies, who comes armed with a centuries old grudge.

After the resounding disappointment that was Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) combined with the mass anticipation for the Star Trek Golden Anniversary, Trekkies turned inside out from sheer excitement when Beyond was released. My goodness, it wasn’t a disappointment either; which is awesome because of how so many of Hollywood’s big franchise Blockbusters as of late have been leaving audiences all over the world underwhelmed. Perhaps just as importantly, it was a such a fitting tribute to the enterprising sci-fi series as it reaches its huge milestone.

The movie zooms three years into the Enterprise’s five-year mission: Kirk is no longer a reckless juvenile delinquent, but has sobered into a steely young captain, commanding the fleet’s flagship. However, it’s instantly noticeable that in his apparent maturity, his zest and mischievousness from the previous movies has disappeared. He has become weary of deep space exploration and he is left wondering why he got into the job in the first place. Kirk is in the midst of an existential crisis which is made worse by his impending birthday which makes him a year older than his father was when he died; a factor he considers his original inspiration for joining Starfleet in the first place. After another not-so-successful diplomatic mission, James T. is contemplating fading into the background of Starfleet bureaucracy at the Federation’s newest, shiniest Space Station: Yorktown.

Side Note: Dear Mr. Studio bosses, I know I complained that Captain Kirk was a reckless man-whore in the first two reboot movies … but that didn’t mean I wanted you to murder his soul!

Kirk inevitably gets a good boot up the arse when he volunteers himself for one last mission into uncharted space in response to a distress call which turns out to be… a trap!

With the third movie of the new series, this whole action thing in space was in danger of becoming shagged out. Therefore, the writers must be commended for getting us all to cluck in sympathy at a downtrodden Kirk and then immediately made us reel in our seats as we watch our heroes become separated and dumped all over some godforsaken planet patrolled by ruthless killers – talk about keeping it fresh!

Pushing the crew well out of their comfort zone created opportunities that were never taken in this movie’s two predecessors. In Star Trek and Into Darkness it was pretty much the Kirk and Spock dude-bro show with the occasional appearance of the almost exceptionally badly used Uhura. Now, I can’t deny the dynamic between Kirk and Spock from ever since the Original Series is iconic and I cannot even begin to articulate the effect it has had on pop culture. However, in the attempt to make the Star Trek movie franchise a near straight-up action series, the writing for Pine’s and Quinto’s Spock and Kirk will never be as emotive, tender or brave as The Original Series, and as such simply becomes dull in comparison. It was absolutely infuriating just how lacking in attention some of the most popular secondary characters were, with some being relegated to reductive and simplistic comic relief. But, after watching Beyond, I could have kissed the ground in thanks for such a wonderful, character-driven narrative. As an anorak-wearing die-hard Trekkie, that is just what I wanted to see!

In Beyond each of these wonderful, widely adored secondary characters were given their own world and story, with new and striking crises added to their already long established back stories and portrayals. Sulu really showed his mettle and bravery as a commanding officer in the field, doing everything he can to keep the crew safe; despite the prospect of never seeing his young family again looming over each of his decisions. Spock and Uhura are left at odds as Spock’s survivor’s guilt catches up with him – I mean how do you go forward in a relationship when your boyfriend is wanting to make little Vulcans and not with you? And Spock being the logical and most physically strong, he is wonderfully full of such raw emotion (in still a distinctly Spock way) as he is left facing death on all fronts.

These character arcs are just the tip of the iceberg of the rich yarns that intertwine to create this tale which keeps you on edge from start to finish. Each individual character’s stakes and personal demons drives this story which is aided by unrelenting action that doesn’t bore or fade into background noise. The special effects featured in Beyond don’t dazzle you as much with this being the third movie of the current series, but this being a more heart-felt narrative, I thought it was more effective at leaving your heart in your mouth. And, even though they are perhaps less impressive, the craft of them was perhaps more appreciated: Justin Lin’s Yorktown complete with its gravitational cross-streams was unique and innovative, and a nice little nod to Space Odyssey. In fact, I am just going to outright produce it: Simon Pegg and Justin Lin (the pair of fanboys they are) made this movie a success. Their love for the Star Trek series makes Beyond the truest of the Reboots to the show’s hopeful ethics and campy heart. The Enterprise crew’s counterattack to Krall’s forces descending on Yorktown, and Jim’s final encounter with Krall were one of the most warming and human moments in modern blockbuster sci-fi cinema. Humanity must strive for peace, forgiveness and self-betterment. Oh, and Bees hate rock music.

What really helped make the action and drama so tangible was Idris Elba’s alien and ferocious performance as Krall. His genesis provides a stark allegory of the spirit of man being consumed by hatred and the want for vengeance. Despite this, Krall’s part in the story was the movie’s greatest weakness. His villainy was a cliché: a troubled soul with a chip on his shoulder was already written for the previous two movies. This lack of originality even detracted from the surprising twist in Krall’s tale, and his brief conflict with Kirk at the end was the most underwhelming of all of the action scenes.

Amongst all this brilliant action and drama, what fully won over audiences were the little nods to the series in honour of the anniversary. I am surprised that everyone involved managed to reign in their ‘trekkiness’ and not let the film be drowned in homage and tribute [something I would have likely done had I been in charge] but decided to use very small moments. Very small moments that were so damned effective! The cinema was filled with gasps and some barely contained screams, and I confess that my own eyes got suspiciously damp.

I feel like I may be massively biased, as I was excited for this movie for two whole years, so I’ll try my best to wrap this all up with a balanced paragraph or so. Star Trek Beyond was not the most gut-wrenching or poignant movies of the year, but it surely was one of the most enjoyable. In comparison to some of the bombs of this year’s blockbuster calendar, it was surely a standout in every positive aspect. It also has a solid footing in the realm of “Good Trek Movies” and will certainly be a cheeky favourite of mine from the series. In fact I think this movie has the potential to entice audiences into discovering Star Trek from its auspicious beginnings, and just in time for the anniversary and the rebooted television series.

Score: 18/24

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