Review: Star Trek Beyond

Star Trek Beyond is thankfully – given the terrible second film in this series, Into Darkness – fun, zippy sci-fi, and the start of a return to form for the reboots after the amazing Star Trek in 2009.

Three years into a five year mission to explore new worlds, the crew of the Enterprise – James Kirk (Chris Pine), Spock (Zachary Quinto), Leonard ‘Bones’ McCoy (Karl Urban), Nyota Uhura (Zoe Saldana), Hikaru Sulu (John Cho), Anton Chekov (Anton Yelchin) and Montgomery ‘Scotty’ Scott (Simon Pegg) – are tasked with investigating the disappearance of a ship over a distant planet, and after coming into contact with an enemy force led by the sinister Krall (Idris Elba), are split up. With the help of another mysterious alien, Jayla (Sofia Boutella), the crew works to discover Krall’s motivations and find a way back to civilisation.

I really enjoyed the rebooted Star Trek – I always rewatch it with a smile on my face – and I was pretty disappointed with the sequel’s Cumberbatch-centred nonsense and terrible plot. Thankfully, director J.J. Abrams moved onto Star Wars and gave a chance to new writers and a director – Simon Pegg co-writing with Doug Jung, and director Justin Lin, who reinvigorated the Fast and the Furious franchise. And this breath of fresh air really works, because the plot is less concerned with the past and knowing nods to the original series, and more with what Star Trek is known for – weird aliens, exploration, peril, thrills, humanity and humour.

The story has a few visible seams (the villain’s motivations and origins are revealed in a very handy situation), but this is likely down to the fact that the film was made very quickly, with production all taking place in far shorter a time than usual. As a consequence, even though some of the characters and events could have benefitted from a little more time to breathe, the zippiness of the storyline makes the whole film more enjoyable. The main threads of the plot are interesting, clever (especially in splitting the main characters into unexpected groups and showing their development) and funny – this is one of the main ways you can see Pegg’s impact, and it feels more like the first movie than the dour, grim-dark second.

star-trek-beyond-poster-internationalNobody in this film is going to win acting awards, but I really like the new crew. Pine is excellent as a very different Kirk (he acts rather than ACTS like Shatner did), and conveys the captain’s mix of uncertainty about his life and his desire to match or equal his father’s achievements. I liked that he feels that conflict with his father’s shadow, and this contrast between old and new is reinforced with Quinto’s Spock, who (both poignantly and strangely) has to deal with the legacy of a deceased, alternate and older version of himself (the film is very respectful to the passing of Leonard Nimoy, not to mention the tragic death of Anton Yelchin).

The rest of the cast are either given new focus and drive – like Urban’s grouchy, hilarious ‘Bones’ – or sidetracked, like Saldana and Yelchin (it was sad to see that he unfortunately didn’t really feature much, given this was his last film). John Cho has a tiny bit more to do as a more emotionally-involved Sulu, while Pegg admirably doesn’t give himself way more screen time as the comedy relief ‘Scotty’, but has an interesting story with newcomer Jayla. Boutella, like Elba (more on him in a minute) is saddled with crazy make-up, and I felt that even though she adds something new to the story, she wasn’t fleshed out anywhere near as much as she could have been, though it’s clear we will see more of her in future.

Elba meanwhile has a curious villain’s role, of which I can’t say more without spoiling it! Suffice to say, it’s an interesting twist on an antagonist, and the actor does his best through prosthetics to convey menace and a strangely angry motivation against Starfleet, but again: a little more time spent on him, and he would be a stronger character. As it is, he’s a bit too similar to the first film’s Nero, someone who looks strange, takes strong actions against the crew, but has little depth when all’s said and done.

Having seen Justin Lin’s Fast and the Furious films, I was aware his directing of action is pretty good – and he provides some of the new Star Trek series’ best set-pieces, notably the first attack of Krall’s fleet and the crew’s fightback against his forces both on the planet and later on. He also handles the story effortlessly, and is a film director to watch, given that he’s now revitalised two action franchises while focusing on an interesting group of characters at their centres. The effects are really quite excellent throughout, with alien planets, species and the fleets of starships and space stations all incredibly well-rendered for a film finished so quickly. Musically, new and old themes are featured, though I felt Michael Giacchino’s excellent score was slightly lacking in places, but listen out for an amazing use of music in the climactic spacefight that links back to the original film – it was rousing, fun and had the audience laughing – you’ll know what I mean!

The film’s four editors (there’s usually only one) and cinematographer also deserve a mention for tightly, ably cutting between multiple storylines, and for presenting more of that clean, Apple-like sheen of the modern Starfleet and the truly alien worlds it discovers. Pegg and Jung’s writing works very well – especially with the humour – but could have done with being a little more fleshed out (I wanted to know more about Jayla, Krall and a lot of the film’s new features and locations, but we speed past this in service of the plot).

I really enjoyed Beyond, having had little idea where the story was going. I thought it offered something new to the new series, and it was funny – not dour! With a fourth film already confirmed, I hope that the Star Trek series carries on in this vein, though it could do better with giving more of the crew their time to shine.

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