Star Trek Beyond has a lot to live up to. The previous film, Star Trek Into Darkness, was less than well received critically and commercially. This year is also the 50th anniversary of Star Trek. Expectations are understandably high for this film.
Overall this film feels slightly different than the previous two films. This is the first of the new Star Trek films to not be directed by JJ Abrams. Justin Lin takes the helm for this film, and Simon Pegg is credited as one of the writers. For the previous films, JJ Abrams did a good job directing them, but they were both lacking in the story and writing. The changes help to reinvigorate the franchise and show a definite improvement over the previous films. There are several tributes and easter eggs to the previous Star Trek canon that really help to make this film feel special for the 50th anniversary.
The film opens with Kirk trying to broker a treaty between two worlds, it’s a fun scene and introduces the McGuffin of the story. If I had to complain about anything, the McGuffin would be part of it. Thankfully the plot is structured so that it’s not until the object is brought back to the Enterprise that the villains plans go into motion.
As a Star Trek fan, I really enjoy seeing the Enterprise being out on the 5 year mission. This matches up with The Original Series. The crew is having doubts about the next phase of their careers and the mission though. This is a theme that runs through a lot of Star Trek stories.
As the trailers have shown, the Enterprise is destroyed while they are investigating a mysterious nebula. Compared to the previous films this was where I really started to see a difference. As the ship is being torn apart and attacked, the score stays very low key and doesn’t go into the more John Williams Star Wars style of action music. The destruction of the ship isn’t quite played like the great loss it was in The Search for Spock, but it is a somber moment. We don’t get much time to mourn the loss before moving on to the next scenes. A bit more time spent here might have helped, but this crew hasn’t had the same connection to the ship like the original series did.
We see some new faces on the Enterprise, and they are mostly treated like episode guest stars. They feature in a few key scenes and then they are either killed or shuffled off. We also meet an alien who helps out, Jaylah, played by Sofia Boutella. She quickly became one of my favorite parts of the movie. The background alien crewmembers are all interesting and visually distinct, but I would’ve liked to see a few familiar aliens. It seems we never see any of the classic Federation alien allies. Of course, that is a complaint that could be leveled against the majority of Star Trek. The Federation is shown as a being run mostly by humans.
Idris Elba plays Krall, the big baddie of the film. He is the mastermind of a typical villainous plot that threatens all life in the galaxy. His performance is good and he feels very alien, but he does tend to slip into too many bad guy cliches. He gets an interesting twist in the third act that parallels what Kirk and the crew are dealing with. It was nice that Earth was not the planet in immediate danger. The previous films have been too quick to put all the action around Earth. Here we see that the galaxy is a big place.
The whole movie has a very episodic feel to it. Of course, the action scenes are big and there is a lot of spectacle, but the overall story could easily have been an episode of the classic series. This feels more like the Star Trek that we know and love. The characters have time to breathe and talk, and they are not stuck running from one action set piece to the next.
Star Trek Beyond is a strong entry in the film franchise. It mostly avoids the pitfalls that have plagued the previous films, and an improvement in the writing and story helps immeasurably. Justin Lin’s direction keeps things moving fast and furious (sorry, couldn’t resist) but at times the camera is moving a little too much and in one major action scene it gets difficult to follow the action. Overall it’s a strong balance between the classic intellectual Star Trek and the more action orientated reboot films.