REVIEW: Star Trek Beyond
Halfway through the first five-year mission, Captain James T. Kirk has grown complacent, even bored. The thrill of discovery and adventure seems to have worn thin and he’s restless, ready for a change. Still in his thirties, young by 23rd century standards, he seems to be having a midlife crisis ahead of schedule. At much the same time, Spock yearns to join the remaining Vulcans in order to perpetuate the species, concluding this is his destiny.
Life has a funny way of upending plans and so we find the crew of U.S.S. Enterprise, Kelvin division, at the outset of Justin Lin’s Star Trek Beyond. The film was well-received by fans who felt the previous film, Star Trek Into Darkness, was as a betrayal and disaster. Unfortunately, an inept marketing campaign from Paramount Pictures meant along with a robust summer of competition meant the new film underperformed at the box office.
As 50th Anniversary celebrations go, Paramount largely screwed the pooch on this one, although the film delivers everything fans want: human stakes, humor, references to the larger Star Trek universe, and action. There are multiple themes at work here including whether or not the unity of the United Federation of Planets weakened its member’s species or there was strength in numbers.
Simon Pegg and Doug Jung have done a wonderful job adding in depth and character, allowing the triumvirate of Kirk (Chris Pine), Spock (Zachary Quinto), and McCoy (Karl Urban) to interact and explore their own futures. While Lin shines the spotlight on the reset of the ensemble, these three get the meatiest parts which honors Gene Roddenberry’s original series.
The entirety of the Star Trek franchise is well-served by this story with Easter eggs galore for the diehard fans without losing the more casual viewer. Instead, the screenwriters and directors take us into new territory seeing things we’ve never seen before. The drone bees that attack and then destroy the Enterprise is a clever attack and the comment the ship’s shields were not designed for such an attack shows that even in the 23rd century, Starfleet architects have things to learn.
Less clever, though, is Krall (Idris Elba), the protagonist that ironically ends up feeling the weakest part of the story. His motivations are ill-formed and while his backstory and history are nice nods to Enterprise the series, they are less interesting than an alien representing a race that challenges the very ideals the Federation was founded on. He is more a stock opponent and weakness what is otherwise a very strong film.
I would have liked to know about the other races lured to Krall’s planet, including the one that brought Jaylah (Sofia Boutella) to be there. She’s lost her family and has taken up residence in the hulk of the U.S.S. Franklin a starship from the earliest days of Starfleet.
The sense of legacy pervading the film is a strong theme and I wanted to see more of that. Kirk mourns his father and the appearance of Commodore Paris (Shohreh Aghdashloo) hints at the famed lineage culminating in Voyager’s Tom Paris. But the scene between her and Kirk is leaden and doesn’t go far enough to explore character or advance the plot. When Kirk tells Picard in Generations — “Let me tell you something. Don’t. Don’t let them promote you. Don’t let them transfer you, don’t let them do anything that takes you off the bridge of that ship, because while you’re there, you can make a difference.” – we understand Kirk’s commitment to being a captain. Paris should be the one passing that on to Kirk, reminding him of his first, best destiny.
Similarly, Kirk looks more wistful than pained when his starship goes down in flames. The Prime Kirk would have been in agony at that stage of his career. That said, it went well and it’ll be interesting what’s new on its replacement.
Lin brings a visual verve to the production so we see the starship zipping through warp space or shot from fresh angles so we were dazzled. He had lovely touches such as the glowing universal translator pips on Kalara (Lydia Wilson). On the other hand, given the loss of gravity in several scenes and the frenetic action, his editing left me dizzy and occasionally uncertain of what was happening.
While Scotty (Pegg) has some wonderful moments, the rest of the crew needed more. John Cho’s Sulu has a husband and daughter but it would have been nice to see him talk about them or take charge of the crew while they were prisoners of Krall (and why were they being detained?). Chekov (Anton Yelchin) uses his innate genius to handle some of the tech demands but otherwise fawns after Kirk’s instinctual genius. I did like seeing Uhura (Zoe Saldana) in action and showing initiative, but had little else to say. Her romance with Spock is on the rocks which is under-explored.
Overall, this is a strong Star Trek film and is certainly the strongest of the three Bad Robot films, make of that what you will, but the leads have grown into their roles and we’re finally given a chance to see who they are. The death of Leonard Nimoy’s Spock is nicely handled and the end title memorials to Nimoy and Yelchin are nicely done.
Star Trek Beyond is out Tuesday from Paramount Home Entertainment in a 3D Blu-ray, Blu-ray, Digital HD combo pack. While I can’t speak to the 3D, the high definition transfer is excellent along with good audio. The bonus features two short deleted scenes (1:02, with one more good Easter Egg) and eight short pieces, each one examining thematic aspects of the film, with copious footage taken from across the preceding films and television episodes: Beyond the Darkness (10:08); Enterprise Takedown (4:31), Divided and Conquered (8:17); A Warped Sense of Revenge (5:15), Trekking in the Desert (3:06); Exploring Strange New Worlds (6:02), New Life, New Civilizations (8:04); and, To Live Long and Prosper (7:51). Additionally there is the too short and choppy For Leonard and Anton (5:04), paying tribute to the passing of the Trek; and of course, Gag Reel (5:13).