'Star Trek Beyond'
‘Star Trek Beyond’ is essentially an elaborate single episode of the original 1960s TV series, with the crew visiting a distant planet, getting in trouble, and eventually kicking some alien butt. There’s very little to it other than that. But with Simon Pegg on script duties, the quips run high. And with ‘Fast Five’ action guru Justin Lin behind the camera, you’d better believe that the bang-bang, boom-boom material is on-point. It’s hardly the deepest or most intelligent entry in this long-running franchise, but in the heat of the moment, you might not even notice.
The story picks up with Kirk (Chris Pine) getting downright melancholic about his time on the Enterprise, discussing the tedious “episodic” (zing!) repetition of the grand adventure. Clearly, he needs some action to spice things up. The anniversary of his father’s death (see original reboot) is also coming up to put a damper on things. The whole ‘Trek’ crew takes a brief break at a sweet gravity-defying space station where Spock (Zachary Quinto) learns that Admiral Spock from another timeline (again, see that reboot) has passed on in a loving tribute to Leonard Nimoy. This forces the Vulcan to question his desire to stay with these humans.
Just as quickly as the gang start to settle into space station life, Kirk finds an alien who asks for his help. Her crew is stranded on a distant planet. You know Kirk can’t resist. He rallies the troops and the next thing you know the Enterprise is being assaulted by a massive army of drones that rip that baby apart spectacularly. Turns out it was all a trap set by Krall (Idris Elba, being badass as usual), a particularly vicious and violent alien with dastardly plans. Looks like the gang is going to have to do some damage in retaliation. Fortunately, they’ve got an ass-kicking alien named Jaylah (Sofia Boutella, that amazing henchwoman from ‘Kingsman: The Secret Service’) who’s willing to help them out.
This is about as basic of a ‘Star Trek’ premise as you can imagine, and don’t go expecting that when Krall’s ultimate plot is revealed, it’ll end up being one of those grand allegorical ideas that Gene Roddenberry tried to cram into every episode. No, none of that. This edition of the franchise has always been about itself more than anything else. Aside from the nice Nimoy tribute, this is all about charm, action and excitement.
The cast are fantastic and Pegg knows how to fill the mouths of these characters with type of witty banter that makes the fanboys and fangals swoon. You’ll get to see Karl Urban’s hilariously gruff Bones battle it out alone with Spock, which is just as amusingly one-sided as you’d imagine. Pegg also bumps up his Scotty role to the detriment of a few other more famous crew members, but thankfully he’s one of the most amusing presences in the cast so it’s fine. Plus, most of his scenes are with Boutella’s bright white hip-hop loving alien kung-fu queen, and she’s a welcome addition to this new action-focused ‘Trek’-verse. Chris Pine does his action figure thing as well as always and Idris Elba is such a strong screen presence that he’s probably the best villain in this particular ‘Trek’ run yet, despite being a bit underwritten and covered in makeup at all times. It’s a blast to watch this gang do their thing.
The fact that Justin Lin took over as director goes a long way to making this action-centric ‘Trek’ succeed. After all, he brought irony and absurdly elaborate action to that dumbbell car franchise that was on its way out and turned it into one the biggest action games in town. Watching Lin apply his ample visual imagination to the ‘Trek’ universe is a damn delight. The drone swarm attack on the Enterprise just might be the single greatest action sequence of this summer movie season, and then the guy manages to top it with a wild gravity-defying finale and a punchline use of the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” that’s applause-worthy. Are there other more geek-friendly filmmakers who might have made a more poignantly thoughtful third entry in this ‘Star Trek’ reboot? Uh… yeah, undoubtedly. But is there anyone who could have made a more fun and explosive ‘Star Trek’ picture? That’s a big no. Lin is one of the best in Hollywood at pure entertainment these days.
It’ll be interesting to see how ‘Star Trek Beyond’ does and where the franchise goes from here. It’s certainly the ‘Trek’ flick with the best chance of winning over audiences who couldn’t care less about this series, while making up for the wrong footing of ‘Star Trek into Darkness’ for longtime fans. After that troubled sequel, it seemed like this reboot series might have been toast following J.J. Abrams’ solid pilot movie. Now, it’s clear this thing has legs. Justin Lin is the right director to keep this comic book action spectacular version of Gene Roddenberry’s vision kicking, but it would be nice if the next one had a slightly more ambitious script that attempted a little social commentary between the gloriously choreographed explosions. The current cultural and political climate is littered with anger, inequality and turbulence that could be filtered through the idealistic ‘Star Trek’ lens. The series just needs some writers to be boldly go back to where this franchise has been before. Keep all the excessive explosions though, please. That part is working just fine.