Review: 'Star Trek Beyond' Pushes Ahead in Typical But Fun Directions
by Jeremy Kirk
July 22, 2016
After six complete series on television and twelve (!) feature films so far, it seems a rather difficult task for the Star Trek franchise to go where no one has gone before, boldly or not. There are only so many worlds in which the crew of the USS Enterprise can venture and only so many adventures they can undertake before it all starts to bleed together into a big, sci-fi mess. That's not entirely the case with their latest excursion, though you certainly wouldn't notice on paper. It plays like a one-off, run-of-the-mill story centering on Captain James T. Kirk and his crew, but Star Trek Beyond has something of an ace up its sleeve in the form of director Justin Lin (of Fast 5 and Furious 6 most recently). He keeps the mood light and the action consistent, and, though it's nothing new, the film finds its way to boldly go towards goodhearted adventure.
Kirk, played once again by Chris Pine, isn't so sure he's up for these treks any more. When the film opens he and the crew are in the third year of their latest five-year mission, traveling the galaxy to vast, alien worlds and exercising in as much diplomacy along the way as they are exploring. Kirk finds the diplomat title suiting him less and less, and he questions his placement in the captain's chair as the Enterprise arrives at Starbase Yorktown, a bustling city in the middle of the galaxy.
Before he can commit to the role of Vice Admiral, though, Kirk and the Enterprise find themselves swept up in yet another quest. The lone survivor of a ship stranded in a nearby nebula asks for Starfleet's help in rescuing her own crew, and the Enterprise immediately launches itself into the mission. What they find on the other side of the nebula, however, is anything but a ship needing rescue. A mysterious, alien race led by a warlord named Krall (Idris Elba) attacks the Enterprise leaving it grounded on a nearby planet and scattering the crew around the planet's surface. It's up to the ingenuity and determination of Kirk and his chief officers to overtake the mysterious race and, naturally, save the galaxy from a nefarious threat.
As I said: the adventure is nothing groundbreaking or fresh as far as Star Trek quests go, but screenwriters Doug Jung and Simon Pegg, who also reprises his role here as Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott, do a fine job keeping everything lean and breezy. The task at hand is rather surface level with there being little more depth in the main storyline than good guys versus bad guys. There isn't even much room for grey area when it comes to character motivations, and this leaves the question of suspense off the table this time.
Instead we're left with the inner struggles of the Enterprise's crew. Kirk's desire to leave the captain's chair behind him and Commander Spock (Zachary Quinto) also debating his position on the ship make for interesting developments on their respective characters, though these conflicts hardly register during the actual adventure. Krall's motivations and his origin aren't even addressed until late in the game, and, by that time, there's no more room for impact on the overall story. But, hey, that's all well and good when the jokes and bouts of excitement are hitting on all cylinders.
Jung and Pegg keep the pacing of the film at a steady progression, and Lin's ability to create interesting shots and exciting sequences of action keep the drawbacks of the film's story at bay. The director utilizes digital effects to craft some stellar, camera movement around the ship's exteriors; and cinematographer Stephen F. Windon creates depth in the smoky corridors and rooms of the starships. It's some of the best lighting within the ships we've seen in the Star Trek franchise since the original films with the original crew. Some of the close-up action is a little too frantic to get a decent grasp of what's going on, a typical side effect of blockbuster action in 2016, but Lin's handle on the bigger picture is a welcome addition to the franchise.
That grip is equally noticeable in Lin's handling of the series' impressive, ensemble main cast. Jung and Pegg's screenplay allows for more of the individual moments that made the original cast so lovely and loveable, but it's Lin who gets each of his actors in their respective, suitable places. Pine's Kirk is brash as ever, and those daddy issues aren't going anywhere. The character has matured over the course of these past three films, though, and the actor's performance follows suit. Quinto's Spock still holds logic in the highest regard, but the comedic moments he's allowed here give the actor a much-needed air of levity. Karl Urban once again brings a familiar cynicism to Dr. McCoy giving his scenes with Pine and Quinto that sense of camaraderie that was always so prevalent with the original cast.
This time around, though, Zoe Saldana's Uhura, Anton Yelchin's Checkov, and John Cho's Sulu are allowed to play their respective characters with some added development. Though there is definite room for each of them to be established further, what we're given here is well enough for the single mission they're on in this movie.
As far as wastes go, though, Elba's Krall is a character screaming for much more. The actor is buried under mountains of prosthetics and makeup to create the lizard-like warlord, but even this shouldn't be enough to hide the actor's performance underneath. It does. Elsewhere Sofia Boutella does all she can with her performance as Jaylah, an enigmatic alien with striking facial features who is stranded on the planet along with the Enterprise crew. It isn't enough as Jaylah is given little backstory and even less to do aside from being able to hold her own in the action sequences.
These missed opportunities aren't enough to make Justin Lin's Star Trek Beyond a complete waste of time, though. The new writers and director do a commendable job delivering a fast-paced, entertaining entry into the Star Trek saga that is sure to continue on well past its planned five-year mission. The feeling that the film could have been something more notwithstanding, Star Trek Beyond does its duty in providing a good amount of space adventure and an even bigger dose of comedic relief. The blip it leaves on the franchise radar is an undeniable one. It just isn't very deep.
Jeremy's Rating: 3.5 out of 5
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