THEATRICAL REVIEW: Star Trek Beyond
Produced by: J.J. Abrams, Roberto Orci, Lindsey Weber, Justin Lin
Written by: Simon Pegg, Doug Jung
Edited by: Greg D’Auria, Dylan Highsmith, Kelly Matsumoto, Steven Sprung
Cinematography by: Stephen F. Windon
Music by: Michael Giacchino
Starring: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, Sofia Boutella, Zoe Saldana, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Idris Elba, Joe Taslim, Lydia Wilson, Deep Roy, Shohreh Aghdashloo
Based on the TV series created by Gene Roddenberry
These new Star Trek films are seemingly starting to make a lot of fans of the original TV series feel a lot like how Mission: Impossible TV fans must feel when a new one of those movies comes out: befuddlement at the lack of tonal comparability to the source material. Or, in the case of some even more dedicated fans, the lack of total fidelity by way of reiterating information and storylines we are already familiar with (if one must adapt it in the first place). And, you know, I kinda get it. As hard as it is to continue a property after a prolonged period of time – 50 years for Star Trek this very year, in fact – it’s probably even more pressure to adapt something into another medium and/or revive it for a new era, lest the property disappear into obscurity. In trying to appeal to potential new fans and audiences, you run the risk of ruining everything the series had set up previously and getting accused of “betraying” fans or, heaven forbid, “ruining childhoods.” With Fast & Furious director Justin Lin taking over the helm from non-fan J.J. Abrams, it seemed like fans were in for a whole new level of alleged stupidity and mindless action for a series that was previously famous for its philosophical bent. Surely, after the insult of having been lied to about Khan’s presence in Into Darkness, the third reboot film, Beyond, was destined to top even that one in terms of backhanded insults!
Okay, in retrospect, even I regret giving Into Darkness such a high score. I still like it, despite its flaws, but nowhere near as much as the 2009 film. However, I was even more worried when Justin Lin was hired on to direct Beyond, too, and not because I think he’s a bad director – he made two of the best and most surprising Fast and the Furious sequels released and also helmed the fantastic first paintball episode of Community – but, same as everyone else, I had reservations about his appropriateness for a Star Trek, self-professed fan or not. Heck, his movie has Rihanna doing a single for the film. RIHANNA! Still, I looked forward to Beyond with cautious optimism. It’s nice to be rewarded, sometimes.
Star Trek Beyond so far is the most faithful to the original series than either of its predecessors. In many ways, it even resembles the original series more so than many of the films featuring the original cast! Shots and set design will evoke memories of away team missions on desolate planets, while costume designs and makeup has made the characters better resemble their original counterparts. I got a big thrill the first time I saw Chris Pine as Kirk in the new uniform, looking more than ever the part – and I’m not even someone who’s that nostalgic for the original series! (I grew up more on the movies and even more The Next Generation, with a bit of Voyager on the side because it was the only one base TV showed when my family was stationed overseas.) And while fans were probably expecting a great deal more action sequences coming from Justin Lin, you’d be surprised just how much slower this film moves compared to its predecessors, too – and I mean that in a good way.
The film starts with the Enterprise and her crew well into their five year mission. Unlike in the Prime universe, however, the captain of this ship, Kirk, never having had his father be there for him to instill the virtues of Starfleet from childhood on, is starting to feel as though he doesn’t have quite what it takes to be the captain of a scientific research vessel, doing the same work day in and day out. With extended periods of seclusion out in the vastness of space, he begins to wonder if he’s meant for something different, an attitude that seems to also be trickling down through the ranks of the rest of the Enterprise crew. After a brief and rare period of shore leave, however, the Enterprise is thrust into action yet again, and what begins as a rescue mission turns into an ambush by an army led by the villainous Krall, who seeks out a mysterious device obtained by the crew while on one of their previous missions. Who Krall is, what his motivations are, and what the mysterious device are will, naturally, remind the crew of just what it is they’re really going on these missions for.
Star Trek Beyond isn’t the deepest story, nor are the stakes any higher than what we witnessed previously in the other two films, at least in terms of impactful destruction. What it does, however, is more than make up for it in the areas of character moments, with more of the side characters taking an active part in the action than even some of the original films. We get to know them as a crew and as a family, and this reinforces the movie’s theme of what it means to be a Starfleet officer. Fans of the original movies may notice a lot of the personal crises these characters face are reminiscent of but not direct copies of what the aging original cast’s characters faced in the original films. Again, Justin Lin has proclaimed his fandom before, and it definitely shows – this is the Trekkiest Star Trek movie since 1998’s Insurrection, only with funnier and more appropriate jokes and far better storytelling. The film even improves upon its more immediate predecessors in much needed ways. Krall is both more original than the oddly rehashed Khan and much more nuanced than the irrationally vengeful Nero. The new sidekick Jaylah, unlike Carol Marcus, proves to be a more than worthwhile one-off female character, too, much more of a leading character than mere eye-candy, and Sofia Boutella is fantastic in the role. (No gratuitous underwear shot here, either!) Heck, my mom loved her so much, she couldn’t stop gushing about the character after she saw the movie, even a day later.
The cast also continues to mature into their roles. Karl Urban continues to shine as the always cranky Bones, and Zachary Quinto’s Spock continues to walk an interesting fine line between his emotional human and amusingly emotionless Vulcan sides. Uhura and particularly Scotty get even meatier roles, and while John Cho’s Sulu and Anton Yelchin’s Chekov continue to be the least developed, they’re hardly non-presences here, either. (It’s seriously a shame, too, about Yelchin’s unfortunate and untimely passing, as he, like Simon Pegg as Scotty, was pretty much a perfect choice for the younger and much more culturally appropriate version of his character. Yelchin will undoubtedly be missed, particularly outside of Star Trek, and it would be a crime to recast the character and undoubtedly inappropriate to kill the character off, too. Seriously, they should just have the character peacefully leave for the Reliant between movies and replace the character with Janice Rand.) Chris Pine, however, is the highlight of this film for me, as Pine has morphed into a compelling mix of old and new. He’s not just looking the part, but, over the course of three movies, has believably evolved into a version of Kirk that does Shatner’s portrayal justice without aping him, which is entirely too easy to do, given Shatner’s infamous quirks. Pine owns this role, and I seriously look forward to seeing him work alongside Chris Hemsworth in the fourth movie, regardless of however it is that they bring back George Kirk.
If there are any serious flaws to this movie, the primary one is mostly the fact that, once you get down to the essence, it’s yet another story about a villain wanting to destroy a beacon of all that Starfleet stands for. Krall is effectively played by the always awesome Idris Elba, both sympathetic and yet terrifying and monstrous, but his ultimate plan is nothing we haven’t seen a thousand times before. Something far more in line with a focus on ideals, morality, and “What if?” questions about the unknown would have been far more welcome than yet another charismatic villain with basically predictable means of taking action on their ideals. I also could have used even more effective use of the secondary crewmembers, expanded though the roles may be – I just wanted more of them, but as I mentioned before, that’s really nothing new for Star Trek movies.
What isn’t a flaw, however, though it’s often cited as one for a great number of fans, is the film’s embracing of action. The action in these newer films is definitely far more stylized and in-your-face than previous films, but, you know, I’m not as threatened by this as some fans seem to be. The film’s humor and use of music in the big climax is inspired, contextually makes sense within the universe, and, best of all, is incredibly entertaining to watch unfold if you’re not one of those types who complains about the acknowledgement of music outside of (our) classical music and jazz within the Star Trek universe. Seriously, get over it. People are still going to be listening to music from our era hundreds of years from now as some among us do with music from centuries past, too.
I genuinely loved Star Trek Beyond and plan on seeing it yet again. While I kind of wanted to lower the score of Into Darkness once the ridiculousness of the Wrath of Khan rehashing really settled in, I have no doubts in my mind that Beyond, like Star Trek 2009, will remain in my good graces for all that it is, minor but predictable flaws included. I had a great time with this movie and would be more than happy to see Justin Lin hop into the director’s chair again with the next film, even.
The Viewer’s Commentary Rating: 4 / 5