Imagine my surprise, when watching Star Trek Beyond, that it wound up being an extremely well-made, enjoyable movie. That probably doesn’t sound very fair, as if I went into the movie with very low expectations, but consider the evidence. The previous Star Trek film, Into Darkness, just wasn’t very good on so many levels. Aside from being a very badly done remake of the far superior Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, Into Darkness just didn’t “get it” when it came to the Star Trek characters, particularly Kirk, played here by Chris Pine.
There was a scene in Into Darkness where Kirk found himself completely flummoxed by an enemy ship that wiped out the Enterprise’s engines and weapons systems. As the Enterprise sat there, helpless, while the enemy charged up its main guns to wipe them out, Kirk turned to the bridge crew and said that he was sorry for letting them down.
The Captain Kirk that I grew up with on the original Star Trek series, played by the charismatic William Shatner, was a fighter. I don’t mean that he was a soldier, or a warrior (which Kirk himself once freely admitted to being), but a fighter in the sense that when the chips were down, Kirk just kept right on going. When it looked like the entire universe was out to get him, James T. Kirk could be counted on to damn the torpedoes and keep sailing right onward. He would never just give up, and that was why I found the quick and easy surrender of Chris Pine’s Kirk so disheartening.
Apparently, the writers and the director of Star Trek Beyond “got it”, because the Kirk that’s presented here in their film is far more the fighter who’s willing to take ballsy risks, just like Shatner’s Kirk did. It’s no spoiler that the Enterprise goes down (and in spectacular fashion, in a scene that’s thrilling to watch), leaving the crew stranded on an alien planet where they’re kept caged by Krall (Idris Elba), a warlord who seeks to pick a fight with the Federation. The crew members who are still on the loose, like Scotty (Simon Pegg, who co-wrote the script) are being ruthlessly hunted down–but in Scotty’s case, he comes across Jaylah (Sofia Boutella) an alien woman who gives him shelter in a very unlikely place.
Star Trek Beyond is easily the best of the JJ Abrams-produced Trek films, which began with the Star Trek film reboot back in 2009. While the first two films were directed by Abrams, Beyond is directed by Justin Lin, who makes this Trek voyage an assured, confident ride that is just as comfortable dealing in character issues as it is in the broad action scenes. Lin is a confirmed Star Trek fan, and it shows in his lovingly staged shots of the Enterprise in motion, some of which are almost works of art in their own right. It’s rare to see CGI being used so well in movies, and Beyond is one of those films where the effects shine very brightly without overpowering the story.
The cast is also very good, with the stand-outs being Karl Urban as the ever grumpy Dr. McCoy, who’s partnered on the planet with Zachary Quinto’s injured Spock. Their chemistry is superb. And Sofia Boutella is a welcome addition as the engagingly feisty Jaylah. It’s also very bittersweet seeing the late Anton Yelchin here, doing his customary splendid job as the affable Chekov. Star Trek Beyond is a fitting film to be released during the fiftieth anniversary of Star Trek, not just because of its adoring tributes to the original cast that are sprinkled throughout its story, but also for reviving the essence that made Star Trek work so well that it lasted for half a century and hopefully beyond. –SF