Star Trek Beyond is a brilliant way to commemorate the franchise's 50th anniversary, acting as both a beautiful honouring of the original and a rollocking new adventure for Trekkies. Live Long and Prosper this reboot will.
In this day and age, having to make a film with even a hint of a fanbase is difficult. From Twihards to Whovians, any small misstep and you’ll have legions of loyal diehard followers pounding at your front door demanding vengeance. When Paramount announced that Justin Lin was taking over the reins for the third installment of J.J Abrams’ rebooted franchise, I, amongst a sea of others, was more than apprehensive. As the man been behind some of the Fast and Furious franchise’s more ludicrous entries, there was some doubt as to whether Lin had what it took to delicately balance fan service whilst also injecting something new and fresh into the rich lore that is ingrained deep into Star Trek. But fear not fans (or general movie goers) because Star Trek Beyond is one hell of a ride.
Straight from the off, we are thrown back into the mix with a wonderful opening set-piece which sets such a grin on your face that you’ll find it hard to wipe off until the closing credits. We rejoin the crew of the Enterprise, on day 996 of their five-year mission where they, to quote their ever present mantra, “boldly go where no man has gone before”. Chris Pine returns on great form as Captain Kirk, as do the likes of Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg (on dual acting and script writing duties), John Cho and the late Anton Yelchin. We’ve come a long way from the rebellious rag-tag team of misfits Abrams introduced us to back in 2009, and the weight of being Captain is visibly taking a toll on Kirk, who’s considering stepping down. Whilst making a stop at a beautifully realized and wonderfully constructed space station (named rather peculiarly ‘Yorktown’) the crew are sent on a rescue mission in a nebula that no starfleet has been before. Knowing the risks, the Enterprise accepts the mission and eventually runs into trouble.
To go on anymore would somewhat spoil the plot. If any of you are thinking – “Hey, this sounds like a typical Star Trek episode from the original series!” – then you’re pretty much on the right track. Writers Simon Pegg and Doug Jung deliberately harken back to the classic days of Trek where the crew get stranded on a strange new planet and have to work their way out with minimal back up. It’s to their credit actually, that although this feels like a classic episode stretched over two hours, it never feels stale or perfunctory. On the contrary, it’s evident that Simon Pegg’s involvement in the script-writing process has resulted in a Trek film that is peppered with some great humour. Utilising the comedic value in characters like Spock and Scotty, Star Trek Beyond packs some real laughs along with the pulse-pounding action. It’s further credit too, is that along with honouring the original, they bring Bones back into the fray more. Karl Urban’s role was relegated to little more than a glorified cameo in Into Darkness, so it’s nice to see him back in a bigger, better role in which he almost steals every scene he’s in. It’s a difficult enough job having to introduce some new ideas into a franchise that is steeped in canon lore, (even though Abrams’ reboot is viewed as a completely new timeline) so using the original as a template and honouring its fans is a shrewd and ultimately well thought-out move. From it’s story to the performances, it boldly recognises it’s heritage and is proud of it.
It would be harsh, however, to not also congratulate Justin Lin on his direction. For better or for worse, his involvement in the Fast and Furious franchise showcases that he knows how to stage a good action set-piece. The high-octane mayhem that we’ve now become accustomed to in that franchise is translated well here, but is much more restrained. Lin shows a steady hand in his direction throughout; the scenes of dialogue and interaction between the characters are framed well and feel intimate. Gone are the lens flares that Abrams used so liberally – but Lin has some flair of his own and pulls out all the stops when the action comes. A particularly breathtaking scene wherein the Enterprise is attacked by a horde of enemy ships, who attack as though they are a swarm of bees, is astonishing and frenetic as the camera races through the corridors and pans outside to the carnage elsewhere. If there were any doubts as to whether he could handle such an important and beloved franchise, you can rest easy. Just as Abrams brought Trek to a new group of fans, Lin carries on in barnstorming fashion.
If there’s one factor that holds this back from becoming the perfect summer blockbuster and a fan favourite in the (now very large) catalogue of Trek iterations, it’s the villain played by Idris Elba. There’s no doubt that Elba can act his socks off. Known on this side of the Atlantic for his fantastically brooding role as Luther and in the States for his involvement in The Wire, Elba has created quite a repertoire for himself. It’s a shame then, that his character Krall is an otherwise forgettable and disposable antagonist. It faces the same problem that the 2009 opener had with Eric Bana’s character in that whilst there can be no doubt that the actors have great screen presence, their motivations are somewhat murky and underdeveloped and, at worst, lazy. For a film that was doing so much so right, it feels like a bigger let down than it would have, had the rest of it not been so spot on.
A special mention should also go to the film score’s composer Michael Giacchino. Having created a simplistically beautiful theme for this version of Trek, it would’ve have been easy for him to rest on his laurels and simply remix the wonderful work he produced in the previous two instalments. However to his credit, he doesn’t; He works hard to create a score that elicits many a goosebump at critical points in the movie. A special, special mention should also go out to the freaking amazing usage of a certain Beastie Boys track that you just have to see to believe. It’s so worth it.
Star Trek Beyond (2016), directed by Justin Lin, is distributed in the UK by Paramount Pictures, Certificate 12A.