With JJ off in a galaxy far, far away and after more than a couple of false starts, “Star Trek” warps back into cinemas just in time to mark the 50th anniversary of the pop culture icon. But, after the “Into Darkness” debacle, what have Starfleet’s finest got in store for us?
Halfway through its five-year mission to explore strange, new worlds the USS Enterprise arrives at a remote Federation outpost. When a survivor of a doomed expedition pleads for Starfleet help in rescuing their crew from a nearby unexplored nebula, Kirk accepts the assignment. However, shortly after they emerge from the cloud of dust and rubble they are brutally attacked by a swarming fleet of small ships and marooned on the planet below, at the mercy of the ruthless and mysterious Krall.
It’s a sad state of affairs when we’ve reached the third movie of the recent “Star Trek” reboot series (and thirteenth movie overall) that instead of celebrating the creativity, originality and longevity of Gene Rodenberry’s groundbreaking TV series, we have to talk about the egregious liberties the writers have taken with the identity, nature and canon of one of the franchise’s most beloved characters. I am of course talking about Chris Pine’s bro/moan-tic James T Kirk. The first five to ten minutes of “Star Trek Beyond” are an excruciating encapsulation of everything wrong with this realisation of Kirk as our whiny manchild captain records a captain’s log of how everything in space is boring and lonely interspersed with observations that make it sound like he runs his ship like a horny frat house. I don’t know whether it’s the writers, the directors or Pine himself but there’s something so unlikable about Kirk the way he’s played that it beggars belief that they’ve let it run on into a third film. Thankfully, “Star Trek Beyond” may be the film where we reach that promised land of Kirk’s journey finally bringing him much closer to the character we know and love.
Pegg and Jung’s script may tend towards the gnomic when it comes to dialogue but in terms of character beats, apart from the awful missteps in its opening preamble, it delivers in spades. Much more even-handed than either of its predecessors, once the Enterprise has been ravaged by Krall’s swarm of attack ships, the crew is split up and up-till-now overlooked characters get a chance to shine. It’s in the mix-and-matching pairing up of characters that Pegg and Jung really succeed. Having been so dominant in the earlier films, Quinto’s Spock and Saldana’s Uhura are split up and paired with Karl Urban’s McCoy and Sulu (John Cho) respectively. Anton Yelchin’s Chekov, underlining just what a tragic loss his untimely death is to the franchise, gets more to do in “Beyond” than both previous films put together as he buddies up with Kirk, while Scotty gets the pick of the draw as he encounters the feisty and fascinating Jaylah (Sofia Boutella). Of course, in amongst all the sci-fi shenanigans, Sulu also gets a headline-grabbing backstory which – thankfully – ends up being more than a token single scene box-ticking exercise and actually lends the resultant action and adventure some much needed real-life stakes for our intrepid heroes.
The plot itself, and the villain of the piece, are generally less well developed but Idris Elba certainly pours as much menace and malevolence as he can into the roll and honestly once it get’s going and the Enterprise is gone, you’ll be having so much fun the plot holes (why would Starfleet build such a large and important strategic space station near a nebula which was and remains completely unexplored?) and oddly disjointed elements won’t really bother you too much.
Spock’s hair, on the other hand, might bother you just a little. Whether it’s a wig or not, Spock’s locks have never looked so shoddy and slapdash as they do here. Given Spock’s emotional journey through the film, especially the acknowledged-in-universe passing of Spock prime, I’m inclined to give the makers the benefit of the doubt and assume it’s a deliberate move: ever so slightly untidy hair being the Vulcan equivalent of sitting around in sweatpants crying and eating ice cream straight from the tub.
That’s the only thing that should upset you visually though, because its greatest triumph is in its looks. “Star Trek Beyond” is beautiful to behold and looks unlike any other “Star Trek” movie. There are giant sci-fi concepts on screen as background detail to the story from the multi-gravitational Yorktown starbase to the drop-dead gorgeous gravitational lensing at Warp speed, director Justin Lin brings a visual panache that rivals films like “Interstellar” or “Gravity” for ambition and awe.
Plot kicks in and once everyone is separated it’s a much better film. The destruction of the Enterprise is also stunningly realised and although some of the money shots have been given away in the trailers, the ships annihilation is so utterly, relentlessly comprehensive that there’s plenty left for you to see in the film itself. Gloriously not Earth-bound, some of the planetary locations look a little set-like. But the rocks spray painted gold feel like a homage to the studio-bound planet surfaces of the original series rather than cheapness on behalf of the makers of the film.
As befits a film released on the 50th anniversary, there are plenty of references to the origins of the franchise (an oblique shout-out to “Who Mourns For Adonis?” and a little bit of love for the oft unfairly maligned “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier” being my favourites) although given that the reboot effectively wiped out all but the dullest Trek from canon *cough* “Star Trek: Enterprise” *cough* it trades heavily on that history, especially in its finale.
Easily the best of the reboot “Trek” films, “Star Trek Beyond” does what good “Star Trek” has always done: offer hope for the future. Oh, it still has some serious problems to overcome: Pine and Quinto have zero chemistry – unlike Sulu and his newly revealed family – so the Kirk/ Spock dynamic continues to trade solely on the work and rapport of Shatner and Nimoy and overall this brave, all-new timeline continues to lean too heavily on the audience’s prior knowledge of events and history rather than earning the emotional investments it seeks to cash in on. But the future at least feels bright again; maybe not bright enough that we gotta wear shades, but we’re certainly no longer plunging into Darkness.