Star Trek is not one of the sci-fi franchises I am fully familiar with. I’ve not seen any episode from any of the TV shows or most of the films, the only parts of the Star Trek series I’ve seen are the films from the reboot series and I have enjoyed this series. The first film in the series was excellent, a brilliant introduction to Star Trek for newcomers like me and, whilst having a lot of problems, I still enjoy Into Darkness, which has some brilliant individual elements, but was dragged down by the writing of Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci and Damon Lindelof. Now, behind the scenes there is a new creative team and whilst I had every confidence in the writing talents of Simon Pegg and Doug Jung, I was a bit concerned over Justin Lin as director, mainly as I’ve only seen his Fast and Furious films and I wasn’t exactly a fan of them. Thankfully, my apprehensions were unfounded and this is another enjoyable entry in the series, even if it doesn’t reach the heights of the first film.The plot takes place 3 years into the 5 year mission of the Enterprise, with some of the crew of the Enterprise having doubts about their places, mainly Kirk, who is still having issues of inadequacy compared to the legacy of his dad, amplified by Kirk now being older than his dad was when he died, and Spock, who is torn between his commitments to Starfleet and New Vulcan, particularly after the death of Spock Prime. Whilst dealing with this, the Enterprise is asked to respond to a distress signal from a crew trapped behind a nebula but when they arrive, they are ambushed by Krall, the commander of an alien force, who did so to get an artefact that Kirk had on the Enterprise which is part of an ancient weapon. As a result of the attack, the Enterprise crew are split on the planet they crash on and have to find a way to unite (aided by scavenger Jaylah who has lived on the planet for years since her own ship was captured by Krall), get off the planet, and stop Krall. There is good old fashioned sci fi in this plot which I would say feels more like what an episode of classic Star Trek was compared to the Abrams films (people who’ve seen the original series, correct me if I’m wrong) and this gives the film a breezy, entertaining feel which fits the needs of a summer blockbuster. There’s also a bit of depth in the plot regarding the characters of Kirk and Spock (as mentioned above), which helps you engage with the story on a more emotional level. There’s also some interesting thematic ideas regarding the nature of war and how soldiers used to war react to a world of piece and unity, the contrast between the individual ideals of Krall and the unity of Starfleet, best seen with the Starfleet base of Yorktown, having some great thematic depth. There’s also a great deal of humour in the film, plenty of moments that made me laugh out loud watching the film in the cinema, mainly as a result of the interaction between Spock and Bones, which are the best scenes in the film.
Performance wise, the film continues the trend of this series in having great performances, even if the characters aren’t utilised to their full potential. Chris Pine remains a good Kirk, having the right level of arrogance for the character, whilst mixing it with some internal guilt over not being worthy of his role as Captain and wishing to do more with his life. Zachary Quinto remains the standout of the cast as Spock, his line delivery being brilliantly deadpan and his mannerisms as Spock fit the iconic image of the character, whilst also allowing his more human side to shine through, particularly in his scenes with Pine and the scenes revolving around the death of Spock Prime (which serve as a fitting tribute to Leonard Nimoy). Karl Urban is given a lot more to do this time around as Bones, and he’s a lot of fun to watch, his cynicism being a great counterpoint to Spock and it leads to the best scenes in the film.Simon Pegg also has more to do and his relationship with Jaylah is quite sweet to watch. Anton Yelchin was strong as Chekov, his optimism and overall demeanour being a lot of fun to watch, it showing how many great performances we lost with his tragic death. The ones who don’t get much to do are Zoe Saldana and John Cho, who are separated from the action for most of the film, getting a few moments to shine but ultimately being underutilised, with interesting sides to them, mainly the reveal of Sulu’s husband and daughter, being underutilised. Idris Elba makes for a brilliantly intimidating villain as Krall, the threat and power he brings to every scene showing why he gained the power he has, along with showing his ruthless nature, which also explains why he hates Starfleet (with it being fully revealed at the end of the film, although Elba isn’t given much to do about the development). Rounding off the cast, Sophia Boutella is an interesting character as Jaylah, showing a great mix of survivors guilt and resourcefulness regarding the situation she is in on the planet, taking any chance she gets to escape, the relationship she has with Scotty helping to form an emotional core in the film, aided by strong chemistry between Boutella and Pegg.
On a technical level, the film is impressive but in some ways falls short of the standard set in the previous films. Some of the things done better are the designs of the Starfleet bases, Yorktown in particular being a brilliant creation, think a more gravity defying version of the base Cooper ends up at in the ending of Interstellar, with it helping to encapsulate the theme of the importance of unity. The make-up work is excellent as well, particularly for Krall, the changes in his skin tone and quality being enacted seemlessly, at some points making you forget you’re looking at Idris Elba. The action meanwhile is strongly directed, the highlights being the attack by Krall’s forces on the Enterprise and a scene at the end that makes great use of Sabotage by the Beastie Boys, however, there’s too much shaky cam at points making it hard to see what’s going on and Lin doesn’t quite have the same flair for action or strong shot composition that JJ Abrams had. Another thing Lin doesn’t do as well is make good use of Michael Giacchino’s music, it’s still excellent music, some of the best in recent sci-fi films, but there’s no usage of it as strong as it was used in the scenes with Noel Clarke in Into Darkness.
Overall, Star Trek Beyond is a great addition to this reboot film universe, making great use of the cast (in some ways a better use than in Into Darkness) and the themes of the plot being very strong, however, some of the cast still aren’t used to their full potential and, as good as he ended up being, Justin Lin is not as good a director as JJ Abrams. It’s still an entertaining summer blockbuster, but none of the films released since it have been as good as the first film in the Abrams Trek universe.
My Rating: 4/5