Star Trek Beyond (2016, dir. Justin Lin)
Three years into the five-year mission to seek out new worlds and civilizations we find Captain James T. Kirk incredibly bored and feeling useless. Commander Spock learns his future self; Ambassador Spock has died, leaving him to confront both the mortality of himself and the Vulcan people. It’s a very reflective time for the crew of the Enterprise as they dock at the starbase Yorktown. Things pick up when the captain of a lost alien vessel shows up and asks for help, traveling through a nearby nebula, to retrieve her vessel. Kirk jumps at the chance but quickly finds there is a more evil plan at work.
I’ve been moderately pleased with the rebooted Star Trek franchise. I was never a full-blown Trekkie, but I owned the oversized Star Trek Encyclopedia when I was a kid (I’ve always been a sucker for reference tomes about fictional worlds). I was in no way tied to the original concepts with severe loyalty, so I was excited to see something a little fresher. While 2009’s Star Trek was a hell of a lot of fun, I bristled at the clunkiness of Into Darkness. It so desperately wanted to evoke The Wrath of Khan, but it didn’t have the years of character development that invested us in that film. Plus, it undercut its significant emotional loss with the ending. I was very moderate in my expectations for the film. Knowing Simon Pegg had a hand in the script gave me some assurance that it was in good hands.
Star Trek Beyond feels like a great episode of The Original Series and is takes a standard series trope and remixes it. Idris Elba does an excellent job as the mysterious villain Krall and the adventure moves along at a nice steady pace. The character beats for our main cast feel very much like the original films, our two main players facing existential crises against the backdrop of a threat to the Federation. There were some visuals and the main baddie’s weapon that reminded me of Star Trek Nemesis, but not enough to ruin the film.
This is not a deeply intellectual film, but the Star Trek movies, when they were good, never were. The films are at their best when they balance intelligence concepts with high adventure in space. The very first Star Trek movie tried too hard to be on the same level as 2001: A Space Odyssey and ends up incredibly boring. The Wrath of Khan established the idea that starship combat could be a fun spectacle added to the series. Star Trek Beyond is mostly definitely a modern film, but one element I loved immensely is that it doesn’t feel like a part of a franchise that the studio is trying to milk. Star Trek Beyond is a single story, beginning, middle, and end. No hints at the next part or spin-offs. And these days that is very refreshing.