Many would argue that “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” is the high point of the “Star Trek” film franchise and certainly there is a case to be made for it. It is in fact the lofty heights reached by “Wrath of Khan” that caused the second film in the reinvigorated franchise, “Star Trek Into Darkness” to be less successful than its immediate predecessor, the 2009 reboot. J.J. Abrams’ second “Trek” film was never able to escape the long shadow of “Khan” and matters weren’t helped by choosing to steer into the skid.
Justin Lin’s first effort in the franchise, the third in the new iteration, “Star Trek Beyond,” definitely has some homages to the third in the original franchise, “The Search for Spock,” but the less iconic nature of that film, as well as Lin offering little more than nods to it, helps the “Fast & Furious” director here. With a script written by Simon Pegg & Doug Jung, “Beyond” silences the naysayers, sets the franchise right, and gets the audience stoked to head to the final frontier over and over and over again (which is great because another film has already been announced). It isn’t perfect, but “Star Trek Beyond” is funny, action-packed, and should please many filmgoers, be they franchise fans or not.
This time out, the story finds the crew of the starship Enterprise on a mission into a nebula to help rescue the members of another ship that has been lost there. Unsurprisingly, it’s a trap, and Kirk (Chris Pine), Spock (Zachary Quinto), McCoy (Karl Urban), and the rest of the crew find themselves jailed on a planet by the evil Krall (Idris Elba). Fortunately, Scotty (Pegg) makes friends with a former captive of Krall’s, Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), and they start working to save the day.
One of the best things “Beyond” does is to separate the crew from one another. Kirk ends up with Chekov (Anton Yelchin); Bones and Spock are together; while Sulu (John Cho) and Uhura (Zoe Saldana) are with many of the captured crew. Bones and Spock are a classic pairing, that combined with Urban and Quinto being stupendous in the parts offers more than just fan service to those in attendance – it leads to some great, heartfelt moments. The two actors manage just the right pitch and will have the audience laughing one minute and stoic the next. Scotty and Jaylah are an intriguing pairing as they both are mechanically inclined. Together, they make something of a dynamic duo; one imagines that they could get a toaster to fly at warp speed given enough time and the right sort of enticement. Kirk and Chekov are enjoyable as well, but it is impossible to watch their scenes so close to the loss of Yelchin without inserting real world events into them.
The biggest disappointment with “Beyond” is Krall. For too long the film offers little of his background. He may be the big bad, but his motivations are hidden and the character is given little depth. When Krall is explored, it’s not until quite late in the film and while it becomes clear exactly why Lin and company hide their cards as long as they do, the result is not a surprise nor a shock as much as it’s just another in a long list of weak villains for the franchise.
Additionally, the climactic fight sequence, as with “Into Darkness,” is somewhat drawn out, with a “more is more” approach. What makes it more upsetting is that while a lot of lip service is given to how members of Starfleet are not soldiers, Kirk and company spend a lot of their fighting, particularly at the film’s close. The earlier sequence with (SPOILER IF YOU HAVEN’T WATCHED THE TRAILERS) destruction of the Enterprise is far better than the climactic battle, as is another fight in the middle of the film.
In fact though, the bit that works least well is Kirk still brooding over his father and how he never new the man. Whether that portion is here because when it was written the franchise was well aware that they would be bringing back Chris Hemsworth as George Kirk for the next film isn’t something on which I can speculate, but hopefully that film will close the book on James T. Kirk’s brooding over the loss once and for all.
For all its faults, “Star Trek Beyond” is more than good enough to silence the naysayers, be it the group who was disappointed by “Into Darkness,” those who think Pegg shouldn’t have written the film, or those who think that Lin ought not have directed it. When we are further removed from its release and the dust has settled, “Beyond” is almost certain to find itself listed among the better of the films in the “Star Trek” franchise.
photo credit: Paramount Pictures