Directed by Justin Lin
Starring Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Simon Pegg
When the first teaser trailer for Star Trek Beyond was revealed in December, everyone felt pretty underwhelmed. The first two films in the rebooted Star Trek series had been fine but passable summer blockbusters, and Star Trek: Into Darkness especially had felt a little lacking. It is therefore a huge- and pleasant- surprise that not only is Star Trek Beyond far better than either of its predecessors, it’s without a doubt one of the best action film we’ve had this year.
Perhaps that’s due to a change in personnel- co-written by Simon Pegg, who also plays Montgomery Scott, and directed by Justin Lin, better known for the Fast and Furious franchise, this surprisingly successful duo have delivered a film both faithful to the original Star Trek and almost flawless as a summer blockbuster.
The plot follows our heroes of the Starship Enterprise who embark on a rescue mission to an out-of-the-way planet, only to have the ship destroyed by hostile aliens and the crew scattered on this mysterious planet. These heroes; Captain Kirk (Pine), Spock (Quinto), Scotty (Pegg) and several other beloved characters, must re-unite, rescue their crew and discover why they were attacked in the first place. Their adventure brings them into contact with Krall (Idris Elba), a deceptively simple-minded villain intent on bringing down a local star-base which the heroes and crew must save.
The film’s first success is this plot, which echoes perfectly the structure and pacing of episodes from the original series- the Enterprise and her crew is put in danger, and the main characters must use their wits to survive. This use of wits comes into play in a fantastic climax which combines blockbuster spectacle and a genuinely intelligent plan from Spock to beat the bad guys. The story is generally restricted to one world, the action is carried out only by the well-known heroes, so for the most part the stakes are only the lives of the crew. This relative simplicity compared to the previous films is refreshing- there comes a point where escalation of stakes becomes ridiculous, and when the only thing at risk is the lives of our characters it becomes much easier for the filmmakers to get us to care. The target of Krall’s final attack does undermine the smaller scale slightly, which is unfortunate as it seems purely like an attempt to one-up the stakes of the previous films.
The second success of the film is getting us to care once again for these characters. The previous films had kept intact the names, backgrounds and appearances of the original crew but they never quite felt like the characters from the original series- and in Beyond this changes in a big way. Spock is much more like Nimoy’s almost naively-logical Vulcan; Karl Urban’s Bones is once again a semi-reluctant Southern medical officer; Kirk understands the line between action hero and intelligent leader, and many other characters feel increasingly faithful to the originals. The best example of this is the relationship between Spock and Bones- the series spent a lot of time on their bantering and their humorously conflicting beliefs, and their interactions in the second and third acts of the film perfectly replicates this. In some reboots keeping rigidly to past formula can be a recipe for disaster, but with such timeless archetypes as in Star Trek getting the characters right is one of the most important things.
Acting for the most part is excellent, save for one unfortunate example. Karl Urban’s first scene is meant to establish the current relationship between him and Kirk, as well as reveal more on Kirk and a post-climax scene, yet Urban’s acting is so off-putting that this is nearly lost. The acting from him in the first scene would be more at-home in a pantomime, and is bizarre coming from an actor who has previously acted in several great roles- and who gives a better performance for the rest of the film. This scene early on could easily throw audiences, yet the fact that the biggest problem with the film is one character’s acting for around a minute just shows how great the rest of the film is.
Compared to the previous films, action and fighting is put on a backburner after the Enterprise gets to the planet. From here the discovery, characterisation and adventure begins. The action, focused on the end of the first act and the third act, is well shot and always makes sure to depict the stakes well. The scenes never outstay their welcome and always advance the plot- none more so than the aforementioned space-fight climax. This scene is perfect, and should be a lesson to future filmmakers in how to make an end fight resonate both thematically and visually.
Perhaps thanks to being produced in part by Bad Robot Productions, the group of producer and director of the previous films J.J. Abrams, the cinematography and CGI is perfect for a sci-fi film. Spaceships are shot in glorious detail, destruction seems appropriate and never excessive, and scale is always given to ground any large events. Interestingly, these elements seem similar to Bad Robot and Abram’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens. It seems the group learnt a lot from their previous sci-fi epic.
From such underwhelming marketing it seems no-one had any high hopes for Star Trek Beyond, but it seems when Abrams passed the baton to go and work on Star Wars films he passed it to the right people. The film is not only a great blockbuster, it’s a great Star Trek film, it’s a great action film, it’s a great adventure film, and it’s a great character piece. Lim has taken a franchise people were quickly growing tired of, and turned it into an exciting world that people are sure to want a new episode of each week.
Review by Tom Bedford