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Review: Star Trek Beyond (2016)

Star Trek Beyond (2016)

Directed by: Justin Lin  

Premise: Follows Star Trek Into Darkness. While searching deep space, the crew of the USS Enterprise encounters an enemy that plans to destroy a Federation outpost and incite a war.

What Works: Star Trek Beyond is a course correction following the disappointing 2013 entry Into Darkness. The latest Star Trek film corrects many of the mistakes of its predecessor and plays as a direct sequel to the 2009 Star Trek reboot. That installment reintroduced the crew of the USS Enterprise and placed them in their positions on the ship. Star Trek Beyond picks up three years into the Enterprise’s five-year mission as the crew explores the outer reaches of space and encounters alien lifeforms and civilizations. Where the 2009 film was about the excitement of youth and newness, in Star Trek Beyond the crew is run down by routine and doubt their career choices. Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) has grown weary of the monotony of space exploration while Spock (Zachary Quinto) questions his future and his obligations to the legacy of Vulcan. These character-based subplots give the movie a bit more maturity than 2009’s Star Trek. Even though the filmmakers drop those ideas once the action gets started, it is enough to give the film an emotional core and create the impression of character development. The other element that Beyond shares with 2009’s Star Trek is that film’s humor and sense of fun. The screenplay is credited to Simon Pegg, who plays Scotty in the movie and had previously collaborated on the scripts to Paul and The World’s End, and Doug Jung who had also written the 2003 caper movie Confidence. Pegg and Jung add a lot of wit to Beyond. They clearly understand these characters and Star Trek in general and they find ways of being self-aware without getting obnoxious about it. Another successful aspect of Star Trek Beyond is its limited scope. Hollywood summer tent pole movies seem to get bigger and broader each year and sequels, by their nature, tend to escalate the scope of their stories. Star Trek Beyond puts some limitations on its scale. The bulk of the story plays out on a single planet and the conflict of the movie concerns a single villain with a specific evil plot. Beyond benefits from the limitations forced onto its narrative and the movie has accessible stakes that service the action-oriented approach of this story.

What Doesn’t: Star Trek Beyond focuses primarily on Kirk, Spock, and McCoy and it doesn’t do enough with the rest of the cast the way that the 2009 Star Trek film did. Chekov, Uhura, and Sulu (Anton Yelchin, Zoe Saldana, and John Cho) are given very little to do and the movie lacks the teamwork that was done so well in the 2009 picture. The villain of Star Trek Beyond isn’t especially compelling. Idris Elba is fully capable of being a menacing figure and the story provides Krall with hints of an interesting background but the character isn’t given a concrete motivation. He wants to draw the Federation into a war but his reasons for doing that remain vague. Star Trek Beyond is the third film in this incarnation of Star Trek and part threes tend to solidify the tone and aesthetic for the rest of the series; as evidence, see Return of the Jedi, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. In each of those cases the third chapter codified the look and approach that the rest of the series would take. If Star Trek follows that rule, this iteration of the series is destined to be blockbuster entertainment and little else. At its best, Star Trek has told compelling stories that dramatized human issues and social problems from artificial intelligence to racism to the end of the Cold War. The new Star Trek, although quite fun, has none of that substance. It is simply an action movie and nothing more and Beyond ossifies that approach to the material.

Bottom Line: Star Trek Beyond is a satisfying sci-fi action picture. It’s not much more than that and Beyond lacks much of what was interesting about Star Trek and set it apart from other sci-fi properties. But as mainstream popcorn entertainment the movie works.

Episode: #605 (July 31, 2016)