MOVIE REVIEW: Star Trek Beyond
“STAR TREK BEYOND”—4 STARS
The toothpaste is out of the tube, so to speak, for this current “Star Trek” franchise stewarded by J.J. Abrams. Seven years into a reboot of erasure, there’s no going back. This new cast and new timeline is here to stay. If the die-hards haven’t dealt with it by now, they likely never will. Those who arrived in 2009 with wide eyes and a fresh heart have not been disappointed. “Star Trek Beyond” pushes a stellar and steady progression of shiny and modern blockbuster filmmaking with the right salutes to beloved nostalgia that warm from within.
The crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise is entering the third year of its five-year mission away from home to explore the vastness of deep space. That long stint is beginning to weigh on Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) as he weighs a promotion to vice admiral and celebrates a birthday that passes the age of his late father. The ship arrives for a short leave at the massive new Federation Starbase Yorktown. Their stay is short-lived when a distress call from an uncharted planet in a nearby nebula sends the crew back into action. On their own without support, the Enterprise is crippled by a surprise assault from a swirling swarm of unknown attack drones. They are led by a reptilian threat named Krall (Idris Elba) who seeks an artifact weapon of suspected power found on the ship.
What crew isn’t killed or captured are marooned on Krall’s controlled planet below. Ensign Pavel Chekov (the late Anton Yelchin) and Kirk work to keep the artifact from Krall and his pursuing minions. Dr. Leonard McCoy (Karl Urban) and Commander Spock (Zachary Quinto) are thrust into survival bonding while communications officer Nyota Uhura (Zoe Saldana) and helmsman Hikaru Sulu (John Cho) plot escape among their fellow prisoners. Crash landing on his own, chief engineer Montgomery Scott (Simon Pegg) is rescued by the warrior Jaylah (international hip-hop artist Sofia Buotella), a native female scavenger who lost her family to Krall’s cruel imprisonment and tactics. The scattered Enterprise crew works to reunite and combine their efforts to combat Krall before he turns his attention to the destruction of Starbase Yorktown.
What all three of these new “Star Trek” movies continue to nail with absolute sharpness is modern thrills, efficient character development, and a charm befitting its ancestors. “Fast and Furious” franchise director Justin Lin took over for J.J. Abrams (who remains as a producer), brought over his action team, and the film never loses a drop of momentum or flash. Cinematographer Stephen F. Windon’s darting and curving work blends with unbelievable visual effects. The action sequences snap off the screen at a velocity that makes the “Star Trek” incarnations of fold look like fizzling bottle rockets by comparison. All of the space saga power is emboldened by Michael Giacchino’s returning musical motifs and themes.
Ongoing character development is easier to achieve for an episodic television series than a series of feature films that have been four and three years apart from each other. For better or worse in retrospect, “Star Trek” and “Star Trek Into Darkness” comprised a two-part extended new origin story to get this ship ready for space. That foundation has completely settled. As a standalone adventure, “Star Trek Beyond” makes further character advances for the central leads look effortless. The willing and able ensemble, especially the top three of Pine, Quinto, and Urban, carve deeper stamps on these special characters with new wrinkles of personality and shining moments of heroism. The thick rage of Idris Elba cannot match the intimidating complexity of Benedict Cumberbatch from “Star Trek Into Darkness,” but the villainy is still up to par coming out of the other corner.
Finally, in the charisma department, this film’s secret weapon is Simon Pegg. He steps up behind the camera as the head screenwriter (along with TV writer Doug Jung) on “Star Trek Beyond,” while still delivering zingers as Scotty on screen. His comedic fingerprints are all over this film’s pithy banter and brevity. The humor floats so well within the brawny science fiction material to match much of the chipper tone so many fans love about the original “Star Trek” TV series and its films. This is a winner and a crowd-pleaser in a summer movie season bereft of both.
LESSON #1: HOPE IN THE IMPOSSIBLE—The many and frequent conundrums and life-threatening dangers faced by the vessels and characters in “Star Trek” programs always seem to involve overcoming long odds. “Star Trek” has always operated on an optimism that nothing is impossible and that hope is a driving force for their brand's righteous morality.
LESSON #2: UNITY AS A QUALITY OF STRENGTH—Where does that signature hope come from? As the sports coaching clichés like to say, “A team that stays together, wins together.” This core crew has gelled to be able to achieve anything. “Star Trek” is sunny vision of a future where team effort creates bonds of unity that are nearly unbreakable and smartly funneled into peaceful and beneficial causes.