Review: Star Trek Beyond (2016)

After Into Darkness, this drags the franchise from the brink of a black hole and delivers on action and character... if not originality.

J.J. Abrams reboot of the Star Trek film franchise in 2009 was an outstanding feat. Not only did the story manage to introduce it to a new generation whilst remaining faithful and respectful of everything that had gone on before, but the cast were an inspired choice who became the iconic figures we know and love with surprising ease (except maybe for Simon Pegg). It had action, humour, peril and heart; the first 15 minutes alone were worth the price of admission! Then came Into Darkness! A mess of a film which completely disrespected the original Khan storyline not only ripping off dialogue and scenes from Wrath Of Khan but it gave us a major cop out ending seen from a mile off and even side lined some of the main cast…Karl Urban’s Bones especially. Yes, Benedict Cumberbatch was mind blowing as Khan…as was Peter Weller in the role of Admiral Marcus and the final battle between the Enterprise and the Vengeance was insanely good but overall, it was nothing more than a sequel remake.

So, we come to Start Trek Beyond. Steeped in a fair bit of controversy with J.J. jumping ship to a different Star franchise, an odd replacement director in the form of Justin Lin (known for directing four of the Fast & Furious films) taking the reigns, a rewrite of the script by Simon Pegg and Doug Jung and the heart breaking loss of both Leonard Nimoy and Anton Yelchin and the signs really were not looking good. Yet, Star Trek Beyond manages to defy all the odds and not only re-capture some of the magic of that first reboot but also expand the world it has created in this timeline…despite there still being some re-treads and issues.

Story wise, this really is little more than a television episode pitch. Alien asks for help to which Kirk answers. The Enterprise is attacked, the crew separated, Kirk has to find a way to rescue them. Pretty simple premise. But it allows the film to ask some big questions of its characters. Kirk is struggling with why he joined Starfleet and what his future should be. Spock, after receiving news of the death of Ambassador Spock, wants to leave the Enterprise and help on new Vulcan. And Bones, learning of both these revelations from his two friends is the one offering advice whilst becoming more the action hero than just the doctor of the ship. Chekov‘s Russian roots are touched upon, Scotty gets to expand on his engineering, Uhura is dealing with a possible split from Spock and Sulu’s own relationship with a partner is revealing and touching. Idris Elba takes over baddie duties here as Krall. A character hell-bent on making Starfleet suffer by using a bio weapon on the vastly populated space station Yorktown, his core motive surprisingly on the nose and opening up a viable debate on the merit of Starfleet and what it used to stand for as opposed to what it stands for now. And finally, Sofia Boutella’s Jaylah is tough as nails and resourceful, a victim of Krall’s cruelty, she helps Scotty and Kirk as well as holding her own throughout.

So, what we have is a pretty classic story and way of telling it. The film opens up big with the decimation of the Enterprise then settles into the character building as the crew is split up and have to work together before we end with a huge space battle and Kirk saves the day. And on this basis, it absolutely works. The destruction of the Enterprise is both spectacular and huge. Indeed, the shot of Kirk jettisoning himself to safety and watching his ship crash land is jaw dropping. Then, the middle section allows for some brilliant interplay between the characters; Bones and Spock especially…a heart breaking discussion about Ambassador Spock being both poignant and full of real emotion. And the final space battle will have you cheering for joy as a unique solution is found to disrupt Krall’s bee like fleet and we are thrown full on into explosions galore. The special effects are brilliant with some unique camera shots immersing you into the film. The soundtrack continues the reboots motifs and feel even throwing in some Public Enemy and Beastie Boys for good measure, and, the actors continue to breathe life into these characters…Karl Urban and Chris Pine especially. And the whole thing feels much more Star Trek with lots of nods to the likes of the Xindi and future decisions made by these characters.

But there are issues. The destruction of the Enterprise is basically a re-hash of the destruction of the Enterprise D in Generations…spectacular but been done before. Some characters are severely short changed and reduced to mere cameos…Sulu and Uhura coming off the worst. Still, The Wrath Of Khan seems to be a source of material the writers are stealing from…after Into Darkness, lessons should have been learnt. The bio weapon against Starfleet plot was used in Nemesis…again, the writers seem to be stealing ideas. And finally, Idris Elba as Krall is good but the makeup seems to limit his performance instead of enhancing it and lets be honest here, he is no Benedict Cumberbatch as Khan.

Saying that though, maybe I am nit-picking because I really enjoyed the film. I actually gasped out loud near the end when Spock is going through Ambassador Spock’s personal items coming across a very special photo. There was a lump in my throat during the Enterprises destruction when Krall grits his teeth and orders his fleet to “Slit its throat”. And there really isn’t a group of actors who could do these characters justice…even Pegg seems to be settling into the role of Scotty more. As a summer action movie, it absolutely succeeds. As a Star Trek movie, it should be included as one of the good ones…not a classic (Wrath Of Khan, First Contact), not a poor entry (Into Darkness, Insurrection), but a good solid one (The Voyage Home, Nemesis).

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