It’s sad when a marketing campaign doesn’t know how to advertise a movie, let alone keep the movie’s release fresh in the minds of filmgoers. I didn’t have any idea the next entry in the rebooted Star Trek franchise came out so soon, nor any real notion of the film’s plot. Barring two trailers’ promises of Captain Kirk riding some sort of motorcycle and the U.S.S. Enterprise crashing yet again, this film could have been about anything, and admittedly, the radio silence from the marketing team was startling. Was Star Trek Beyond bad? Was this a dud Paramount was hoping to kick under the rug?
Absolutely not. Star Trek Beyond is one of the best Star Trek movies in years. The Justin Lin, Simon Pegg, Doug Jung creative team has constructed a fast-paced, yet smartly written, film that easily bests its two predecessors. Whereas the previous two J.J. Abrams-led Star Trek films focused on a Star Wars-inspired origin story and a classic Abrams mystery-within-a-mystery framework, this entry gets to the core of what it really means to bear the franchise name: halfway intelligent characters thinking their way out of challenging situations.
Since this is a cinematic interpretation of the classic scifi series, there still is a strong emphasis on action. Weapons are fired. Stuff blows up. Another destruction of the Enterprise shows audiences why the Enterprise crew can’t have nice things. But whenever there’s an opening, the fresh blood behind this entry veer what would be an ordinary summer blockbuster back to its heart. There are people who populate this universe — thinking, feeling, complicated and quirky people. And there is an inner struggle each one is dealing with, as well as an ethos that weaves not only through character motivations, but the main antagonist’s master plan as well.
What is that master plan? It involves the hunt for an item on the Enterprise that will doom the Federation, and this quest serves as a launching point for stranding our heroes on an uncharted world, away from the familiar. It’s a world littered with relics from an incalculable number of alien races who either died at the hands of the main antagonist, Krall (played expertly by Idris Elba), or by their own failure to find the way forward. The only way forward, this movie tells us, is with an openness and willingness to unite. That’s what the Federation represents in this incarnation — a united front, an ever-growing melting pot of unique characters with the aim of bringing peace to the universe.
Star Trek Beyond, then, is really a film about openness, and in that openness, a love and respect for one another. Whether it’s the brokering of a peace treaty between two warring species or the exploration of Bones and Spock’s rocky friendship, the film’s theme is ever present, asking viewers to let go of the past and move forward with a clear mind. Because that’s how we survive as a species. That’s how we band together and overthrow those who would do us harm. It’s an old Gene Roddenberry (the original series’ creator) philosophy, but maybe some classic philosophy is what was needed to revitalize this rebooted franchise.
In the last Trek film, Star Trek Into Darkness, Abrams and team thought it would be fitting to pay tribute to the series by recreating iconic scenes from one of the best Star Trek films ever made. Lin, Pegg and Jung have discovered a more effective route. The best way to honor the series is to embrace the formula behind each episode, to take the core structure and give it a new vessel. This means new characters, new planets and new scientific quandaries connected through an old heart.
Does Star Trek Beyond have flaws? Certainly. Though beautifully shot, a few of the scenes are a little dark, and some of the cinematography during the battle sequences relies too much on handheld. That said, the rest of this “vessel” is fully functional. The cast is great. The characterization and writing is strong, and most importantly, this film embraces the heart with which Roddenberry launched this franchise decades ago. Star Trek Beyond is very much a high-octane popcorn flick, but it’s one that wants us to reflect on, too, one that wants us to be in awe at the prospects of space and in love with what a greater humanity can be.
Simply put, Star Trek Beyond aspires to be bigger than a summer movie.
Star Trek Beyond
Starring: John Cho, Simon Pegg, Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, Anton Yelchin, Idris Elba
Directed by: Justin Lin
Written by: Simon Pegg, Doug Jung
Running time: 122 minutes