With his most recent production set in the oeuvre of the Star Trek universe, Star Trek Beyond, J.J. Abrams hands the keys to the franchise off to new director Justin Lin (the action-driven pop director of hits like The Fast and The Furious) as well as new writing team Doug Jung and cast member Simon Pegg; and the results could not have been less predictable. I mean, there of course is the same stellar ensemble cast, which has been the main driver of the quality of the films in the franchise as well as, I’m sure, a steady guiding hand from the production team. However, when you put such a beloved franchise in new hands, one has to expect some growing pains. One would think: especially putting a series as criticized for its action content as opposed to its intellectual content into the hands of one of the architects of the Fast And Furious franchise. Despite what one might expect from this bevy of new hands crafting the film, Star Trek Beyond is the closest film in the franchise to the feel and content of the original, without sacrificing any of its fantastic action-fueled adventure.
I won’t take time to delineate every member of this incredible ensemble, but there are definitely some highlights: Zoe Saldana and Zachary Quinto shine in their roles as Spock and Uhura, most notably when they interact together. The spectrum of their relationship blooms in some notable dialogue throughout the film, but an exchange towards the beginning involving loss and grief is particularly poignant. Anton Yelchin, sadly, seemed to have really perfected the role of Chekov here (despite already turning in fantastic performances in the last two films), getting a bit more screen time it seems and deservedly. Idris Elba makes an absolutely fantastic villain as Krall, but my favorite newest addition is Sofia Boutella as warrior woman Jaylah, a strong but damaged character whose ingenuity serves as a crux for a good portion of the film. Stunning in absolutely incredible make-up, the stark contrast of her appearance is a reflection of her character: conflicted, struggling, hopeful.
The set pieces in Star Trek Beyond are also up to par for the franchise. While the pacing of the movie makes it feel more like an episode of the show than a movie (resulting in both good and bad), the environments and worlds we are presented with are still built and theorized amazingly. Maybe not on the epic scale of grandeur or opulence of the previous films, but the places that are fleshed out, notably the star base Yorktown, are extremely well done. We have descriptions of how these places function, what their history is, the kind of people that live there, all of the sorts of details that really make a fictional universe come alive. We are finally getting a better sense of the environments we are visiting in this movie, a level of background and interaction that seems more akin to the TV series version of Star Trek.
And this is where this movie really, really shines, and I have to think the new writing team of Pegg and Jung had a lot to do with this: this film feels like Star Trek. The plot has been invigorated with that sense of exploration and wonder that has made its television counterparts so beloved. And for once in this franchise, we are truly on the frontier of space! The crew of the Enterprise is brought by unbelievably unlucky circumstances to a new world they must figure out and work with to defeat their nemesis, a plot line as classic as the series itself. We have an infusion of intelligence into the way problems are solved, and teamwork takes the forefront more than ever before, themes that really highlight why Star Trek, as a franchise, is the cultural touchstone that it is.
I enjoyed Star Trek well enough, and after the tepid disappointment of how Star Trek Into Darkness was handled, I was very worried about the quality of this entrant into the canon. I had read the stories of Pegg being brought on to make the script, in that cursed executive parlance “more accessible”. Well, he did so, managing not only to make a greatly fun summer action movie but also a Star Trek adventure closer to that more classic sense of the series. Justin Lin deserves a lot of credit too, he took this fantastic script filled with humor and intelligence and made it flow evenly with a very action-oriented film. We can see from the quality of Star Trek Beyond that this new iteration of the franchise is really only hitting its stride, as we are starting to see that unique blend of action and intelligence that brought Star Trek as a universe to the forefront for a lot of people. Hopefully, this film can continue to do the same for a generation of new fans.
[easyreview title= "Review of Star Trek Beyond" cat1title="Bart's Rating" cat1detail="Overall Review" cat1rating="4.5" overall= false]