Star Trek Beyond (2016)
Wow! Can you believe that this high-flying space opera has been in force for half a century now? Created by Gene Roddenberry in 1966, the widely popular Star Trek celebrates its 50th anniversary with the release of Beyond, director Justin Lin boldly taking the film franchise reboot where ‘no man has gone before’ — aka, back to its humble roots. While J.J. Abrams suckered an unsuspecting audience with his action-packed initial franchise re-starers — Star Trek (2009) and (the less superior) Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) — Lin, in this third episodic installment, caters more so for the diehard Trekkers, staying true to the saga’s spirit and mantra of ‘Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations,’ helming a visually robust sci-fi adventure that pushes its characters to the frontier of their emotions.
Assuming command from Abrams, Justin Lin, Fast & Furious 6 (2013), balances intimacy and spectacle in Star Trek Beyond, continuing the hopeful vision and underlying message set out by Roddenberry, presenting audiences with a universe where humanity has matured into the best possible version of itself: we see an optimistic ‘post-apocalyptic’ future with a culture of tolerance and diversity, where differences (amongst all life forms) are accepted and celebrated.
This latest venture begins some two years (nine hundred and sixty-six days to be exact) into the USS Enterprise’s unprecedented five-year mission to explore the uncharted galaxy in the furthest reaches of deep space. Following a fun yet silly opening which sees Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) on a diplomatic assignment to negotiate peace between two hostile spices (one of which is bite-sized), the Enterprise stops over for some much needed R&R, and to replenish those ever dwindling provisions of course, at an advanced Starfleet starbase known as Yorktown — a floating snow-globe-like station with its own internal atmosphere and city-like infrastructure. During the course of this downtime, however, we discover that the each member of the crew is grappling with some kind of personal dilemma. Kirk intends to drop the captaining gig, hoping to resign from the USS Enterprise for a cushier ‘desk job,’ while first officer Spock — who’s already struggling with the amicable state of his broken relationship with Nyota Uhura (Zoe Saldana) — receives word from New Vulcan and learns that his alternative timeline self (Ambassador Spock or Spock Prime) has passed away (a quiet yet touching tribute to the late Leonard Nimoy), this distressing news leading the human-Vulcan hybrid to fall into an existential crisis of sorts, one which causes him to question his very own mortality and duty to his people.
This contemplative repose is quickly interrupted when a distraught alien by the name of Kalara (Lydia Wilson) shows up at the outpost seeking aid. Upon hearing her jittery distress plea, Kirk and his team are dispatched on a rescue mission to a nearby planet in the nebula (to free Kalara’s trapped party) where, among other things, they encounter a life-draining, lizard-looking oppressor by the name of Krall (an unrecognizable Idris Elba) and a fiery, pale-skinned refugee named Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), the bogus salvage quest being a front for a deadly ambush which sees the iconic USS vessel overwhelmed by a fleet of swarming battleships. From there on in, the narrative shoots into warp drive, delivering in terms of high-octane action and interplanetary suspense, with a blast of relentless threats that keep the marooned and scattered band of broken heroes busy for the flick’s two-hour plus runtime.
Penned by funnyman Simon Pegg, Paul (2011), and Doug Jung, Confidence (2003), Beyond’s screenplay is fairly audience-inclusive and (in parts) rather self-aware, providing enough homage to satisfy the Trekkie fandom at large — there’s odd-couple banter aplenty, some flavorsome exchanges and right-on-target character-based gags. Yet, the real focus is on exploring the contrasting personalities of our key players, the narrative evolving and maturing the long-running series while steering the plot forward with revved-up action and visual intrigue. As it turns out, the squad (due to their first-act calamity) is fractured for much of the movie and are thus separated into odd groupings, these mismatched pair-offs really driving the story home; though, while this facet certainly works as a strength, it’s also a bit of a setback, the intricate and (sometimes) multifaceted storyline taking backseat to the characters and their weighty plight (one that tests the physical and mental state of our worn and withered protagonists). And further burying some of film’s overriding themes are the barrage of stylish slugfests and hyperactive CGI firefights that briskly occupy the remainder of Beyond’s screen time.
As one would expect, the lively ensemble are soaring with confidence. Taking the reins of the USS Enterprise for a third time — and looking mighty snug perched atop the famed captain’s chair — Chris Pine, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014), imbues James T. Kirk with a genuine sense of morality, Pine sprouting into the same respected leader William Shatner crafted so seamlessly all those years ago: Kirk is no longer that belligerent ‘shoot first ask questions later’ maverick from the original Abrams-era outing. Spock, in order to survive, is forced to team up with frenemy Leonard ‘Bones’ McCoy (the starship’s head medic) — wonderfully portrayed by Karl Urban, Dredd (2012) — with Zachary Quinto, Hitman: Agent 47 (2015), standing as another cast notable, the 39-year-old balancing the Vulcan’s angst, sorrow and crushing guilt, exuding a multitude of emotions with the simple raise of an eyebrow. The ‘ruptured’ Spock-Uhura relationship is certainly another highpoint, despite the fact that Zoe Saldana’s dutiful communication’s officer spends the majority of the flick trapped inside a drab prison camp.
Given a gentle nod as a sign of respect during the film’s credits, the late Anton Yelchin, Fright Night (2011), shines as zealous course plotter Pavel Chekov — no problem is too big or small for this navigator to crack — whereas co-writer Simon Pegg is a pure delight as Montgomery ‘Scotty’ Scott, never overstepping the line or coming across as excessively hammy, the Enterprise engineer winding up with the resourceful, brass-knuckled Jaylah, both stranded on Krull’s backwater terrain, Scotty saving the day (perhaps) more times than he probably ought to — there’s no telling Pegg was a writer on this film! On that note, Trekky newcomer Sofia Boutella, Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014), plays insurgent Jaylah instilling all those badassery-babe stereotypes into the excellently designed character (her high-contrast facial markings making her easy to place), the ballsy survivalist remaining relevant throughout proceedings without becoming an object of desire or a damsel in distress.
Idris Elba, Pacific Rim (2013), whose sheer presence commands authority, is somewhat wasted as megalomaniac Krall, the warrior without a war — think Oscar Isaac from X-Men: Apocalypse (2016), a talented and charismatic star hiding beneath layers of latex and heavy prosthetics. See, while Krall more-or-less lives by the manifesto ‘conflict is good and unity bad, therefore the Federation (which upholds diplomacy) must be destroyed,’ this credo is hardly unpacked, Krall’s dialogue mostly made up of mustache twirling monologues. Yes, Krall is a bitter ‘fallen soldier’ of sorts, out on a personal vendetta to push back against the Federation’s economic expansion, but the character simply plays out like a by-the-numbers baddie with little in the way of motive. A third-act reveal does flesh him out ever so slightly (discussing this would mean diving into spoiler territory), but his ill intentions ultimately fall short, the character coming across as petty, illogical, and difficult to accept. And for those of you wondering, no, Krall has zero connection to the Gorm species from the pre-existing Star Trek lexicon, those humanoid reptile creatures Captain Kirk squared off against on the famed television series — this Krall is a brand new breed of adversary.
As one would hope, Beyond is a natural and organic extension of the overarching Star Trek narrative which openly brings Roddenberry’s progressive foundation (and all things Trek) back to the forefront, Lin doing an outstanding job in making the transition between filmmakers seamless. While far from perfect, Star Trek Beyond is certainly one of the better films in the Trek canon; it’s philosophical and loaded with political subtext, examining the fickle human condition whilst subtly drawing parallels to our very own world. The characters are a little older and wiser and the action a little wilder — the chase-and-fight scenes in particular are highly impressive, the vertigo-inducing floating-cam maneuvers reminiscent of an intergalactic Fast & Furious type of scamper. And you know what, Star Trek Beyond is a film that celebrates its own legacy, one that’s filled with many of the hallmarks that make the celebrated brand so great. Live long and prosper Star Trek, you’ve finally made it home!
3.5 / 5 – Great
Reviewed by S-Littner
Star Trek Beyond is released through Paramount Pictures Australia