Star Trek Beyond is a rollicking, fun adventure that stays true to the ethos of The Original Series. It seems that Paramount has finally done what they set out to do with the Kelvin timeline reboot: to merge the oil-and-water worlds of Star Trek and the summer blockbuster.
Read on for our spoiler-free review, followed by a spoiler-light version (i.e. nothing that hasn’t been seen in trailers, clips, or revealed in interviews).
Our Spoiler-free Review
Last year, Simon Pegg ruffled some fan feathers when he discussed an early draft of Star Trek Beyond and what the executives at Paramount wanted out of the new movie.
“They had a script for Star Trek that wasn’t really working for them. I think the studio was worried that it might have been a little bit too Star Trek-y”
This had fans justifiably worried that the powers that be would turn this incarnation of Trek into another shoot-em-up explosion-filled action flick. Just another summer tentpole film with “Star Trek” tacked onto the title.
Those worries, it turns out, were completely unfounded, because the strength (and perhaps weakness) of Star Trek Beyond is that it is, at its core, a big, bold, classic episode of Star Trek: The Original Series.
For Star Trek fans this is absolutely a great thing. Far off locations, cool technology, alien bad guys who are not one-dimensional, character building interactions with the crew in good times and bad, and enough name checks and in-references to make the die-hard fan want to go back and see it again to find more.
And yet, Beyond comes across as the kind of movie you can take your non-Trek friends to. They will need minor knowledge of Star Trek ’09 and while the events of Star Trek Into Darkness probably play into Kirk’s emotional state, a few well-framed captain’s logs can bring the uninitiated up to speed. Director Justin Lin and Writers Simon Pegg and Doug Jung breathlessly push the story forward while still leaving room to get to know the film’s heros.
Minor Spoilers Beyond This Point
(nothing that hasn’t been seen in the trailers, clips or revealed in interviews)
We begin our journey at the Yorktown, that massive snow globe-like starbase you’ve seen in the previews and Simon Pegg has been gushing over.
Think Deep Space Nine meets Babylon 5. Actually just think Babylon 5.
This is where we see the events of all the past movies begin to catch up with Kirk (Chris Pine). Whereas in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Admiral Kirk was itching to get out from behind the desk and become a captain again, this Kirk is far more reluctant, and in an arc that makes sense for this universe’s Captain. It gives the character actual depth and even Pine seems to be more comfortable in the role, bringing a greater complexity to the character even in the midst of shouting and panting — which happens a lot.
But we don’t linger at Yorktown long. Instead, we dive right into the action and watch in horror as Krall’s (IIdris Elba) swarm ships gut the Enterprise in a rather violent and emotional way.
I know! I know! You’re saying, ‘Oh great, we destroy the Enterprise…again.’ And you’re not alone. Simon Pegg said the same thing to Justin Lin but eventually warmed up to the idea.
I realized what he was doing brilliantly was: he was not only taking out a main character but he was removing the physical connective tissue between the crew to see what happens when you take away that which physically bonds them together. If you take away that thing that physically necessities them being a unit do they dissipate or do they come back together?
And he’s right. Not only does this set up that emotional challenge to the crew, it sets it up physically. More than any current Trek movie, and probably any Trek movie since Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, every character has a chance to shine.
Kirk and Chekov (Anton Yelchin) are the prefect pairing. Ensign Pavel “I can do zat!” Chekov, is the optimistic young ensign, which is the perfect counterpoint to a Captain who is questioning if he even wants to be doing what he’s doing. You can see how much Anton loved what he did and it’s painful at times to know we will never see him inhabit this role again. Over the course of the film, Kirk acts more and more like a captain, and this is in no small part due to having to watch out for Chekov.
Jaylah, played by Sofia Boutella, is a perfect counterpoint to Scotty. Without giving anything away, she has an interesting background and gives off a bit of a Leelo from The Fifth Element vibe, in a good way. She runs up against Scotty’s Starfleet training in some really enchanting and funny moments. The scenes play to Pegg’s comedic abilities and Sofia’s ability to be approachable but undeniably kick-ass! Seriously, when can I get a Jaylah action figure?
Uhura (Zoe Saldana), now with rank stripes (which we learned was thanks to a fan and Karl Urban’s urging to the costume department), has the most agency of any incarnation in the franchise. Thankfully gone is ‘Excuse me while I shush you Captain so I can argue with my boyfriend in the middle of a crisis’ and in her place is a competent officer. Yes, there is still plenty of interaction surrounding her relationship with Spock, but this time it’s tempered by good writing and film-making.
If I had one complaint about all the pairings it would be that we don’t get to see more of Sulu (John Cho). Back at the Yorktown, we learn that Sulu is a family man. His husband and daughter live there. Sulu is paired up with Uhura, and it would have been nice to see him talk with her about trying to get out of the situation they’re in and his worry that he may never seeing his family again.
Before you can say “Dammit Jim I’m a doctor not a…”, one of the best pairings in the film is unsurprisingly Spock and Bones, played expertly by Zachary Quinto and Karl Urban. Pegg and Jung create dialogue that takes advantage not only of their character interactions, but the genuine friendship the actors have as well. Bones is a great foil while Spock deals with his relationship with Uhura, among other things, and as you know, Vulcans aren’t really chatty.
That leaves our villain, Krall. For a good chunk of the movie he feels more like a force of nature than a character. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. The swarm ships, with their insect-like attack fashion, add to that feeling, and make Krall a force to be reckoned with. Like most Trek villains, there’s more to our villain than what’s on the surface.
Technically, the film performs well. It was shot digitally and in a way that will make audiences feel as if they are in the movie, sometimes a bit TOO much. The rapid scene cuts during action sequences are par for the course for summer blockbusters, but the digital nature of the print sometimes made it hard to make things out. I would love to have had the camera settle once in a while instead of always moving. If you see the film on a smaller screen I imagine this will be less of an issue, but still I am not a fan of constant camera shaking to indicate action.
All-in-all, Beyond was really more than I could have hoped for. Action, adventure and emotion. It honors The Original Series, and remembers Leonard Nimoy and Anton Yelchin in ways that are really very touching.
With yesterday’s tease of a possible 4th movie, for the first time in this new Kelvin-verse I am looking forward to the next installment!
Aaron Harvey is an unabashed Star Trek fan. One who has been involved in everything from fan films to video games to hosting a podcast about the animated series. He’s a lover of all aspects of Trek and enjoys taking deep dives into various aspects of the franchise.