Star Trek Beyond is everything it should be. It’s a film about discovery, teamwork, hope, and the miracles and dangers of scientific achievement – a lot of the elements that were sidelined when J.J. Abrams rebooted the series. Beyond not only returns focus to these principle tenets of Star Trek, it’s also able to maintain the humor and excitement that made Abrams’ chapters such crowd pleasers. Simply put – It’s the best of both worlds.
This isn’t to say that the film is a flawless masterpiece. Its editing and VFX are rough around the edges and the fascinating villain is a tad underwritten. Kirk himself even admits at the beginning of the film that “things are beginning to feel a tad… episodic” and that’s what Beyond feels like – an episode of Star Trek. But this is how Trek is supposed to function. The series has always been more about the journey, and the things we learn along the way, than it has been about the destination. No single conflict is meant to define Trek. The only ongoing threat is the unknown, so there’s no galactic villain to defeat that will epically end the series.
Speaking of the villain, Idris Elba’s Krall works so much more effectively than Khan did in the last film. Without spoiling anything, Krall feels like a legitimate threat to the establishment of the Federation – even more so to the peace, camaraderie, and hope that they represent. He’s clearly bannanaballs, but he’s a shockingly fitting analogue to the combative and xenophobic tendencies of alarmists the world faces today. Krall would have voted for the Brexit, and would happily vote for Trump. He would similarly appreciate Putin and Hussein. Beyond does what Trek does best: it gives a giant middle finger to the idea that hate is a solution to anything.
What’s especially exceptional is that both the film and the crew of The Enterprise practice what they preach. While Kirk and friends have no qualms about using deadly force if necessary, defeating the villains is always a secondary priority to saving lives. Pushed to the brink with their backs against the wall, they’re far more likely to try to outthink their enemy than to outgun them. The film also supports the vital importance of working together as a crew by making Beyond a legitimate ensemble film. Kirk may be the Captain, but the crew is the movie’s protagonist. Spock, Bones, Scotty, Uhura, Sulu, Checkov, and newcomer Jaylah all get at least a moment to shine as both characters and professionals. Despite the fact that the Federation is “the Establishment” in this universe, our heroes still feel like the underdogs in a universe of unknowns. And like all good heroes, they come in peace with a message of hope.
Beyond also makes the most of its Science Fiction with both fun designs and Science-y (or perhaps just Science-ish) solutions to problems. The Enterprise undergoes a catastrophic attack early in the film that fascinatingly explores not only how the craft’s various pieces function but just exactly what it’s capable of. The Federation Starbase Yorktown is a killer set piece and acts as both a startlingly cool scientific achievement, and a symbol of the fragile harmony the Federation is fighting to uphold. Jaylah introduces some neat gadgets she’s been using for survival and they actually pay off with multiple uses throughout the film.
Speaking of Jaylah, I’ll forgive Simon Pegg for shamelessly teaming himself with the cool new alien babe, because he’s done a stellar job co-writing the Screenplay for this film. He and Doug Jung clearly approached the project with the utmost reverence for the source material, and it shows in the DNA of every scene.
Go see Star Trek Beyond, and see it soon. Despite being one of the better tentpole pics of the summer, it’s looking like a firm box office bomb. After finally finding its footing, this series deserves another chance. Let’s make it happen fandom!
3D Recommendation – A middling but functional conversion. Muddied and misplaced in some moments, it’s never distracting, but often impresses less than it should, given what it has to work with. Recommended as a fun multiplier to the sci-fi visuals, but the implementation itself is only passable. Still… it’s a colossal improvement over Into Darkness‘ conversion, which was one of the worst I’ve ever seen.