Film Review: ‘Star Trek Beyond’ boldly goes where the best of the franchise has gone before

star_trek_beyondI’m sure I’m not the first person to mention this, but especially with the rebooted installments of the franchise, Star Trek films have rarely captured the same spirit of the original Star Trek series. As great as J.J. AbramsStar Trek was, it was almost closer to a Star Wars than anything else, for example. That changes with Star Trek Beyond, the latest sequel that manages be the closest in spirit to what’s come before on the small screen for the franchise. Not only is it the best overall action flick of the summer so far, but it’s also the most optimistic one as well.

Director Justin Lin, alongside co-writer and co-star Simon Pegg have opted to make this actually about space exploration, discovering new worlds, intergalactic diplomacy, and the values of the Federation. In some ways this will certainly be seen as an old fashioned throwback to what William Shatner and company began on television, but in other ways it’s a bold re-invention for the cinematic franchise. Instead of looking at what else has worked in movies, Star Trek Beyond captures the spirit of why there are fans of the property in the first place. It’s hardly a perfect film and could have stood to lose a few minutes in the second act, but it’s definitely fun and easy to recommend. Star Trek Beyond is a successful summer movie in a year where that’s been few and far between.

The plot has more in common with a classic television episode than most theatrical outings for the franchise, but that’s a welcome change of pace. We find the crew of the Starship Enterprise during a quieter period. They are in year three of a five year mission, engaged in various forms of diplomacy and exploration, but some are feeling dissatisfied by what this life is offering them. Chief among them are Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine), struggling with stasis as he reaches a birthday his father never reached, and Commander Spock (Zachary Quinto), who is drawn away from a relationship with Lieutenant Uhura (Zoe Saldana) and towards New Vulcan/the legacy of Spock Prime.

When the crew is ambushed while investigating a distress call in a distant part of the galaxy, they see the Enterprise destroyed and our heroes separated by a mysterious enemy named Krall (Idris Elba). This villain has much of the Enterprise crew members captured on a strange planet, including Uhura and Sulu (John Cho), while the downed ship is being investigated by Kirk and Chekov (Anton Yelchin). At the same time, Spock and Doctor ‘Bones’ McCoy (Karl Urban) must survive together. Our heroes come together with a plan when Scotty (Pegg) brings a Krall hating warrior named Jaylah (Sofia Boutella) into the mix. It all leads to a number of action set pieces, yes, but there’s also a lot about teamwork and what diplomacy actually means as well. It’s a full meal, perhaps surprisingly so.

Simon-Pegg-Sofia-Boutella-and-Chris-Pine-in-Star-Trek-BeyondThis is the best use of the cast so far in the new trilogy. Obviously, Chris Pine is the star, but screen time for much of the film is split almost evenly between him and everyone else. Personally, Karl Urban is the MVP again for the way he makes the gruff Bones so lovably pissed off, while the late Anton Yelchin gets to really be charming here, playing the character as a bit of a ladies man. That takes nothing away from Pine, who is as likable and comfortable in the role as ever, but I appreciated the supporting players even more than usual.

Sofia Boutella might be on her way to the A-list here as well, with her character being a scene stealer at times. Returning players John Cho, Simon Pegg, Zachary Quinto, and Zoe Saldana are very solid, while Idris Elba is slightly underused but overall a decent enough villain. Other supporters here include Shohreh Aghdashloo, Shea Whigham, Lydia Wilson, Deep Roy, and more, but the core crew is who you’re coming to see, and they don’t disappoint. They established their rapport in Star Trek, built on it in Star Trek into Darkness, and showcase their mastery of it here in this one.

I’ll admit to not having been too high on Justin Lin as the directorial choice here, but he mostly proves me wrong. Lin’s direction is occasionally a little too jerky, but the large scale set pieces of Star Trek Beyond are handled very well. To be fair, Lin is working with a surprisingly good script, credited to Pegg and Doug Jung, but he executes it all with aplomb. I had no doubt that the action would work, along with the technical aspects (including the score from Michael Giacchino), but the ideas and emotion are a far more successful element, and that caught me by surprise.

In particular, one small moment towards the end with Spock looking at an image is just a brilliant decision. You’ll know it when you see it. The way Lin, Pegg, and company work ideas and the old fashioned explorer spirit of the original series into this effort is very clever and adds to successes seen here.

Overall, Star Trek Beyond is a full scale science fiction blast that shows how the franchise will have considerable legs in the future. As one of Yeltsin’s final film roles, it has an extra bit of melancholy inherent within it, but this is a mostly optimistic blockbuster that sees the good in the universe. That’s rare these days, and well worth applauding. If you’ve enjoyed this franchise so far, you’ll dig what the new flick is offering up. Unless sci-fi is 100% not your thing at all, you should check this one out. Star Trek Beyond is a crowd pleasing victory for the 2016 summer movie season. I’m ready to see this group boldly go forward once again.

GRADE: (★★★)

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