STAR TREK BEYOND Review

Having never been a Star Trek fan it is difficult to gauge where the new series of films lands when it comes to understanding how much it draws on what made the original series and other features so endearing and loved by so many. With Star Trek Beyond, the third film in the re-booted series and the first not directed by J.J. Abrams, it finally feels like (to an outsider, at least) that this new set of films has found its footing. While I have thoroughly enjoyed the previous two Abrams films they have very much been in the vein of attempting to re-establish the brand and telling the origin of what became the legendary crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise on the Gene Roddenberry series that ran for eighty episodes beginning in 1966. This was all necessary, of course, though Into Darkness certainly could have come more into its own rather than once again feeling like an assembling of parts, but as an introduction to this world and these characters the 2009 version is almost flawless save for some third act story elements that cause the film to trip at the finish line. In saying that this third film has found its footing is to say that it finally feels these characters know who they are and are more assured in their roles (both in the actors playing them and the characters themselves). Much of this has come from being almost three years into a five year mission thus giving us our first glimpse of this newly assembled band of actors in these iconic roles in the midst of actually exploring uncharted areas of the galaxy. It seems, at least from my non-seasoned perspective, that Star Trek Beyond is the film Star Trek fans have likely been waiting on since the credits rolled on that 2009 re-introduction. Written by Simon Pegg and his writing partner Doug Jung (who has at the same time both a minor and major role in the film) and directed by Justin Lin (The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift all the way through Fast & Furious 6) Star Trek Beyond is full throttle entertainment from beginning to end, packing in a contained and straightforward action narrative into an evenly paced two hours with interesting character dynamics abounding and even some slight philosophical meanderings to wonder about in the process. In essence, Star Trek Beyond does an exemplary job of compiling every facet a movie such as this should contain and executes them without question or hesitation-the only downfall to this being there isn't anything necessarily unexpected about what we receive. It's hard to fault a film for accomplishing the job it sets out to do and Beyond fills its sci-fi action/adventure quota with ease, but this lack of anything fresh or unique to make it stand apart or on its own is also what keeps it from being anything more than your solid summer blockbuster.

The evil Krall (Idris Elba) hijacks the Enterprise and takes Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) to task.
As previously mentioned, the crew of the Enterprise has now been in the furthest reaches of space for nearly three years and in that time Captain James T. Kirk (the wonderful Chris Pine) has reached the birth year in which he is now a year older than his late father (played by Chris Hemsworth in the '09 film) lived to see. This shakes something in the good Captain given he's undoubtedly spent his whole life first trying to run away from the bar his father set for him then chasing what seemed like the unattainable goal of commanding a starship. Now that Kirk has both surpassed both the time his father lived and the accomplishments his father attained he has been left with something of an existential crisis. What now? What is next? And inevitably...what is the point? Always there for Kirk to lean on is longtime friend and the Enterprise's chief medical officer Doctor Bones McCoy (Karl Urban). McCoy understands the questions floating around in Kirk's head and why, at this juncture in his life, he has been forced to contemplate the nature of mortality. While Beyond is very much about moving forward it relishes in the moments in which these characters are now existing and thus allows for the events that occur in the space of its narrative to help its characters in what their decisions might be moving forward. Making its main antagonist despise the idea of unity or peace in a way that isn't necessarily founded by a desire to destroy the world, but more the race who he feels doesn't have the mentality to justify remaining a part of the whole of the living organism that makes up the galaxy is a long and elaborate way of saying that he desires to go backward, to not only stop people from moving forward, but wipe the slate clean all together. Zachary Quinto, who has been the highlight of each of the previous two films, once again portrays Spock in excellent fashion, but even the ultra-logical Vulcan is forced to deal with questions of destiny and what most deserves his attention with what time he may have left in existence. This mindset of having to comprehend inevitable change while simultaneously figuring out what that change might be from the Captain and his First Officer extends to the likes of Lieutenant Uhura (Zoe Saldana), Sulu (John Cho), Scotty (Simon Pegg), and Chekov (the late Anton Yelchin) as they are tasked with helping a friend of the Federation who leads them into a powerful, unstoppable wave of aliens led by Krall (Idris Elba) that destroys the Enterprise and leaves the crew stranded on an unknown planet with no apparent means of rescue.

In discussing Star Trek Beyond it feels necessary to talk about the action and the plot by which our characters are put through the ringer of another starship mission, but those aren't the topics that immediately spring to mind when recalling the film. Given more time and distance it only seems those things will fade the fastest while what will continue to stand out and reassure viewers down the line that the film is well worth repeated viewings is the actual character interactions and the amount of creativity that clearly went into the smaller details. While the design of Krall's ever changing armor and the visual power of the space station referred to as Yorktown are no doubt the product of many a minds in the design and prop departments what is really subtle, but greatly appreciated here is the writing. When it was reported Simon Pegg would be taking over for previous screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (who are the epitome of what one would call "writers for hire" in Hollywood these days) there was a sense of relief in that moving forward (Hey! There's that phrase again) the series would no longer try to capitalize on storylines and references to the past series' and films', but rather that this new trilogy of Star Trek films would find an uplifting and refreshing note that would have the Enterprise crew explore the furthest reaches of uncharted space as they were always meant to. More or less, that we would finally come to see these new incarnations of these familiar characters in their element. In that, Pegg and Jung have crafted a screenplay that delivers on these hopes and expectations by taking the crew off ship and onto a strange alien planet where they must use their individual skills as well as their ability to work together as a team to figure out how to get out of what is seemingly a lose/lose situation. Pegg allows for this familiar groundwork to feel comfortable by emulating what seem to have made up the bulk of the original shows template while differing it enough by pairing up unexpected members of the crew and stranding them together. As a result, audiences are given numerous scenes of Uhura and Sulu working together to send out a distress signal after becoming captured by Krall, Scotty working with new character Jaylah (Kingsman's Sofia Boutella) to fix a thought to be lost starship from centuries earlier that might be the key to the crew's escape, as well as Kirk and Chekov hoping to return to what's left of the Enterprise and salvage what they can, while the best pairing of the film comes down to Bones and Spock whose two temperaments couldn't be more different, but whose chemistry cultivates one of the more fun dynamics this series has played with. In doing this, Pegg not only puts unexpected characters in unexpected situations, but he emphasizes the main idea the crew stands by, but must also project for us to believe they could actually overcome the all-powerful enemy they're up against.

Spock (Zachary Quinto), Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), and Bones (Karl Urban) ready themselves for an attack. 
While Elba's antagonist is unfortunately one of the weaker elements of the script it is what Pegg and Jung do with this villain and his maguffin to further develop and explore the arcs of the main stars that make this forgivable. It is akin to going to church and finding what relates to your life in the message the priest is delivering despite the fact it will have numerous interpretations by the whole of the congregation. In other words, Kirk finds clarity for what he is experiencing in his personal life in the missions his job takes him on. There could be any number of angles and lessons taken from a disgruntled alien who desires to destroy the Federation because he lost faith in humanity, but in the case of Kirk he sees a being who became lost rather than someone who inherently found satisfaction in killing off large portions of the galaxy's population. More specifically Kirk finds that happiness and real unity comes from and depends on those you surround yourself with. Pegg and Jung do a nice job of reinforcing this line of thought through the character of Jaylah while also providing another strong, female voice in a cast that Uhura sometimes fights to stand out in (also, did Alice Eve's Carol Marcus just decide she didn't want to be a member of the crew anymore and jump ship or???). Combine this sly ability to explore Kirk and Spock's current head space through the larger narrative with the not so subtle metaphor of Kirk and his crew having to resort to an older, more rough and tumble model of the Enterprise to save their asses as a way of stating that Beyond is getting back to the basics of what made the show work so well and what we have is the fun, action-packed adventure movie that is all most fans of the brand are looking for. That Pegg and Jung also come up with smart and unique ways of overcoming the odds they set in front of their characters is refreshing in that they utilize a payoff for every detail or tool they set up earlier in the film. Whether it be the image refracting devices or the stereo with "classical" music; no matter how familiar the beats of this story are what matters is that cool and creative ways are found to re-purpose those beats and the screenwriters as well as director Lin have found plenty of ways to do as much here. To go one step further, the use of the Beastie Boys "Sabotage" is perfection (no matter how doubtful you might have been after that teaser trailer). Speaking of Lin, he brings from his previous franchise the ability to convey familial ties between a mismatched group of people to the Enterprise crew in a way that allows the disparate groups they're split into still feel like a cohesive unit. Emphasizing the smallness of the space they take up in the vast universe they're exploring Lin inadvertently heightens that main idea of it being the ones you surround yourself with that make life worth living and thus a wholly satisfying movie on both basic and more cerebral levels.