Every time a new Star Trek movie hits cinemas, it’s hard not to lament the idea of a TV or cable series with this incarnation of the Enterprise and its crew at the helm. As a franchise, Star Trek has generally fared best when telling longer, more developed narratives. This was more-or-less why JJ Abrams’ 2009 reboot was so well received. It didn’t just re-engineer Star Trek into a blockbuster, it re-engineered Star Trek into a great blockbuster. It gave the franchise a new lease on life (at-least until they fumbled with Into Darkness) and kind-of set the standard for what many consider a ‘good’ reboot to be.
Star Trek Beyond continues the series’romance with big screen adventures and, in a lot of ways, feels like a genuine make-good for fans who felt burned after Abrams’ second adventure fell short. It feels like a movie length episode of what a TV show with this cast might have looked like and far more like a sequel to the 2009 reboot ever did.
Picking up three years into the Enterprise’s five year journey, the film begins with the crew beginning to grow stagnant and disconnected from each other and their mission. They take port in a nearby starbase, called Yorktown, to resupply and evaluate their priorities. We get to see a little bit of the crew’s various shore leave activities – but it isn’t long before the lone survivor of an unprovoked attack turns up on their doorstep seeking aid. Things quickly spiral out of control, leaving the crew scattered across the surface of an uncharted planet.
There’s a change in pace here, courtesy of Simon Pegg‘s scriptwriting. Everything feels a little slower, but in such a way that makes the excitement of the film’s climax feel more earned. Unsurprisingly, Pegg has a deft hand with these characters – even if he leans a little heavily on the heroic monologues and platitudes.
On the other side of things, Justin Lin‘s direction manages to be energetic, even if let’s the film down in other areas. He lacks some of the visual punch of Abrams and feels a little out-of-sync with Pegg’s script in spots. Still, his contributions to Beyond manage to be inventive and fun – even if he could stand to keep things a little less fast and a little more furious.
Beyond also brings two new major characters to the universe in the form of newcomer Jaylah (Sofia Boutella) and the film’s villain, Krall (Idris Elba). The former, in particular, delivers some of the best lines of the film. She’s fierce, funny and a fantastic creation by the franchise – especially considering how wildly Into Darkness fumbled when it came to strong female characters. Keeping with the TV hypothesis: Jaylah feels like the kick-ass guest star who turns up for a two-episode arc maybe once a season.
Unfortunately, Idris Elba’s talents are almost entirely wasted here as Krall. He spends the film covered in prosthetics and stomping around menacingly. While the script does go into overdrive to develop his character during the last twenty or so minutes – you’re likely to have written him off long before then. Even with Elba’s growl behind him, he’s just another fearsome looking big bad monster-man who wants to destroy the universe because reasons – and the world already has too many of those. Given the charisma and sense of character Elba can, and has, given to even mediocre films, it’s a shame.
It’s even more of a shame because Krall’s ideology feels so timely and relevant. He makes the case that without war, there is no struggle – and without struggle, we cannot grow stronger. It’s really interesting to see the pro-peace position that Star Trek takes come up against resistance like this. Unfortunately, like Idris’ performance, it’s all a little uneven and ultimately as forgettable as Nero.
In terms of handling the original cast, it feels like everyone has at-least something going on – but it’s all very ancillary to the main plot. It feels like Sulu (John Cho), Uhura (Zoe Saldana) and even Chekhov (Anton Yelchin) are less of major characters here and more just characters who happen to be stuck in the orbits of Kirk (Chris Pine), Spock (Zachary Quinto), Scotty (Simon Pegg) and Bones (Karl Urban).
All things considered, this really does feel like the proper sequel to 2009’s Star Trek. It’s a fun ride of a film with that pairs a smart script with a cast that still manages to find electric chemistry a third time around. There’s still a lot of technobabble but, really, where would the franchise be without it.