TL;DR – They finally found the right formula for the reboot series and it is glorious, the cast is amazing, the action is good, and every joke hits its mark.
Score – 5 out of 5 stars
I think I need to start with some context before jumping into this review, on the whole, I do really like the Star Trek franchise, however, I have not been a fan of this rebooted Star Trek movie series. The first movie had great casting, but the story was full of logical problems and lazy short-cuts, that it removed any real emotional weight to killing off Vulcan, and I just really did not like it (2/5 stars). The second film Into Darkness did a little better with me, as it had some reasonably good character moments, and some interesting set pieces, but the need to recreate one of the most iconic conflicts in Star Trek, and then the ability to not quite pull it off left the movie feeling quite flat (2.5/5 stars). I want to say this upfront so you understand this 5 out of 5 I am giving the film (only the second one of 2016) is not because I am enamoured completely with everything Star Trek, I am giving this film a 5 out of 5 because it has bloomin’ well earned it.
For those of you who might not know, Star Trek follows the adventures of Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine), First Officer Spock (Zachary Quinto), Chief Medical Doctor Leonard ‘Bones’ McCoy (Karl Urban), Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott (Simon Pegg), Helmsman Hikaru Sulu (John Cho), Communications Officer Uhura (Zoe Saldana) and Navigator Pavel Chekov (Anton Yelchin) as they fly around in the USS Enterprise, to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before. It’s Sci-fi at its best (TOS: The Tholian Web, TNG: The Best of Both Worlds & The Inner Light, DS9: The Dominion War, Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan, Star Trek First Contact etc.) and indeed it can be Sci-fi at its worse (yes I am talking to you Voy: Threshold, Ent: These Are the Voyages… & Star Trek V: The Final Frontier) but it is always interesting. Indeed, even though it sits well within that Hard Sci-Fi side of the spectrum, it always deals with the philosophical notions in a way other Hard Sci-Fi’s tend to ignore (with some other exceptions like Red Mars). For me this is where the first two films in the reboot movie series fell flat, they are all action and no substance, and for better or worse Star Trek is all about the substance and this is where I really do feel the third time is the charm with Star Trek Beyond.
Beyond picks up at least a couple of years after Into Darkness, when the Enterprise is about half-way through it five-year exploration tour of the galaxy, and when you are trapped together for so long things start to fray. Thankfully, the Enterprise is able to refuel at the new frontier Starbase called Yorktown, however, whilst there an urgent distress call sends the Enterprise into an uncharted nebula and all hell breaks loose. For the first time in the series, I think we finally see Chris Pine really shine in the role of Kirk, he has complexity missing in past performances that tended to be more wooden, and he has a great range throughout the movie. To the person who thought it was a good idea to have Spock and Bones buddy up throughout the film, well done because they killed it, Karl Urban has always nailed the presentation of Bones and here he nails it. Idris Elba works really well as the big bad Krall, however, his performance is a little constrained by the prosthetics, but not so much that it inhibits his ability to command every scene. Sofia Boutella brings a really strong physicality to the role of Jaylah, something we saw in Kingsman: The Secret Service and she helps ground the 2nd act. More so everyone works really well together as an ensemble cast, playing off each other’s strengths, and really showing a united team.
When it comes to the story, it really is hard to talk about it without instantly hit spoiler territory, but generally, it deals with notions of loss, what does it mean to command, betrayal, love and a lot more. As well as this, it is simply a really funny movie, the audience was in raptures at the screening I went to, I don’t think a single joke fell flat, which is quite an achievement. More so as well as being a pretty solid action flick, it has a deep undercurrent of Star Trek-ness which was simply missing from the last two films. We also see that in the way that film is written by people that don’t just give the previous cannon lip service, they understand it, and it shows, with a number of key references, to the use of props, and in the understanding of the characters and what motivates them. This means that when we get to the final act it feels like the film has earned its big final moment, more so that other recent films. If I had to nit-pick I would ask why Starfleet built a Starbase right next to an uncharted nebula, but that is only a small issue, and nowhere near as puzzling as to why they would give someone fresh out of the academy command of a Starship.
The special effects are all really quite good, this complements some really good set design, which means we aren’t running through a brewery when we are meant to be on a Starship. The new Yorktown Starbase looks amazing, if not completely impractical, but for some reason, I just love it, though I doubt I could live there … too much vertigo. All the action sequences work really well, the ship battles feel energetic, I’m still not sold on the Enterprise redesign, but it is realised really well in this film, the fight choreography feels a bit more kinetic than the other entries, and the explosions are quite spectacular. I will say there is one sequence with a bike that does look quite fake, but it is once the moment of oddness in an otherwise strong film. The music, both the use of Classical songs and Michael Giacchino’s score, really suits the movie, indeed Giacchino’s score was the best thing about the last two films, so you know it will work here. Mostly I feel this film nailed it because of the strong writing and directing team of Justin Lin, Simon Pegg & Doug Jung, who are all new to the series, but they bring an energy and understanding to the movie. I’m really glad JJ is killing it over in the Star Wars universe and that these guys have found a formula that works here for Star Trek.
All in all, I really loved this film, it is a major improvement for the series as a whole, and I really hope we see the team return for the next film. I highly recommend going to see Star Trek Beyond, I’m sure you will enjoy it as much as I and everyone at my screening did.
Directed by – Justin Lin
Written by – Simon Pegg & Doug Jung
Based on – Star Trek by Gene Roddenberry
Starring – Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, Zoe Saldana, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Idris Elba, Sofia Boutella, Deep Roy & Shohreh Aghdashloo
Rating – Australia: M; Canada: PG; NZ: M; UK: 12a; USA: PG-13