Star Trek Beyond, the third film in the rebooted big-screen series, has a lot to live up to for both mainstream audiences and diehard fans. Not only does it follow the very divisive sequel Into Darkness, but it’s also being released amid the mega-franchise’s 50th anniversary celebration. Somewhere, late Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry is watching… but does it live up to its long legacy? join Film and TV Nerd to find out
So it’s a great relief to say that Beyond is terrific, a fun and exciting entry in the series that balances subtle fan service while also feeling fresh and modern. And it somehow does so while also very much playing like an episode of the Original Series.
We’re three years into the USS Enterprise’s legendary five-year mission, and Chris Pine’s Captain Kirk is beginning to question how he fell into this life in the first place. He joined Starfleet to live up to his father’s memory, but now as Kirk is about to celebrate the birthday that will actually make him older than his old man ever lived to be, he’s reached a juncture. Perhaps the time has come for him to leave this whole spaceship life behind.
Zachary Quinto’s Spock, meanwhile, is also grappling with something of an existential crisis, as sad news comes from New Vulcan that compels him to return to his people and help rebuild their race. (The original planet of logic and pointy ears was of course destroyed in 2009’s Star Trek, possibly the reboot’s biggest change in the series’ continuity.) This development also causes a rift in Spock’s relationship with Zoe Saldana’s Lt. Uhura.
But everyone has to put their issues on hold when a much bigger problem arises: In a spectacularly realized scene of mayhem and destruction, the Enterprise is ambushed by a thousand small projectile-like spacecraft. The crew must abandon their doomed vessel, and most are taken prisoner on the uncharted planet below by a mysterious alien race led by Idris Elba’s Krall. This villain, it seems, has a bone to pick with Kirk’s Federation, and is cooking up a deadly plan that will make them wish they’d never pushed into the final frontier in the first place.
What follows is a fairly straightforward yarn as Kirk must re-gather his crew and stop Krall from pulling off his nefarious plot. But the film excels in not just the inventive visuals and action — which are guided by the sure hand of franchise newcomer (and Fast and the Furious vet) Justin Lin — but also in terms of character, humor and emotional impact. This is achieved in part by splitting the characters up into unlikely combinations, like putting Spock and Karl Urban’s Dr. McCoy together and on the run, which gives rise to some fun beats. But also, it’s clear that cowriters Doug Jung and Simon Pegg (an avowed Trekkie) just simply get these characters.
The scribes also introduce a new player in Jaylah, played by Kingsman’s Sofia Boutella as a proud alien who’s spent her life stranded on this planet and who must work with Kirk’s crew — and Pegg’s Scotty in particular — to escape. Boutella is charming in the role, which isn’t as strong on the page as she makes it seem. Unfortunately, her presence means that some of the Enterprise regulars, like the late Anton Yelchin’s Chekov, don’t get a ton to do here.
Where Beyond does falter, if only a bit, is in its explanation of why Krall feels the way he does about the Federation. I won’t get into spoilers too much, but suffice to say the script could’ve used another scene or two delving into what made Krall the man he is today. (Neither does his big bad plan make all that much sense.) That said, his villain does prove to be cut from the same cloth as many tragically classic Trek bad guys before him, and Elba’s performance as the pained creature is memorable, alien make-up notwithstanding. He also serves as a dark reflection of Jim Kirk’s own philosophical dilemma in the film, and the scenes the pair share together — fisticuffs interspersed with moralizing — are rousing.
A climactic action beat involving the Beastie Boys on the soundtrack just like in the trailer! might upset some fans, but at this point can’t we all just accept that this rebooted series and its version of Kirk is tied to that band? And besides, this film carries with it a genuine affection for Star Trek and its rich history, unlike Into Darkness, for example, which totally seemed to miss the point of what makes Trek tick and that’s what really matters. The film’s callbacks to the Original Series may even make you tear up a bit in the end. How… illogical.