When JJ Abrams departed his rebooted Star Trek franchise to lead that other Star-based series into unprecedented global success, feelings were mixed. On one hand, Abrams had brought Star Trek to a whole new audience and made it a contender on a never-more-competitive blockbuster world stage. On the other, many die-hard Trekkies were glad to see the back of him, hating as they did (for reasons I can’t fully fathom) Into Darkness. Into the void stepped Justin Lin, the director best known for his work on the Fast and Furious films. With a really terrible first trailer, and Lin’s history of helming dumb and frenetic actioners, nervous anticipation defined the build up to the release of this third instalment, Star Trek Beyond.
Luckily for both fans and the studio, Beyond seems to have struck a chord with the franchise faithful that at least the last movie happened to lack. Though there is a chase on a decidedly 21st Century motorbike and some overly skittish set-pieces, this is a Star Trek for people who really love Star Trek. Much of that is surely down to the extra influence of Simon Pegg, still playing Scotty but now also on scripting duties. Far more faithful to the spirit of the Roddenberry original than the last two efforts, Pegg’s script is sure to keep the core fans happy, even if the film as a whole doesn’t hold together as well as either of the Abrams pair.
After answering a suspicious distress call, the USS Enterprise is destroyed by a swarm of smaller spaceships, crashing it into an uncharted planet and separating the crew. Behind this assault is the nebulously motivated Krall (Idris Elba), an alien from beyond the frontier of the Galactic Federation, who harbours utter hatred for this interplanetary union, and has suspicious insider knowledge about Captain Kirk (Chris Pine).
Upon Krall’s first meeting with Enterprise crew members Uhura and Sulu (Zoe Saldana and John Cho, both sadly relegated to prisoner in distress roles, leaving the active human cast notably white) he intones that unity is their weakness, not their strength. Obviously, he is proved wrong, and strength through unity not only defines the characters, but also the film itself. Where Beyond really soars is in its pairing off of different stranded characters, allowing for way better character work than has been attempted previously. Whilst Kirk and Chekov (the late Anton Yelchin) make for a fun duo, the real beneficiaries of this shift in focus are Spock (Zachary Quinto) and ship doctor, Bones (Karl Urban). Largely relegated to the sidelines in earlier films, Urban is gifted here with Beyond’s best and funniest role, and he plays off of Quinto superbly.
Krall’s first attack on the Enterprise is one of Beyond’s best scenes. As what looks like a massive ship disintegrates into thousands of kamikaze vessels, the terror is palpable, and the unified wheeling and crashing of the enemy into the Enterprise is a sight to behold. There are plenty of other imaginative visuals too, thanks to the nifty tech of fellow strandee Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), who can create holograms on the fly, as well as lay a series of entertainingly silly traps.
Jaylah and Scotty make up the last of the film’s double acts, the unlikeliest pairing of the lot, but united through their shared capability with tech and engineering. Pegg’s control of the story isn’t made too obvious – Scotty hardly becomes an action hero or romantic lead – but he’s definitely written himself a better part than he might otherwise have been afforded in this role. His Scottish accent is still highly questionable, but at least he’s given more to do than look worried next to screens and engines.
Not a single second of Beyond takes place on planet Earth, instead starting halfway through the Enterprise’s five year deep space mission, before landing at Yorktown, a Federation-built space station housing millions of sentient life forms. By spending a leisurely 10 or so minutes in Yorktown, Beyond makes its stakes very clear when Krall threatens to annihilate the Federation with a very Macguffin-y super weapon. Although stakes this high are rarely very dramatic in 12-rated sci-fi action films (a bioweapon genocide seems an unlikely end to a blockbuster trilogy), Beyond partly makes up for this weakness by having the music of the Beastie Boys as an integral part of saving the galaxy.
A far less forgivable failing is the film’s total waste of Idris Elba. Covering him in heavy prosthetics and hiding his voice behind a nonsense space language, Beyond disappoints in the villain department. Elba’s natural intimidating gravitas could have made for a scary and intriguing Big Bad, but instead we get a generic warrior alien. His interesting backstory is revealed just before the grand finale, but by then it’s too little too late.
Many Star Trek fans have complained that the rebooted series lacks the franchise’s core appeal of the joy of exploring uncharted space. Beyond reintroduces that idea powerfully in the first half of the film, letting its characters grow and banter as they discover hostile new territories. The later sections, with more reliance on action and the machinations of Krall work far less well, but this is still an entertaining romp with a chemistry-laden cast.