I’ve come to terms with the fact that this new series simply isn’t the Star Trek of old. Despite their numerous callbacks it was fairly evident when the first film landed in 2009. 2013’s “Into Darkness” made it even more obvious. The third movie “Star Trek Beyond” more or less casts aside any doubt. This isn’t a series targeting the old school Trekkies. This series was clearly rebooted with the summer action movie crowd in mind. But that doesn’t mean Trekkies can’t have fun with it too.
A lot has happened since the release of the last movie. The sad passing of Star Trek icon Leonard Nimoy and the tragic death of cast member Anton Yelchin adds a sobering layer to this picture. Yelchin had finished shooting at the time of his death. In “Beyond” he is given a good hunk of screen time and has fun with it. Nimoy gets a fitting tribute that isn’t just shoehorned in. It’s smartly written while offering due reverence.
Several changes were made for “Beyond”. Justin Lin of “Fast and Furious” fame takes over the directing duties from J.J. Abrams (now the head honcho of the “Star Wars” franchise). In addition to his role as Scotty, Simon Pegg and Doug Jung make up the new writing team. For the most part this new installment stays in step with the previous two films. But there are moments where you do recognize the new influences. Sometimes it’s for better but not always.
The movie’s opening one-third is its best. With origin stories behind, Lin and company jump right into the story they want to tell. The USS Enterprise is now three years into its five-year mission to boldly go where no one has gone before. Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) has grown tired of his diplomatic duties. Feeling that he and his crew need some time off, he docks the Enterprise at Starfleet’s newest most advanced space station called Yorktown (maybe the coolest and most visually impressive thing in the entire film).
As for the crew, Spock (Zachary Quinto) is having a personal crisis which has effected his relationship with Uhura (Zoe Saldana). Bones (Karl Urban) is still surly and cantankerous. Scotty (Pegg) is still neurotic and high-strung. Basically everyone could use some down time. But that doesn’t happen. An escape pod lands at Yorktown with a lone distressed survivor who tells of an attack on her ship. The Enterprise is sent out to investigate but run into a vicious alien warlord named Krall (Idris Elba).
Lin amps up the stakes after the crew finds themselves stranded and seperated on a nearby planet. It’s here that we get some of best character interactions. Spock and McCoy are especially fun. The writers do fine job of giving every character their moment and making them feel significant. We even get an interesting new alien character named Jaylah (Sofia Boutella).
But the further the film goes the more it seems to lose its footing. One big action set piece after another make up the entirety of the final act. There are some really impressive scenes during this run but there are also a couple that aren’t that well conceived. And then you have one particular sequence that is beyond silly and preposterous. I won’t say anymore but trust me, you’ll know it when you see it.
It should be said that the special effects are often spectacular. But there are a few instances where they are surprisingly generic. Also Lin knows how to shoot action as evident by many of the bigger set pieces. His shooting of fight scenes are a different story. Lin’s dizzying handheld cameras and quick cuts make some of the fights a chore to make out. Thankfully that only represents a small chunk of the action.
The bombastic ending is another clear reminder that this is a very different Star Trek series. But now we sit three movies into it and these films have earned the right to be judged on their merits and not those of past movies. “Beyond” is a fun and satisfying installment that fits nicely within the new franchise vision. It finally feels like the crew is exploring strange new worlds and seeking out new civilizations. At least until it turns into a fairly standard sci-fi action flick in the final act. Still it’s fun to be back with these characters and to see each of them given important roles within the story. That can often be difficult with such a large cast.
VERDICT – 3.5 STARS