“Things have been beginning to feel a little… episodic” Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) says near the beginning of “Star Trek Beyond,” the third and most recent addition to J.J. Abrams’s reboot of the beloved franchise. It is a nice wink to the franchise’s origins as a revolutionary TV series, but it also, I believe, shows the future of these pictures. This is more like the original show than any Star Trek film that we have seen for a while. “Beyond” is not as big as the first two films. It doesn’t have time travel, different dimensions, and when it has action, it is usually more playful than that of the earlier flicks.
But I don’t think that “Star Trek Beyond” needs all that stuff. It seems perfectly comfortable where it is, and doesn’t shoot for any melodrama or grittiness. It is all the better for it. “Star Trek Beyond” is a thoroughly enjoyable summer sci-fi blockbuster, with all the character and action that we have come to expect from the adventures of the Enterprise crew, and still finds new ways to be creative with them.
Perhaps this can be attributed to a new director helming the film. Taking over for Abrams is “The Fast and The Furious” director Justin Lin, who brings spectacular set pieces to the picture, and his trademark “one big family” character portrayal from Vin Diesel and crew to Kirk, Spock, Bones, and the rest of the famous space explorers. This is best shown in the relationship shown between Mr. Spock (Zachary Quinto) and Mr. Bones (Karl Urban), an antagonism that evolves throughout the 2-hour runtime. These are sides of these pop culture icons that we have not seen in full until now. These creative ways of showing these characters are constantly expressed and shown through the adventure.
“Beyond” tells the story of yet another mission of the Starship Enterprise, this time taking the team to a space station called Yorktown, only (of course) to be attacked by a fleet of hostile ships lead by Krall, an alien warlord who kidnaps members of different ships and holds them as slaves. The crew is forced to crashland on an unknown planet and must find their way out, while stopping Krall from destroying Yorktown.
That probably sounds to you like a classic setup for a normal episode of the original series. But this is actually a great plot, lending itself to sci-fi action and character moments. The screenplay by Simon Pegg (who also portrayed Scotty) and Doug Jung is fast and smart, always keeping the actors in the forefront, even during spectacular space battles and chase scenes.
And what actors they are! Chris Pine is becoming a better Captain Kirk in every appearance, using his charm and charisma to capture the iconic Shatner performance. Same goes with Quinto, whose stoic nature perfectly portrays the famous persona of Spock that every nerd in America has come to know and love. In fact, all of the crew is perfectly charming and enjoyable, from Uhura (Zoe Saldana), to Sulu (John Cho), this is a cast worthy of the legacy left by the originals.
But to me, the acting standout of the picture is that of Anton Yelchin’s Chekov, who gleefully savors every line of dialogue and second of screen time. Yelchin delivers lines that are easy to say without personality or purpose with such endless enthusiasm that he practically light up the screen. Unfortunately, Yelchin had died earlier this year, so this will be his last Star Trek film. He will be missed in future movies. Speaking of, the screenwriters had thought of a very good way to pay tribute to Leonard Nimoy, the original Spock, that fits in with the plot of the film. The picture is dedicated to him and Yelchin.
Where the film falters is with its villain, Krall. Unlike Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance as Khan in 2013’s “Star Trek Into Darkness,” the character fails to be even the littlest bit interesting. He works as someone for Khan and friends to battle, but nothing else. Also, the third act feels like it perhaps goes a little longer than it should, with what seems like three different finales. But even those problems aren’t much, just a small speed bump in an otherwise thrilling adventure.
And yes, this year marks the 50th anniversary of when the first episode of the original series hit airwaves, and changed pop culture forever. And what better way to honor the legacy of this phenomenon than a fun, exciting, and emotionally powerful addition to the franchise. Because above all, “Star Trek Beyond” honors what people of all ages love about this beloved sci-fi world. The adventures of these great characters, going boldly where no man has gone before. Here’s to 50 more.
Final Grade: B+