Director: Justin Lin
Screenplay: Simon Pegg, Doug Jung
Starring: John Cho, Simon Pegg, Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, Anton Yelchin, Idris Elba
Runtime: 122 Minutes
Star Trek Into Darkness, the follow up to J.J. Abrams 2009 reboot of the Star Trek cinematic franchise, has, since its initial release to a lukewarm reception, undergone a drastic change status amongst cinemagoers and fans of the series – and for the most part, it’s perfectly justified. Into Darkness was an incoherent narrative disaster for the series, which sought to pander in the most pitiful manner to those not yet converted to this new Trek lore - one that contorts one of science fiction’s finest properties into yet another stock action adventure project.
Star Trek Beyond appears to want nothing to do with them either, and arrives with a screenplay penned by Doug Jung and co-star/’Trekkie’ Simon Pegg, steering away from the contemporary earthbound narratives of the first two and catching up with the crew of the USS Enterprise in the midst of their five year mission; to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations.
To boldly go where no man has gone before.
If the very mention of that memorable opening monologue fills you with a sense of pleasure and homeliness then you’re in luck. At its very best, what Star Trek Beyond maintains more than either of its predecessors is that sense of comfy and unusual fun that was to be found in Star Trek: The Original Series. Keeping true to its spirit, structure and broad arrangement of science fiction postulations, this feels like the film the title has demanded on the big screen since before The Next Generation instalments; instead of going bigger, the crew have opted to take the story in another direction. This is basically an extended episodic adventure that swells the best elements of its source material into a vision of cinematic spectacle and highly enjoyable dramatic storytelling, pitting the crew against a new threat with a contemporarily stark perspective on the prospect of Starfleet and unity in its universe.
Led by Justin Lin in the director’s chair (veteran to the now acceptable-to-adore Fast & Furious series), Lin delivers the adrenalin-fuelled exhibition to be expected of a summer blockbuster. From a jaw-dropping sequence in the first movement in which the Enterprise gets bodied by enemy drones (referred to as ‘Bees’), Lin proves that he’s worth more than just smashing cars together with some excellent practical and digital work on show. Accompanied by regular Fast & Furious DP Stephen F. Windon, it’s a beautifully colourful and bright film with sets that call back to the humble origins of its pop/retro origins and works totally in its favour. Even if the magic touch of Daniel Mindel’s photography from the first two is occasionally missed, Lin does enough with the camera in these sequences to keep it entertaining and visually arresting.
The other thing that Lin has carried over from his work on the Fast & Furious films is his ability to manage massive casts of diverse ethnicities and gender, and this works spectacularly with the symbolic melting pot that is the Star Trek of Gene Roddenberry’s original vision. Navigating away from the focus on the Kirk/Spock dynamic – although still excellently performed by both Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto – Pegg and Jung’s screenplay chooses to strand the crew on an alien world in separate pairings to test the boundaries of their characterisation against one another. The chemistry between Karl Urban and Quinto in both ‘Bones’ and Spock is inspired and really draws attention back to the holy trinity that they formed in TOS. Everyone else is utilised to some hefty extent to draw from their roles and positions in the narrative, including a still terrific Zoe Saldana as Uhura, even when the roles of John Cho and the late Anton Yelchin are somewhat sidelined until the final act.
Speaking of which, while there is in places a minor pacing lag for a majority of the films first half – mainly down to a slightly meandering though goodhearted screenplay – it builds to a tremendously enjoyable and intense third act spectacle that redeems an awful lot of the films narrative issues almost immediately, and features probably the single greatest needle drop music choice of the entire year.
If there are weaknesses then they come down to the somewhat predictable storyline surrounding its villain, Krall, as performed by Idris Elba. Whilst Elba's performance is decent, and the character carries a fairly interesting motivation that isn’t fully explored until the climax, it isn’t necessarily the most intricate of plotlines overall, even if the intention was to replicate the fluff construction of many of the original series' storylines. On the plus side, there’s also the inclusion of Sofia Boutella as Jaylah, an alien who aids the crew in their journey undergoing her own internal conflict. The makeup work across the board is fantastic, but especially in this case as Boutella carries her character with effortless physical grace and beauty. She’s a brilliant new addition to the canon that could hopefully return should the series continue on from this point.
Having experienced a summer season of mostly flops and mediocre efforts, this is probably the best major blockbuster thus far. It’s a truly fun ride that keeps its characters at the forefront of its narrative drive, and actually feels like a film with true Trek in its heart and mind. It’s undoubtedly the best film of the three reboots and one of the most exceptional Star Trek films period.