Star Trek Beyond review – Beyond expectations

Although I’m a huge sci-fi fan now, I guess you can say I was a late bloomer when it came to buying in to the popular franchises. Sure, I watched Star Trek Voyager when I was younger, but it didn’t really have that big of an impact on me and honestly, I can’t remember a lot of it anyway. So I’ve come in to the new Star Trek movies with basically a clean slate. Especially with Star Trek Beyond, I think I only watched one trailer, so I had zero expectations going in. But even if I had boarded the hype train, I think Star Trek Beyond would have zoomed right past all expectations at warp speed anyway.

Beyond opens in what is now typical Star Trek fashion, Kirk is on a planet and something is going wrong, comically wrong, necessitating a hasty and frantic escape. The action is all there, but you can tell that Captain James T. Kirk’s heart isn’t really in it. And that’s not Chris Pine’s acting (far from it), but setting the stage for the rest of the movie. The Enterprise is currently in year three of a five year mission, Kirk and his team are weary and tired from all the time spent in space and the sacrifices that come with it. But during a resupply stopover at the massive Starbase Yorktown, an unexpected encounter with an escape pod sends the Enterprise and her crew off on a dangerous rescue mission, and drama and excitement ensue whether they want it to or not.

I don’t want to give too much away in terms of the plot, not that there are any major surprises. Ironically, Beyond doesn’t go any further than where the previous movies have gone before. In fact, it’s quite a well-worn path that they follow. As the third in the rebooted franchise, and thirteenth Star Trek movie overall, you can’t really expect them to reinvent the wheel. That being said, while the story might have some incredibly familiar elements, it doesn’t feel like a re-tread. It feels more like a homage as the narrative takes the crew of the Enterprise back to their roots, stranded on an alien planet with nothing but their wits and skills to go on. The feeling of nostalgia is brought home with the discovery of an old Starfleet vessel, with a design that harks back to the original Enterprise from the ‘60s, and a teensy tiny cameo of the original cast.

While a lot of the movie takes place on the surface of a strange world, the white-knuckle action scenes that do take place in space are epic. The size of the space battles that happen are jaw-dropping, and the visual effects are more than impressive. Director Justin Lin, who previously helmed four movies in the Fast and Furious franchise, has choreographed some seriously intense and exciting action sequences, both on and off-world, not to mention on the Enterprise as well. This time the space-pyrotechnics are also easier to see, as Lin has done away with the trademark J.J. Abrams lens-flair. Which, come to think of it, also makes this installment feel more nostalgic, and less forcibly modern than the previous two.

The movie’s set-pieces are really something to behold, the sheer scale of the scenery and the ships is awe-inspiring. You don’t really stop to think about just how big the Enterprise really is, and how many people it carries, as well as how small it is in relation to the vast emptiness of space. That sense of enormity is definitely present, serving to make the crew seem as small and as lost as they feel.

The main cast are on point throughout the film, showing off an easy chemistry that seems to be deeply ingrained in the group. Chris Pine brings a lot to his role as Kirk, his roguish humour and rebellious nature from the first two films is still there, but tempered by the weight of his responsibilities. Zachary Quinto’s Spock has become more empathetic, which shines through his stiff Vulcan veneer. Zoe Saldana comes across as far more relaxed in her role as Nyota Uhura, who seems to have removed the stick that was in her butt for the whole of the previous film. Franchise newcomer Sofia Boutella, of Kingsman: The Secret Service fame, holds her own against the veteran cast, integrating with ease as the immediately likeable and incredibly kick-ass alien Jaylah.

Where the majority of the levity has previously rested on the shoulders of Scotty (Simon Pegg), and still does, a lot of that is now also on Karl Urban. Leonard “Bones” McCoy is given a fleshed-out role and far more screen-time than the previous installments, and Urban’s performance brings a lot of laughs as he plays the comic foil to Spock’s straight man for the majority of the movie. On the more emotional side though, it was bittersweet to see Anton Yelchin onscreen as Pavel Chekov. After his sudden and tragic death in June, watching him bring the character to life for the final time was a little bit sad. Nothing about his role in Beyond is in any way tragic, and obviously nothing alludes to his real-life passing save for a dedication in the credits (Leonard Nimoy, who passed away during pre-production, receives a dedication as well). It was wonderful to just watch Yelchin on screen, playing Chekov as comfortably as if he weren’t acting at all.

Unfortunately another way that Beyond doesn’t break new ground is with the villain. A problem that this franchise has always suffered from is a forgettable antagonist, and Krall follows this path. That’s not to say Idris Elba’s performance isn’t good, on the contrary. Elba plays the despotic alien overlord with all the menacing charisma he can muster, and he can muster a lot. Sadly, his character’s story was little more than “use a magical doohickey to rain down death and destruction, just because”. Oh there’s still motivation behind his evilness, and it oh-so-conveniently ties straight in with the moral choices the main characters are facing, but it feels like little more than a contrivance in order to have a big bad guy to fight.

Besides for the villain issue though, Beyond has definitely smoothed over a lot of the little niggles I had left over from Into Darkness. The scenes and dialogue seems so much less forced than before, and I’m sure that’s thanks in no small part to Simon Pegg co-writing the script. Minor plot holes aside, the story is solid, and Lin maintains a fast, but steady pace throughout the film, never dragging nor going too frantic, and transitioning smoothly from scene to scene without giving you whiplash.

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