In today’s world, where daily demonstrations of violence, hatred, and fear offer us an uncertain vision of our future, we need an escape. We need movies that take us to worlds that are not our own. Movies that depict people of different races, backgrounds, and sexualities working together in harmony. Movies that thrill us, make us laugh, dazzle us.
We need movies like Star Trek Beyond.
Taking over the captain’s chair from previous series director J.J. Abrams, Justin Lin (Fast and Furious) has crafted a vessel that’s just as sleek, fast-paced, and exciting as its predecessors. Make no mistake: this is not cerebral, thought-provoking sci-fi; it’s a full-speed-ahead action flick. However, there is something notable about Star Trek Beyond in how it celebrates the series’ fifty-year history and how it honors its enduring characters. This film was made with so much love, warmth practically radiates from the screen.
While on their five-year mission to explore the far reaches of space, Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine), Commander Spock (Zachary Quinto), and the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise fall under attack by a hostile alien threat and find themselves marooned on an uncharted planet. With a damaged spacecraft and no means of rescue, the crew must find a way to get back home while evading the grasp of Krall (Idris Elba), a mysterious enemy who will stop at nothing to destroy them.
This film really is the total package. It has terrific action set pieces orchestrated by Lin, a witty script co-written by Simon Pegg (who also plays Scotty), and an impressive new character in the form of Jaylah (Sofia Boutella, Kingsman: The Secret Service), a badass alien warrior who aides the crew on their journey.
Beyond also has something unexpected: genuine heartstring tugging. In touching ways I will dare not spoil, the film pays tribute to the memories of two legendary Star Trek actors: our Spock Prime, Leonard Nimoy, and our Chekov, Anton Yelchin. Seeing Yelchin, who tragically died just last month, onscreen—so youthful, so energetic—is melancholy indeed.
But Beyond also engages us emotionally in another way: it furthers the development of these characters we love so. There is a very tender and heartwarming scene involving Spock and Bones (Karl Urban) that reveals layers to each character that were not even hinted at in the previous entries. And Captain Kirk, Scotty, and Sulu (John Cho), who were all so lacking in any kind of character growth in the last film, Into Darkness (2013), all have their moments to shine here. These actors embody their characters so thoroughly and work with each other so well that they transcend any shortcomings the film might have.
And Star Trek Beyond does, indeed, have its shortcomings.
While it is an entertaining and well-made film, Beyond doesn’t seem bold enough to break away from the established formula. Spock and Uhura (Zoe Saldana) continue their lover’s quarrel that seems to never end, and we are treated to the now-routine sight of seeing the Enterprise get totally wrecked yet again. Idris Elba’s Krall—at first an imposing screen presence—is drained of all menace or intrigue once his “motivation” is revealed in the third act. It’s here where the film completely deflates, for what begins as a tale of adventure and survival takes a turn for a plot we’ve seen before.
Despite these flaws, Star Trek Beyond is still a rousing—and as I said before, necessary—entertainment, and until that third act twist, it’s true to the spirit of discovery and camaraderie established in the original series. When Gene Roddenberry first created the Star Trek television series in 1966, he envisioned a future of unity and optimism. Fans will be happy to discover that Star Trek Beyond is very much in keeping with that vision. It encourages us to boldly go… and to look beyond to a bright and beautiful tomorrow. Happy fifty years, Star Trek. Here’s to fifty more.