Fast and Furious, the USS Enterprises flashes past on the screen and crashes into a bleak looking planet. Quite apropos considering the man at the film’s helm, Justin Lin, directed several of the Fast and Furious movies. Much of Star Trek Beyond embraces his style: the creative physics, intense action sequences and a flair for character interaction.
Star Trek Beyond begins with USS Enterprise on its five-year mission to “explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, and to boldly go where no man has gone before.” Rather like coming home, it was quite relaxing. Following a particularly unsuccessful attempt to connect with a new civilization, the Enterprise is called in. A stranded, young, alien female claims her ship has crashed on a planet near a treacherous nebula. Apparently only the Enterprise crew is capable of navigating to where the ship crashed. Isn’t that always the case?
Naturally the task is a trap. The villain is a particularly nasty one named Krall (Idris Elba) who plans to conquer the universe and destroy the federation in the process. It seems possible we’ve seen this plot before, in dozens of TV episodes and several movies. Unfortunately, except for some brilliant CGI, the film plays more like an extended TV show than a feature film.
The plot, including the rather mundane dilemma in which Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock (Zachary Quinto) both find themselves, could easily fit into a single television episode. Kirk is bored. His five-year mission, oddly, has apparently taken its toll. Three years seeing strange new worlds has tired him, James T. Kirk? Anyone watch the original series?
Spock, hearing of Ambassador Spock’s (Leonard Nimoy) death, thinks maybe he should pick up the cause. The intertwined plots seem forced, artificial, predictable and hardly necessary. The little side-plot, Spock helping to repopulate the Vulcan species, was far more fun and could have led to some amazing jokes. Hundreds of baby Spocks clinging to their dad would be hilarious.
What makes Star Trek Beyond work is the reassembled cast. Just like the original TV cast from the 60s, they seemed to have grown into the roles. Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Zoe Saldana and Anton Yelchin are all back to reprise their characters and connect us to the past, but introduce us to the future. In this third iteration, the cast feel even more natural.
Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), the newly added character, and an amazing one, only adds to the already superlative cast. Boutella is fresh, fun and quite original.
Seriously disappointing was the presentation of the villain, Krall (Idris Elba). The extremely artificial headpiece, worn by Elba, distracted mightily from his otherwise excellent performance. Many of the other “aliens” also suffered the same problem. They look too perfect, too molded or painted.
The screenplay written by Simon Pegg and Doug Jung, does a pretty good job bringing the expected character interactions, but they are too few and far between. The notable exception is some witty interplay between Spock and Bones, while lost in the wilderness. The humor gets spicy and Spock manages to use a “colorful metaphor,” to the delight of the audience.
Too often, the pace is in Beyond is frenetic and the action hard to follow. Also many of the little intimate moments between the original crew are missing. It wasn’t the action or special effects that made Star Trek TV series popular fifty years ago, it was the characters.
The CGI and animation are brilliant, but, as too often in modern film, too pervasive and entirely too hard to follow. Plan to see the film several times if you wish to catch all the nuance. It is a beautiful film though.
If you are truly a Star Trek fan, you will probably love the film and it is a must see. If not, it’s a pretty good popcorn film, but not so important to see the first week. Star Trek Beyond doesn’t have the sincerity that the most of the other “Kirk/Spock” films possess, but it has all the fun. Check out Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home or The Wrath of Khan for that.
RELATED: Listen to Geek Confidential’s Star Trek Beyond podcast!