It has been now almost 50 years since Star Trek first premiered on NBC TV in September of 1966. See my history of Star Trek here. After several television series and movies we are now treated to the 13th feature film Star Trek Beyond. While this is not the best of the three movies in the recent reboot since 2009, it has several improvements over the previous two that recommend it.
It starts with a blue dot moving through space — that turns out to be a lens flare. This is a J.J. Abram‘ signature, though in this film he was Producer. It was Directed by Justin Lin of Fast & Furious fame. Beyond’s cinematographer Stephen F. Windon worked with Lin on three of the Fast and Furious movies. After a brief action scene, the camera lovingly pans across the USS Enterprise in space dock. We’ve seen this before, almost interminably long in the original Star Trek: The Motion Picture, but it signals that this is going to be a good time.
The story was co-written by Simon Pegg (Scotty). For the most part the plot was linear and straight forward, though there was an unmistakable Kobiashi Maru feel to it. At times the plot contained overly complex solution scenarios arrived at within movements — can you say miracle worker — but he gave himself lots of funny lines that he dished out quickly with an extra dollop of thick Scottish accent. There were other scenes that involved curiously quick collaborative problem solving as if everyone was singing from the same song sheet.
While Zackary Quinto is the most physically similar to his corresponding actor in the in the original crew I have not felt that he has recreated the role in an authentic way. It doesn’t help that his wig bangs are inconsistent, his sideburns are too short, his eyebrows too flat and his ears too laid back. And that he lifts the wrong eyebrow, his left, or presents the Vulcan salute with his left hand (demonstrated in picture at right). Where Leonard Nimoy as Spock was erudite and non-insultingly condescending, Quinto as Spock has seemed haughty and annoyed. But for the first time in the reboot series in this movie, I felt he was engaging with the other characters in an organic way. In scenes with Dr. McCoy there is real chemistry going on, and even some long missed humor.
There is a curious reveal about the character Sulu which is incongruously art-imitates-life. Neither John Cho who plays the character nor George Takei who originated the role agree with it. I’ll let you make your own decision.
Some of the action and chase scenes within the ship were confusing and difficult to follow. That may have been because these were three dimensional whereas Fast & Furious chase scenes are on a two dimensional plane. Or maybe it was the 3D IMAX screening which can be over powering at times.
There is a touching homage to Leonard Nimoy, or Spock Prime from the previous two films who died in February of 2015. The movie was dedicated to Anton Yelchin who played Chekov and died months before the film was released.
There is a passing though meaningful reference to the original crew. This is the first time in the reboot that we’ve seen an effective triangular relationship between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy (the latter of which steals every scene he’s in). This was one of the most successful elements of the original Star Trek, and one of the things that differentiated it from the popular Star Wars series which leveraged different kinds of relationships. In this movie a plot device separates the bridge crew who pair off in various adventures. For the first time, you feel like it’s a family, not just the Kirk-Spock-McCoy show.
A new female character Jaylah (can you say Jenifer Lawrence) is introduced with lots of action. She is fierce and courageous and has tactical and martial arts skills. She also carries a staff. Can you say Rey from Star Wars: The Force Awakens?
We see some really cool new warp factor effects. Though the years we’ve seen many different ones, this looks the most “warpish.”
There are lots of toys and remarkable CGI at the Starbase Yorktown, a Christmas tree ornament of a space station. It’s like the Soarin’ ride at Disneyland where you fly over and through interesting scenery. Later in the movie, you get to see Kirk on a motorcycle again.
At times the visuals can overpower the character development. Nevertheless the fight scenes used space and camera shots in innovative ways. If you compare this movie to Star Trek: First Contact, one of the Next Generation films, you see a world of difference in the fight direction. The earlier movie was directed by Jonathan Frakes, Commander Riker in the show. Even though it was the most financially successful worldwide for the initial 10 movies (with the highest Rotten Tomato score), the fight scenes were crude and unimaginative by comparison to the latest film.
The enemy ships were a swarm, something not typically seen in sci-fi films. Quite compelling.
Credits at the end were as frenetic as the action scenes, bouncing between planets and space objects.
This just in: the fourth movie in the reboot has gotten a green light. While the stars originally committed to 3 movies, renegotiations will return some if not all of them for another film. Stay tuned to see Captain Kirk’s father George Kirk (Chris Hemsworth) again. One hopes for something more next time.
You’ll like it if: you enjoy things that go boom and lots of chase/fight scenes with cool technology and fast camera cuts.
You won’t like it if: you appreciate Star Trek’s original intellectual stimulation, classic sci-fi themes and meaningful stories.
Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood Trek junkie