In the third Star Trek film to feature the original characters embodied by an attractive young cast, the crew of the USS Enterprise is getting restless. Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock (Zachary Quinto) are trying to find the right moment to tell one another it’s time to move on. Life aboard a starship is becoming too familiar…until the day a lizard-like villain named Krall (Idris Elba) cuts the ship in half and relentlessly terrorizes the crew.
If J.J. Abrams’ 2009 Star Trek was a sterling depiction of the crew’s first adventure and Star Trek: Into Darkness was an unofficial but blatant remake of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, the latest also follows suit. Much of Star Trek Beyond is a remake of Star Trek III: The Search For Spock, as, once again, the Enterprise crashes, the crew is on foot through mountainous terrains and the villain is played by a famous actor covered in heavy layers of latex. The fourth film planned is reportedly about time travel. Great. I guess that means Pine will direct the fifth entry and it will portray the crew’s search for God. What could possibly go wrong?
Thankfully, Elba isn’t covered by what looks like a giant Halloween mask for the entire running time. His character is belatedly fleshed out late in the film but these scenes are worthwhile. Only an actor of Elba’s presence and ability could make Krall as compelling as he is.
An odd quality about the first act is how slow it is. There’s a montage showing us how old hat things are becoming for Kirk as Captain of his ship. There’s also a lovely, extended sequence showing us “Yorktown,” a gravity-defying outer space station that resembles the title world of Neill Blomkamp’s Elysium. By taking its time to show us how magnificent this structure is, the film reminded me of the long, much-derided but still gorgeous docking sequence from Star Trek: The Motion Picture. The pacing here is old school, which is just right for me but may make summer movie thrill seekers antsy.
Those waiting for the big action sequences won’t be disappointed, as two scenes in particular are sensational. One is set on a mountain top, as a starship makes a literally terrifying plunge into uncertainty. The other is set to “Sabotage” by the Beastie Boys, and features some of the most awesome explosions of the season. The make-up, visual effects and sound editing are exemplary and Oscar-worthy.
Of much greater importance is how visibly comfortable the cast is with one another and how warmly the characters are played by the wonderful cast.
I’d love to report that the late Anton Yelchin’s final turn as Pavel Chekov is outstanding but the actor isn’t asked to do anything new. Yelchin’s best film work remains his soulful, highly improvised turn in the 2011 romantic drama, Like Crazy. As for the controversial decision to make Sulu (John Cho) gay, its handled in an unsatisfying, ultimately timid manner.
I won’t give it away but there’s a nice moment late in the film where a single photo from Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country is used. That Trek film is still the best in the entire franchise and using it as a reference point here is a wise, affectionate nod to series creator Gene Roddenberry and his show’s legacy.
The title means little (Beyond what, exactly?), unless it’s a nod to the characters considering a career outside of the Starfleet. The movie isn’t beyond or above its origins but entirely content to embrace its classic Trek-kiness. This is why the film will connect best with its fan base but may be too old hat for some. I want the next Trek to really break new ground. Perhaps Kirk and his crew should abduct some humpback whales from the 1980’s?