Though many die hard fans have been celebrating since January, Star Trek Beyond is the official marker for the ever present franchise to ring in its 50th anniversary. Of course that can always amplify the pressure to bring the fireworks for what is the 13th Star Trek feature, but arguably stakes were higher when J. J. Abrams rebooted the series back in 2009. Due to Into Darknesses‘ reputation seemingly dropping year on year, they really needed Beyond to get back on trek, and for me it did just that.
Sailing through familiar waters, we join this film as the USS Enterprise is three years into its expedition through uncharted space. Captain James T. Kirk has grown apathetic of their voyage and become disillusioned with their mission, so much so that he is preparing for life as Vice-Admiral of Starfleet and a more grounded future. The crew’s last run out involves an apparently simple rescue mission into uncharted space that, for the sake of a feature film, goes incredibly awry, leaving the crew facing impossible odds for survival.
In the never ending battle between Trek and Wars, one unarguable fact that Beyond showcases so well is how Trek has always encapsulated how complex, beautiful and down right scary space actually is. Though Beyond spends much of its time on planet, the moments they spend in space still flaunt what Trek stands for, and that is the exploration of the unknown. Even during peaceful moments you are always aware that there are hundreds of people working tirelessly just to keep them flying. At the first sight of trouble you feel the impending dread instantly, that their demise is upon them and the only thing that stands in the way is a few feet of metal and glass. Yet they risk it all for the benefit of knowledge. Watching Kirk and his crew perform admirably in the face of that danger is great to watch as they work together so fluidly. The fact that the cast themselves have grown so close over the 3 films comes through in their characters and you really get a sense of that in Beyond.
The crew all have their individual moments to shine as usual but director Justin Lin does well to keep pushing the characters to new places. Stand outs for me included Chris Pine’s Kirk (finally) becoming a little more refined and ‘by the book’ compared to his earlier days, as well as Spock dealing with an existential crisis in the wake of the death of Nimoy’s Ambassador Spock, dealt with delicately and justly. There’s a new character in Jaylah (Sofia Boutella) who is a welcoming addition to the crew, and the moment in which Takei frowned upon that shows this Sulu being gay, which for me was played very well. John Cho has said that he hopes Takei will be more accepting once he sees the film, and I hope so too.
The film is a success simply because it returns fans to a Trek they are comfortable with. Beyond feels like an expedition episode with a modern day budget and with that you get everything you yearn for in a Star Trek film. Unfortunately Krall, the villain of the piece played by Idris Elba, was an interesting character but that only becomes apparent late into the movie. Until then he appears to be another faceless villain who’s purpose is to stand there while the plot darts around them. I say darts because some of the action sequences were quick and all over the place. It was difficult to understand what exactly was going in some action scenes, and that came at a detriment to what should be some of the best parts of the films. Fortunately the enjoyment level in the character driven scenes meant the film avoided sabotage.
Though there’s a lot going on in the film there appears to be a continuous message of solidarity and teamwork that runs through its core. That is a mantra clearly at work within the cast, the Enterprise crew and one that encapsulates the utopian-like future envisaged by Gene Roddenberry. Though unforeseen, that message also works beautifully to honour the passing of two members of the Star Trek family who will remain loved by fans for many years. Star Trek Beyond is dedicated to the memories of Leonard Nimoy and Anton Yelchin, and I hope they would be proud of its achievement. It’s a film that perfectly celebrates the franchise on its 50th year and sums up everything it stands for. Both Nimoy and Yelchin have played their part in that legacy and nobody shall forget that, but by no means is this the final frontier of it all.