Star Trek Beyond is the third film in the reboot series that take place in an alternate timeline of Kirk and crews early years (known as the Kelvin timeline). It’s a solid Star Trek film and an exciting action film that for many reason, some of which make sense and some that do not, failed to live up to Paramount’s lofty performance expectations. For this lifelong Star Trek fan, Beyond is a good film that captures the Trek spirit and is perhaps the best display of character interaction that we’ve seen from the crew in this timeline. But, despite a likeable script with good doses of humor from Simon Pegg (Scotty) and Doug Jung, there is a feeling that we’ve seen most of the ideas on display here before.
The Production: 4/5
“It isn’t uncommon, you know? It’s easy to get lost. In the vastness of space, there’s only yourself, your ship, your crew.”
The routine and isolating nature of deep space exploration have begun to weigh on Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) and he finds himself at a crossroads, wondering if he’s doing the right thing. He and his crew are three years into their five year mission, and have a chance for some brief respite on the Yorktown, the United Federation of Planet’s most sophisticated and impressive Starbase (a neutral station where many different species can engage with the Federation and its mission of peace). However, when the survivor of an attack from the other side of an uncharted nebula require the skills and talents of Kirk and his crew, they are dispatched to investigate. But they are attacked by a superior force upon their arrival which destroys the Enterprise and captures almost the entire crew as they escape in pods. Only a few members of the senior staff remain free on the nearby planet surface and they must work together to free their shipmates and put an end to the architect of their deadly predicament, Krall (Idris Elba).
Star Trek Beyond achieves a tone and delivers a storyline most aligned with Trek creator Rodenberry’s Original Series. A menacing villain, the crew out of their elements, and a ticking clock to save the day are all core, but something about Beyond managed to rekindle the spirit of The Original Series in a way that the two previous, JJ Abrams directed installments had not. That isn’t to say the two previous films didn’t strongly echo The Original Series. Through exemplary casting and a general dashing sense of derring-do tales, Star Trek and its sequel Star Trek Into Darkness were high adventure and earnest attempts to bring Star Trek out of mothballs on the big screen and create a thriving, mega budget franchise for Paramount. But Beyond clearly sought to emphasize and echo the classic series in a more pronounced way.
Where Star Trek Beyond succeeds unequivocally is in the many small character moments. The screenplay by Simon Pegg and Doug Jung gives breathing room to quiet moments of reflection and dialogue that matter considerably to well-versed Trek fans. They also provide the bedrock of humanity that matters when you then need to imperil your heroes. A shame then that these moments aren’t a part of a stronger overall plotline. Krall’s villainous pursuit against all that the Federation stands for provides ample reason for Kirk, who is having a crisis of purpose, to evaluate not only the importance of his work with the Federation among the stars, but of his unique purpose among there; why he is out there and the difference that he, and his crew in particular have, can and will make. That resonates.
Director Justin Lin handles the film’s demands very capably, taking over from J.J. Abrams who directed the two prior films. Lin’s directorial style is defined largely by flourishes in camera movements and he has a solid command of scene construction and flow, but it is his bias toward a fluid use of the camera that are best found in shots of the Enterprise that are signature. Some found these flourishes distracting, but that’s quite unfair. Key moments from earlier Star Trek films have given special reverence to the Enterprise, from the lengthy and majestic shots of the ship in The Motion Picture to the ‘stealing the enterprise’ sequence from The Search for Spock. And Lin’s approach, aided with the freedom of today’s visual effects, seems to me to be a continuation of that love and reverence of the iconic ship.
Lin’s fluidity of camera movements, at times wonderfully (to me) disorientating as it floats and flies by and through the structures of the magnificent ship is a special kind of reverence to the largest member of the crew – and throughout the wonderfully staged destruction of the USS Enterprise (again), Lin treats one of cinema’s most recognizable ships (designs) with respect as she’s torn apart piece by piece. In fact, aside from the understandable grumble that Kirk’s ships is once again destroyed, this sequence at the beginning of Star Trek Beyond is one of the best – in terms of excitement and thrill – of the three reboot films. And here the destruction isn’t for the sake of spectacle for a finale. It’s a necessary move to separate and strand the crew, forcing them to fight to come back together, stronger, on the planet surface against a fortified enemy and great internal and external uncertainty. It is perhaps the most necessary destruction of the Enterprise that we’ve seen (barring the close of Star Trek III I’d say).
The entire cast is in fine form, with each of them, Karl Urban’s Bones and Chris Pine’s Kirk in particular, showing themselves to be the most comfortable so far in the legendary roles. Anton Yelchin, who would sadly pass away before the film premiered, is bittersweet to watch as Chekov, as he demonstrates his ease at being in tune with the character he very much made his own. The two major new characters in Beyond, Idris Elba’s Krall and Sofia Boutella’s Jaylah, are fine additions, with Boutella’s Jaylah feeling the most fresh and energetic new face of the reboot series. Elba is commanding as Krall despite being underwritten in places and having a rationale that, when revealed, isn’t entirely convincing. Still, Elba imposes behind the layers of make-up effects (as does Boutella) making a solid, if not great, antagonist.
Right now, the reboot series is in a precarious place. Having alienated a relatively small quotient of Trek fans at the onset of a ‘reboot’, it managed to find new audiences and became a sizeable franchise hit. With the very expensive follow-up, Into Darkness, while still being a huge global box office success, it proved a misstep in retreading the Wrath of Khan idea and struggled to find the right tone for the Trek universe. The third film, perhaps under the weight of less than stellar reception to Into Darkness, had some bad press with the shifting writers and directors, and then severely under-marketed the film (and when a teaser did come, disappointed fans and even the film’s writer by selling the wrong tone of the film). These new missteps, along with Paramount failing to properly recognize and celebrate the 50th anniversary of Star Trek, all conspired against the film. Unfair, sure, but that’s show business. So now we wonder where Trek on the big screen can go from here – if at all. I firmly believe we’ll see more, but the challenge of cracking the right story that bridges the needs of a Trek film with the desire to broaden (or keep that broadened) audience will be a heavy and tough burden.
3D Rating: NA
Video-wise, Star Trek Beyond is incredibly strong. Deep blacks of night and space offer excellent contrasting details of the Enterprise. Set and costume details are very strong, with the bright colors of uniforms, the bright greens of planet vegetation (and the differing color rock formations and rocky surfaces) proving to be very, very good. Skin tones are natural and while the sequence on the crashed saucer section of the Enterprise appears quite dark, it does resemble how the sequence looked when I saw it in the theater and so, given the unstable and low-lit nature of the scene, appears accurate of intent.
Paramount supplies the latest Star Trek feature with a Dolby Atmos track (which defaults as 7.1 Dolby TrueHD for those not equipped with Atmos). It’s good. As a rambunctious action film with a number of well-staged action sequences it is perhaps unsurprising that the audio would deliver with active surround effects, deeply felt bass and crisp front and center audio. The Enterprise destruction sequence is fully immersive, as is the finale which, in its first phase, is dominated with music that works surprisingly well (I won’t spoil what or how) and fills the speakers entirely.
Special Features: 3.5/5
A decent collection of special features accompanies Star Trek Beyond on Blu-ray, but those available on the disc are incomplete. A commentary track is available on the iTunes version, and several retailer exclusives mean that Paramount has not learned from the debacle of special features spread across multiple retailer exclusive releases for Star Trek Into Darkness. What will come standard on the disc is still quite good, with the close look at the Yorktown and the tribute to late Leonard Nimoy and Anton Yelchin standing out to me.
Deleted Scenes – Go Beyond the final cut of the movie with scenes you didn’t see in theaters.
Beyond the Darkness – Meet visionary producer J.J. Abrams, director Justin Lin and co-writers Simon Pegg and Doug Jung as they discuss the inspiration for the Star Trek Beyond storyline and how it came to life.
Enterprise Takedown – Experience edge-of-your-seat action and see how a shocking attack destroys the USS Enterprise.
Divided and Conquered – Learn how filmmakers pushed the boundaries in Star Trek Beyond by forcing the Enterprise crew into their most challenging situations yet.
A Warped Sense of Revenge – Meet Star Trek‘s newest villain, Krall, as actor Idris Elba reveals the backstory behind his character’s terrifying ambitions.
Trekking in the Desert – Go on set to Dubai and discover how its futuristic architecture became the foundation for the most innovative Starbase yet.
Exploring Strange New Worlds – Tour the incredible production sets of Star Trek Beyond with director Justin Lin.
New Life, New Civilizations – See how special effects designers met the challenge to create an unprecedented 50 new alien species for the film to celebrate Star Trek‘s 50th Anniversary.
To Live Long and Prosper – Journey through the past 50 years of Star Trek with J.J. Abrams and the cast as they reflect on the evolution of this iconic sci-fi series.
For Leonard and Anton – Watch a touching tribute to the legendary Leonard Nimoy and beloved crew member Anton Yelchin.
Gag Reel – Join in on the fun with this hilarious gag reel of on-set bloopers.
Feature film in standard definition
Digital (UV and iTunes) version of the film.
Star Trek Beyond is perhaps the most reminiscent of The Original Series for the three reboot films. While I think it is a step behind 2009’s Star Trek – as that film had a much tougher mountain to climb and was able to do so with excellence and high adventure – Beyond is more comfortable and confident of its Star Trek roots than Into Darkness, which felt at odds with itself (though still a good action picture).
As entertaining as Star Trek Beyond is, I don’t know that it will be remembered as one of the best Star Trek films. It hits the right tone, has impressive action beats, and contains plenty of references that those of us steeped in the language of Rodenberry’s universe will enjoy and, at times, smile broadly when catching. And it even has a story with room for character contemplation of the larger meaning of things – but it doesn’t have that final, elusive element that made the very best Star Trek films resonate in the broader consciousness. And I can’t for sure say what that final ingredient is – it’s just something that is perhaps created by a film when all the other elements come together in a certain, special way. Star Trek Beyond is lovingly produced and expertly made – and yes, it’s both a good Star Trek film and a good action film, but it isn’t one of the greats.