Star Trek Beyond finds itself in an unenviable position in the hotly-contested Summer blockbuster season. It’s not that the movie celebrates the 50th anniversary of the franchise – in of itself a significant milestone that matters very little to anyone outside of ardent fans and pop culture enthusiasts. It’s not just the skepticism surrounding the film since Fast and Furious director Justin Lin assumed the helm after some behind the scenes shuffling. It’s not even that there was a lot of mixed reactions regarding the last film, Into Darkness (I personally loved it).
Okay, maybe it has a little to do with the latter. The movie series reboot has been a financial success but remains divisive with long time fans. The plot twist in Into Darkness (spoiler alert: Cumberbatch is Khan) lead to criticisms of the franchise relying too much on well-worn Trek history when the purpose of the movies was to take Trek into new territory unburdened by the show’s past. Whatever the successes of the previous films, any new film would best be served by diving into Trek‘s core tenant: boldly going.
Thankfully, Star Trek Beyond follows through.
Beyond opens a few years into the Enterprise‘s 5-year mission. Kirk is unusually contemplative, considering the nature of their mission and crew while re-examining his own choices. From there the movie proceeds to give us a fresh take on a starbase, the fascinating Yorktown. This high concept take on Trek continues through with the technology that later cripples the Enterprise and some fun with physics at the climax.
In-between, the film explores the essence of the characters and what they mean to each other. Whereas the first film threw together our intrepid crew and the second solidified Kirk and Spock’s friendship, Beyond best explores the crew as a family, and how Kirk is relentless in his efforts to protect and reunite them during and in the aftermath of the destruction of the Enterprise.
The various subplots involving the separated crew work extremely well. Of particular note is the classic pairing of Spock and McCoy. Karl Urban and Zach Quinto have been particular favorites in the reboot, and their chemistry here only highlights the missed opportunities in previous films of giving them more screen time together.
As far as new characters, Jaylah is a refreshing take on a guest female character. She kicks plenty of ass and displays a deft blend of emotion and hard edge. Jaylah also features excellent makeup design and some solid humor.
Idris Elba feels a bit wasted in his role as Krall. Elba is a fantastic actor and some of that seeps through in Beyond. Krall’s motivations are interesting but vague, and the reveal comes late in the film and fails to have the same impact that a layered approach would have probably had. It’s a shame, as Krall had loads more potential that is left unexplored.
Beyond is filled with wonderful little bits celebrating Trek‘s history (some more obvious than others) and great action sequences. The character moments cement the film as a favorable addition to the movie canon. This will easily be one of the most enjoyable action films of the year, and kicks off the next 50 years in style.