Released just in time for the 50th anniversary of Gene Roddenberry’s iconic television series, Star Trek Beyond (2016) is a fantastic example of how a film can pay homage to its predecessor’s fun and familiar formula, while still delivering newcomers a blockbuster that beats their boredom blues. Staying true to its source material while catering to a 21st century audience, the third instalment in the rebooted universe soars triumphantly with stunning visuals, ironically ‘down to earth’ characters and a strong sense of humour and heart. Despite a simpler, character driven narrative that lowers the stakes somewhat, the tension has never been higher and the universe never so much fun to explore.
The film picks up three years into the USS Enterprise’s five year voyage to travel to strange new worlds, seek out new civilisations and boldly go where no one has gone before. However what was once an exciting escapade has grown to become ‘episodic’, with the crew’s courageous captain beginning to wonder about his next step and second-in-charge spaceman Spock (Zachary Quinto) set to call it quits to continue the legacy left to him by his dearly departed older self. When an alien appears at the nearby Federation base seeking help though, the team answer the call, speeding through the nearby nebula and straight into a deadly ambush awaiting them. As an unknown enemy engages the beloved starship, the tables turn and despite the USS Enterprise’s most valiant efforts, the command is given to abandon ship. With majority of his crew now held hostage by the villainous Krall (Idris Elba), Kirk (Chris Pine) and his rag-tag team must join with spunky newcomer Jaylah (Sofia Boutella) to rescue what’s theirs and stop havoc being wrought on the final frontier.
Star Trek Beyond is perhaps not as heavy or as heartfelt as the first two instalments in the rebooted universe, but the smart and stylish sequel certainly knows how to set the phasers to stun. Action auteur Justin Lin carries the legacy of his three Fast & Furious (2009) films with him, giving viewers the best bang for their buck as a swarm of ships engulf everything in their path and a long-lost relic surfs in on the sweet sounds of The Beastie Boy’s song ‘Sabotage’. Breathtaking doesn’t even begin to cover such seamless sequences. Trust me when I say it’s incredible what a good dose of bass and a long-awaited comeuppance can elicit in an audience. Adding to the appeal, we finally say goodbye to the days of JJ Abrams laughable lens flares, with a chaotic control to Lin’s camera movements. We flip, roll, rotate and fly from the comfort of our seats, totally engrossed in the extensive universe he builds before us.
What carries the film from one sci fi spectacle to the next is a wonderfully witty and innately human screenplay, crafted by dynamic duo Simon Pegg and Doug Jung. They balance the action and aesthetics to keep us thoroughly engaged throughout. If there is one element the boys could have put more emphasis on however, it is the theme of Kirk feeling lost in space. Although touched upon at the beginning, there are few stepping stones to his journey until the final third act and even then the dénouement feels a little cheap. Although there is no denying the character’s growth from the first film’s hot-headed Starfleet recruit to this one’s more mature and responsible captain, his arc is central to the film and would have benefited from a bit bigger progression. We get glimpses of it as he mirrors his father’s actions, prepared to do whatever he can for his crew, but sadly these are faint and fleeting.
A starship would be nothing without its crew however and Star Trek Beyond utilises its charismatic ensemble with aplomb. The group once again do their original series counterparts proud, paired off in odd groupings for majority of the film to challenge the dynamics we are accustomed to. Uhura and Sulu work together to escape Krall’s prison, Chekov assists Kirk, while Scotty teams up with exciting new addition Jaylah, to create one of the most genuine friendships of the franchise. Spock and Bones partnership steals the movie though, as the logical Vulcan presses the doctor’s buttons, elicits snappy quips and unleashes his emotional side. It is beautiful to note that the film does acknowledge those actors who were lost during production too, with a touching tribute to them in the final credits. Anton Yelchin will be sorely missed, with a tragic beauty hanging over the movie in the wake of the 27-year-old's untimely passing. It’s bittersweet to see him deliver us one more corny but charming Chekov performance. He is not the only one to leave a void either, with the loss of Leonard Nimoy hovering in the shadows to play a pivotal part in young Spock’s emotional journey.
What resonates most about Star Trek Beyond is the effortless way it sweeps you up in its simple yet stunning story. Challenging the legacy tacked onto its title, it proves franchise films can stand on their own feet, while retaining the essence of its ancestors. There is no bigger compliment to afford it than to say it finally stops trying so hard. More movies should take heed. From here it will be interesting to see how the recently announced fourth film will play out though, delving deeper into Kirk’s relationship with his father and the legacy he left him. The only question that remains to be seen is just how they will resurrect the very dead Captain of the USS Kelvin. No matter what though, we’ll be ready to beam aboard.
Rating: 4 Starships out of 5
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