Join me as I find out what colour shirt Star Trek Beyond is wearing as it beams down to Earth to do battle with my review!
This year is a very important one for Trekkies like myself as it marks fifty years since Kirk, Spock, McCoy and the crew of the Enterprise originally took to the small screen. This film has been marketed as a celebration of those five decades ever since it was first announced. I’m glad to say that, despite all the ups and downs that the production has suffered whilst holding doggedly onto its set release date, this is indeed the best Star Trek movie since Picard and his shipmates took on the Borg in First Contact back in 1996!
The recent reboot/alternate timeline of Star Trek has already upheld one tradition of Trek movies, which is the legendary rule of “Even numbered movies rule whilst odd numbered ones suck!”. Star Trek in 2009 (which was technically Star Trek 10) was a joyful romp that injected new life into the franchise and introduced it to many people who weren’t Trekkies. Star Trek Into Darkness was a confused mess of a movie that you can hear more of my general anger towards if you are a regular listener to the Minotaur’s Head Podcast (https://hearthis.at/hubrismosaic/?l=en). Love them or hate them though the one thing that both movies failed to do was to get the Enterprise and her crew out to where they belong: exploring the final frontier. Finally Star Trek Beyond shows us Kirk and Co. doing what they do best and actually exploring strange new worlds, seeking out new civilisations and boldly going where no one has gone before!
The film’s main strength is the cast who have always shone through as the re-embodiments of the original crew. This time though the film recognises that they are meant to work together as a cohesive force, not just a bunch of extraordinary individuals. Each and every one of the characters is given their time to shine and show what Star Fleet officers are really made of. Finally we are given the chance to see why Kirk, Spock, McCoy and the rest of their shipmates are held up as legends in their own time. Chris Pine anchors the story as a Kirk that he hasn’t really had the chance to show yet. He has been seasoned by his time in command and whilst he still has the wild charm that makes him such an unpredictable character he finally has the maturity to not always jump in face first and sometimes consider his options. That being said, when he jumps he does it wholeheartedly! Zachery Quinto as Spock has really begun to make the character his own and is given some seriously meaty scenes to chew on this time around. His version of the galaxy’s most famous Vulcan is a much more vulnerable one than we have seen before, but he retains the stoicism of his race impressively at the same time. The person who stole the whole show for me though was Karl Urban, as Dr Leonard ‘Bones’ McCoy, who has finally been given something to do with his character other than be grumpy. Now he is grumpy, heartfelt, daring, hilarious and generally brilliant. He has most of the best comedy moments in the film as well as a large chunk of the most emotional as well and I can’t wait to see him back on the big screen as Bones. Sofia Boutellah also shines as the alien scavenger with a heart of gold, Jaylah, managing to make her mark amongst the more established characters with panache. The rest of the cast are all on fantastic form and it is nice to see all of them get an arc to play with. Obviously with a main cast this big, and new characters to service as well some of them get less time on screen than others, but none of them feel sidelined.
The script, which is sharply written by Simon Pegg and Doug Jung, plays on each character’s strengths and really makes you feel that these people have been stuck on a ship for nearly two years in the far reaches of deep space with no one to rely on but each other. The trust, camaraderie and little niggles you’d expect for a group who have been stuck together in relative isolation for a long period of time are all there and it’s great fun to be a part of. The love that the authors clearly have for Star Trek, its history and what it means comes through strongly as this is also the first of the new films that seems to understand what Star Fleet and the Federation are all about. The theme of unity among people, regardless of who they are or where they come from, shines through in almost every scene. This is the Federation as Gene Rodenberry first imagined it, and it’s both touching and more important than ever to see it back on the big screen in this time of world-wide political and national tensions. Star Trek is about hope, not space battles. Don’t worry though, this film brings both to the audience in spades! Being such an important year for Star Trek this film is filled to the brim with references, however, they have been weaved into the script and the story as a whole very nicely so none of them leap out and pull you out of the flow of the film too much. A hardcore Trekkie like myself though will come out feeling as though justice has been done to the previous five decades of Trek.
The visual spectacle that JJ Abrams brought to the first two instalments of this version of the franchise is still very much alive in Justin Lin’s direction. The Fast and Furious Alum has clearly done his homework, as I never found myself wondering who the new guy behind the camera was. The style and pizzazz that we’ve come to expect from Star Trek is still there, but is now underscored by Lin’s trademark kineticism, which takes the action scenes and turns them up to eleven. Luckily though he’s also very good at keeping your eyes on the prize, so I never found myself wondering where I was in the more frantic moments of the film. It turns out that Lin has also got a great eye for the more quiet and emotional moments of the movie, of which there are many. He isn’t afraid to let a scene play out naturally without trying to spice it up with bold camera work. He allows the actors to do what they to best, and some of the most enjoyable moments in the film are when one or two of the characters are just interacting with one another. The contrast between these scenes and those where the movie is doing its solid best to explode off the screen lends both sides even more impact and made me excited to sit back and drink both sides of the film in. When the action does hit though I found my eyes being pounded by some of the most sublime and impressive CGI I have seen for a very long time. Everything has weight and realism to it, so the explosions feel real and the ships look like you could walk out of the cinema and see one flying above you. This really enhances the more perilous sections of the film as you are completely immersed in the world without a seam or green-screen line to interrupt the illusion.
As with most movies this one does have a few weaknesses as well. I felt that it was a little overlong and that it could probably do with losing about five to ten minutes to just tighten up the mildly sagging midway point. In contrast though, the villain (I won’t give away who plays them as it’s sort of a spoiler) is by far more interesting than the ones this rebooted franchise has given us up to this point they are still lacking in quite enough screen time to really cement their menace. I also found that some of the tech on show was a little too high tech for that era of the Federation, but I’m pretty sure that’s more of a nerd-problem than anything else. All of these things though are minor issues in an otherwise brilliant movie.
So to sum up; we have Star Trek back on the big screen. We have the whole history of Star Trek being given the respect it deserves. We have the crew being given a lot of fun character arcs to play with and perils to overcome by their unity as a big space-family. We have space battles, action scenes and explosions a-plenty. We have only a couple of tiny snags. We have a strong and important theme that runs through the film! Is this the birth of the thinking man’s blockbuster that doesn’t sacrifice story quality for loudness…? Fingers crossed!
Four Moons out of Five.