50 Years Young: A review of Star Trek: Beyond

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UPDATED: Check the bottom for extra additions

Spoiler Warning 

Star Trek: Beyond is the third instalment of the rebooted Film series and the 13th overall, this time, directed by Justin Lin instead of JJ Abrams and written by Simon Pegg and Doug Jung.

50 Years, 13 Films, 5 series and one of the most beloved Universes ever depicted on TV and Film. Star Trek is the franchise that will never, and should never die. The possibilities of storytelling are endless and in the ever darkening, ever dangerous real world, the world of Star Trek is a beacon of hope, of ideals that we must look upon and strive for.

With the JJ Abrams reboot of 2009, the franchise got a boost of adrenaline, moving the Film series into a new direction as the timeline altered and the characters we once knew and loved started down a different path.

It was a wonderful, exciting but also very smart and knowing Film that was still at its heart, Star Trek, yet was very much something new and fresh.

The sequel, Into Darkness, was a disappointment. Too intent on reconstituting the past instead of forging its own creative path, it was marred down by all too familiar beats from its 2009 predecessor and took up many of the worst tendencies of the franchise.

After that, it was clear the series needed to course correct and become something that was far more like the Star Trek we know and love, instead of a fireworks show.

As much as Abrams gave the franchise its legs back, he was, by his own admission, not a huge Star Trek fan before the Film and so with Beyond it was down to the two writers and a new Director to bring things back to basics and make a Film for fans.

It is, then, a relief to report that Star Trek: Beyond is a far superior Film to Into Darkness, primarily because it’s a Film that feels like Star Trek.

With this Film there is a real sense of exploration, world building and great ideas of peace and unity.

We start the Film with Kirk growing tired of his five-year mission and considering leaving Space exploration and becoming an Admiral.

This is where the Film already starts to feel different to the last, replacing the bombastic, ridiculous opening of Into Darkness with a beginning that feels like the opening of countless Trek series episodes.

The crew then travel to Yorktown, a vast, multiple ringed space station with multiple gravities and surrounded by a giant glass sphere. As the ship arrives we get one of those beautiful Michael Giacchino’s scores as the camera explores the station, every building, every spinning ring.

It’s a moment that captures the wonder of Star Trek in a single scene and it comes in the middle of the Films superb first act.

This is where the Films themes are set up. Kirk is coming to terms with his own mortality, as is Spock who discovers that Admiral Spock has passed and grapples with the idea of leaving the Enterprise to help restore Vulcan.

There’s a real emotional pang to seeing the death of Prime Spock like this but it’s done with such poignancy and delicacy, that it marks the first tear of the Film.

Shortly after, the Film kicks up a gear, as a distress call sends the Enterprise into the orbit of a Planet where they are ambushed by a swarm of ships led by the villainous Krall.

This is without a doubt the best scene of Beyond and the year as we witness the Enterprise get torn apart and boarded. It may feel like the Enterprise is always getting destroyed in this reboot but this is the first time in the new franchise that it’s actually happened.

As a life-long Star Trek fan, I gotta say, it’s actually incredibly emotional. This is in no small part due to the swell of Giacchino’s score and the excellent performances of the cast, in particular, Kirk, who looks physically pained at the death of his ship.

I was right there with him.

This entire sequence from the first mobilisation of the ships to the moment the saucer of the Enterprise slams into the ground (ala Generations) is frankly stunning. The attack of the alien ships, introduction to villain Krall and subsequent scattering of the crew is one of my favourite scenes of the year and is the sort of goosebump-inducing excitement you want from a Film.

The trouble is once we got onto the planet I felt like nothing was able to top that. It was interesting to see the dynamics of the different crew members. Bones and Spock, Kirk and Chekhov, Scotty and new character Jaylah, yet the villain was underwhelming at this stage, his motivations basic and no longer terrifying.

There were some neat moments, decent jokes and nice homages but I was glad when they ended this middle portion and sent the Film back into space. Krall and his swarm head to Yorktown to destroy it and our heroes must use a crashed Federation ship to escape the planet and save the day.

Luckily, the Film reignites here and gets back on track.

There’s a superb action scene involving the detonation of the swarm to Sabotage by Beastie Boys and when it comes down to it, there’s surprisingly little collateral damage to Yorktown. Sensibly, the Film limits the destruction and puts the heroes and villains on foot for the final showdown.

I love the reveal that Krall’s villain was the captain of the crashed Federation vessel and had used the technology found on the planet to halt his ageing process. For a villain that had been as plain as they come it was pretty awesome to give him this interesting development, even putting him in a Star Trek uniform to give it meaning.

The final fight between Kirk and Krall is over a little too quickly and does stretch credibility in a way the Film hadn’t done so far, yet it just about saves itself with a final glimpse of the villain floating in space.

As a dramatic climax, the 3rd act doesn’t match the sheer bombast and emotion from the 1st, but it improves on the slow 2nd. To improve the Film I perhaps would’ve like to see the finale set entirely on the planet and flesh out the characters and villains to give it some more weight.

For a Film that for a while tries to be like an extended episode, it would be nice if they had stuck with it, yet I was much happier that they went back to Yorktown for the final as it gave us a more exhilarating finale.

As in the first act, once the battle is done, it’s the little moments that really stand out. For me, the biggest and most emotional reveal was when Spock opened a parting gift from Prime Spock, a photograph of the original crew from the Prime timeline.

Something about this minor touch really hit home for me and it was such a strange joy to see these people on screen again, even in a way like this. As an homage to the 50th anniversary of this great franchise, it was spot on and came in a Film that didn’t try too hard to make lots of callbacks.

In terms of the other elements in the rest of the Film, the performances were all solid. Most of the main cast got something to do, the writers giving an equal amount to each key person. Sadly, of the bunch, Chekov got least of all to do, alongside Sulu, and it was often a terrible pang of sadness to see him on screen.

The music was, of course, wonderful and the CGI was the best it’s ever been. As for the new director, Justin Lin performed admirably and though he did the job well, I would like to see a different style for the next Film just to keep things fresh. We saw what happened with JJ and the last Film.

Overall, I would say its a success. Just as good as Star Trek (2009) and miles better than Into Darkness, it manages to be a solid if lacking in the middle instalment of this epic franchise.

The scenes that hark back to old Trek are the best, from the crew pondering their time in Space, to the callbacks to the legacy of the franchise, it was wonderful to see these people together, even if it could’ve been a weightier Film.

All things considered, the first act included one of the most stunningly realised sequences on screen this year and is definitely one of the best of the series. Frankly, as the 13th Film in a 50-year-old franchise, it’s still wonderful that it can evoke these sort of emotions.

Here’s to another 50 years.

Rating: B+

Additional:

.Seeing the crew pilot another ship as they did in the other 3rd Star Trek Film when the original crew piloted the Klingon vessel. Yet here we got the Enterprise-A at the end in one of the loveliest time-lapses of the year.

.It’s a terrible shame that Chekhov got the least to do, comparatively, as the death of Anton Yelchin was such a shock. However, he was as excellent in the role as he’s always been and in many ways, it was a more accurate and improved portrayal from the Original Films.

.Jaylah was decent, yet she got little to do once they left the planet and as with Krall, it was kind of a waste of a good actor.

Update: I just saw it for a second time and I loved it even more. The second act was far more engaging and exciting this time and I wasn’t bored with it.

The Spock/Bones sit down scene was very touching and Uhuru was super kick-ass. I loved the balance of intelligence on display as each character got a turn to lead the way or do something smart.

I also saw a number of nicer touches that gave better depth to characters and Jaylah was even better. I loved the moment where she was relieved once they left the planet, it was a great arc for her.

The 3rd act was also even better, the Sabotage sequence giving me goosebumps and the depth given to Krall even more nuanced.

Now the Film has jumped up a grade and moved further up my top 10 list of the year. Loved it.

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