Director: Justin Lin
Starring: John Cho, Simon Pegg, Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, Anton Yelchin, Idris Elba, Sofia Boutella
Few apart from Gene Roddenberry himself might have dared to dream that we’d be talking about “Star Trek” in 2016, let alone that there would still be new stories being told. It’s been a long road, getting from there to here. In celebrating its 50th anniversary, the franchise has indeed reached ‘beyond’ all expectations. Five live-action television series (soon to be six!), an animated series and thirteen motion pictures later, “Star Trek” has made an immeasurable impact on a fan base that spans several generations.
Still, I feel uneasy. The new “Star Trek” films have been critically well-received, but haven’t done as thorough a job of pleasing the fans as they set out to do. It is true that these new films have relied heavily on action and the rehashing of old plots/dialogue, and that has become a problem for them. Many no longer recognize this as “Star Trek,” certainly not the “Trek” they’ve known all their lives. But, before we go about accusing these films of being creatively bankrupt, let’s stop for a moment and think back to the state that the franchise was in before J.J. Abrams came to the rescue!
In the third year of their planned five-year mission of space exploration (setting the film in the year 2263), the crew of the Enterprise has earned a brief respite at the Federation space station Yorktown. The vastness of space has caused some of the crew to lose sight of their sense of purpose. Captain Kirk (Chris Pine), whose birthday has him lamenting the fact that he has outlived his father, is considering accepting a promotion to Vice Admiral. He would have Spock (Zachary Quinto) replace him as Captain, but Kirk does not know of his first officer’s own personal dilemma. Spock’s relationship with Uhura (Zoe Saldana) has ended as the result of Spock feeling obligated to do his part in repopulating his species. On top of that, Spock has received word that the elder Spock from the Prime Universe has died. It ends up as a truly touching way for “Star Trek Beyond” to deal with the real-life passing of actor Leonard Nimoy in February 2015.
Neither Kirk nor Spock can seem to find the time to tell each other about their plans, and they don’t get the chance. An escape pod arrives at Yorktown, its lone occupant telling of how her ship and crew are in trouble and need assistance. If it smells like a setup, it is. Sure enough, upon reaching the planet Altamid, the Enterprise is quickly attacked and destroyed by a swarm of ships (and, yes, swarm is the accurate term since the word ‘bees’ is used to describe them). The crew abandons ship via the escape pods, but most are taken captive, including Uhura and Sulu (John Cho). The commander of the attacking force, an alien named Krall (Idris Elba), led the assault in the hope of locating an artifact which the Enterprise picked up on its most recent mission.
The few who weren’t picked up by their new enemies are now split up into groups of two. Dr. McCoy (Karl Urban) and a wounded Spock have a bonding session over Spock’s concerns about his future and that of the Vulcan race. Kirk and Chekov (Anton Yelchin) hunt aboard the Enterprise’s saucer section for the missing artifact (which is actually in the possession of another crew member) before killing the alien traitor in their midst.
Scotty (Simon Pegg) lands on the planet by himself, but soon meets and befriends Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), an alien whose people Krall had previously captured and killed. Jaylah instantly recognizes the Starfleet insignia on Scotty’s uniform because she’s seen it prominently displayed on board her home: the “Star Trek: Enterprise”-era Federation starship U.S.S. Franklin, previously thought lost in 2163. If you’re thinking it’s strange that the Franklin would be sitting on the planet’s surface untouched for 100 years while the Enterprise gets blown to hell upon arrival, you’re not alone. But there’s good reason for it.
It turns out that Krall used to be the Franklin’s captain, Balthazar Edison, and that his two main henchmen were also members of the Franklin’s crew. Stranded on Altamid, Edison believed he’d been abandoned by the Federation and plotted his revenge. As to how he and the others have survived this long, they made use of technology left behind by the planet’s original inhabitants, accounting for their decidedly alien physical appearance. Krall has a weapon which drains human life force, and the artifact which he has now acquired was the missing half of it. If he uses the weapon on Yorktown, which is his plan, it will kill every living thing inside.
All throughout the movie, Krall has taunted the Enterprise crew with the idea that their unity is their weakness. After reuniting aboard the Franklin, Kirk & Co. show Krall just how wrong he is. In fact, they prove that it is Krall’s ships whose reliance on unity can be exploited. Earlier, Jaylah had demonstrated to Scotty that the Franklin can pick up VHF radio transmissions, including loud music. Cranking it up to disable Krall’s ‘bees,’ Kirk instantly recognizes the Beastie Boys’ song “Sabotage,” calling it a ‘good choice.’
Now more closely resembling his former human self, Krall attempts to personally plant his weapon inside Yorktown, but is vented out into space by Kirk. Afterwards, Kirk changes his mind about the promotion to Vice Admiral, and even helps Jaylah apply to Starfleet Academy. Spock also decides to remain with Starfleet after going through Spock Prime’s personal effects… which include a photo of the Prime Universe Enterprise bridge crew (from “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier”). Meanwhile, construction begins on the next starship to bear the name Enterprise, NCC-1701-A. The film ends with dedications to Leonard Nimoy and Anton Yelchin, who tragically died in June 2016.
So, yes, we have another revenge plot. Yes, the Enterprise is destroyed again. And, yes, this lines up with the previous two films in its closer resemblance to an action flick than the “Star Trek” of old. But while this new series of films may be lacking in originality, it makes up for it with heart. The cast’s performances have never been stronger. The genius of “Star Trek Beyond” was the choice of splitting the team into pairs which hadn’t been given proper interaction in the previous two films. Also, we finally get some serious screen time for the Big Three (Kirk, Spock & McCoy), which is a must for any “Star Trek” project. If only the villains were as effective… although the movie does a decent job of building them up as a credible threat. Ultimately, Krall pales in comparison with either Khan or Admiral Marcus from “Star Trek Into Darkness,” but I prefer him over Nero from 2009’s “Star Trek.”
The breakout star of the film is Algerian actress Sofia Boutella. Hopefully, we’ll see more of her as a result of her exposure here. Actor/screenwriter Simon Pegg did not initially have a name for Boutella’s strong female character, nicknaming her “Jennifer Lawrence in Winter’s Bone” before shortening it to Jaylah.
I managed not to say anything about the musical score in either of the first two films, when perhaps I should have. Michael Giacchino’s scores for those films were each superior to this one, with one exception. Giacchino’s version of the original TV series theme by Alexander Courage, which plays over the end credits of each film, now comes equipped with bongos (which, as die-hard fans know, it always should have)!
My opinion of the new Trek films is reflected by my opinion of their villains. Thus, I still prefer “Star Trek Into Darkness, ” but I enjoyed “Star Trek Beyond” more than I do “Star Trek” (2009). I also adore the fact that “Star Trek Beyond” contains no lens flares, whatsoever! I hope to see more from this cast. A fourth film is already being talked about, but it is of course contingent upon the box office performance of “Beyond.” As of right now, the future remains uncertain.
“Star Trek” is like an old friend to me. No matter what changes it goes through, I don’t want to be out of contact for any longer than we have to be. But if the film series is destined to go on hiatus once again, it should do so with its proverbial head held high.