Movie Review: “Star Trek Beyond”

Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, Anton Yelchin, John Cho, Idris Elba, Sofia Boutella, Joe Taslim
Justin Lin

In 2009, director J.J. Abrams helped to successfully relaunch the “Star Trek” franchise, and his reboot remains an immensely entertaining adventure movie. Although its sequel, “Star Trek Into Darkness,” is not without its moments, it’s a disappointing follow-up that’s held back by some unfortunate twists and a misjudged villain. The film hardly slowed down this now 50-year-old franchise, however, which returns to the big screen with “Star Trek Beyond.” The Justin Lin-directed sequel quickly gets the crew back on track by delivering a very entertaining and often kind-hearted summer movie.

Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) is tired of his five-year mission to seek out new life and explore new worlds. While on a diplomatic assignment with fellow crew members Spock (Zachary Quinto), Uhura (Zoe Saldana), Doctor “Bones” McCoy (Karl Urban), Sulu (John Cho), Chekov (Anton Yelchin) and Montgomery Scott (Simon Pegg), Kirk presents an alien species with a peace offering from the Federation. The gift is part of a deadly ancient weapon called the Abronath, but he has no clue what it is or what it’s capable of. Krall (Idris Elba), on the other hand, knows exactly what it can do. The face-changing villain is against everything the Federation stands for, so he dupes the Enterprise crew into going on a “rescue mission” to a distant planet, where he attacks them, leaving the crew completely torn apart. Even though they’re outnumbered and outmatched, Kirk and the gang are not alone in their fight against Krall, joining forces with an alien warrior named Jaylah (Sofia Boutella, who turns out to be a great addition to the series) to stop him from unleashing the Abronath.

The biggest draw of this rebooted series continues to be the cast. This time around, though, the film is less focused on Kirk and Spock. Screenwriters Doug Jung and Simon Pegg rip the team in half, forcing some crew members to band together that we’re not accustomed to seeing interact. Spock and Bones, for example, often traded witty remarks with each other in Abrams’ films, but they haven’t done much else. The two characters couldn’t be more different, yet in “Star Trek Beyond,” they have the best scene in the movie; they’re simply talking in a cave, finding common ground and joking like friends do. It’s a genuinely warm, sweet and funny scene – a sincere tone that the film nails. We get to see a whole new side of some of these established characters as a result.

Some “Star Trek” fans feared that director Justin Lin would turn the franchise into something it’s not, merely because he directed a few “Fast and Furious” movies. That fear couldn’t have been any more off-base. He handles the character moments as gracefully, if not more so, than all the set pieces, which are often quite massive and intricate. There is an exhilarating third act chase – which, story-wise, doesn’t add up with total clarity – where all the moving pieces and characters come together in this massive environment. How Lin, cinematographer Stephen F. Windon and the second-unit team create a clear sense of geography is impressive, and the same goes for the film’s other large-scale sequences. The hand-to-hand combat scenes are less thrilling, as they’re often shot too up close or in really dark environments.

Additionally, the movie runs into some trouble with its villain, an area where this rebooted series has struggled. Idris Elba is an imposing presence as Krall, but the problem with the character is that, without spoiling anything, he doesn’t gain any depth until the third act. Information is revealed about the character that gives new meaning to his role, and it’s a fascinating turn that should add more dimensions to the character. And yet, by the end, it feels like it’s too late to turn him into anything other than a routine villain. The character is serviceable, but he’s not as engaging to follow as our heroes.

“Star Trek Beyond” is also a summer movie with an actual ending. As a franchise film, the sequel is refreshingly self-contained, not worried about the future of the series. There’s hardly any bloat or tangents to set up future films; it’s just an efficient, mostly character-driven action movie focused on the story and characters at hand. The crew is taken to new places – asking new questions and facing new struggles – but they’re still their charming old selves, and they remain as fun to watch as Lin’s giddy set pieces.