Review: Star Trek Beyond (2016)

Star Trek Beyond
2016

© Paramount Pictures

© Paramount Pictures

When J.J. Abrams took the helm of The Force Awakens, Star Wars fans around the world rejoiced. Having seen what he had done with reinvigorating the Star Trek franchise, many believed him to be the perfect fit for George Lucas's universe. Trekkers, on the other hand, started to worry about their beloved franchise that Abrams had brought back from the brink. For the first time in years, it seemed as though Star Trek could be a viable film franchise, but with their director's departure, it let the series in a state of limbo. A number of names were tossed into consideration for the job, but no one knew whether Abrams's successor could bring the same quality of film that the previous two installments had brought. 

Star Trek Beyond follows the continuing adventures of the U.S.S. Enterprise, led by the fearless Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine). Three years deep into their five-year mission, Kirk has started to grow tired with his life in space and looks to seat himself behind a desk for the remainder of his career. When a distress signal sends he and his crew into the depths of a nebula, the Enterprise is suddenly and deliberately attacked by an alien force led by the evil Krall (Idris Elba). Stranded on an uncharted without a ship, Kirk and his crew must improvise to the best of their abilities to escape their captivity and return to the Federation. In the process, however, they soon learn that Krall's plot may spell doom for the entire galaxy. 

The success of the first two films ensured that the franchise would need a fitting replacement in the director's chair. The studio ultimately landed on Justin Lin, who brought an eye for action from the Fast and the Furious franchise. Would he be able to juggle that grounded, streetcar action with the sci-fi element so desperately needed in the Star Trek universe? Fortunately, Lin was blessed with a solid screenplay from Doug Jung and Simon Pegg which surely helped him in his endeavors. 

Star Trek has long been the franchise that delves into intelligent science fiction with a solid basis of social commentary. While I feel as though these movies have strayed a bit from the latter, they have still offered fans their legitimate dose of sci-fi, even if the ships and gadgets don't wow us the way they must have amazed audiences in the 1960s. Jung and Pegg easily slide into this vein, bringing a story rife with action, drama, and a true sense of adventure. The story itself kept me guessing, and I was so engrossed with the film that I found myself shocked with some of the twists and turns it took. That's a true testament to the filmmakers' storytelling ability. What really sets this franchise apart, however, is its ability to craft complete and believable characters. While most of these characters have a long and storied history through the television show and the previous films, but I believe that these characters have adapted for the grander universe in which they now live, bringing slightly different nuances to the table. This installment also felt much more team-oriented than its predecessors; while the last two films centered around the Kirk and Spock characters, Beyond gave the rest of the cast the opportunity to show off their character's individual skill sets. If Justin Lin brought anything over from the Furious franchise, it was the ability to demonstrate effectively the best qualities of a team through its individual members. We definitely get a sense of that with Star Trek Beyond. Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto have their screen-time but don't dominate the story; instead, we get to see a little bit more of Pegg's Scotty, Karl Urban's McCoy, Zoe Saldana's Uhura, John Cho's Sulu, and Anton Yelchin's Chekov as they play integral roles in saving the galaxy from destruction. 

I could easily spend plenty of time on the cast's effectiveness within their individual roles, but most of the returning players meet the splendid status quo they have achieved in the past two films. Instead, I want to focus on the franchise newcomers in Sofia Boutella and Idris Elba. Boutella, who most might remember from her supporting role as an assassin in last year's Kingsman, does a fantastic job playing opposite Montgomery Scott for most of the film's duration. She brings to life a multifaceted character who is given plenty of time to showcase her incredible physical prowess while still delving into slightly dramatic moments while talking about her character's past. Elba, who has been all over the cinematic map this year, takes on the nefarious villain Krall and does so incredibly effectively. Despite being hidden beneath layers of makeup, Elba still manages to bring a menacing ferocity to the character and just might cement himself as the best villain in this particular saga. 

I do want to take a moment to mention the two members of the Star Trek family have passed since the release of 2013's Into Darkness. The legendary Leonard Nimoy, who originated the Spock character and reprised him in these most recent films, was given a fitting sendoff, and the filmmakers used their love and admiration for him as a sort of springboard for Zachary Quinto's Spock in this film. The world more recently lost the young Anton Yelchin, and it proved to be incredibly difficult for me to watch him on the screen knowing that we would never be able to see just how far his potential would take him. I felt as though his character receives more screen-time in Beyond than he had in the previous installments which I believe is a testament to the fact that his star power was on the rise. The two received simple but fitting tributes as the credits rolled, and I personally had to hold back the waterworks as their names flashed by. While there will be more posthumous performances from the young Yelchin, seeing him one last time in the biggest of his adventures solidified his place in Hollywood lore. 

While I can't quite say that this is the best entry in the newest Star Trek saga, Beyond serves as an incredibly enjoyable film from start to finish. Justin Lin picks up exactly where J.J. Abrams left off, and Star Trek fans should have faith with the direction the franchise now seems to be heading. If you're looking for a smart, exciting, and adventurous blockbuster, you'd be hard-pressed to find something better than Star Trek Beyond playing in theaters right now.