Just a few tweaks is all it takes. The simple act of splitting up the crew and making them think their way around impossible situations keeps the plot of STAR TREK BEYOND loose and fun. The script co-written by Simon Pegg deliberately harks back to the well-trodden formula of the original series, but it wisely avoids being overly reverential and retains the energy of JJ Abrams’ two Treks (Justin Lin takes over). It’s a ride.
Following the destruction of the Starship Enterprise by the ferocious fanatic Krall (Idris Elba), Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) and his crew are left marooned across the surface of a hostile planet. They must regroup, find another ship and take the fight to their new enemy as the very future of the United Federation of Planets hangs in the balance.
What I thought that INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE missed out on the most was the everyday. What do ordinary people’s lives look like in the future? In Beyond, there is a stunning sweep through a space station made up of cities perched on a vast tangle of intertwining ribbon structures. On the ground, ordinary people go about their daily lives, taking flying trams or being beamed across the city from transporter booths on street corners. On the Enterprise, the crew are just over halfway through their five-year mission, they are starting to miss the comforts of home and tempers are starting to fray. There’s evidence of workplace affairs (good and bad) and we even see people eat, drink, and presumably go to the bathroom as well.
Karl Urban is given the best moments in Bones’ signature deadpan style. Urban would also have the privilege of uttering what I think must be the franchise’s first F-bomb were it not for a transporter cutting him short for a gag. When it comes to light a family necklace gifted by Spock (Zachary Quinto) to Uhura (Zoe Saldana) is made of a rare Vulcan rock that Spock can zero in on, Bones asks incredulously, “You gave your girlfriend a tracking device?”. Suffice to say Uhura and Spock’s now-troubled relationship and Bones’ sardonic advice results in a lot of the film’s best moments. If partnering up Bones and Quinto’s hot-cold Spock made for a delightfully odd couple, Pegg’s Scotty (with slightly inconsistent accent) and kick-ass survivalist Jaylah (Sofia Boutella) also play off each other very well. Pine’s Kirk does most of the dramatic heavy lifting, and the internal conflict still taking up a lot of his very being provides some potentially fascinating character-driven storytelling opportunities in the future.
The spectacular finale is big and silly and very fitting considering the wider story this new trilogy has been telling. Once the more immediate threat is out of the way, time is given to give colour to Krall, and for once it’s a deft twist on a villainous motivation rather than a retread. I’d argue that in these final moments that the Federation is in jeopardy, he becomes far more interesting than Nero or Khan were before him. You don’t even really mind that much that the superweapon MacGuffin is a retread of the same in THOR: THE DARK WORLD.
The editing of the film during the more high-octane action can be a bit choppy, a few characters have little to do except get captured (disappointingly it’s the characters who would have been seen as weaker in the 60s series, despite seeing what the new takes on the characters are capable of in the previous two movies). I also got a few too many flashbacks to STAR TREK: INSURRECTION due to certain plot devices and design choices, but aside from these points it’s all really solid stuff.
It might be my imagination, but it looks like the film’s final scene has been tweaked slightly to linger on Anton Yelchin. This, and the epitaph to him and Leonard Nimoy are pitched about right and are a fitting tribute to two very different talents.
Star Trek Beyond more than makes up for the clumsiness of INTO DARKNESS and wisely keeps the focus locked on to these appealing new iterations of beloved characters. There’s plenty of spectacle and sly readings of the wider Trek canon, but most importantly of all the fun factor is back. SSP