This year marks the 50th anniversary of the beginning of one of the most iconic sci-fi shows ever - Star Trek. Coinciding with this is the release of Star Trek Beyond, the newest film in the rebooted film series that began with 2009’s Star Trek. So is this newest film a worthy entry, or best forgotten like Star Trek: Nemesis?
I have fond memories of the original Star Trek series. My family had the entire series on VHS, and throughout my early teenage years my mom and I worked our way through them all. Even back then in the mid-late ‘90s it seemed a little dated and cheesy sometimes, and yet there was an undeniable charm to it all as the crew from the USS Enterprise made their way from one unique planet to another, encountering countless different aliens and perilous situations.
In 1979, ten years after the series had ended, a crazy thing happened when all of the original cast members were reassembled to make Star Trek: The Motion Picture. While it is undoubtedly one of the lesser films in the series, it is undeniable that it fully revived the Star Trek universe, resulting in not only a slew of spin off TV shows throughout the years, but another dozen films, including six with the original cast, with Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan widely considered to be the best.
After the rather tepid run of four Star Trek: The Next Generation films, it was decided that the series would have the reboot treatment, going all the way back to the original series’ characters. Star Trek (2009) not only gave us a new cast in these iconic roles, but it changed the entire pre-existing timeline via the time travelling villain. This also allowed them to bring in Leonard Nemoy as Spock from the future, firmly stating that the previous events from the original show and films did in fact exist in this universe prior to the events of this movie, meaning that any characters from those films (or shows) could still show up here, perhaps in a different capacity.
That state of mind led us to the fan-dividing Star Trek Into Darkness, a film that is flawed in many ways, and yet one that I still find myself enjoying time and time again. Bringing back one of the most well-known and infamous villains throughout all of Star Trek was a gamble for the filmmakers, and one that didn’t fully pay off as it resulted in many fans drawing comparisons between Into Darkness and Wrath of Khan, which only served to highlight the flaws in the former. Whether it be the filmmakers forcing the Khan twist by heartily denying that Benedict Cumberbatch was in fact Khan, or the terrible plot device of magical life-saving blood, plenty of fans found this to be a disappointing entry.
Star Trek Beyond finds Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and his crew on year three of their 5-year mission of space exploration. He has lost his passion, seeing the entire idea as pointless given that space is endless and so the goal will always be out of reach. After docking at the “snowglobe in space” Yorktown space station, an alien arrives, begging for help in rescuing her crew. The only vessel that can make the trip is the Enterprise, and so their leave is cut short as they head for an unknown planet.
It isn’t long after arriving that they are mercilessly attacked by a swarm of smaller spaceships led by Krall (Idris Elba). The small ships quickly and easily shred the Enterprise to pieces, scattering the crew. Krall captures many of the escaping crew, including Sulu (John Cho) and Uhura (Zoe Saldana). Kirk, Chekov (Anton Yelchin), Spock (Zachery Quinto), McCoy (Karl Urban), Scotty (Simon Pegg), and previous crash survivor Jaylah (Sofia Boutella) must work together to free the captured crew and stop Krall from unleashing a deadly weapon on the Federation.
Much like Into Darkness, I found this to be a fun, enjoyable, action sci-fi film. However, I feel like this still suffers from some of the same issues Trek-purists had with the prior movie. Beyond is fast paced and action packed. It is over the top and vastly unrealistic, even for a sci-fi film. But that should be no surprise as Beyond is helmed by Justin Lin, who is best known for killing the The Fast and the Furious franchise with the third film Tokyo Drift, simultaneously reviving it with Fast & Furious (2009), and continuing on with the fifth and sixth films in the series, which only became bigger and more over-the-top spectacles as they progressed.
There are also a few too many logical inconsistencies, which is no surprise for a sci-fi movie, but it doesn’t make it any easier to swallow. For instance, there is a character that we eventually find out is able to change its appearance. It is vaguely shown earlier that it can mildly change its look in subtle ways, and then at the end it is suddenly 100% completely changed to look like a totally different species of humanoid, because reasons. And while the cutting down on exposition to maintain a quicker pace can benefit a film, it can also hurt it when too much is left unsaid without any pre-established logic or information to help aid in our suspension of disbelief.
Additionally, this film also suffers from the same issue that plagues many recent Hollywood action movies in that many of the action scenes are so shaky and the camera angles are so poor, it's tough to be able to tell what is happening half the time. There were even a couple instances where I wasn’t fully sure that some of the individual bad guys were beat until the film moved on without referencing them again. Sofia Boutella and Joe Taslim of The Raid: Redemption fame even have a fight scene against one another that is too unintelligible to capitalize on their impressive skills as seen in Kingsman and The Raid respectively.
But none of that is to say this is a bad movie. The cast do a great job in their roles, and it even felt like some of the supporting characters, such as Karl Urban’s McCoy, were given more to do this time around. Krall is also a wonderfully menacing and dangerous villain who at first seems rather one-dimensional in his desire for chaos and destruction, but as the film goes on, we learn there is more to him. On top of that, the visuals are just plain stunning, whether it’s the Inception-inspired space station of Yorktown or the utter destruction of the USS Enterprise, this film gives us a grandiose view of the universe. And, let us not forget that they use a Beastie Boys song in the most literal and appropriate way that any pre-existing song has ever been used in a film.
This is certainly not the best the Star Trek-verse has to offer, especially for the Trek-purists of the world that want more thoughtful and science based sci-fi over the Star Wars style of flashy effects and action. Still, even for someone like me that was raised with an appreciation and fondness for both the Trek and Wars universes, I find Beyond to be a fun and entertaining ride that improves upon Into Darkness and fits perfectly into the current run of Star Trek films, making this my favorite of the reboot series. I do think they go a little too over-the-top in some of the action set pieces here, but it’s not enough to keep me from enjoying the overall film. I almost feel like Kirk’s emotional journey in Beyond parallels my feelings on the state of this series going in to this film, unsure of the future and not fully invested in this journey anymore, and by the end I am reinvigorated to continue on and looking forward to what comes next.
Andy Snyder is a writer and regular contributor for Happy Dragon Pictures. He loves video games, films from all over the world, screenwriting and kittens.