Star Trek Beyond has a lot going for it, not least of which is the absence of J. J. Abrams as its director. No disrespect intended, but Star Trek Into Darkness, which Abrams directed, never really succeeded as a Star Trek movie at all. Too noisy, too busy, too frenetic; it never settled down and let the Star Trek mythos breathe. Abrams is famous as a Spielberg protege, and Super 8 was a lovely Spielberg homage. But Abrams has since been handed the keys to not one, but two beloved franchises, both with the word ‘Star’ in the title, and so far has made a frightful hash of them both. It was dismaying to see that Justin Lin, the Taiwan-born director of the last few Fast and the Furious movies, was helming this new Star Trek, but pleasantly surprised to see the actual movie.
Lin gets it. He didn’t just make another paint-by-numbers action movie. He understands that Star Trek is built on an ensemble cast, that it’s built on fully drawn and interesting characters and the relationships between them. And he understands that the Star Trek universe is, in a real sense, joyful. It’s about Space as an actual, next frontier. It’s about exploring that space. It’s about the personal and family cost of that exploration. This is a much more human film than the previous two. And Lin knows how to direct an action sequence.
Best of all, this film has Idris Elba, playing an alien villain named Krall, who (SPOILER) turns out to be neither really alien nor all that villainous. And the film begins asking the kinds of pesky questions that Star Trek films should be asking, like what happens when exploration becomes routine and boring?
Obviously the Chris Pine/Zachary Quinto/Karl Urban/Simon Pegg cast of Enterprise shipmates doesn’t enjoy the relaxed camaraderie of classic Shatner/Nimoy/Doohan/Kelley. But Quinto is a terrific Spock, bringing a genuine wit to the role. Chris Pine is a perfectly adequate Captain Kirk, and Urban has really grown into a fine Bones. And I loved some of the smaller touches. I loved seeing John Cho as Sulu, with his husband and their little daughter. That nod to marriage equality took up exactly as much space as it needed to, which is to say, very little, but it made for a lovely moment. And Zoe Saldana is a firecracker as Uhura.
It wouldn’t be Star Trek without the obligatory hot alien babe, in this case a martial arts wielding stripy alien named Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), who the movie introduces, who does some stunning stunt work, rescues the crew, and then spends the last third of the movie on its periphery, wondering she should do next.
I did mourn when the Enterprise is destroyed. That’s not a spoiler–it happens early on, and can be seen in the trailers–but come on. The Star Ship Enterprise is as much a character as of the crew, and she keeps getting wrecked in this reboot. The movies have not treated the ship kindly. And the ship is the point–one of the things we all loved about the series is the Enterprise. We love the holodecks and the Jeffries tubes and the voice of the computer, we loved the replicators and Bones’ sick bay, and engineering, and the various intricacies of transporting. Most of this film takes place on another ship entirely, an old one, wrecked on Jaylah’s planet and in need of repair, but, due to Scotty’s savvy, still spaceworthy. That was also a fun conceit, but still. We want the Enterprise to fly, and we want to live in her with the rest of the crew.
And the ending is laugh-out-loud funny.
This requires another SPOILER, but here you go. Krall’s an alien–or at least, he’s an evolved human–and he enjoys vastly superior technology. Kirk and the crew have to chase him down, and they no longer have the Enterprise to do it in; just this clunky old ship Scotty’s holding together with chewing gum and baling wire. Even if they catch Krall and his forces (who are heading towards what appears to be the space age equivalent of the Mall of America), how are they going to stop him?
But, see, Krall’s got all these little fighter jets, and their flight paths are coordinated via some kind of data stream. Which they disrupt, using ancient (our day) earth techonology. VHS, actually. If they broadcast sufficiently annoying music . . . And what could be better than the Beastie Boys, singing Sabotage.
I laughed out loud, right there in the theater. They rip off the original Independence Day! Except, instead of a virus on a Mac, they disrupt vastly superior alien technology with, of all bands, the Beastie Boys. Perfect.
This Star Trek movie isn’t perfect. It’s sort of clunky, and it spends a lot of time with various configurations of the bridge crew wandering around an alien landscape looking for each other. Also, it’s very coy about something that Captain Kirk should take much more seriously–casualties. Hundreds of crew die when the ship’s destroyed, and yet the movie takes those deaths much much too lightly. It’s a flawed Star Trek movie. It was still one of the more entertaining summer movies, and a movie that makes this particular series reboot worth watching. We enjoyed it a lot more than I was afraid I would.