What would happen if you gave the keys to a beloved science-fiction franchise to the guy who directed more than half of the Fast and Furious films? The answer is Star Trek Beyond, a movie so not Star Trek that I almost feel guilty for enjoying it so much.
Perhaps my partiality to the movie stems partly from relief – I certainly haven’t forgotten the incredible disappointment that was Star Trek Into Darkness, the previous film in the franchise. While holding true to certain Star Trek elements, it was so lacking in originality that it came off as a shameless cash-in rather than the homage I’d like to believe it was intended to be. Whatever the faults of Beyond, none can say that it’s too similar to another Trek film.
Star Trek Beyond begins with the crew of the USS Enterprise just over halfway into their five-year mission, upon which they embarked at the conclusion of the previous film. Inexplicably missing is Carol Marcus, who “joined the family” at the commencement of their journey. The rest of the crew is present, and has grown in the space between movies. Spock and Uhura are no longer together, Sulu is now married with a child, and Kirk has applied for a promotion off the ship. After responding to a distress call, the Enterprise is attacked and the crew is stranded on an isolated planet. Their goal from here is to reunite the crew (the main characters are basically split into pairs while the bulk of the crew is conveniently held elsewhere) and get off the planet. Our standard seven cast members return and hold true to their characters, giving a great ensemble performance, and are joined by Idris Elba and Sofia Boutella, the antagonist and supporting protagonist, respectively. Both deliver solid performances. Boutella, in particular, was nearly unrecognisable in her role, and I mean that in the best possible way.
There’s an interesting division on what makes a good sequel. Is it one that is true to its predecessor? One that ignores it? I’ve always been of the mind that a good sequel stays true to the source material, but puts its own spin over the top. Aliens feels nothing at all like Alien, but this is one of its strengths. Who wants to watch the same thing over and over again? While Beyond is certainly no Aliens, it’s great to see a different kind of director (and a different kind of writer as Scotty’s Simon Pegg takes the pen) inject their flavour into the mix.
Of course, there are moments where Justin Lin‘s flavour really ought to have been a little more subdued. Do we really need a motorcycle sequence in there? Was this a cool idea Lin had for one of the Fast and Furious films and never had the chance to implement? Star Trek: Nemesis has a notorious chase scene with a dune buggy which was just as silly, and it was fairly-well ridiculed across the fandom. Because of this, the motorcycle sequence in Beyond has a special sort of defiance (or ignorance) to it, which doesn’t help matters. Later we’re treated to what felt like an enormous rip-off of Star Wars‘ Death Star – even before being shown a schematic of what looked nearly identical to that Death Star.
And then there are moments where Lin manages to recapture what has been missing from Star Trek films for decades: The scope. That sheer sense of wonder as the Enterprise first appears on our screen and docks at the Starbase Yorktown. Awesome in the truest sense of the word, the beautiful sequence was reminiscent of the same ship’s entrance in Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Yorktown has a fantastic design, more interesting than any ship or planet we’ve seen in the previous two films, and the Enterprise looks and even feels magnificent as it glides into the port.
The editing is a little crazy and confusing in some of the ground-based fights, but the space-fights are fantastic. They slow down at just the right intervals, allowing you to absorb what’s just happened and predict with dread or glee what is about to occur. When the movie takes its breaths and has dialogue between its characters, it’s a roulette on whether we’re going to get entertaining banter, tired foreshadowing and exposition, or nods to the original series varying in quality. On more than one occasion the entire movie seems to hold for applause after a particularly obvious reference, and it feels more awkward than anything else. Overall, though, this film understands that it’s being released on the fiftieth anniversary of its franchise, and it pays its due respects while also having a good time. When it comes down to it, this is simply not a science-fiction film at all. It’s an action movie, and it’s a solid, entertaining one. It’s not Star Trek, but it’s pretty damn fun.