Star Trek Beyond review: Bold, beautiful, the best blockbuster of summer 2016
Star Trek Beyond
Director - Justin Lin
Cast - Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Simon Pegg, Sofia Boutella, Idris Elba
Rating - 4/5
- a project or undertaking, especially a bold or complex one.
“Abandon ship, Mr Sulu.” It’s not the defeat in Chris Pine’s voice. It’s not the tragic, yet beautiful sight of the USS Enterprise burning through the sky as nameless red-shirts get sucked into the silence of space. It’s not the relentless and systematic attack that caused it all. It took just four words, and everything struck home: I’ve become really, really fond of this crew. And now, they are dying.
There are many out there who wouldn’t agree (mostly hardcore Trekkies) but for me, JJ Abrams’ rebooted Star Trek series is close to perfection. Both Star Trek (2009) and its sequel, the underappreciated Into Darkness (2013) are spectacular blockbusters – with heart, humour, a great cast and stunning action. Star Trek Beyond, the third in this series and the first not to be directed by Abrams (he was busy in a galaxy far, far away) lives up to its title: It goes above and beyond what was expected, and, like its predecessors, turns out to be the best blockbuster of summer 2016.
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I’m hardly a die-hard Trekkie – I should probably let you know that. My knowledge of the series extends only from these new films to a couple of viewings of The Original Series – but because Beyond is so restrained and introspective (for a space adventure, it is set only in a couple of major locations) it’s safe to say that it is the ‘Trekkiest’ of the Abrams series.
It’s been three years since Captain James Tiberius Kirk and his crew left for their five-year exploration of deep space when the movie begins. Any other film would’ve simply flashed this information on the screen and moved on, but what Beyond does – and this is what makes this series special – is that it explores the deeper meaning of being adrift in space for half-a-decade. You can see the nihilism creeping into Kirk’s eyes as he goes through one mundane routine after another. “There’s no direction in the vastness of space. It’s easy to get lost,” he’s told. And for a man who joined Starfleet ‘on a dare’, it can’t be that difficult, can it?
Another noteworthy aspect to this series is the shiny, lens-flared stamp JJ left on it. Justin Lin, who has to his credit 4 Fast & Furious movies (ensemble action movies, like this one) takes over the Captain’s chair this time around – and as unbelievable as this might sound – he leaves his own mark. The visuals are still as beautiful, the score by Michael Giacchino is still filled with innocent wonder, and the chemistry between the actors is, as it has always been, the highlight.
With writers Simon Pegg and Doug Jung, Lin confidently juggles spectacle with moments of great profundity. For every foot-tapping, fist-pumping action scene set to a familiar ‘classic song’ (you’ll know the one when you see it), Lin’s movie throws a serious theme at you. Sulu’s homosexuality is addressed with subtlety - as are the deaths of Leonard Nimoy and Anton Yelchin. Spock struggles with his mortality and Kirk comes to terms with his father’s legacy as Krall employs drone warfare. Lin furthers what Abrams, and fifty years of Trek lore has established, with respect, and joy.
But for all its successes, Star Trek Beyond falls into the same trap that consumed its predecessors. The villain, Krall, isn’t as daunting as the movie thinks he is. Like Nero in the 2009 movie and Khan in Into Darkness (although in his case, it was the hoopla around Cumberbatch that was to blame and not, necessarily, the character) Krall… is underwhelming. He breathes like Darth Vader and sounds like the Commandant from Beasts of no Nation, and burdened with the frankly Scooby Doo-esque decision to hide Idris Elba’s expressive face behind a mask – he is just a man who gets lost in space.
What sets Star Trek apart from the unrelenting barrage of franchises and sequels (especially this year) is its unfailing faith in humanity. And that’s what Star Trek Beyond embraces.
So let’s end in the only way we can, with those timeless words, Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilisations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.