Not every Star Trek fan is a devotee to the new films that J.J. Abrams started back in 2009, but in a way, I can understand that. Some people will always see William Shatner as Captain Kirk and Leonard Nimoy as Spock. But I feel that the new movies have delivered an utmost energy to the screen, while at the same time tributing the legacy of old so that it feels familiar enough to not turn fans away. Yes, that’s including Star Trek Into Darkness and what it did for Khan, despite Ricardo Montalban’s best efforts in the 80’s.
Now that legacy takes a new turn, as Abrams steps aside in the director’s chair to let Justin Lin – he of Fast & Furious fame – to help Star Trek: Beyond. It treads into familiar territory for the series, and sometimes gets a little too dark for its own good, so that you can’t see what’s going on. But these moments are brief compared to the much bigger picture – and it’s one that fans may want to take note of. Some small inconsistencies aside, this could be the best modern Trek yet.
The film once again follows Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock (Zachary Quinto) as they face their hardships in Starfleet. Kirk is wondering about his own legacy and perhaps finding a less active role in the universe, while Spock has problems with his girlfriend Uhura (Zoe Saldana) and trying to figure out if he wants to help his new Vulcan world rebuild.
Their problems can wait, though, as a devastating new enemy named Krall (Idris Elba) arises from the ashes, using an army of bee-like warships to tear apart the Enterprise during a rescue mission. That leaves the crew stranded on the nearby planet of Altamid in groups, with the fierce enemy trying to hunt down a mysterious relic.
Even though it sounds like the movie is breaking off in different directions with the crew split-up, Beyond continues to carry traction thanks to the chemistry of the actors. Quinto and Karl Urban, returning as the humorous “Bones” McCoy, are quite a pair, with banter feels right at home. Meanwhile, Kirk finds himself working alongside Chekov (the late Anton Yelchin, one of the people the film is devoted to), while Scotty (Simon Pegg) finds himself dealing with a wily alien by the name of Jaylah (Kingsman’s Sofia Boutella).
No, it’s not confusing in the least. In fact, Lin does a damn fine job of directing for the most part, especially as the film throttles towards a thunderous conclusion, one set to the tune of a very familiar song from the trailer. You’ll see it when it happens, and chances are it’ll blow your mind. It takes a bit to get there, though, and like I said, there are some scenes that are directed a little darkly, and sometimes it’s hard to make out what’s happening. That doesn’t happen often, though, and the rest of the film buzzes along like a well-oiled ship.
Of course, a lot of that comes from the energy of the cast. Pine and Quinto continue to do marvelous work as Kirk and Spock, bringing newfound concern to their roles but still having fun with them. Saldana gets her chance to kick a little ass as Uhura, and serves as a probable (but still muffled) voice of reason to Krall. Urban is terrific as McCoy, getting some of his best lines to date (including, yes, the “I’m not a doctor…” line). John Cho is back as Sulu, surprising everyone by having a daughter and a husband – hey, I think it’s a neat twist, even if the original Sulu, George Takei, doesn’t quite approve. And Yelchin definitely does his best work as Chekov, who, sadly, we won’t be seeing anymore in the series.
The rest certainly pick up the slack. Pegg is a lot of fun as Scotty, continuing to serve the role well and not hesitating to call Jaylah “Lassie,” even though she doesn’t quite get it. Boutella has a field day as the white-colored alien, kicking as much ass as she does getting her terminology wrong (like calling Kirk “James T.”). And Elba makes a formidable villain as Krall, even though his intentions take a little while to clear up. Be patient – it’s worth it.
Perhaps the biggest surprise, though, is the writing. Despite some dark spots, the film keeps moving along storywise, and doesn’t even have the support of normal screenwriters Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci. Instead, Pegg, working alongside Doug Jung, does a sensational job of paying tribute to the Trek series, while keeping things moving along with the action. A scene involving a motorcycle raid on Krall’s camp is quite a sight to see, and then there’s that awesome finale with the stereo cranked.
There’s also a tender moment that pays loving tribute to the Star Trek legacy in general. I won’t spoil it here, but when you see it, don’t be surprised if you tear up a little bit. The tribute at the end to both Yelchin and Nimoy is equally touching.
When it comes to the new Star Trek series, I still kinda like the original the best, although Star Trek Into Darkness is rather close behind. Beyond is in the same boat, with just enough high-powered excitement and fun to make it a worthy third chapter in the series. The acting is great, the writing just as much so, and Lin’s directing is right on the money. Whereas most films begin to lose energy the third time around (looking at you, frickin’ Ice Age), Star Trek continues to purr along at warp speed.