Movie Review – “Star Trek: Beyond” (2016)

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Strangely enough, I haven’t had much of an opportunity to discuss my love of Star Trek before. I consider myself a much bigger fan of Star Trek over Star Wars, as the journey that the many crews of the Enterprise embark on has always been far more fascinating to me. Perhaps its the overly optimistic outlook on the future and the constant need to explore the unknown. Or maybe characters like Spock, Data and Kirk feel so close and yet larger than life at the same time. Either way, Star Trek is my choice the better space opera.

But it seems that the perception of what Star Trek stands for has changed over the last few years, thanks in large part to the updated films from J.J. Abrams, with their sleek lens-flared look, and a distinct focus on action over exploration of space, something that Gene Roddenberry would probably disapprove of, which pisses off a lot of Trek fans. Then again, the last few seasons of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and all of “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” goes against the Roddenberry ideal of a perfect utopian future, by basically saying there is no such thing as a “perfect” utopia, so it’s not like Abrams broke new ground by doing something different from Roddenberry.

I enjoyed the 2009 “Star Trek” remake, even if it did feel far more like a Star Wars film at times than a Trek movie. “Star Trek: Into Darkness,” however, felt like a genuine Star Trek film and had some of the best writing of any Trek movie, until the last 20 minutes when it felt like ripping off “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” and everything got thrown into a blender on the highest setting.

Which brings us to the newest film in the franchise, “Star Trek: Beyond,” the first of this rebooted universe to not be directed by J.J. Abrams, passing that task off to Justin Lin, the director of most “Fast and Furious” movies. As I heard about the production for “Beyond,” I was immediately turned off from the picture for a few reasons. One was Lin, whose style with the “Fast and Furious” movies and their action-junkie heavy story lines didn’t seem to mix with the overall themes of Star Trek. The other was the first trailer, with its emphasis on high-paced action, supporting that Lin was taking the film in far different direction, and the trailer showing the death of one of my favorite characters in this rebooted series – the Enterprise.

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But then I heard about the overall positive reception “Star Trek: Beyond” was receiving and decided to give the film a chance to impress me. I was not disappointed by what I witnessed.

Set a few years after the events of “Star Trek: Into Darkness,” the crew of the Enterprise is now nearly three years into its five-year mission of exploring deep space, and most of the crew is starting to get restless, especially its captain, James Kirk (Chris Pine). After the Enterprise docks at an advanced Federation starbase, Yorktown, an escape pod arrives with an alien captain begging someone to go save her crew. The Enterprise is sent in to investigate, but is attacked by a swarm of alien ships that disable and destroy most of the ship, forcing the crew to flee and end up on the planet, stranded by the evil alien Krall (Idris Elba).

The screenplay for “Star Trek: Beyond” was co-written by Simon Pegg, who plays Scottie in these films. And while the script is not as tight and focused as it was with “Into Darkness,” this one does capture the fun and imagination that comes with science fiction and deep space exploration. The two characters that get the most screen time here are Dr. McCoy (Karl Urban) and Spock (Zachary Quinto), who are stranded on the planet together and have to find their way back to the rest of the crew. The two do nothing but butt heads the entire time, as McCoy loves to make up expressions and metaphors, while Spock is cold and logical, unable to accept McCoy’s southern sayings.

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Being stuck in this situation, where they have to rely on each other to get off the planet and save Yorktown, helped to build the comradery between these crew members, something the previous two films were lacking. In those films, it was just accepted that they were friends, but here we see the relationships building, as Spock and McCoy grow to respect one another, and Kirk learns about the many survival skills of his crewmates, especially Chekov (Anton Yelchin).

I would describe “Star Trek: Beyond” as a combination of “Star Trek: Into Darkness,” with many of the same themes of isolation, loyalty and the purpose of the Federation, and “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home,” as we watch the crew try to survive in an unfamiliar environment and have to lean on each other to get through it all.

But “Beyond”‘s advantage is the overall care-free nature to what the actors want to do. Aside from Pegg writing the screenplay, John Cho, who plays Sulu, chose to give his version of Sulu a husband an adopted daughter, as an homage to the original actor who played Sulu, George Takei. There’s a scene where Chris Pine rides around a motorcycle while aliens shoot at him, only to fooled by holographic projections. It comes across like the actors got to pick and choose what they wanted their characters to be like, instead of being told how they’re supposed to act through the script. It makes their reactions feel genuine when something terrible happens, since they’re just as invested in their performance as we are watching it.

This made “Beyond” seem unpredictable in a way, where the actors could ad lib any lines they wanted to, without fear of going against what the director wants. In a way, Justin Lin was a great choice to direct, since he allowed the actors to make the movie they wanted to make, instead of the movie he wanted.

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There are also some wonderful science fiction elements on display here that I haven’t seen since “Inception,” in particular with Yorktown, the newest and most advanced Federation starbase. Yorktown is made up of numerous rings in the style of an Escher painting, screwing with your sense of perspective and making you question where one ring ends and the next one begins. I was blown away by how many massive skyscrapers were on this base, and if you looked up you could see another city…or are you looking down on that city?

Supposedly, there are over a thousand different species of aliens living in Yorktown, all coexisting together in a place that would make Christopher Nolan’s head spin. This was one of the most original place I’ve seen in a while, and all while still being loyal to Gene Roddenberry’s idea of a utopia.

Overall, I really enjoyed “Star Trek: Beyond,” even if it did kill off the Enterprise rather quickly. The care-free atmosphere throughout the film helped give the film a more laid-back and easy-going feel, where the actors contributed far more to the film than the director did, while still feeling like a Star Trek movie. There was just enough innovative science fiction on display to keep the audience interested and the characters were a joy to witness as always. This one might be the best of the rebooted film franchise, as it pleases hardcore Trek fans and the general film-goings audiences alike.

Final Grade: B+

 

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