Here’s a fun surprise—a movie that was not really on my radar, Star Trek Beyond, turned out to be the most fun and well-made summer action movie since Captain America: Civil War. In 2009, JJ Abrams rebooted Star Trek, but his heavily Star Wars-influenced take on the material displeased classic Trek fans (they’ve asked not to be called Trekkies anymore). Star Trek Into Darkness doubled-down on everything classic fans disliked about the reboot—big, dumb, loud, wasted a classic villain and a great actor with Benedict Cumberbatch’s Khan—so the third movie in the franchise had to not only keep this machine alive for Paramount, but it also had to win back the hearts of those fans alienated by JJ Abrams’ vision.
And in that regard, Beyond succeeds. There will never be big-budget movie Star Trek like there was in earlier eras—the stakes are too high and studios don’t trust summer audiences to turn out for a cerebral movie in which the characters sit around debating the nature of man. Not when that movie is made for $185 million. So keeping in mind that Beyond has to straddle the line between the brainy nature of classic Trek and provide the adventure and excitement summer movie audiences expect, this is about as good as it’s going to get. There’s real heart and humanity in the movie, and yet also some fun and exciting action sequences. There’s a badass, smart female character that actually matters to the plot—more so than 98% of the crew of the Enterprise—but Spock and Kirk are still the root of all things Trek. It’s a good compromise.
That female character is new alien Jaylah (Sofia Boutella, Kingsman: The Secret Service), and not Zoe Saldana’s Uhura. The new Trek has never figured out what to do with Saldana/Uhura—in this movie, she breaks up with Spock (again) and he spends the movie talking about their issues with everyone EXCEPT Uhura. Saldana has always felt annoyingly sidelined in these movies. But Jaylah is not sidelined, and she’s a fun new addition to the roster. Hopefully, she comes back for the next one.
Star Trek Beyond finds Captain Kirk (Chris Pine, finally seeming comfortable in this role) having doubts about continuing on as the captain of the Enterprise several years into a five-year mission. Beyond, co-written by Simon Pegg and Doug Jung (Dark Blue), doesn’t draw any direct comparisons, but it’s not hard to pick up on the subtext of the handsome American attempting to make peace between two groups who do not look like him and whom he does not understand failing. And Kirk’s funk is contagious, as Spock is also contemplating leaving Star Fleet, in order to settle down and have Vulcan babies and repopulate his species—thus the break-up with non-Vulcan Uhura. They talk about these issues with everyone except each other.
Idris Elba stars as the villain, Krall, but he’s obscured by heavy makeup and prosthetics. Krall is not a particularly good villain and the plot hinges on Kirk falling for a really obvious trap until it’s convenient for him to not be falling for it anymore, so Elba is, once again, wasted in a blockbuster. (Maybe The Dark Tower can fix this wasting Idris Elba in blockbusters problem.) John Cho is also largely wasted as Sulu, who, like Uhura, spends most of the movie sidelined. The moment he reunites with his husband and daughter is so fleeting it barely registers, and Sulu gets precious little else in the way of characterization.
But Krall’s plan, which involves stranding the crew of the Enterprise on his planet, does mean that most of the movie is various factions. The most boring is Uhura and Sulu locked up in Krall’s space camp, because they don’t do anything except fret and scream in turns. Bones (Karl Urban) and Spock make a fun pairing because of their prickly banter, and Kirk and Chekhov is mostly just sad because of Anton Yelchin’s untimely passing.
The pay-off pairing is Scotty (Simon Pegg) and Jaylah, both engineers—the way Scotty instantly recognizes and respects Jaylah’s mechanical gift is incredibly refreshing. And he’s totally dependent on her for defense, as she is a skilled fighter and he isn’t. Most of the best stuff in the movie is Scotty and Jaylah picking at each other while they work. The rest of the good stuff is in the action sequences—director Justin Lin (Fast Five, Fast & Furious 6) excels at over the top action, and he provides plenty here. Overall Star Trek Beyond is a solid summer action movie that ought to please classic Trek fans as well.
Attached - Chris Pine at the Hell or High Water premiere last night in Austin.