STAR TREK BEYOND (7.5 out of 10) Directed by Justin Lin; Written by Simon Pegg, Doug Jung; Starring Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Idris Elba, Sofia Boutella; Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence; 120 minutes; In wide release July 22, 2016
Star Trek Beyond is 40% a love letter to the original Star Trek series itself, 40% big dumb action movie, 7% fanservice, and 3% Beastie Boys-- which may or may not count as "fanservice" at this point. That makes it an interesting cocktail that will not be to everyone's taste, but for some it will be pure ambrosia.
That being said, it might not have been wise to try to combine screenwriter Simon Pegg and his team of writers' heady sci-fi love letter to Kirk, Spock, McCoy and the Enterprise with Justin Lin's breakneck "Fast and Furious" filmmaking style. It treads a very thin line which it sometimes crosses.
To put it simply? Your warp speed may vary.
We find our intrepid crew on the back end of their five year mission, and folks are starting to get restless. Kirk is wondering if their work is even valuable and considering giving up the Captain's chair. Spock is also considering returning to civilian life after the death of Ambassador Spock. But duty calls, and the Enterprise is tasked with a rescue mission on a remote planet on the other side of a heretofore impenetrable and uncharted nebula.
Here they encounter Krall (Idris Elba) who decimates the Enterprise, captures the crew and brings them to his camp. Kirk, Scotty, and intergalactic odd couple McCoy and Spock find themselves the lone survivors who are still free, leaving them to find a way to rescue their crewmates and escape. They're also under a ticking clock as Krall lured the Enterprise to his planet so he could steal an ancient artifact he needs to deploy a superweapon.
The plot is hardly the point. Let's talk about each of the parts of the cocktail previously mentioned:
A Star Trek Love Letter
What is the key to the alchemy of Trek that makes it resonate for five decades? At its most basic, you have the ship and you have the relationships between the characters.
But what if you didn't?
What if you rob them of their ship and isolate them?
Just like a master chef will take a composed dish and serve a "deconstructed" version of it by serving each part of the dish separate from one another, Simon Pegg & Co deconstruct the Enterprise and its crew, and then present this very odd and original meal. By elevating each of the individual ingredients, it not only makes you appreciate the beautiful melange and balance of the composed dish together, but also individually appreciate each of its parts.
Star Trek in all its iterations is ensemble, even with the backbone of its senior officers. In case of classic/rebooted Trek, that's your Trinity of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy.
This film especially plays up the "old married couple" bickering between Spock and Bones to great effect, especially when they are stranded on the planet-- coincidentally the only crew to be initially marooned together.
Through this deconstructed lens, the film tries to tackle some pretty deep questions: what is a man's (specifically Kirk's, and to a lesser degree, Spock's) purpose? Even the villain Krall is more a mental rumination on what happens when a man loses his purpose and less your average movie "bad guy."
The film also explores the importance of unity and keeping your ethics intact in the face of crisis-- tired and true themes explored in many other Star Trek episodes and films, but not quite in this same way. The film presents a beautiful message about the strength that comes from unity and diversity while never being too heavy-handed about it. One of the best moments comes at the end as the entire lead cast recites the words familiar to so many fans: "Space. The final frontier. These are the voyages..." As a sort of Greek Chorus, each lead gets their own line, their own part of the famous credo. It's a beautiful moment that cements this cast together as the equals of any cast before them.
A Big, Dumb Action Movie
Justin Lin sure knows how to direct an action sequence. The attack on the Enterprise is breathtaking and breakneck. And that is merely one of a dozen or more scenes featuring spaceships, 'splosions, and, yes, a motorcycle.
For those who were skeptical of the motorcycle in the trailer, there is reason to be. But, the final product ends up working organically, if a little predictably. But, if you buy the premise, you buy the bit.
But Star Trek Beyond packs in some serious eye (and ear) candy. It's a lot of fun and provides a comfortable landing zone from the more dense, thinky parts of the script. They're also paced well, and essentially the last half hour is back to back action.
Bottom line? Fans of blockbuster spectacle will have a lot to enjoy here too, whether they have seen every episode of Star Trek or this is their first experience.
Just like the other two films in the rebooted Trek,.this movie spends a good deal of time winking at the audience, making little throwaway references to things hardcore Trekkies will go nuts for.
While it's so brief that it will go over the heads of casual moviegoers, the winking at the audience does get a little bit distracting. However, at least two pieces are incredibly perfect, but telling you would be spoilers. You'll just have to wait for these easter eggs yourself.
However, rather than the lengths Star Trek Into Darkness went in contorting itself to bring us Khan and its hamfisted, over-the-top metareferences (perhaps that film's most serious flaw), this film's homages and references always feel relatively natural.
But perhaps the most interesting is that the film draws from the deepest, darkest recesses of Trek fandom with a few references to the oft-maligned Enterprise series, events from which may (or may not) elucidate Krall's origins as a villain and his hatred for the Federation.
And yes, JJ Abrams had to slip in some Beastie Boys, but if you saw the trailer you know this. But you haven't seen what they do with it. It's the part of the Venn Diagram where the fanservice overlaps with the big dumb fun. And it's spectacular.
Overall the film is relatively well-balanced. It occasionally slips and loses that balance between heady sci-fi and big dumb action, but not long enough to lose your interest. No matter which flavor of Star Trek you like, you will find something to enjoy. And while it doesn't rise to the best of the franchise's now one dozen movies, it towers over the worst of them.
7.5 out of 10