Directed by Justin Lin
Written by Simon Pegg & Doug Jung
We finally arrive at the conclusion of the Star Trek saga, or at least the current conclusion as more films are rumored to be in the works. It’s a little bittersweet to finally be here, with no more films to watch for at least a couple of years. I’ve certainly enjoyed my time on this journey, getting to know these characters, their adventures together, their relationships together. There is a lot to like about the Star Trek franchise, even if there are few films within the series I would call truly spectacular. Overall the series is too solid, too entertaining, and too uniquely interesting to be dismissed or be anything less than a celebrated piece of popular culture. Whether Star Trek Beyond continues that brand, expands upon it, sets the franchise up for future success, well I would say yes, it does. But like much of the series, it’s merely an average to above average adventure which fails to hit uber highs, while also avoiding horrible lows.
We join the crew here in the midst of their five year mission, which apparently has come with very little fulfillment as Kirk would like to apply to become a Vice Admiral. They take shore leave on a brand-spanking new space station called Yorktown, but are soon whisked away on a rescue mission, which is exactly the kind of work we would expect from Starfleet. But what they soon find out is that this rescue mission is actually a trap, and a mad man named Krall is out to get the Federation for revenge, causing the crew to scramble to escape his grasp and race in time to save Yorktown between Krall and do his bidding.
I probably had undue expectations with Beyond, seeing as it was the “final” film in this marathon, and yet it’s not really a final film in the same sense that The Undiscovered Country and Nemesis were, so those expectations are completely unfair. This is definitely not a final film, mostly because it feels very much like “just another Star Trek film”. There is nothing special going on here in terms of plotting; it’s a rather standard type story with some cool details thrown in. There is also nothing really all that special going on here with characters. In fact, I would say that of the three reboot films, Beyond is the blandest when it comes to characters. Where before it felt like everyone got a chance, even just one moment to shine, I can’t recall the same treatment here. At least the villain is still better than Nero in Star Trek, but only slightly, which is that much more of a disappointment given he is played by Idris Elba, an actor I like a great deal.
I can’t say things are necessarily “wasted” with this installment, but certainly new director Justin Lin, who took over for J.J. Abrams in the director’s chair, doesn’t provide enough of a new flourish or keen eye to make a difference in this film, to either set it apart from the first two, or build upon it to make it something greater. Lin’s direction is fine. The story is fine. The cast is fine. Look, the film is fine! I enjoyed it, but I think of the three it would rank as my least favorite, which is more a comment on the quality of the first two films than a true indictment on this one, which certainly has it’s fair share of fun sequences.
For instance, I think the sequence that likely stands out to most is the “Sabotage” scene. It is truly a very cool concept and moment within the narrative of the film, and Lin makes sure it’s visually stunning as well. If I had one nitpick, it would be I wish this wasn’t the same song as played with young Kirk stole the vintage Corvette in the beginning of Star Trek. Since it’s not Kirk’s song choice in this moment, I don’t see how it relates back to that moment in the series, even if they include a literal nod to it here. But in its defense, it’s the perfect choice for this moment, and it works extremely well. I also liked the bits between Spock and Bones, two characters who have not interacted nearly enough in these new films given their lack of affinity for each other in the original series. In Beyond, the filmmaker finally capitalize on that natural dislike of each other, and it gives both Karl Urban and Zachary Quinto the chance at a couple nice moments.
I really enjoyed the history lesson involved at the center of this plot too. Bringing in the USS Franklin and its mythology and legend is a cool idea, and having the crew use antiquated technology is a great little spin. But the major twist at the center of the film is also an important lesson about how history is written and how we should always take the subject with even the tiniest bit of trepidation. Historians use all information available to them to reach logical and reasonable conclusion, but too often these are taken as absolute facts, and other possible outcomes are ignored. As we see here with Krall, the victors often get to write the history, but there are two sides to every story. I love history, I have a degree in history. It’s an ever changing, always evolving thing. We should respect history, we should study history, we should try to learn from history. As the saying goes, otherwise we’re doomed to repeat it. I hope Star Trek Beyond is not repeated, especially given its relative blandness, but there is enough here to enjoy, to make it a worthy Star Trek film. I just hope when we return to adventures with our Starfleet crew, we get a little more of an upgrade.