The third Star Trek film in the reboot franchise has arrived on our screens and I was lucky enough to catch an early, advanced screening at the UK premiere.
In a very congested summer blockbuster schedule, is the film worth it? It most certainly is.
Star Trek Beyond has a lot to live up to in terms of history. This is the 50th anniversary of the franchise, so you can imagine the pressure in getting it right.
I will admit I’m a bit of a trekkie. I grew up watching the Original Series and The Next Generation. Dipped in and out of Voyager and Deep Space Nine (need to fix that). Even watched Enterprise.
In regards to the Star Trek film franchise (in particular the reboot films) there’s a certain level of compromises that as a fan you have to make. It’s moved away from the mystery/investigation/philosophical angle that the original series had and has become a summer blockbuster franchise with all the visual spectacle that a studio can throw at it.
But I’m happy to report that Star Trek Beyond strikes a good balance at appeasing the mystery from the old and the action adventure from the new.
Kirk: “We make a good team.”
Spock: “Yes, we do.”
One of the best aspects from Star Trek Beyond is the story itself. Co-written by Simon Pegg and Doug Jung, we are presented with something fresh for the franchise.
One of the major reasons why Star Trek into Darkness didn’t live up to expectations is because it retconned most of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Wrath of Khan still resonates today because of the history between Kirk and Khan, stemming back to the original series. It’s two characters playing the ultimate chess game. Characters are tested. One paid the ultimate sacrifice which gets me every single time. Star Trek into Darkness sadly copies key moments from Wrath of Khan but doesn’t capture the heart of what made it so special. It became an imitation.
Star Trek Beyond doesn’t suffer that. By giving a fresh storyline and perspective, it stands on its own two feet without feeling that pressure of living up to the past. In the end you have a film that captures new worlds, new aliens and the crew going on a self discovery journey.
It’s also a sentimental Star Trek film. If I compared it to Star Trek (2009) and Star Trek into Darkness, the tone is different. Don’t get me wrong – it’s still a fun movie with beautiful action scenes. But it’s the quiet moments with the characters that allows them to shine and have their moment. It reminds you of their character and their skills. It reminds you why you care about them so much and why they hold a special place in your heart. Thus Star Trek Beyond provides an emotional depth instead of a simple yet brainless action movie. Certainly for me, I got a lot more value and substance out of the film.
That unity that holds the crew together is challenged under extreme circumstances in the form of Krall (Idris Elba).
The USS Enterprise is attacked, forcing the crew to evacuate and escape to a nearby planet. With no ship and communication, the crew have to find a way to survive whilst uncovering the mystery behind Krall.
Essentially Star Trek Beyond is a giant, two-hour, Kobayashi Maru test!
Again, that leads to another beneficial issue in regards to the plot. It’s a little bit nerdy but in a good way. For a straightforward storyline it doesn’t try to dumb down elements. Everything is a little mystery and that mystery is hidden in plain sight. The elements build until the final reveal. The film is very reflective towards Trek history and the previous films. But certainly, Star Trek Beyond promotes legacy which Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) and Commander Spock (Zachary Quinto) experience.
We’ve come a long way with Kirk and Spock. In Star Trek (2009), their parallel and mirrored stories converged, giving the film a natural centre point. In Beyond, they are both at an emotional crossroads.
Kirk has an opportunity to be promoted as Admiral yet questions the value of his work. He joined Starfleet on a dare, a challenge to do better. He feels he has been living in his father’s shadow. Similar to Kirk in The Wrath of Khan, Beyond showcases Kirk’s conflict in defining his own legacy as captain, a character trait that seemed so far away from his cocky beginnings in Star Trek (2009). Spock debates quitting Starfleet to help rebuild Vulcan 2 after learning Spock Prime (Leonard Nimoy) had passed away. In fact Star Trek Beyond includes a touching tribute to Leonard and Zachary Quinto becomes the natural torch-bearer for his character’s legacy.
The challenge throughout the film is whether they should go through with their decisions that will certainly impact their friendship. The crew clearly have great faith in their leaders.
“This is where it begins, Captain. This is where the frontier pushes back!” – Krall
But like all Star Trek films, the films are only as good as the villain and Idris Elba certainly delivers…even if his beautiful face was covered in prosthetics!
I’m not going to reveal too much about his character arc but as Krall, he’s certainly in the mould of classic Star Trek villains. In some respects, his character reminded me of Khan. He’s strong and aggressive, throwing Captain Kirk around as if he was lifting weights at the gym! He has a purpose in what he’s doing which becomes a personal vendetta against the Federation. Whilst that aspect might feel like a generic re-hash from previous Trek films, in context you could argue that it questions the use of the Federation. If the fundamentals of the organisation are about deep space exploration, research, diplomacy and defence, does their actions do more harm than good? Who’s accountable when it doesn’t go right? The film could have elaborated on that note more but I was happy to infer that.
If there is a weakness in the villain department then it’s certainly how his character arc was resolved. It felt too brief and was concluded quickly after a strong reveal. But take nothing away, Krall definitely has presence by questioning the nature of monsters.
Another talking point is Sulu (John Cho) being gay. Honestly I can understand both sides of the argument but the film doesn’t dwell on it and neither does it distract you. Would creator Gene Roddenberry approve of the choice? Who knows. But in essence I always think about what Starfleet represents – a collection of individuals from different nationalities, backgrounds, sexualities, religions, race, cultures, species and planets, using their collective wisdom by working together to bring peace in the universe. It’s an optimistic and idealistic hope that we all strive for. Starfleet as an organisation is a celebration of diversity and therefore I didn’t have a problem with the change. Besides, this is not the first time the Star Trek reboots have taken advantage of character traits via their altered timeline. Spock and Uhura (Zoe Saldana) are a couple and Khan was played by a white Englishman!
The visual effects were impressive and worth the big screen treatment. While the trailers make small hints, the best use was when the Enterprise was destroyed. The destruction is brutal – Krall’s army of ships swarm like bees and sadly a can of Raid won’t kill them!
But the most important aspect of the visual effects – no lens flares.
Krall: “Unity is not your strength. It is a weakness.”
Kirk: “I think you’re underestimating humanity.”
Overall, there’s not many faults I can find in Star Trek Beyond. The general criticisms about the reboot films are not an issue, as if someone finally listened and learnt from their mistakes.
Star Trek is not tied down by what it has done before. Just like the ship and the crew, they set their own course and Beyond celebrates that aspect. It celebrates the power of the human spirit despite the ever-increasing dangers. The combination and balance between the old and the new means that it’s not afraid of having fun. It’s a very good, entertaining film that is confident in its own direction. It easily eclipses Star Trek into Darkness and it’s on par with Star Trek (2009).
Star Trek Beyond also serves as a fitting and respectful end for these group of characters. Just like what Skyfall did for James Bond on their 50th anniversary, this is the real start of the adventures of the Starship Enterprise and the possibilities are endless.
Live long and prosper because we finally have our Star Trek back.