VOD film review: Star Trek Beyond
James R | On 14, Apr 2017
Director: Justin Lin
Cast: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban
Where does a beloved sci-fi franchise boldly go, after boldly going back on itself immediately after a reboot, to distinctly middling effect? The trailer for Star Trek Beyond seemed to have a surprising answer: depart from the franchise entirely and create a loud, banging action flick accompanied by Beastie Boys. So far, so Justin Lin. But forget Fast & Furious: this third outing in Nu-Trek is a wonderfully nostalgic affair, one that feels more like an episode of the TV series than a blockbuster.
The film begins subversively, by ditching the Enterprise altogether in a shock attack in the middle of space that leaves the crew crash-landed on a planet in the back-end of the galaxy. But that’s just the set-up for a classic Trek format: the story where the crew are stranded in a foreign world and have to rely on their wits – and each other – to stay alive.
The script comes courtesy of Doug Jung and long-time Trekkie (and Warsie) Simon Pegg and you can feel the fan service in every sentence. That might sound like a criticism, but it’s perhaps the highest compliment you can pay a series that is so intermeshed with its own fandom. Beyond doesn’t just understand what fans want; it delivers it, and it delivers it well. Splitting up the cast into pairs, it places the focus on its ensemble interacting rather than things exploding, allowing maximum opportunity for laughter and also the chance to tease out new character details that might otherwise be overlooked.
Where previously the heart of Star Trek has been Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock (Zachary Quinto), Bones (Karl Urban – thankfully given more to do) is the one who buddies up with the Vulcan, producing an unexpected double act that might be even more entertaining than the usual, as both stick to logic and reason in entirely different ways. Both have a knack for spitting out barbed quips, while blaced against Bones’ gruff cynicism, Spock’s humanity has never felt more apparent.
Pine’s Kirk, meanwhile, just gets better, as the shipless captain is accompanied by Chekov (the late Anton Yelchin). It’s hard to imagine anyone stepping into either of their shoes, and Pine’s superb performance (always two steps away from Shatner) is deceptively generous, his brooding reflection upon his legacy and future never overshadowing Yelchin’s Chekov. Zoe Saldana’s Uhura is as disappointing wasted as ever, while the revelation that John Cho’s Sulu is gay seems underplayed, after all that controversy among blinkered fans, but gives his similarly under-used sidekick a beautiful new depth.
Pegg’s Scotty, perhaps unsurprisingly, gets all the best lines, as he finds himself working with Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), a bad-ass alien also fighting to survive on the hostile planet. She’s got a back-story that connects her to Krall, our villain, who’s after an artefact that’s aboard the Enterprise and has reasons to want the Federation destroyed. Between Bones, Spock, Kirk and Boutella, Idris Elba’s bad guy winds up struggling to make an impression – his evil plan and motivations will become guessable within the first 30 minutes – but if this is a fairly standard Star Trek narrative, the film doesn’t suffer from sticking closely to its roots.
A witty final act rivals the dazzling destruction of the opening set piece, but manages to do so in way that feels delightfully old-fashioned, from Kirk on a motorbike to, yes, a clip of the Beastie Boys. Justin Lin puts together these classic tropes and new ideas at a breakneck pace, resulting in a sequel whose boldest decision is simply not to venture beyond what works: a great cast, enjoyably old-school production design and a strong sense of morals. Star Trek Beyond feels more like an episode of the TV series than a blockbuster – and it’s all the better for it.