Three years into their five year mission, the Enterprise is sent on a rescue mission into an uncharted nebula. Once there they are swarmed by a fleet of small ships, attacked badly, and are forced to abandon ship. The leader of these aliens Krall (Idris Elba) captures Uhura (Zoe Saldana) and Sulu (John Cho) as well as most of the crew looking for a relic Kirk (Chris Pine) obtained on a previous mission. Kirk and Chekov (the late Anton Yelchin) are stranded elsewhere, as are Spock (Zachary Quinto) and Bones (Karl Urban). While Scotty (Simon Pegg) meets a resourceful ally Jaylah (Sofia Boutella) who wants them to help her leave this world.
The plot isn’t constructed as tightly as it could be. Given where the story goes, and the twists it takes though interesting in the moment, the details don’t really match up and are in some points unexplained -particularly with regards to the villain’s actions and motivations. But you can tell this is written by a Star Trek fan who clearly knows this universe and how to write these characters. This is the crew you know, their interactions and personalities are spot on, giving the film an energy and making it enjoyable despite the plot contrivances. And being a Simon Pegg script, it of course is peppered with great little jokes.
Kirk is finally coming into his own and in a number of scenes makes for a believably competent leader. I credit this to Pine’s performance as much as the script. Spock’s character arc is essentially one big tribute to Leonard Nimoy. Other characters like Bones and Scotty get to grow. I’ve always loved Bones’ attitude, and he partakes more in the action which I appreciate. And Scotty, though often the sarcastic one, is allowed to be inspiring. We get a glimpse of Sulu’s family, Chekov’s constantly being given more responsibility, and paired off as the cast is, each character gets noteworthy moments. The scenes between Spock and Bones, always one of the more enjoyable relationships due to their constant banter, are played very well and are a lot of fun. Kall is a stock villain though, who’s not really compelling until you learn his backstory. But Jaylah is a really enjoyable new character.
Unlike the last film, this one does something really different by placing its cast for the majority in a different environment with a unique kind of conflict. It was a great move to scatter the cast and strand them from most of their technology as it allowed the stakes to be much more threatening. The villain had a more valuable bargaining tool and his technology was pretty intimidating too. There’s a line he has about the frontier “fighting back” against the Federation, which interestingly draws the Federation in early North American parallels. And this with its’ far-fetched but serious plot, and some corny banter added to the exotic situation (not to mention a couple redshirts), it wound up being very reminiscent of an original Star Trek episode. Just with a much higher budget and the director of the Fast and the Furious movies.
Yeah, Justin Lin is at the helm of this movie and in some scenes you can tell. The action is very elaborate -some of the best the franchise has given us, and there’s even a sequence where Kirk manages a rescue on a motorbike. But Lin knows enough that this film can’t be entirely madcap and lets it breathe once in a while. The make-up effects on the aliens are pretty decent and the production design quite good (even if the starbase Yorktown seems ripped off of Guardians of the Galaxy).
But more than that, Star Trek Beyond captures the spirit of Star Trek feeling very much an adequate celebration while also its own story. The perseverance of humanity and allure of exploration are clear Gene Roddenberry themes. It pays tribute, and throws in small homages in some way or other to each series. It’s certainly not a pillar of intrepid science fiction storytelling the way a few of the other films and a number of episodes over the past fifty years have been, but it does manage to be unmistakably Star Trek, living up to its title of going beyond and reassuring audiences the legacy will continue another fifty years.