When J.J. Abrams rebooted Star Trek in 2009 (with the movie Star Trek, natch) I admit to having a lot of fun, but I didn’t really feel like I’d watched a Star Trek movie so much as a space opera more in the vein of Star Wars except with Star Trek characters, no Force, and funnier looking ships. In the sequel Star Trek Into Darkness J.J. Abrams did bring the Star Trek back into Star Trek but in the worst way possible, by just rewriting nearly verbatim an old Star Trek movie and throwing in a bunch of fan service in the hopes that would distract the audience from noticing. In this third installment of the rebooted Star Trek Universe, J.J. Abrams is working only as a producer as his attention is now on the Star Wars films. It shows in the best way possible.
The fans of Star Wars and Star Trek have been arguing about which is the better series since the early ’80s, but it really is a silly debate since other than the two series both being set in outer space they really serve very different functions. Star Wars is almost more fantasy or western than it is science fiction with its action heavy, melodramatic stories that don’t really care about how the futuristic stuff works; it may as well be, and in the Force’s case is, magic. The tension and heroic feats of derring-do are the focus. Star Trek, on the other hand, is closer to hard science fiction. We do care about how things work, and while much of the dialogue is so much techno-babble, that’s merely to keep the tone in stories that explore themes relevant to our modern culture and science that is beyond ours currently, but contains theories that are fun to explore in a fictional sense.
Star Trek Beyond brings back the themes and the hard science that were missing when the films were in Abram’s hands. Instead of a film that focuses more on special effects and lens flares we have honest to goodness character interaction and development, we have themes that are both uplifting and thoughtful, and we have science running the show again instead of what may as well be magic. Yet despite all that, even with that return to form the action set pieces that made Abram’s vision of Star Trek at least more exciting, if far less cerebral, are still there and still of top notch quality. In some cases, even higher quality. An early scene that is given away in the trailer, for instance, which has many fans rolling their eyes and asking, “Did they do it again?” (I won’t say what “it” is in case you haven’t seen the trailer and don’t recognize what I’m referring to) absolutely does do “it” again, but in such a creative, spectacular, and visceral way you can easily forgive the fact that this territory has been covered before, because it has never been covered in a way even close to this.
In case I haven’t already made it obvious, the real star of Star Trek Beyond is the amazing script by Simon Pegg, who has by now pretty much proven to me that he is incapable of producing something low in quality (well, not entirely incapable but… I forgive you for Paul). The same cast that were in the last two Star Trek films all return, but they all also turn up their acting a notch or two because what they are given to do is so much more interesting and in character than before. Kirk (Chris Pine) is a more believable and sympathetic character than, perhaps ever, honestly, Spock (Zachary Quinto) shows aspects of his personality that bring new life to the character but are still very much in tune with being the Spock we know and love, and Bones (Karl Urban) really is Bones again, not just someone who spouts out famous one liners when it seems it will get the most laughs. New to the series is Sofia Boutella as Jayla, and what a treat she is. Her character strikes the perfect balance between strong and vulnerable, and her character arc is absolutely compelling. At the end of the film they strongly imply that Jayla may actually become a new regular crew member on the Enterprise, and I really, really hope this is the case as I can’t wait to see more of both character and actress.
Does Star Trek Beyond have any problems? Yes. Three to be exact. The first is that Idris Elba does not really play a gripping villain. Perhaps it’s just hard for him to act through all that make up (it really did seem like he couldn’t move his face at all) but the way he spoke and moved was in no way intimidating nor compelling. The second is that too many of the action scenes which did not take place entirely with CGI used the shaky camera, in your face, quick editing style of camera work which makes it impossible to tell what is going on. One early scene featuring Spock and Bones was filmed so poorly in this manner, that I actually needed to piece together what had happened by scenes later in the movie as I had no idea what I was seeing in the moment. Third, and finally where problems are concerned, there were two scenes, one early and one late, that seemed really out of place and were quite jarring. The early one was played for laughs, so it can be forgiven on that account, and the later one was so thrilling that it too can be forgiven, but given the fact that it was a very pivotal and important scene, there are many that will call it out as something that just did not belong in any Star Trek film, let alone this one.
Needless to say, I highly recommend seeing Star Trek Beyond. It may be a long day combined with my post great movie viewing high talking, but this may just be the best Star Trek story ever put out to date, and yes, I am including Wrath of Khan and Locutus of Borg in the running. If you consider yourself a Trekker you must see this movie. If you only see one movie a year, it needs to be this one, and you need to make an exception and see a second movie so you can see it again. If you like Star Trek but aren’t an obsessed fan, I still highly, highly recommend Star Trek Beyond as one of the most thrilling science fiction epics in recent memory. If you truly hate all things Star Trek and science fiction, then you are the only audience I don’t recommend going out to see this, but if a friend or significant other wants to drag you to this, then do them a favor and go. Star Trek Beyond is so good, you just may find yourself enjoying it despite yourself.
Rating: 8.2 out of 10