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Boldly Going Where No Trek Has Gone Before

Chris Pine
Chris Pine
Paramount Pictures
 127 Minutes
Rated: PG-13
Directed by: Justin Lin 
Starring: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto
Star Trek Beyond

J.J. Abrams may have revived the Star Trek franchise, but his greatest accomplishment in that regard ironically has come in its most recent chapter, Star Trek Beyond, the film with which Abrams has been the least involved. Just as time passed the original cast members by, Abrams could not dedicate as much time or effort to this latest film (taking a producer’s credit instead), But he assembled a team in director Justin Lin and screenwriters Simon Pegg (who does double duty as Scotty) and Doug Jung who had a good grasp on both Abrams’ vision and what made the original series so enduringly popular. The result isn’t great science fiction, but it’s more like the episode that the show’s original creator would have produced if he had the budget and technology.


The new movie begins with Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) and the crew of the Enterprise headed to a large space station for some badly needed rest. When they arrive, both Kirk and Spock (Zachary Quinto) have momentous decisions before them. Kirk has been offered a promotion to Admiral, a move that would result in him being deskbound. Spock, on the other hand, is mourning the loss of his mentor Spock Prime (Leonard Nimoy, whose own death undoubtedly triggered this storyline) and debating resigning from Star Fleet altogether.


Neither man is able to finalize a decision before the Enterprise gets sent on a rescue mission, in response to a distress call from a survivor of a ship that had been attacked near a distant planet. When the Enterprise arrives, they learn that the distress call was actually a trap, and the ship is attacked and eventually destroyed by thousands of small ships traveling in giant swarms that are able to crash through the Enterprise’s hull. The survivors of the attack land on the planet in widely dispersed groups.


Sulu (John Cho), Uhura (Zoe Saldana), and most of the crew are taken captive by Krall (Idris Elba), the leader of the aliens. For years, he and his forces have been luring other ships to their planet and shooting them down. Krall then uses the survivors as a food source, draining their life force to keep himself young.


Some of the Enterprise crew manage to avoid capture. Scotty meets Jayleh, an alien who escaped from Krall earlier and is hiding out in the wreckage of the Franklin, a starship that vanished 100 years earlier and obviously wound up on this planet. Together they repair the Franklin so it can fly again. By then, they have met up with Kirk, Spick, McCoy (Karl Urban), and Chekhov. The group organize a prison break and head back to their starbase, with Krall and his forces close behind.


Those looking for much in the way of hard science fiction will be disappointed in Star Trek Beyond. There’s a reason behind Krall’s mad qyest for revenge, and it’s not very hard to guess. However, in the end, there’s not much difference between him and the villains in the first two Star Trek films. Since Krall is played by the always intense Idris Elba, the character is somewhat compelling on that basis alone, but the plot eventually boils down to a race to stop a madman from wreaking havoc on lots of innocent people.


Despite the simplicity of the storyline, Star Trek Beyond is usually a lot of fun, thanks to the wild action scenes. Director Justin Lin has an excellent visual sense, and the set pieces are well staged. Instead of a typical, ponderous phaser battle between the Enterprise and a similar ship, something we’ve seen on TV and earlier movies more times than I can count, Lin delivers something highly original and visually stunning. I’ve never seen anything like the swarm of drone ships at Krall’s command, and the attack looks and moves faster than any space battle I can recall.


Nor are the outer space battles the only good set pieces. The action on Krall’s planet is well staged, and the finale, a hand-to-hand battle between Krall and Kirk, takes place in near zero-g conditions at the space station, which Krall threatens to destroy with a doomsday device he has conveniently located. As you might guess, Star Trek Beyond is 3D, but Lin isn’t content just to hit viewers with a couple of “gotcha” moments, but, instead, he stages an entire fight between Kirk and Krall in a gravity-free area that was doubtless a challenge to film, but one that looks stunning in 3D.


Star Trek Beyond is also remarkably faithful to its core characters. Abrams made excellent choices up and down the line in casting his crew (Anton Yelchin will be missed in future films), and the script gives audiences what they’ve loved for a half century. Kirk is dashing and a bit reckless, while Quinto and Urban’s Spock and McCoy bicker the same as Nimoy and DeForest Kelly used to do. And, it’s not surprising that Pegg’s script gives Scotty a beefed up role from his usual in the TV series.


Over and over, what struck me while watching Star Trek Beyond is how the movie could easily have been a beefed-up episode of the original TV series, with a much larger budget and half a century’s worth of better special effects. And that’s not a criticism. The original series created a fictional universe filled with Klingons, Romulans, and Tribbles, but it also reinforced the core dynamic among a remarkable group of characters. When Abrams rebooted the series in 2009 with younger versions of the original cast, the time travel backstory pretty much gave him a blank check to rewrite the entire Star Trek mythos. The filmmakers pointedly refuse to do so in Star Trek Beyond (beyond a few tweaks like establishing that Sulu is gay), realizing the value of what Gene Roddenberry had created.


Normally, I would be critical of a remake that merely rehashes something that worked decades earlier with some better effects work. But Star Trek, although it became a film franchise, was always a TV series at heart. And what audiences love about television, now as much as a half century ago, is the opportunity to spend time with some old friends every week. Of course, Star Trek movies don’t come around once a week, but Beyond is reassuringly familiar. For those of my generation, the movie was a tribute to the original series with a remarkably faithful group of actors both in appearance and deed. Younger viewers will quickly pick up on the ensemble ambience as well, and it feels just like being at home. Star Trek Beyond may have gone where no man has gone before, but it feels right at home.   

In this scene, Chris Pine and the crew of the Enterprise prepare for an attck. 

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Star Trek Beyond (2016) on IMDb