I have a confession. I have not been a fan of the reboot of Star Trek. In the first movie, I found James Kirk to be an insufferable ass. The second had numerous problems that have been well expounded upon.
But with Star Trek Beyond, the first film with The Fast & The Furious director Justin Lin at the helm, I am completely sold. Some of my complaints remain, for example, Star Trek has always been about bigger ideas, turning them loose in a sci-fi sandbox and exploring the nuances. Beyond is not particularly deep. But oh sweet Laws is it fun.
After the initial trailer spawned a great deal of backlash amongst Trekkers and Trekkies, I can say that this movie is everything a summer tentpole blockbuster is supposed to be.
Is there action? Yes, the movie’s pace is both fast and furious. There are several stunning set pieces that are pulse-poundingly intense. But Lin knows exactly when to cut the audience a break, let us breathe, and get ready for the next effects laden kerfuffle. One thing I am particularly impressed by is that as frenetic as the battles are, they never become the ugly spectacles that befell movies like the later Transformer sequels. The effects here are dizzying, but captivating.
Lin understands the importance of the camera even in digital effects, and he treats us to some of the most impressive camera work I’ve seen in a blockbuster. A space station called “Yorktown” is a triumph of design and Lin flies us around and through it along a topsy-turvy path that manages to be stunning and vertiginous at the same time.
This movie begins with the crew of the Enterprise 966 days into their five year journey (trivia: the original series debuted in September of 1966). Their grand adventure has become routine, and Kirk and Spock, unbeknownst to each other, have put in requests that would end their voyage.
Enter the villain.
It is not a spoiler at this point that a bunch of tiny ships whip the tar out of the Enterprise. The commander of this swarm is up to civilization-ending-no-good (is there any other kind in these movies?). There’s a McGuffin; an ass-kicking female alien with bright white skin and a Darth Maul-esque black face tattoo, and of course, the Big Showdown. This includes one of my all-time favorite music cues. I clapped my hands and howled laughing like a 5-year old at Christmas.
The casting, both new and old, is spot-on. Frankly, if you put Idris Elba in your movie, odds are it will be awesome. It doesn’t hurt that Shohreh Aghdashloo, an actress whose voice completely mesmerizes me, takes a turn as Commander Paris. One of the things that works best in this movie is that the obvious chemistry between the core crew is really allowed to take center stage. As glorious as the choreography of the battle sequences are, the humor (and there’s lot of it) and the clear affection they have for each other sells this movie.
I emphasize this because it is the life-blood of these types of movies. The problem with the Star Wars prequels was not plotting, world-building or any of that. It was that the rapport between the core was absent. We wanted the comradery of Han, Luke and Leia. We didn’t get it. This is also the heart of what I disliked about the first Trek reboot film. Kirk was too bent on seizing the captain’s chair for there to be any chemistry between him and Spock, the heart of this universe. Wisely, Lin lets that regard these characters (and likely the actors) have for each other shine.
And the movie pays homage to sadly absent friends in two important ways. First, the passing of Leonard Nimoy is artfully incorporated into the plot. Secondly, at the end of the film, the credits and soundtrack stop to dedicate the movie to young Anton Yelchin who so tragically died a few weeks before the movie’s release.
At this point, you are likely realizing that the things that made the stronger of the Fast & the Furious films so enjoyable are here also. I had deep reservations about Lin taking over the franchise. Those are completely gone and I cannot wait for the next one if he’s retaking the director’s chair.
Star Trek Beyond gets an A from me. See it on a big screen with a really loud sound system, 3D IMAX preferably. You won’t regret it.