Through the 2009 reboot Star Trek and follow-up project Star Trek Into Darkness, J.J. Abrams and Co. have successfully resurrected a larger-than-life sci-fi franchise for younger generations. The films have been beautiful and exciting, and at the new series’ core, Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto have been enormously enjoyable (as Kirk and Spock, respectively). Star Trek Beyond is the third film in the modern iteration of the franchise, and it achieves mixed results in its attempt to build on the success of its immediate predecessors.
This time around, Kirk, Spock, and the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise are flirting with time off at Yorktown, a giant rip-off of Elysium massive space station that looks something like an outer space Utopia. Kirk, weary of endless exploration, has applied to become Vice Admiral of Yorktown, while Spock learns that his own self from a future timeline, a prominent figure with the Vulcans, has passed away. As Kirk and Spock prepare to inform each other that they may be leaving Starfleet to address their respective interests, however, a stranded stranger of a foreign species named Kalara (Lydia Wilson) arrives requesting help.
Quickly on board for the mission, Kirk and Spock lead the Enterprise into a Nebula to find Kalara’s ship for her, and they quickly run into an ambush from tens of thousands of small ships in organized swarms. These ships destroy the Enterprise, causing its crew to evacuate in escape pods, after which the core characters conveniently reunite on the nearby planet Altamid. There, they meet the mysterious Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), an alien figure living in a stranded Starfleet spaceship. From that point forward Kirk, Spock, Jaylah, and Bones (Karl Urban), along with beloved supporting characters like Scotty (Simon Pegg), Chekov (the late Anton Yelchin) and Sulu (John Cho), need to find a way to get the ship to fly. And they need to do so while finding a way to defeat Krall (Idris Elba), a furious villain hell-bent on unleashing a deadly weapon on Starfleet. It was Krall, they learn, who directed Kalara to lead the Enterprise into an ambush, so that he could capture the weapon from the ship’s storage chambers in the first place.
The story is enough to give our favorite characters a reason to jump back into action, but not much more. It’s a great deal of fun to see the Enterprise and crew battling for their lives and the fate of Starfleet, but the whole setup is a little bit abrupt and convenient. Perhaps this is how it was supposed to feel, but it’s a little bit more like an interruption than a sequel; like they were about to make a Star Trek movie before Kalara landed at Yorktown and sidetracked everybody. This, of course, is the very interruption that does occur in the lives of the characters, but it probably should feel like more than that to the audience. The events of Star Trek Beyond just seem a little inconsequential, even though lives are at stake from beginning to end.
On the plus side, almost the entire cast is delightful. If you’re considering seeing this film, you’re already familiar with the effective back-and-forth of Pine and Quinto, and though they might be a little less funny this time around, the dynamic is the same. It feels as if Bones is on screen a little bit more in Beyond, and while I’m slightly unclear on just how self-aware the writers and the actor are about his effect, it’s amusing nonetheless. No one can pull off “Damn it, man, are you insane!?” quite like Karl Urban. Pegg, Cho, and Yelchin, in his final role, are all wonderful, while Boutella makes a very effective debut as Jaylah, who figures to be sticking around for a while.
What left me feeling a little bit crestfallen was the performance of Idris Elba. Viewed as a major talent since his days as Stringer Bell on The Wire, Elba is talented and there’s no doubt about it. But I can’t help but begin to feel he’s getting a pass in film. For every fun little role like Heimdall in Thor, there’s a cheesy turn in Prometheus or Pacific Rim. And after his terrific work in Beasts Of No Nation last year, the Krall role here is a disappointing follow-up. Frankly, it’s generic nonsense. And while it’s likely no fault of his own, it remains a poorly written character that feels beneath Elba.
Aside from that aggravating detail, Star Trek Beyond falls in line just about where you might expect: it’s good summer fun at the theater. I don’t rate it quite as highly as the last two, but it’s mostly good.
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