Review: ‘Star Trek Beyond’ Engages Back to the Classic Episodes

"Star Trek Beyond" (2016) - Movie Review

50 Years of ‘Trek’ Comes Full-Circle in ‘Star Trek Beyond’

There’s no doubt about it that J.J. Abrams’ previous two Star Trek films forever changed the landscape of the space adventure franchise. For some viewers it’s been a reinvigoration, while others abhor the new changes. Star Trek has been going strong for 50 years. Still, truth be told, it hasn’t been more accessible to a much broader audience until the last decade. Star Trek Beyond, however, is looking for a middle ground to please the best of both worlds.

Almost three years have passed since Star Trek Into Darkness and Kirk (Chris Pine), Spock (Zachary Quinto) and McCoy (Karl Urban) are deep in the middle of their five-year mission. Basically, we’ve finally reached where the television show from the 60’s. No longer the hot-headed cocky cadet we were introduced to two films ago, Kirk is bored of the routine missions, even deeming them episodic. With Kirk’s higher ambitions at hand and Spock’s personal life taking a toll due to some bad news (addressing Leonard Nimoy’s death), the tight family of the USS Enterprise could end up drifting apart. That is, until the Enterprise is sent to investigate a distress signal inside a nebula, which turns out to be an ambush.

From the get-go, Star Trek Beyond feels so much different than the previous two films. And much of that is the absence of director J.J. Abrams, who went to helm the spectacular Star Wars: The Force Awakens. In his place is Fast and Furious director, Justin Lin, who seems more concerned with diving headfirst from action sequence to action sequence rather than offering more character moments. Don’t get me wrong, the initial set piece when the relentless swarm of enemy ships destroying the Enterprise is worth the price of admission. Still, the emotional touch of Star Trek and Into Darkness is missing to some degree. But Michael Giacchino’s stellar score once again is capable of another strong undercurrent.

While the action’s been amped up tenfold, Lin tends to tinker with new character dynamics. At one point, the crew is separated and we witness the most unlikely of team-ups among the crew. Kirk and Chekhov go on an adventure, while Sulu and Uhura are plotting an escape mission. But the highlight here is Spock and McCoy, who haven’t been much screen time together since the start of this reboot. After three films, Quinto and Urban already own these roles, but here it genuinely felt like the Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley bickering dynamic we’ve come to love. Kingsman’s Sofia Boutella enters the mix as the alien warrior, Jaylah (a play on Jennifer Lawrence’s name nonetheless) and she’s a welcome addition. Thank Simon Pegg and Doug Jung’s witty screenplay to get the most out of these characters.

Star Trek Beyond isn’t without its flaws, though. For the third consecutive film, the villain is driven by a personal vendetta. In this case, it’s Krall (Idris Elba), who on the surface seems like another generic alien villain with no concrete motivation. There is motivation, but it’s revealed way too late into the film, leaving little time for the climax to truly pack its punch. Nothing against Elba, who’s buried deep in alien makeup, but there’s nothing that stands out from previous Trek villains.

Beyond comes across more as an episode for the small screen rather than the big screen. The visual spectacle certainly compensates for the few misgivings, but with a few tweaks in the storytelling, we came so close to a trifecta of excellent Star Trek films. Thankfully, this isn’t an episodic disaster like Star Trek V: The Final Frontier or Star Trek: Insurrection. The question remains, however is Star Trek Beyond just a glorified episode? It is, but it pieces the best parts possible to fit within the new timeline.

Going into Star Trek Beyond, it was easy to question whether or not the franchise would be in good hands after the departure of J.J. Abrams. Beyond’s certainly a step down from the last two just like Return of the Jedi was to the first two Star Wars movies. That hasn’t stopped the thrill ride whatsoever. Justin Lin is confident with the action, delivering one of the most exciting films this summer has to offer.

Written by
Matt Marshall has been reviewing films since 2003, starting with "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King." He specializes in home media, including 4K UHD, Blu-ray as well as box office analysis. He has a B.A. in Communications/Journalism from St. John Fisher College and resides in Rochester, NY.

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