It’s seemed impossible at times to get a good movie this summer, especially in the sequel department. The latest entries in the Captain America, Independence Day, Neighbors, and X-Men franchises all underwhelmed (or were outright awful), so imagine my surprise at the fact that the third in the Star Trek reboot series (and 13th Trek film overall) is not only among the better films this summer, it may end the year as one of the most entertaining period.
Justin Lin, who cut his teeth directing the third-through-sixth Fast and the Furious films, takes over the Trek reins from J.J. Abrams, and he offers up a pure, unadulterated bit of movie fun. Not only are the visual effects and sci-fi action top-notch, there’s also a healthy dose of comedy, a smart script, and some good ol’ fashioned character development.
Let that sink in for a minute.
A big-budget, explosion-heavy, summer sci-fi flick that’s both intelligent and enjoyable? Yes indeed.
Taking place three years after Star Trek Into Darkness (both in real time and virtual time), Beyond opens with the crew of the Enterprise drifting past the mid-point of their five-year exploratory mission. The smooth sailing doesn’t last long, though, once they’re attacked by the evil Krall (Idris Elba), who is trying to get his hands on a particularly nasty weapon’s missing piece–which just happens to be in the possession of Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine).
After a particularly mind-blowing attack sequence, the Enterprise and its crew ends up crashed on the remote planet Altamid, the geography of which will instantly bring Trekkies back to the rocky alien terrain that served as the mainstay of the original 60s television series. Krall has taken several of the crew hostage, including Uhura (Zoe Saldana) and Sulu (John Cho). Meanwhile Kirk, Chekov (Anton Yelchin), Scotty (Simon Pegg), and local Jayla (Sofia Boutella) are mounting a rescue mission at the same time that the marooned Spock (Zachary Quinto) and Bones (Karl Urban) are trying to reunite with the gang.
On its surface, the plot of Beyond is nothing new, and there’s not even a dire need to re-watch the first two installments in advance; in fact, you could get along just fine with only a cursory knowledge of the Trek universe. But what makes the film so extraordinary is what co-writers Pegg and Doug Jung (TV’s Dark Blue) are able to accomplish in their script. Along with plenty of Pegg’s usual dry, one-liner humor, much time is granted to the crafting of unique, individual characters. This is not a movie of red shirts, blue shirts, and gold shirts– it’s Spock dealing with a tragic loss (and also an awkward break-up), Kirk wrestling with a once-in-a-lifetime promotion, Bones dealing with Spock, and Scotty dealing with his usual gaggle of neuroses.
For his part, Lin takes both the script and the better-than-average cast and runs with them, aided by a healthy dose of CGI. In addition, he never forgets the movie’s roots–Beyond is by and large a soaring homage to the original Trek. You almost expect to see tribbles running around at some point, but even though they don’t make an appearance, there’s plenty of other Trek fun to be had.
(Lin also gives the late Leonard Nimoy a proper send-off, not only in the course of the story but in dedicating the film to him–and to Yelchin, who died a month before the release. Seeing both of their faces on screen is a bitter pill, to be sure, but it’s very easy to think they would both be more than pleased with the finished product.)
Even with all the harking back to the Star Trek of yore, Beyond isn’t just a geek-tastic film for people who circle Comic-Con on their calendar each year. It’s a well-crafted, easily accessible thrill ride that reaches warp speed early, and never slows down.
Worth the 3D glasses?
While there’s plenty of 3D-ness to enjoy, it actually gets a bit much after a while (and even a little distracting). If you’re up for it, go for it–but you may well be better off without the added dimension.