Star Trek Beyond

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Friday July 22, 2016

Karl Urban and Zachary Quinto star in 'Star Trek Beyond'
Karl Urban and Zachary Quinto star in 'Star Trek Beyond'  (Source:Paramount Pictures)

This has been a terrible year for celebrity deaths. Musicians, producers, actors -- fate has cut a swath through the ranks of our creative talents. Even "Star Trek," the hardy, unflappably optimistic sci-fi franchise that reaches the half-century mark this year, has been hard hit, with the loss of both Leonard Nimoy -- the original Spock -- and Anton Yelchin, who plays Mr. Chekhov in the cinematic franchise's re-boot.

The new film -- the third in the so-called "Abramsverse" version of "Star Trek" -- pays tribute to Nimoy, folding the actor's death into the movie with sensitivity and to good effect. There's also a heart-tugging poignancy to seeing Yelchin, as Chekhov, get a decent amount of character interplay with Chris Pine, who plays the ruggedly indomitable Captain Kirk. (One of the new film's principle strengths is that is gives all of the characters a decent amount of screen time.)

As "Star Trek Beyond" begins, Kirk finds himself at what looks to be an alien version of the Republican National Convention: A chamber full of planetary representatives so thin-skinned and paranoiac that they fly into higher and higher levels of agitation and fear at even his most innocuous words. Needless to say, things quickly spin out of control. Scratch one diplomatic mission.

The incident leaves the captain a little ragged ("I tore my shirt again," he grouses, in a laugh line that hearkens back to William Shatner's oft-shredded uniform jersey), and it also feeds into Kirk's increasing sense of futility, a mood brought upon him by nearly a thousand days of deep-space exploration. The Starship Enterprise is only three years into its five-year mission -- a wink to the run of the original series, which NBC did everything in its power to curtail -- but the magic has worn off. Not even Dr. McCoy's ministrations with a bottle of purloined whiskey can cheer him up. When Enterprise puts in at the far-flung Starbase Yorktown -- an immense space-borne structure that looks like two or three dozen cities scrunched up and wadded together -- Kirk contemplates jumping ship and pursuing a desk job.

There's nothing like a good rescue mission to an inaccessible nebula to help a starship skipper shake off the blues, so when such a mission presents itself Kirk and his crew go galloping off. Unfortunately, they sail right into a (all but literal) buzz saw: A trap that's been laid for them by Krall (Idris Alba), a fiendish megalomaniac who professes the virtues of conflict and promises that the Federation will feel his might. Krall has a swarm of tough little hull-piercing attack craft at his command, and he uses them to slice and dice the Enterprise. He then kidnaps the surviving crew as they eject themselves from their pulverized starship in tiny life-pods. Only gradually do Kirk, Spock (Zachary Quinto), Dr. McCoy (Karl Urban), Scotty (co-writer Simon Pegg), Uhura (Zoe Saldana), Chekov, and Sulu (John Cho) piece together what Krall is up to, and why he has such a big chip on his shoulder when it comes to the Federation.

Helping the crew put those puzzle pieces together is new ally Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), whose high-tech "house" (a derelict spaceship) becomes instrumental in Kirk's plan to rescue his crew and save the Federation from Krall's monstrous designs. Jaylah is a little bit of a Mary Sue character -- she swaggers in, she kicks ass, she provides valuable intel -- but Boutella makes her alluring instead of annoying. Between Jaylah and Uhura, this film has enough girl power to balance out the boys' testosterone-fueled throwdowns.

There's no complex ethical conundrum at the movie's core, but there is a reliable message: Fear can be used to manipulate entire civilizations, and there are bad guys out there willing to exploit it for just that reason. The antidote -- and this is the timely, and timeless, aspect of the moral -- is that while history might be decided en masse, it's always an individual choice as to whether to give in to prevailing anxieties.

If that's too cerebral for you, don't worry. There's also plenty of action, big-screen eye-candy, and moments of quieter interplay that meet fan expectations while also expanding on who these long-familiar characters are. (Yes, Sulu is gay and partnered; and no, it's not a big deal.)

"Star Trek" fans will appreciate these things about "Beyond," but their main concern -- rightly so -- is whether the film is any good. After the awkward misfire of the last movie, die-hard Trekkies have every right to expect that producer J.J. Abrams will deliver an adventure worthy of the franchise name, even if he has been poached by another famed film series. For this installment, Abrams has handed directorial duties over to Justin Lin, whose touch revved up the flagging "Fast and the Furious" movies.

"Star Trek" fans are notoriously picky, but "Beyond" will please them with its creative and faithful callbacks to the various movies and TV series that came before it. At the same time, casual viewers will be carried along by the film's sense of enthusiasm and speed.

That's not to say the movie doesn't have its problem points. There are holes in the plot, and some strange borrowings from other sci-fi projects: Dr. McCoy steals on of C-3P0's best laugh lines from "The Empire Strieks Back," and the film's climax is essentially a riff on Tim Burton's "Mars Attacks!" Then, too, the story has a scattershot quality that amounts to hurling a fistful of dramatic dots and then not bothering to connect most of them; that could be due to the way Pegg and his collaborator Doug Jung mounted an 11th-hour effort to produce a usable script after previous efforts from a different writing team were scrapped.

None of these flaws are fatal. Indeed, you hardly get a chance to notice them before the next big set piece is upon you. This "Trek" doesn't go beyond its crowd-pleasing formula, but it does whisk the viewer through two hours of summer blockbuster fun.



Captain James T. Kirk :: Chris Pine
Commander Spock :: Zachary Quinto
Doctor ``Bones' McCoy :: Karl Urban
Lieutenant Uhura :: Zoe Saldana
Montgomery ``Scotty' Scott :: Simon Pegg
Chekov :: Anton Yelchin
Sulu :: John Cho
Krall :: Idris Elba
Jaylah :: Sofia Boutella
Kalara :: Lydia Wilson
Manas :: Joe Taslim
Commodore Paris :: Shohreh Aghdashloo


Director :: Justin Lin
Screenwriter :: Simon Pegg
Screenwriter :: Doug Jung
Producer :: J.J. Abrams
Producer :: Bryan Burk
Producer :: Roberto Orci
Executive Producer :: Jeffrey Chernov
Executive Producer :: David Ellison
Executive Producer :: Dana Goldberg
Executive Producer :: Tommy Harper
Executive Producer :: Lindsey Weber
Cinematographer :: Stephen Windon
Film Editor :: Dylan Highsmith
Film Editor :: Kelly Matsumoto
Film Editor :: Steven Sprung
Original Music :: Michael Giacchino
Production Design :: Thomas Sanders
Costume Designer :: Sanja Hays
Casting :: Miranda Davidson
Casting :: April Webster
Casting :: Alyssa Weisberg

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.