After director JJ Abrams successfully rebooted Star Trek but then left the franchise to work on Star Wars The Force Awakens, it wasn’t immediately clear who would take his place, or indeed what film they would be making. Eventually, Simon Pegg (who plays Scotty), stepped into to write the script alongside Doug Jung, and Justin Lin, best known for his work on the long-running Fast and Furious franchise, was installed in the director’s chair.
We now have the result, Star Trek Beyond, which feels like a intentional shift towards a slightly more freewheeling, lighter version of Star Trek, perhaps closer in tone to the feel of the original series (which, I confess, I am not deeply familiar with). Although this film’s predecessor, Star Trek Into Darkness, was generally well received by critics (including this one), it also took decisions with tone and narrative that some core fans took issue with. A clear effort has been made here to reintegrate the sidelined members of the series’ prodigious ensemble back into the fold, and tell a romping, perhaps slightly more old-fashioned adventure.
In many ways, this has been successful. The plot, which revolves around an attack on the Enterprise (and, by extension, Starfleet) by a mysterious alien called Krall (Idris Elba), sees the crew of the Enterprise stranded on a distant planet, cut off from reinforcement. Captain Kirk (Chris Pine), Spock (Zachary Quinto) and the others must find a way to recover their lost crew members and get off the planet while stopping whatever scheme Krall has cooking. The plot forcibly separates the main cast into small groups, encouraging interactions between characters who did not necessarily share a huge amount of screen time up until now; so, for example, Spock crash lands with Bones, the ship’s chief medical officer (Karl Urban), Sulu and Uhura find themselves trapped together and Kirk must cook up a plan with Chekov (played by the late Anton Yeltchin, in one of his last appearances).
In general, these divisions work, and as somebody who bemoaned the lack of screen time for many of the characters in the last film, I was happy to see more of them. The negative side is that the film has a weaker narrative thrust then the previous one, so while the cast members have more to do, what they’re doing doesn’t always feel essential or exciting. The previous film thrived on the relationship between Kirk and Spock, and this film only fleetingly revisits that. Obviously not all Trek films can continue to focus on that, but this film lacks a similarly engaging screen partnership or character depth. New cast member Sofia Boutella (Kingsman) as Jaylah, bring charm and some laughs, but not enough to bridge that gap. Nor does new bad guy Krall offer enough to give the narrative the necessary oomph; Idris Elba actually makes a strong impression when he’s given the chance, but Krall spends too much of the film as a bland villain to be completely saved by a strong final act.
As new director, Justin Lin helms the film with assurance, putting his own stamp on things and ensuring this doesn’t feel like a second-rate JJ Abrams impression. He stages his conflicts well, and the sense of place (particularly in a new Starfleet megastation) is occasionally spectacular. There’s also a brief, touching tribute to the late Leonard Nimoy (who portrayed the original Spock, and has appeared in this series), cleverly woven into the plot of the film. Where the film is oddly lacking is in its close-combat action sequences, which are filmed in a fast-cutting, hyper-kinetic style that rendered many of the fights difficult to follow. Intentional, perhaps, but not to my taste.
Overall this is a solid entry in a franchise which, I hope, will continue to explore th e vastness of space for some time. The crew has been well cast, and although this may not be their most memorable adventure, it’s still a cut above your average action blockbuster.