Star Trek Beyond (2016)
Return to the Final Frontier...
The crew of the Enterprise is back in theaters as we watch the Frontier push back.
Starring Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, Anton Yelchin, John Cho, Sofia Boutella, and Idris Elba
Released by Paramount Pictures
Written by Simon Pegg and Doug Jung
Directed by Justin Lin
On September 8th, 1966, viewers who tuned into NBC that evening were greeted with the very first broadcast episode of Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry's optimistic outlook of the future. The original series didn't have a huge budget, and in its original run it also didn't have nearly as much support as it would grow to have later. One thing that it did have in abundance, though, was guts. During a tumultuous period in American history, Star Trek had the guts to talk about social and political issues of the time through the fantastical prism of science fiction, but because the people had green skin or because the political adversaries were "Romulans" instead of Soviets, only the people paying attention truly understood what Star Trek was talking about.
Over the last fifty years, there have been an additional four television series, and the franchise has now produced a pretty staggering 13 movies. Everyone has their favorite casts and episodes, but the most recent movies have attempted to return to making Star Trek feel as new as it did a half-century ago, while also reintroducing us to the characters we first fell in love with on the bridge of the USS Enterprise. Some people feel that the two most recent films haven't managed to capture the intellectual or allegorical spirit that used to be a staple of Star Trek, so it's only natural that all eyes are on a new cinematic voyage from a new creative team to see if some of that can be restored, at least partially.
So...does Star Trek live up to its title and go Beyond in the new film? You bet your ass it does.
One of the issues that a lot of longtime fans had with the previous two films directed by J.J. Abrams was that they were pretty radical departures from what we understood to be "classic" Star Trek. By the time Abrams reorganized the franchise in 2009, fans and production personnel alike had certainly become accustomed to a specific Star Trek style, which may have contributed to the franchise running out of gas in 2005. Of course, now that we've arrived at the third film with this newly established cast playing the original show's classic characters, the first two films represented something of their own style, and Into Darkness may have done so to a fault.
In the hands of director Justin Lin, what once was old is new again. While certainly not backtracking in any respect on what the expectations are for action in this iteration of the franchise, Lin does bring back some elements of "classic" Trek that a lot of fans will likely find very familiar. All seven classic characters have a functional role to play in this story, and Lin's construction of a lot of very specific scenes feels like a return to showcasing the importance of camaraderie between all of the main crewmembers, which is one of the key elements to what made the original show so classic and iconic in the first place.
Of course, another key element of more traditional Star Trek is the story containing a bit more of a cerebral quality. While I don't think you could call Star Trek Beyond "psychological" to any meaningful degree, the thought-provoking elements that are at play here actually float through the entirety of the film, but don't fully reveal themselves until the very end, when all of its secrets are laid bare for viewers. I genuinely don't want to spoil the experience for any readers who may not have seen the film, because I truly felt that it was that much of a difference-maker.
With a primary theme of the film resting in the unity of both the crew of the Enterprise and the United Federation of Planets at-large, Star Trek Beyond makes a statement that is in equal parts, powerful, necessary, and timely. The center of that theme is, of course, the characters themselves, and every member of the primary cast, in most cases, turns in the best performances of their time in these roles. The one who's developed the most is clearly Captain Kirk (Chris Pine), who's less the brash and outspoken rebel, and far more of the responsible, diligent and wise leader of everyone that he should be. Spock (Zachary Quinto) is once again given the most emotional material to wrestle with due to an event that takes place on his peoples' newly adopted homeworld, but the character who finally gets the first real opportunity to stretch his legs for the first time in this new series of films is Dr. McCoy (Karl Urban).
McCoy's place in Star Trek Beyond finally feels like it's given a place of prominence that was lacking partially in Star Trek, and heavily in Star Trek Into Darkness. He has always been the third leg of the series' main triumvirate, and with many of the film's most memorable lines coming from McCoy, fans of Bones will likely feel he finally gets his due here. Out of all of the remaining cast members of the prime crew, the one who likely has the next highest amount of screen time is Chekov, played by the late Anton Yelchin. He's just as charming as you'd expect him to be, and also effectively shows why he's an invaluable member of the crew at-large.
While new additions like Sofia Boutella's Jaylah are treats to see in their own right, the unequivocal show-stealer is Idris Elba as the film's villain, Krall. Part of what makes him so effective is the place that writers Simon Pegg and Doug Jung carve out for him in the early parts of the story, where he's extraordinarily mysterious, but undeniably brutal. Coming out of Star Trek Into Darkness featuring Benedict Cumberbatch's memorable take on franchise icon Khan Noonien Singh, the series set a pretty high bar for the place of villains in any follow-up, and in this guy's humble opinion, Star Trek Beyond succeeds spectacularly. Part of the reason is that Krall's effectiveness only becomes clearer and clearer as the movie goes on, and he'll likely surprise you pretty notably on a first viewing.
The movie's also drop-dead gorgeous. If you see the film in IMAX or in Dolby Cinema, don't be surprised if you have to pick your jaw up off the floor when the Enterprise first approaches the advanced starbase Yorktown. As for fan service, Star Trek Beyond represents the deftest use of it in the new films when compared to its predecessors. In addition to nicely paying tribute to the late and great Leonard Nimoy within the story itself, Star Trek Beyond features a surprising number of callbacks to the 2001-05 TV series Star Trek: Enterprise, so don't be shy about watching some season 3 and 4 episodes of that show if you're looking to kill some time between now and your first viewing. There are several little factoids that pop up from Star Trek canon and history throughout the brisk 2-hour runtime, but there's never something brought up that will make anyone feel lost.
The inherent strength of Star Trek Beyond is that, more than the first two films in this relaunched series, it stands on its own. By taking place in the deep reaches of space and far away from Earth's solar system, it largely fulfills the wide open promise at the end of Into Darkness, where the crew travels ever deeper into the unknown, which takes a toll on the crew while also testing their resolve in the face of adversity. With that travel comes knowledge and new cultures, new life and new civilizations, but the black expanse of space can also contain unforeseen horrors.
Star Trek Beyond is the kind of film that defiantly stands toward the bleakness of the unknown, encouraging you to forge ahead, because any challenge waiting out there can only make you stronger. It can especially make you stronger if you're together, and by paying tribute to the Star Trek of yesterday while embracing the spectacle of the Star Trek of today, the Star Trek of tomorrow holds a wonderful amount of promise for future excursions into space, the final frontier.
Not a bad way to celebrate fifty glorious years of boldly going where no one has gone before.
This review was originally published at Movies.com.