Movie Review: Star Trek Beyond
Producers: Paramount Pictures
Runtime: 122 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13
EE Critic Score: 7/10
Star Trek Beyond is the third installment of the Bad Robot produced reboot of the Star Trek franchise. Unlike predecessors Star Trek and Star Trek: Into Darkness this film is not personally directed by J. J. Abrams; rather, it is directed by Justin Lin. He matches the general style of the previous films pretty well, though there’s considerably less lights being shone directly into the camera in this one.
Overall, this seemed the most Star Trek of the new movies. I, personally, am more of a Star Wars fan than a Star Trek fan. J. J. Abrams is, as I understand, also, more of a Star Wars fan than a Star Trek fan, and it showed in the first two films. They felt very Star Wars, which I liked, but some more Star Trek fans didn’t like that tone. This film very much had the themes of exploring unknown reaches of space that form the main difference between Star Trek and Star Wars.
I still enjoyed this movie quite a bit. The actors perform the characters quite well, the music and visuals remain impressive. Of action-futurism-space travel movies I’ve seen, this one felt most authentically set in space. Really, my only complaint is that, compared to the previous installments and even with other movies in general, I felt the villain was lacking.
As I said above, this story is one set in the “last frontier” of deep space. The crew of the Enterprise has been exploring for about three years. Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) describes these years as “episodic” and there is a general feel that a sort of tedium has set in. There is a risk in jumping ahead in the timeline of a franchise: either nothing seems to have happened to the characters in the intervening period, or there’s a feeling that we as the audience have missed out on some adventures. This film did a good job of balancing this in its initial setup.
The film opens with Kirk attempting to act as an intercessor for peace between two warring species, offering a piece of an ancient weapon as a symbol of peace from one species to the other. The gesture is rejected, and the weapon is kept in the Enterprise’s storage lockers.
The main story begins with the Enterprise arriving at Yorktown, a space station, where the ship will resupply and the crew will get a chance to be off the ship. While they’re there, Kirk’s simultaneous birthday and anniversary of his father’s death causes him to contemplate his life. Commander Spock (Zachary Quinto) has a similar crisis when he hears word of the death of Ambassador Spock (Leonard Nimoy).
But this is all cut short when an alien woman arrives aboard an escape pod seeking help for her shipmates who were attacked in a nebula in uncharted space. And, wouldn’ja know it, the Enterprise is the only Federation ship in the area capable of responding to the distress call. Our heroes travel through an asteroid field to a strange planet, Altamid, where they are attacked by a large group of small fighters. These fighters destroy the Enterprise bit by bit until only the command saucer remains intact enough to crash to the planet’s surface. Much of the crew is kidnapped by the fighter’s leader, a big, reptilian fellow named Krall (Idris Elba). This includes bridge officer Nyota Uhura (Zoe Saldana), whom we follow with the other captives to Krall’s base.
Krall had also stolen the ancient weapon piece, and we discover that he has the rest of the weapon, which he plans to use against the Federation to cause a destablization resulting in war which, in his mind, will improve the universe by destroying weak people.
Meawhile, Spock and Dr. Leonard McCoy (Karl Urban) have escaped the battle aboard a stolen fighter. They crash in another region of the world than does the Enterprise carrying Captain Kirk and Pavel Chekov (Anton Yelchin), and Spock is badly hurt. Chief Engineer Montgomery “Scotty” Scott (Simon Pegg) has crashed yet elsewhere. He encounters Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), a scavenger who is living in the wrecked remains of the Franklin, one of the earliest Federation ships. Scotty and Jaylah find Kirk and Checkov, and use the Franklin’s transporter to rescue Spock and McCoy.
Spock uses the radiation signature of a piece of jewelry he had given to Uhura to locate her and the other captives in Krall’s base. He and the others mount a rescue party and free the prisoners. They find out about Krall’s weapon, and pursue him and his swarm of fighters aboard the repaired Franklin to Yorktown. Along the way, Uhura discovers that Krall was once Balthazar Edison, the human captain of the Franklin who had served Earth as a soldier in the era of the Enterprise television series. He had come to his present state by using the technology of the planet’s indigenous species to prolong his life.
The Enterprise’s crew discovers that strong radio signals can disrupt the inter-communications coordinating the movement of Krall’s swarm. They use one of the old Earth songs Jaylah had taken a liking to as the signal. (The same song as a young Kirk had played in the antique sportscar in the first movie). Krall (now looking more human again thanks to using his vampiric tech to absorb the essence of the Enterprise’s human crewmembers) escapes the destruction and goes to the center of Yorktown’s air supply system to spread the weapon (which the film describes as a bioweapon. I’m not certain that’s the best term for it, but it was carried by air.) He and Kirk have a fistfight in a gravitational node. Krall is defeated and thrown into space.
Kirk and his crew celebrate his birthday. Jaylah is given a seat in the Starfleet Academy. A new ship, which was being constructed in Yorktown, is named the new Enterprise. Our heroes head back into space, and the credit’s roll.
James Tiberius Kirk
Chris Pine returns to the role of Captain Kirk. In this film, Kirk is facing a sort of personal crisis; he has reached the age at which his father had died (see first film for details) and is wondering if, now that he has, in his mind, lived up to his father’s legacy, he wants to continue as a Starfleet captain.
Kirk proves an able leader to his crashed crew. Pine’s performance is good.
Sofia Boutella portrays a new character. New characters can be tricky, but Boutella’s performance brings Jaylah smoothly into the film.
As a character Jaylah reminded me of Rey from The Force Awakens (EE Review here). She’s not really a total rip-off, but some specific character aspects (young woman, scavenger, technically skilled, fights with a staff) are shared by bothe Jaylah and Rey. The key difference is that while Rey seemed content to be stranded on Jakku, Jaylah is actively trying to escape Altamid.
Zachary Quinto returns to the role of Commander Spock. He is not joined, this time, by Leonard Nimoy as his alternate/future counterpart Ambassador Spock. Nimoy had passed away by the time of filming, and his character dies likeways between films.
The elder Spock’s death affects Quinto’s character profoundly. The younger Spock considers leaving Starfleet to take Ambassador Spock’s place in the founding of New Vulcan, though he ultimately decides that service aboard the Enterprise will also properly honor the ambassador’s legacy
Leonard McCoy, MD
Karl Urban and his excellent DeForest Kelly impression return as Doctor Leonard “Bones” McCoy, the Enterprise’s chief medical officer. Urban has always been the best cast of a very well cast cast, and he remains so here.
His character mostly spends time with Spock. His and Spock’s opposite nature, and the disagreements this causes, was a memorable part of the original Star Trek television series. The two characters really hadn’t had many scenes where they were played off from each other in the previous two movies in the series, so seeing them together here is sure to make a lot of Trek fans happy.
The late Anton Yelchin makes his final film appearance here. Last June, Yelchin died in a freakish accident in which he was struck by his own runaway car. He was twenty-seven years old. The film is dedicated to him, as well as Nimoy.
While not the focus of the film, Chekov has much screentime, being the companian to Captain Kirk in the first scenes after the Enterprise crashes on Altamid.
Simon Pegg returns as Chief Engineer Montgomery “Scotty” Scott. It’s worth mentioning that Pegg also was a writer on the film’s script.
Scotty is the first to encounter Jaylah, and negotiates for her help as a guide in return for helping her repair the wreck of the Franklin and escape Altamid.
Beyond that, Scotty doesn’t have quite as large a role as he did in the previous two films. He helps repair the Franklin, which is important to the story, but much of this occurs offscreen. Pegg certainly exhibited humility in writing his own character.
Zoe Saldana’s Uhura is one of the crew members captured by Krall. She principally serves as someone for Krall to describe his philosophy to.
Her presence among the captives helps lead Spock and other escapees to Krall’s base for a rescue.
It is Uhura who discovers Krall’s true identity.
Idris Elba plays Krall, the film’s villain. Elba gives a fine performance, but, as written, there’s just not much for him to do. Krall is totally summed up by the word “terrorist”. He wants to cause terror, and there’s not a lot else to his plan. Krall is, honestly, a pretty weak villain, and the reason I rated this film a 7 rather than an 8 or a 9. (Read about our scoring standard here)
Previous villains in this series have been done better. Nero was, like Krall, a simple villain, but his intentions were laid out early on, and he proved himself a legitimate threat by successfully destroying Vulcan. Benedict Cumberbatch’s take on Khan was likewise very intimidating. Khan could clearly be a threat in almost any situation. Krall, on the other hand, derives all his menace from his possession of a superweapon. If he loses it, he has no Plan B. His swarm of spaceships are a creative tactic, and very effective in fights with Federation capital ships, but they aren’t capable of the sort of grand plans he has.
All this said, Krall might have been saved had he been established fully early in the movie. Instead, the fact that he was once Balthazar Edison is kept secret until it no longer could have any impact on the plot. For comparison:
In The Empire Strikes Back, when Darth Vader is revealed to be Luke Skywalker’s father, it changed the course of the story. Luke was no longer on a quest for vengeance. He no longer wanted to kill Vader; he now wanted to redeem him if possible.
When Krall’s origin is discovered, no one’s plans change. Krall is still attempting genocide, and Kirk, et all, were still trying to stop him. It just never is made to matter that Krall was once human. If our heroes had known earlier, tried to redeem Krall only to find that historic war hero Balthazar Edison was actually a genocidal maniac, that could have been enough to make Krall a memorable villain. As it stands, he just isn’t.
John Cho is back as Hikaru Sulu. Deep Roy is back as Scotty’s sidekick Keenser.
Character Actress Shohreh Aghdashloo makes an appearance as Kirk’s superior on Yorktown, Commodore Paris.
Bad Robot Productions regular Greg Grunberg appears as Commodore Finnegan, who seems to be in charge of Yorktown.
Analysis as a Film
This film felt very much like it was set in space. The lighting and (lack of) sound in shots of starships give a real authenticity often lacking in sci-fi action movies.
Michael Giacchino’s score has been the best music in the entire Star Trek franchise, and it continues to be so here. The composer has done an excellent job of using the same tune to fit many moods.
On the topic of music, the second use of…*researching, because I don’t know the song off hand*… “Sabotage”, by the Beastie Boys, in this new series, while still not really this critic’s kind of music, fit its sequence much better than the first. It served well to excite the audience.
Special effects work was quite good. I’d like to give particular praise to the design of Yorktown, a multi-directional city of rings which written description does not do justice.
This was a very enjoyable movie. The weak villain only really detracts when under scrutiny; Elba’s performance is menacing enough to serve well, and his final duel with Kirk was creatively done.
If you liked the previous two Bad Robot Star Trek movies, you’ll like this one. If you thought the previous two weren’t well enough in keeping with the spirit of Star Trek, you might like this one better.
7/10 — With some measurable negative worth, but overall a positive experience. Just above average and able to be sincerely recommended.