This new series of Star Trek films should ideally have been my gateway into getting a better feel for the series. The J.J. Abrams films were not without merit, but even with a changing of hands to director Justin Lin, I seem to still be largely unmoved by what this franchise has to offer. The spectacle is certainly there, the cast is strong and an emphasis on adventure keeps things fairly lighthearted, but as Star Trek Beyond came to it conclusion, I feel like I am just going to have to be resigned to entertaining the existence of these films more than I actually enjoy them.
There are several things this latest Star Trek film does to bring my spirits up on this iteration of the franchise. While my knowledge of the original series (and its many spin-offs) is limited, one can really feel how the plot of this film sticks to the notion of being “this week’s adventure” more than the last two films. That could be limiting in the same way other franchises function in adding just another episode to their continuity, rather than expanding the scope, but stripping things down for Star Trek Beyond actually worked well.
The greater asset of ‘Beyond’ is the use of the film’s cast. While Abrams certainly did great to bring a solid team together in 2009’s Star Trek, ‘Into Darkness’ felt off in terms of exploring that dynamic further. ‘Beyond’ really relies on how teamwork should play a huge role for a series that focuses on how a crew can work together to solve their problems. Say what you will about the more recent Fast & Furious films, but Lin has completely reshaped that franchise in a way that has audiences anticipating the fun that comes from the cast dynamic and running theme of family, in addition to the stunts and action. That same aspect is what seems to be in full force here.
As the best example of this, the middle of this film is devoted to dividing up the cast into basically teams of two and slowly working everyone back together. It is here you really see the team thinking on their feet, having fun interactions with each other and getting a good sense of how the film does well by having plenty of technical stuff happening, yet keeping it grounded thanks to how the cast members play off each other. This is especially apparent with Zachary Quinto’s Spock and Karl Urban’s Bones, but others shine as well.
To speak to the story, the film keeps it pretty simple. The starship Enterprise is sent on a rescue mission only to be ambushed, leaving the crew stranded. We meet a villain, Krall (Idris Elba in heavy makeup), who is after something the Enterprise possesses, as well as Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), who is handy in a fight. Given how much of the crew is captured, the stakes are seemingly high, but you can pretty much always rely on Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) to get things done.
Another great aspect actually is what Pine is bringing to this film. I honestly find him cocky to an irritating extent in the first film (a little less in the second), so it was refreshing to see him practically subdued this time around. There is an explicit reason having to do with Kirk questioning whether or not being a captain is really the life he wants, but it gives way to let the other cast members have their fun. Zoe Saldana’s Uhura still seems to get the short end of the stick and there is only so much of John Cho’s Sulu and Anton Yelchin’s Chekov, but Simon Pegg (who co-wrote the film) continues to be enjoyable as Scotty. Yes, I have mentioned how good it is to see teamwork at play, so not seeing these characters as much as we could have only means it would have been nice to see more, as their individual highlights in the film are quite strong.
So what is it then that holds me back? It is really hard to say. There is an indifference to Star Trek I seem to just have always had and while I keep going into these films with no qualms about wanting to see something amazing, it doesn’t reach those heights. Perhaps it is something in the DNA of the series or the general aesthetic, but as these films boldly go on new adventures, I am finding each one to be simply satisfying enough.
From a production standpoint, the film does a fine job of balancing its action and setting up moments of peril. Elba has little time to make an impression as the villain, but he’s gets his moments that add enough to serve as a credible threat. That is easily best represented by the attack patterns of his forces. Also impressive are the settings we see and the creativity that went into them, the gravity-defying starbase known as Yorktown in particular.
Still, as the end credit music by Michael Giacchino (who continues to do great work with these films) started up, I couldn’t help but think the film met its requirements and sent me on my way. Certain areas played out quite well, as I enjoyed what Lin was able to bring to the franchise and what Pegg and co-writer Doug Jung tried to cook up this time around, but I don’t see Star Trek Beyond as having much staying power for me. Fans who accept this newer take on the universe may have found more to enjoy, but while I don’t feel lost in space, my need to trek is still not all that high.