By: Muneeb Arshid
If you had told me a year ago that the newest addition to the Star Trek universe was actually going to be good, I would have laughed off the notion and went on my way. At that point, we were still hearing of massive problems with the script and also the fact that the director of the previous renditions, J.J. Abrams, was not helming this film seemed to strike a negative chord with fans. However, the sentiment after the release of Star Trek Beyond has been quite positive with some people going as far as to say it may be the best of the three reboot films.
Star Trek Beyond follows on approximately 3 years after the events of Star Trek Into Darkness with the crew of the USS Enterprise grinding their way through the 5-year deep space exploratory program helmed by Captain James Kirk (Chris Pine), Commander Spock (Zachary Quinto), Bones McCoy (Karl Urban), Lieutenant Uhura (Zoe Saldana), and Scotty (Simon Pegg). John Cho plays Mr. Sulu while Anton Yelchin, in one of his final performances due to his very untimely and sad death, plays Ensign Pavel Chekov.
The crew is making a pit stop at Starbase Yorktown to replenish supplies for the remainder of their journey when a stranded escape pod approaches the base with a single occupant who seems to have lost her way from her main ship. The crew of the Enterprise, as they are leaving, are assigned to investigate the stranded ship which is on a planet inside a nearby nebula. Unbeknownst to them, the survivor may actually be playing a mysterious game to lure the crew to the planet for the pleasure of Krall (once again, wonderfully voiced by the great Idris Elba). From there on in, the crew of the Enterprise is seemingly in a world of trouble, having to figure out unique ways of surviving on this planet without the use of their ship, which has been destroyed. The main crew are all separated and have to find each other so they can not only save the rest of the crew but also figure out a way to defeat Krall and maybe even learn a thing or two about who he really is. Once on the planet, called Altamid, the crew of the Enterprise are aided by a scavenger named Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), who is trying to escape the planet but also has motivations against Krall from her past experience. Her two objectives mesh wonderfully for the Enterprise crew and she builds a relationship with them, where each can benefit from one another.
Star Trek Beyond delivers a new dynamic to the characters this time around by pairing the crew members in an unconventional manner. We’re all used to the pairing of Kirk and Spock or Kirk and Bones which are the more likely pairings used by the crew during on-planet missions. However, each major crew member is paired up with someone who you wouldn’t necessarily think to be their partners. Kirk is stranded on one end of the planet with Chekov who try to make their way back to the Enterprise. In one of the more amusing pairings, Bones and Spock, two people who reluctantly respect each other on the most normal of days, are “unfortunately” paired together and must work together to make their way to safety. Uhura and Sulu are stranded with the rest of the survivors amongst Krall’s prisoners and Scotty finds himself alone and in danger until the unlikely ally in Jaylah comes to his rescue. What this changing of partners has done is allowed the characters, that we’ve come to adore, to examine their relationships with different members of the crew, with those that they wouldn’t necessarily think would have intimate moments with. Even through their mutually forced respect, the pairing of Bones and Spock, actually humanizes the normally, logically sound Spock, revealing a strong uncertainty on how to deal with the emotions that underly his logical being.
This sentiment leads to the overall strength of the characters. The Star Trek series dating all the way back to the 60s has always leant on the strength of its characters and their interpersonal relationships. The space journeys and the fighting always seem to be a sidenote, especially so in this recent reboot where a lot of the focus right from the first film has been on Kirk and his initial troubles with being a part of Starfleet. He still cherishes the memory of his father and how he lost his life doing what we loved, but acknowledges that Kirk himself only joined “on a dare”. Spock, himself, in trying to balance his relationship with Uhura with the redevelopment of New Vulcan, and has to decide whether leaving Starfleet would be the better option. All the way through the movie, we have all this action and destruction around the crew, but each decision that they are making is helping them decide on personal issues that they may be struggling with.
A lot of the negativity surrounding the pre-release of this film was the fact that many changes had occurred to the production team. At the helm, J.J. Abrams did not direct this film, instead opting to take on only a production role while taking the helm of that other space opera called The Force Awakens. His replacement ended up being noted Fast and the Furious director Justin Lin, who may have been the more surprising choice considering that some of the other nominees to take Abrams’ job were Edgar Wright, Morten Tyldum, and Duncan Jones, amongst others. Roberto Orci, who co-wrote Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness was the initial candidate to replace Abrams while also writing the script, but when that fell through, Simon Pegg was brought in as one of the co-writers. This uncertainty discouraged many fans about the script and the direction because of the last minute changes but also that the main production members of the reboot were taking more of a sideline role. However, it seems to have paid off, as the script seems to be more mature in dealing with the characters while Lin brings a certain action genre lustre that fans have experienced in The Fast and Furious series.
Gone are the days of the patented J.J. Abrams lens flare, and in are the blurring actions sequences that we have come to “love” from Justin Lin. However, the problem is, a lot of the sequences get lost in the quick cutting that is employed even though Lin and his cinematographer Stephen Windon try to achieve that grandiose feeling by accompanying the action sequences with a bombastic score and major stunt sequences. However, you can try and achieve all the grandeur from an action set-piece that you want, but if the viewer has trouble trying to determine who’s hitting who, then it all becomes a muddled mess. That’s not to say that the cinematography is terrible, far from it actually, as some of the landscape shots on Altamid are absolutely some of the best that I’ve seen. The lingering shots that Windon employs on the mountain ranges at sunset are some of the most gorgeous scenery I’ve seen in a movie, especially from a Star Trek film.
There is also this sentiment that this film has been able to connect with audiences of the original series far better than the previous two films. Of course, there is a shot of the old Enterprise crew, which aids the connection, however, it is the fact that they are able to ground the characters to such an extent that you actually do feel the love and affection with these characters similar to the affection that past fans have had with the original series. Star Trek Into Darkness tried to create this feeling of connection by utilizing a familiar storyline, however, it ultimately failed because of the lack of maturity in some of the characters. Beyond may not have the most connected storyline, but it is that mature development of the characters that has allowed Beyond to gain this reputation.
All in all, Star Trek Beyond has its problems, notably with some of the cinematography but also with the lackluster motivation of the villain. The plot itself, isn’t completely solid, with many holes that fans will have trouble with. However, it does redeem itself, for the most part by building connections with the characters in a way that has fans, once again, believing that Star Trek is headed in the right direction.
We, here at TFL, give Star Trek Beyond a very respectable grade of a B- (7.5/10).