“Star Trek Beyond” is the third film in the most recent “Star Trek” film series (the first two being “Star Trek” and “Star Trek Into Darkness”) but it feels like its own standalone action feature. You don’t have to be well versed in “Star Trek” lore, or even that familiar with those first two installments to enjoy it. And thankfully it isn’t trying to set up future movies. Good sequels are self-contained, telling a complete and satisfying story. They fit neatly into the franchise while at the same time standing apart. “Star Trek Beyond” stands apart.
The narrative is simple and straightforward. There aren’t any major surprises or events that will significantly affect the characters or the stories in future installments, which eliminates some element of surprise. But as an isolated, old school action film “Star Trek Beyond” is both exhilarating and entertaining.
The movie also flies by.
For a two-hour picture “Star Trek Beyond” feels like 90 minutes, and that’s a good thing. It’s easy for two-hour action films to become bloated and laborious. Star Trek Beyond” is just the opposite; it’s lean, slick and focused. After a brief introductory section (that can’t last more than ten minutes at the most) the inciting incident is quickly and clearly established and the crew of The USS Enterprise is off on their next mission. Incoming director Justin Lin maintains this snappy pace throughout-- the picture is almost always in motion; the characters (and the audience) have to keep moving with it.
“Star Trek Beyond” “starts with the intriguing premise that being the captain of cool spaceship that flies around the galaxy looking for new life forms (to join the United Federation of Planets) can get boring after a while. (Well, I guess if your full time job is in space its bound to get a little stale). That’s just how James T Kirk (Chris Pine, oozing charisma like sweat) feels. He’s burned out—stuck in a repetitive routine. However, in no time, “Beyond” takes a sledgehammer to that “routine” by stranding the entire crew on a foreign planet.
Suddenly the job isn’t so boring now.
On the planet, Kirk, Spock (Zachary Quinto), McCoy (Karl Urban), Scotty (Simon Pegg) and the rest of The Enterprise are hunted by the lumbering reptile-like Krall (Idris Elba) and his army. The crew is thrown into a strikingly unfamiliar and disorienting situation that forces them to survive outside the accustomed and comfortable confines of the ship. I found this scenario to be pleasantly refreshing considering how much of “Star Trek” takes place on the ship in space. I’ll take people running around on a planet over one spaceship shooting at another spaceship any day. Maybe that’s just me.
Unsurprisingly, the cast is phenomenal; the strongest element of the new franchise by far. This time around everyone is allowed to be quick witted and courageous in equal measure. The screenplay by Pegg and Doug Jung is the funniest of the three films and all the primary crewmembers get to trade witty screwball-esque banter with one another while also kicking butt. I can’t say any of them go through a significant character arc (well, Kirk does, though it’s obvious from the get go) but they’re fun to be around and they instantly win you over with their charm.
There’s a lot of action in this film-- a lot of destruction and explosions and beams of energy. There are a couple of epic, extraordinary action set pieces (Lin and co. take full advantage of the big screen). At the same time, there are scenes that feel redundant and tedious. That tends to happen in action heavy movies. But because the characters are so vibrant this didn’t bother me nearly as much. Strong, likable characters go a long way.
My only major reservation with “Beyond” is that sometimes the silliness dilutes the more serious happens in the film--like death. There’s a surprising amount of death (including one scene towards the end that’s shockingly disturbing for a PG-13 blockbuster) that’s casually shaken off. The movie moves so quickly that sometimes an intense death scene is followed by two characters cracking jokes. I’m not saying the film needs to come to a screeching halt but a few brief moments where the characters stop and seriously acknowledge the death and loss would have been nice.
I have a few other minor issues, namely that things become predictable during the last third when yet another major city is threatened with destruction. Yet, in the moment “Star Trek Beyond” is a lot of fun and a highlight in this otherwise underwhelming summer blockbuster season.