Last night I saw the new Star Trek movie. I was excited because in addition to loving Star Trek, I really enjoyed the 2009 J.J. Abrams film — it was an awesome action movie with a great origin story and character arc for Kirk. However, after the debacle (is that too strong a word?) that was its sequel, Into Darkness, I wasn’t sure what to expect from this new movie Beyond.
For one thing, it’s changed hands — Beyond is directed by Justin Lin (best known for Fast and Furious movies) and co-written by Simon Pegg, who was in the previous films and is also a longtime Trek fan. Though I wasn’t sure what to think of Lin, I wanted to believe in Pegg’s fandom, and I watch all of his movies anyway.
Now that I’ve seen Beyond, I have to say that it’s the best of the three new Star Trek movies, even if it doesn’t exactly shine. It feels like it can’t decide whether it wants to be more of a Star Trek movie or more of an action movie, so it walks a tightrope between the two that may not make it the most memorable or exciting movie the world… but hey, at least it keeps its balance.
If I had to sum up Star Trek Beyond to someone, I would say it’s like a long, exciting episode of a Star Trek show. If you’ve seen any of the TV series, you are probably familiar with at least a couple of episodes that feature the crew of a Federation starship getting stranded on some alien planet, then trying to figure out how to get home. That’s exactly the set-up of Star Trek Beyond.
All of this starts out in a much more explosive way than we would ever see on TV, though, because movies have bigger budgets and bigger budgets mean special effects. So Star Trek Beyond features amazing space battles. Seeing the Enterprise pitted against a swarm-like horde of enemy ships is absolutely gorgeous. I’m all for these kinds of sci-fi action scenes, and they bring Star Trek to life in a whole new way compared to the TV shows.
The set-up also gives characters a chance to interact in a way that feels more like the TV show than the other new Star Trek movies. The banter between McCoy and Spock, who are in some ways opposites, is pretty hilarious. I also enjoyed Scotty meeting an alien on the planet, a woman named Jaylah, who is similarly stranded and has lost loved ones at the hands of the same enemy. Over the course of the story, she learns to be brave and to trust her new allies, becoming part of their crew.
That’s the other thing I enjoyed about this movie, as cheesy as it can be: There’s a moral-of-the-story feel that reminds me of the TV series. This is a movie about what it means to be part of a crew.
It’s also about feeling grounded even when you’re in outer space for months on end. The start of the movie has Kirk’s voice over — a captain’s log — as he talks about how being in space for so long has started to feel routine. You can see that he’s getting burned out, tired, maybe even bored. The action in the film, including the potential to lose everything, reminds him of why he does this. It gives him his spirit back.
I guess the one thing I struggled with in this movie was the pacing of the “big” story. The film starts off a little slow, then explodes into amazing action sequences… then sums up the villain’s backstory and motives in a way that feels a little too tied-together. I won’t give away much about the villain Krall (played brilliantly by Idris Elba) except to say that he could have been more interesting if he had stronger ties to Kirk and the Enterprise. Instead, the Enterprise crew stumbles into the plot by way of an artifact they come across, pretty much by accident. I’d say it is a pretty weak story, even if it does well to sum up the movie’s themes about getting “lost” in space.
The film is also a little heavy on shaky cam and swoopy 3D fun. It’s not overwhelming by any means, but as someone who is sensitive to that kind of thing, the end credits felt like the last straw for me, and I was glad to be done with the 3D experience by then!
Despite a few flaws, I believe Star Trek Beyond does a fine job of making an action movie that captures a lot of the heart of the Star Trek TV series. I’ll go into more detail about what I liked and didn’t like in my next spoiler-filled post. =)