Star Trek Beyond is the third in JJ Abrams’ revival of the series, with Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto as Kirk and Spock. However, it’s all change behind the camera; since Abrams brought Benedict Cumberbatch into the fold as Khan in 2013’s Star Trek Into Darkness, he’s found himself rather busy with that other space franchise he looks after.
Directoral duties are thus handed over to Justin Lin, the man credited with taking the Fast and the Furious series from middling action series to Rock-led commercial behemoth. Also out are Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, writers of Star Trek (2009) and Into Darkness, replaced by Simon Pegg and Doug Jung. Two of the series’ stars died before the film’s release – Leonard Nimoy (‘old’ Spock) and Anton Yelchin (Chekov).
The story picks up several years into the Enterprise’s deep-space exploration mission, with Kirk a little bored, a little homesick, a little directionless, and ready to take a desk job at the Federation’s gigantic new starbase, Yorktown. Spock’s also thinking of jumping ship, particularly after some bad news from back home, and his relationship with Uhura (Zoe Saldana) is suffering as a result.
However, the Federation receives a distress call from a downed ship in uncharted space, and so Kirk and his crew set off to mount a rescue. Unfortunately they run into Krall (Idris Elba), a destructive force unlike anything they’ve encountered before, who critically wounds the Enterprise and leaves the crew scattered on an unfamiliar planet. They join forces with Jaylah, an alien scavenger, to escape Krall’s clutches and stop his attack on the Federation.
With Pegg writing, it’s to be expected that the general humour levels rise, which is to be welcomed. His role as Montgomery Scott also expands, though arguably at the expense of Spock, who is sidelined for much of the film, which does undermine the buddy movie tension between himself and Kirk that drove the first two rebooted Trek movies.
Justin Lin does, however, bring the action: Krall’s swarm of killers attack thrillingly, there’s plenty of dizzying gravity-inspired acrobatics, and the climactic sequence featuring a Beastie Boys favourite (‘beats and shouting!’) is inspired. Sofia Boutella is great as newcomer Jaylah, and series regular Karl Urban (Bones) has a little more to do this time. The film also sidesteps odd gender issues like the treatment of Alice Eve’s character in Into Darkness, although it feels a little strange to hear Pegg calling a character ‘Lassie’ over and over.
Overall it does lack a bit of real-world heft; this is partly due to the treatment of Elba as Krall, who suffers from Hollywood’s ongoing ‘evil goblin’ trope, whereby excellent actors are buried under prosthetics and CGI until they it could be anyone under there – think Oscar Isaac in X-Men: Apocalypse, Christopher Eccleston in Thor: The Dark World, and so on. Elba’s much scarier in the early seasons of The Wire, though he does his best through glowering physicality. It’s also revealed in the trailer that Krall used to be human, and it’s unclear to me why as a human, his character had a relatively plummy British accent, and yet when he becomes a murderous monster his accent migrates closer to his African warlord in Beast of No Nation.
Star Trek Beyond delivers the kind of spectacle that you want from a film like this, and arguably its episodic, monster-of-the-week-driven conflict is a bit closer to the TV series’ intentions than the Wrath of Khan- rebooting Into Darkness. What made it a fine but forgettable film for me was that the stakes seem fairly low – understandably, with a franchise as successful as this, the writers seem unlikely to kill off any central characters, and ultimately you get the feeling that everyone will scramble through this and be ready for the next episode.
Star Trek Beyond is out now at cinemas across the UK.
Photo Credits: Kimberley French. Copyright (c) Paramount Pictures.