3.5 out of 5 stars.
J.J. Abrams’ 2009 “Star Trek” reboot and its sequel, “Star Trek: Into Darkness” truly felt like a reimagining of the classic series, modernizing it while also containing multiple homages to the original source material. With Justin Lin taking the director’s chair for the third movie, “Star Trek Beyond,” it was inevitable that things would feel a bit different — and they do, though not in a bad way.
“Star Trek Beyond” is set three years after the end of “Into Darkness.” The USS Enterprise is over halfway through with its five year exploratory mission when it is sent to answer a distress call on the remote planet Altamid. The Enterprise is ambushed by Krall (Idris Elba), a mutated alien who wants an artifact Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) had obtained on a previous mission that would complete a bioweapon that can immediately destroy any humanoid. Krall captures most of Kirk’s crew and while the other survivors are separated on the planet. Kirk and Chekov (Anton Yelchin) search for a missing part of the crashed Enterprise; Spock (Zachary Quinto) and Dr. McCoy (Karl Urban) look for more survivors; and Scottie (Simon Pegg) meets Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), an alien scavenger who escaped from Krall. She agrees to help the crew stop Krall, who plans to use his new weapon to destroy the Starfleet base Yorktown and later the whole Federation.
As the “Star Trek” series seems to be at a crossroads at this point, having established backstories to all the characters and the universe they exist in, so is much of the Enterprise’s crew. At the beginning of the film they take a leave at Yorktown, where Kirk decides to step down as Captain of the Enterprise after questioning the purpose of their mission. He wants to give the ship to Spock, but Spock has plans of his own. After learning that his future self (played in the previous two films by the original Spock, Leonard Nimoy) has passed away, he wants to leave Starfleet and continue Ambassador Spock’s work on New Vulcan. He also reevaluates his relationship with Lieutenant Uhura (Zoe Saldana).
As great as it is to see all the familiar faces back and as good as ever (by this point the actors comfortably inhabit their roles and established a great rapport with each other), the new characters are great as well. Jaylah, who is tough and self-reliant but also secretly wants something more for her life, is a solid addition to the crew, while Elba’s Krall is a menacing villain with a surprising backstory that comes to light later in the film.
Abrams’ movies drew more on the original “Star Trek” films than on the television series (particularly “Into Darkness,” which is basically a reimagining of “The Wrath Khan). They still have their fair share of light-hearted moments, but for the most part their themes are darker and more serious. The tone of Lin’s film is much closer to that of the original television series: colorful, less serious, and a straight-forward plot that involves exploring strange planets and encountering strange creatures, and that is borderline cheesy/over-exaggerated at times (like in the climax when the crew uses the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” to combat Krall). It’s appropriate, really, seeing as how this film takes place during that same five year mission that the crew was on in the original series, and it’s also not surprising, as fanboy Pegg was one of the screenplay’s cowriters. But Lin succeeds in making the film still feel like a modern sci-fi movie; the special effects and action sequences are all well-done, and the characters’ personal struggles add another layer of complexity to what otherwise would have been a run-of-the-mill blockbuster (add to that the nice tributes to the late Nimoy and Yelchin).
It’s not perfect, and the tone is quite different from the previous two films, but not so much so that it feels out of place. Rather, “Star Trek Beyond” is proof at how flexible to different interpretations the franchise is, which is probably why it is in its fiftieth year and still going strong.
Runtime: 122 minutes. Rated PG-13.