When I saw Star Trek Into Darkness a few years ago, I came away feeling that it was an enjoyable and entertaining adventure that was good fun to watch. I haven’t seen it since, so I can neither confirm nor deny my initial impression, but if the internet (and my friend Rod) are to be believed, I was actually wrong. Was I? I don’t know. I’d have to watch it again.
In the meantime, Star Trek Beyond is now out, directed by Justin Lin and co-written by co-star Simon Pegg. If similar voices on the internet argue that it’s a bad movie because it feels like an episode of a TV show and because Chris Pine rides a motorcycle.
Well, Chris Pine’s Kirk does ride a motorcycle, and he does so with ease and style. Clearly, it’s a space-motorcycle because there’s no way any normal bike could cruise over that bumpy CGI landscape so smoothly.
And the story does, in many ways, feel like an extended episode of a non-existent Star Trek TV series. It’s not telling a story of the origin of Captain Kirk or the origin of the Enterprise or the origin of the Federation. It’s also not the end of the story. It’s not the conclusion of a trilogy, or the end of saga (even though it’s the third movie). It’s simply a grand adventure story about a high-stakes mission of the Enterprise and her crew.
And you know what? That’s awesome!
I mean, I like origin stories and all. I dig ’em. But you know what? It’s time to move past that, to go…beyond! Guys like these–the classic Trek crew, or Superman, or Spider-Man–these guys aren’t figures in modern pop-culture mythology because of their origin stories, but rather because of all the stories that came after! To that end, an epic standalone adventure about this crew is exactly what we need.
Not that Star Trek Beyond is a perfect movie. It’s got some oddities and funny flaws. Kirk’s character arc where he is feeling listless about his job as a Starship Captain feels a bit forced. Explanations for the origin of the main villain Krall and the explanation of his strange abilities is a little thin. The threat of Krall’s superweapon is not quite visceral enough. The “reveal” of Krall’s true nature is handled a bit awkwardly. And the little trick of where a couple of characters seem to create temporary duplicates of themselves isn’t really explained.
But there is a lot to like about the film as well. One of the strongest points is how well each of the seven “regular” characters are utilized: everyone has got lots of good action bits and character moments. It is in fact probably the best example of this balancing act in any episode or movie featuring the original Star Trek cast. All the performances are fine, with Karl Urban’s Dr. McCoy continuing to be the most pitch-perfect. At the same time, the film’s main guest character, an alien named Jaylah, also blends well into the ensemble, and actually has my favorite line of dialogue: “Take my house and make it fly,” (it makes sense in the movie).
The action sequences are pretty spectacular and inventive, and mostly clean and well-directed (a bit where Kirk and Chekov avoid being crushed by a tipping starship was the only bit I found visually confusing). The plot is mostly straightforward, but still engaging, and approaches on some heavy themes with a light touch: the core value of unity which is at the heart of the Federation, and thus at the heart of the franchise.
The movie also contains a nice tribute to the recent passing of Leonard Nimoy, the original Spock, as well as acknowledgment to the shocking loss of Anton Yelchin, who plays Chekov, who died in a freak accident only recently.
Anyway, nobody’s going to argue that Star Trek Beyond is any sort of all-time classic by any means. It’s not even a Force Awakens, where the only thing that keeps it from being the best in the franchise is the fact that it didn’t come first. But still, this is a fun movie which carries us through some enjoyable rises and falls in tension all the way through its three acts, resulting an overall satisfying experience.