star_trek_beyond_4Year: 2016
Director(s): Justin Lin
Writer(s): Simon Pegg, Doug Jung
Region of Origin: US
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Rating: PG-13
Digital, Color, 120 mins

Synopsis: The USS Enterprise crew explores the furthest reaches of uncharted space, where they encounter a new ruthless enemy who puts them and everything the Federation stands for to the test. (Source)

Wrath of Khan, Undiscovered Country, First Contact. To many of us, those are the best Star Trek films – now add Star Trek Beyond to that list. Yep, I’m not kidding. After reinvigorating Trek with his rebooted timeline, J.J. Abrams crashed and burned with Star Trek Into Darkness, a muddled, misguided film that chose to reuse one of the franchise’s biggest villains, in the process, coming up as a pale imitation. Beyond, now directed by Justin Lin and written by Doug Jung and Simon Pegg, breaks free from this blot, going back to the original series’ roots for a reverent, but modern spin that’s confident and fresh. What Lin does best, is remind us why these characters have impacted pop culture so deeply, focusing on the series’ vast mythos and the implications of Roddenberry’s message of unity. Needless to say, the film works as a tribute to everything the franchise has stood for, while also being a pitch-perfect blend of thrills, sincerity and heart. It’s not just a good Trek film, but also a fine example of blockbuster storytelling.

Deep into their five year mission, the Enterprise’s crew has become tightly knit and is firing on all cylinders. Captain Kirk (Chris Pine), however, is figuratively lost in space. It’s his birthday, which also means it’s the anniversary of his father’s death, and Kirk is struggling in his shadow. After stopping over at a nearby space station, the Enterprise responds to a distress signal and are quickly overcome by a malevolent alien force. After a valiant fight, the hostile force completely destroys the Enterprise, leaving the crew scattered and marooned on an undiscovered planet. With no ship and barely any resources, the crew races to find each other and uncover the motive of their tormentor, a creature named Krall (Idris Elba), who has a vendetta against the Federation and its founding ideals.

star_trek_beyond_1The beauty of the film comes from the simplicity of its plot, the way it expertly distills the franchise down to its core values and beliefs. Using the episodic nature of the original series, Lin delivers a story free to stand on its own, separating the team on an undiscovered planet and challenging their very being. By contrasting an alien setting (again, resembling the colorful landscapes of the original series) with a propulsive story, the film has no problem evoking the series’ timeless sense of awe, danger and discovery. Initially taking a more patient approach, the film doesn’t skip on the action either, at first allowing us to see how the crew has settled into their prolonged expedition before finally erupting into huge rush of fun that constantly shifts to explore how the crew operates as a true team. To contrast, Krall is a great way to question what the peacefully minded Federation stands for, being a mirror to our darkest selves and innate penchant for self destruction. He, in turn, is also a worthy hurdle to reunite the team, who represents an opposing and blinding representation of our compassion and hope.

Another asset to the film is the energy that Lin gets from his stunning visuals. There’s a weight to every set piece, drawing us in with breathtaking landscapes and tons of aliens, which all contrast nicely with the film’s tense urgency. The amount of imagination on display trickles down from the beautiful costume and creature designs, to the ingenuity of each action scene, which pulls out and punctuates different dynamics from the fractured crew. Above all, it’s fun to see the amount of diversity that Lin gets from just a handful of bare elements and locales, throwing in motorcycle stunts with teleportation, some really smart use of the Enterprise’s dead carcass, another sequence that uses music in a really fun way, and finally, a climactic showdown in which the laws of gravity have gone haywire.

star_trek_beyond_3Amidst all the spectacle, is an ensemble who is charming and totally perfect together. Not surprisingly, Chris Pine shines the most here. He’s not the same brash, cocky character we’ve previously seen, but more conflicted, totally selfless and ready to take a hit for his crew, despite his crisis of faith. Pine shows much more nuance and gives the film its depth. Mostly working off each other, Zachary Quinto’s Spock and Karl Urban’s Bones are a blast together. Taking the series’ classic love hate relationship, the two are funny whenever they’re on screen, evoking a truly loving friendship that relishes the sharp contrast of their characters, each who each struggle from a differing lack of control. John Cho’s Sulu, Zoe Saldana’s Uhura, Simon Pegg’s Scotty and Anton Yelchin’s Chekov have smaller roles this time out, but are still serviced, with the altruism of their characters in full display. As the villainous Krall, Idris Elba is definitely relishing the role, buried under makeup, but still able to emote and paint a tragic story. His villain has a simple motivation, but is complex in different ways, and Elba does a great job of giving us a dark character who is still sympathetic. Possibly stealing the film is Sofia Boutella’s Jaylah. Boutella, besides bringing a fierce physicality to the role, evokes an innocence that hides under a guarded persona. You feel that she’s seen and been through a lot, and yet there’s still a softer side to her that she hasn’t lost. It’s a fine line she treads, able to convey so much with just a tiny glance, and also throwing in some unexpected deadpan.

If Star Trek Beyond has proven anything, it’s that the franchise has still got a lot left to explore. Justin Lin proves himself a worth steward of the beloved crew and its spirit, injecting both imagination and heart while still working to give keep Trek relevant. Perfectly timed to Trek’s 50th Anniversary, Lin’s film looks back lovingly while knowing the importance of building for the future, throwing in a touching tribute to the original cast (and Leonard Nimoy), while planting seeds of inspiration that we can hope to reap for years to come.

SG