Star Trek Beyond Review
It looks like the odd numbered films are the good ones this time
Star Trek Beyond gets the 'fast and furious' treatment in the latest instalment of the rebooted film franchise, with a fun and enjoyable story that captures the spirit of the original TV series.The first of the new Star Trek films managed the nearly impossible task of rebooting the franchise, whilst retaining the legacy of the previous films and introducing a young cast as the now iconic characters. The clever concept of a reset timeline meant that the rebooted franchise could have completely new adventures with the same characters without having to worry about continuity. As a film Star Trek almost worked, although it never quite managed to top its near-perfect first ten minutes and it suffered from a weak villain.The second film in the series tried too hard to be clever and in trying to have their narrative cake and eat it, the filmmakers simply ended up with cake all over their faces. Benedict Cumberbatch was miscast and Star Trek Into Darkness tried to deliver an emotional ending that it quite simply hadn't earned yet. For the third outing – Star Trek Beyond – there has clearly been a deliberate attempt to get the franchise back to what made the original films so good – fun stories that relied as much on the chemistry of the cast as it did on action and effects.
With J. J. Abrams, the director of Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness off in a galaxy far, far away, the production reins have fallen to a new creative team. Although Abrams is still on board as a producer, the directing duties have been taken over by Justin Lin, who previously helmed a number of 'Fast and Furious' instalments including the genuinely excellent Fast Five. His arrival behind the camera is like a shot of adrenaline into the film's arm, with a style that makes the already frenetic films that Abrams directed appear positively geriatric by comparison. However, despite the fast-paced nature of Lin's style the film never becomes confusing or feel as though it was edited by a toddler with ADDH. In fact quite the opposite, with the set pieces always easy to follow and often full of really interesting and imaginative shots. Lin even manages to make arriving and leaving space dock look exciting.
The other major creative change is in terms of the writers, with Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof replaced by Simon Pegg and Doug Jung. Whilst no one will be sad to see Lindelof go both Orci and Kurtzman are still involved as producers and Orci apparently did an uncredited rewrite. Pegg's choice as writer might seem strange at first but as a life-long Star Trek fan and general geek, Pegg knows the universe like the back of his hand and he already has two films under his belt in the role of Scotty. As a result Pegg brings plenty of genuine Star Trek credibility to the screenplay and some much needed humour; he even manages to squeeze in a joke from Spaced, which is sure to please fans. Doug Jung comes from a background of episodic TV and so helps to tie the plot together, keeping the narrative logical (if you'll pardon the pun) and the relationships between the characters believable.
The film kicks off halfway through the Enterprise's five year mission and the opening scene is funny and exciting in equal measure, capturing the tone of some of the best Star Trek episodes. However like everything else in this well-plotted screenplay, the sequence also forms a part of the larger narrative and nothing is wasted in terms of plot devices. Although some are fairly obvious, you can be sure that anything that's seen or mentioned during the film will, at some point, come into play. The good thing about this attention to detail is that everything makes sense and the film isn't full of plot holes you could drive a starship through.
Thanks to a combination of action and humour this sci-fi romp feels like a big budget episode of the original series
Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto are back as Kirk and Spock respectively and whilst their double act does take centre stage, the rest of the crew have much bigger roles this time out. Unsurprisingly Pegg's Scotty gets plenty of screen time, as does Karl Urban's Bones and the latter makes the most of it, delivering some of the film's funniest lines. Zoe Saldana returns as Uhura and John Choo reprises his role of Sulu but now with an added, if needlessly controversial, backstory. Naturally after his untimely death, it's rather bittersweet every time Anton Yelchin's Chekov is on screen but there's a nice 'For Anton' during the end credits. There is also a touching send off for the late Leonard Nimoy, who had supporting roles in the two previous films as Spock Prime.
In terms of the newcomers, Sofia Boutella is excellent as Jaylah. Her character is a welcome addition to the cast and one who you would be happy to see return in future instalments. The two previous films have struggled when it came to their villains but this time Kirk and co. have a worthy adversary in the form of Idris Elba's Krall. He is not only genuinely threatening but his actions and motivations actually make sense within the context of the wider story.
The action and set pieces are brilliantly staged, the effects are first class and the production design generally good, aside from some fake looking rocks, although that's probably just in keeping with the original TV series. The costumes are also great and the crew even get to wear some new uniforms, which helps differentiate this film from the two that came before. In the end Star Trek Beyond is exactly what it was designed to be, a fun two hours at the cinema, and these days you really can't ask for any more. There is a long-held belief that in the original film series only the even numbered instalments were any good, so perhaps it's fitting that with the new franchise it appears the odd numbered instalments are the best. At least so far...
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