FILM REVIEW – STAR TREK: BEYOND. With Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, and Anton Yelchin. Written by Simon Pegg & Doug Jung. Directed by Justin Lin. Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence. 120 minutes.
Longtime “Star Trek” fans will remember that there used to be a rule of thumb about the movies: the “even ones” were the good ones. Think of “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” and “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.” Now with the reboots it looks like the rule will be look out for the “odd ones.”
The 2009 reboot had its problems, but was embraced by the fans because the new cast was so spot-on. Then came the 2013 “Star Trek: Into Darkness” which showed a cast getting more comfortable in the parts but made the mistake of being a remake of “Wrath of Khan.” Now comes STAR TREK: BEYOND, and director J. J. Abrams has stepped back into a producing role, letting Justin Lin take over the helm. Lin is the man who did the impossible: stepping into the “Fast and Furious” series and injecting it not only with eye-popping action, but allowing a diverse cast to actually bring their characters to life.
He might have seemed an odd choice for “Star Trek,” but it turns out to to have been a good fit. The pacing is a lot faster–lots of short scenes with character moments salted in among the unrelenting action–but he’s helped by a script by Simon Pegg (who plays Scotty) and Doug Jung that feels like a real “Star Trek” episode. The character subplots play off nicely against the main storyline.
After a prologue in which a well-intentioned diplomatic effort by Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) goes wrong, we get to the main story. The Enterprise is sent on a rescue mission in uncharted territory, unaware that they are being lured into a trap set up by Krall (Idris Elba). He wants an alien artifact in the possession of the Enterprise and is willing to do whatever it takes to get it. The central conflict would have not been out of place in back in the days of late series creator Gene Roddenberry: should the Federation’s mission be one of military force or diplomatic efforts?
Combining special effects with a compelling plot and strong characters, this is easily the best of the new “Trek” series, where the actors show they’re ready to make these characters their own. John Cho, as Sulu, and the late Anton Yelchin, in his final turn as Chekov, make the most of still underwritten parts, but Zachary Quinto as Spock and Karl Urban as Dr. McCoy absolutely soar, playing off of each other as well as off of Pine. Zoe Saldana gets to kick some alien butt as Uhura and newcomer Sofia Boutella is a welcome addition as the complex alien spacefarer Jayiah. She would be good to keep on in future entries.
It’s clear that Paramount executives continue to remain clueless about “Star Trek’s” appeal, originally intending to open the film with no local press screenings. Let’s spell it out: “Star Trek” represents intelligent, character-driven and issue-oriented science fiction, and its fans will appreciate the smarts that went into “Star Trek: Beyond.” Since the franchise is now alive and kicking, they should treat the films as prestige releases, not just another entry in a franchise with little appeal except for nerds and geeks. Yes, nerds and geeks (including this reviewer) will have a great time. And anyone who appreciated a good action-packed adventure will too.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.