Overview: The intrepid crew of the USS Enterprise answers a mysterious distress call, only to become embroiled with an enigmatic new enemy hell bent on destroying the United Federation of Planets. Paramount Pictures; 2016; Rated PG-13; 120 minutes.
The Journey: Following director J.J. Abrams’ game changing franchise reboot in 2009, the current generation of films based on the classic science-fiction property created by Gene Roddenberry in the late 1960s continues on its grand journey with Star Trek Beyond. Handing the reins off to Fast & Furious franchise rejuvenator Justin Lin, the latest adventure starring Captain James Tiberius Kirk (Chris Pine), Leonard “Bones” McCoy (Karl Urban), and Mr. Spock (Zachary Quinto) is a thrill ride from start to finish. Building upon the action-centered set pieces previously established by Abrams’ two preceding entries in the series, Lin takes the seminal interstellar crew of political diplomats on an adventure that is designed to please fans of the newly established Kelvin Timeline.
Abrams has never been one to disguise his obvious cinematic debts to the greatest works of George Lucas in the past, and as such Star Trek Beyond continues in its similarity to the visceral rush of the very best Star Wars films. Lin takes on the mantle of Abrams’ more fast-paced take on the philosophical underpinnings of Roddenberry’s original vision with plenty of measured goodwill, resulting in another entry that seeks to establish itself as more immediately exciting than the original series ever was. Gone are the days of seeking to find personal enlightenment through exploring alien territories. In its place is a journey to familiar territory that’s been well charted but never while playing The Beastie Boys on full blast.
To Infinity: Upon landing on a mysterious world ruled over by the immortal aberration Krall (Idris Elba), the crew of the USS Enterprise is greeted with a whirlwind adventure that is at once reminiscent of the episodic nature of Roddenberry’s original TV serial. But instead of examining the underpinnings of Krall’s tortured existence, Star Trek Beyond feels more comfortable focusing on the vast vistas that make up Lin’s multi-colored alien worlds and multi-faceted indigenous inhabitants. This specific take on the film’s basic premise results in an adventure that teems with possibilities, though infinity feels reductive in Lin’s hands.
Instead of reveling in the ambiguity of several complicated and conflicted characters, Star Trek Beyond is so intent on traversing each and every twist and turn that Lin marvelously constructs for Captain Kirk to overcome that the story is largely underwritten throughout. Krall is an intriguing central villain, but his personal journey is divulged in such a terse and extraneous manner that his underlying vendetta becomes one of the film’s lesser felt emotional beats. Lin has made action movies in the Fast & Furious franchise that have managed to wed fast-paced sequences to an emotional core in the past, but in making the transition to a franchise as clearly established as Star Trek something has been lost in translation, despite the presence and intimation of infinite possibilities.
Beyond: Abrams ran into some trouble with the release of Star Trek Into Darkness with certain fans of the outstanding franchise, and Star Trek Beyond attempts to move past those stumbling blocks. But Abrams’ fingerprints are so clearly all over Lin’s movie that it’s hard to see very far beyond some of Abrams’ greatest faults as a genre director. Star Wars: The Force Awakens saw Abrams giving new life to a franchise that made him into the director he is today, but with the Star Trek franchise he has attempted to imbue Roddenberry’s dissimilar science-fiction property with much of the visceral appeal of Lucas’ incongruous space opera. Roddenberry was interested in the subtleties of human nature, while Lucas (and by extension Abrams) has always been far more comfortable utilizing heroic archetypes and myths. In imbuing the Kelvin Timeline with all of the melodrama more appropriate to a Star Wars film, Abrams marred what might have been a very different Star Trek feature franchise.
For what it’s worth, it was nice to see someone other than Abrams take the director’s chair for Star Trek Beyond. Lin manages to make a movie in the Star Trek universe that is definitely more fun than Abrams’ were, but due to the Kelvin Timeline’s decided Star Wars lineage he never truly charts the course to explore new terrain. Star Trek Beyond definitely moves far outside the territory previously established by Star Trek in 2009 and Star Trek Into Darkness in 2013, but it’s territory that belongs to another franchise entirely. Abrams has established a new feature franchise for Star Trek that should serve to speak to the current generation of moviegoers enthralled by the kinds of movies born out of the business model established by the likes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but it won’t leave Roddenberry’s most loyal acolytes eager for more.
Overall: Star Trek Beyond is exactly what fans of the Kelvin Timeline have come to expect at the expense of paying honest homage to franchise creator Gene Roddenberry’s original vision.
Featured Image: Paramount Pictures