If you've read other reviews of Star Trek Beyond, you would get the feeling that it is a big budget movie version of the original TV series. (TOS) (Check out Trekmovie's review here.) And you would be right if Star Trek was a science fiction franchise that was about shallow action. But in this fiftieth anniversary of this great pop culture icon, we should remember what the creator of the TV series, Gene Roddenberry, wanted. He made a science fiction show that had substance and meaning. (See letter of Gene Roddenberry defending the pilot, "The Cage.")
Star Trek Beyond starts with Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) on a diplomatic mission. Things go bad and he's forced to flee. The Enterprise returns to the huge or in Donald Trump's parlance "huuuuuuge" starbase Yorktown. While there, a Federation escape pod containing Kalara (Lydia Wilson) is recovered. She tells Starfleet that her ship is wrecked on a planet in a nearby nebula. The Enterprise is the only ship with advanced sensors to locate Kalara's ship and it's sent to rescue the surviving crew. When the Enterprise is in orbit around the planet, it is attacked by Krall's (Idris Elba) swarm ships.
First, let me start with the cast. The crew of the Enterpirse all return to reprise their roles from J.J. Abrams' 2009 Star Trek movie. And they're all good. Chris Pine is excellent as an older and more weary Captain Kirk. Anton Yelchin, in one of his final films, gives his Chekov the youthful energy of a person excited to be in Starfleet. Zoe Saldana as Uhura doesn't get much in dialogue and neither does John Cho as Sulu. Look there's only so much to go around. Simon Pegg as Scotty uses his comic talents well when delivering some of his jokes. But it's Karl Urban as Dr. McCoy and Zachary Quinto as Spock that are the best performances. Perhaps this relationship is the most similar to the TV series. It's the funny banter and affection between the two gives this movie its warmth. Hopefully, there will be no fear in showing more of this friendship in future movies. Unfortunately, Idris Elba is a one note performance as the villain Krall. More on this later. And one more performance we should take note of. Sofia Boutella (The Kingsmen: The Secret Service) gives a spunky performance as the survivor Jaylah.
Star Trek Beyond at first feels like that big budget movie version of the TV series. The idea of the Enterprise entering a strange nebula and investigating a strange new world is something, we Trekkers loved about the original series. Heck, that's why I get goosebumps whenever I hear the opening monologue to the theme. (Video below.) And Star Trek Beyond's initial premise is exciting. Go through a nebula. Investigate an unknown planet. Things are "fascinating" as Spock would say, for the first two acts.
But it's the third act of this movie that has the stamp of corporate approval all over it. Simon Pegg and Doug Jung's script devolves into a simple action movie where it is all about good versus evil. Anything that might be nuanced is watered down by all of visual pyrotechnics. I mean is this movie designed to appeal to a larger Chinese audience? After, all one of the production companies is Alibaba Pictures, a Chinese company. Regardless, try figuring out how the crew takes down the bad guy without much in exposition. At one point, Uhura cuts off Spock's technobable with a silly catchphrase. You will wish that he got to complete the sentence. You try to put together the plot before you give up and just watch the explosions. And what about Krall's motivations? If you've seen Star Trek movies from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan to the last one, you will say to yourself, "That old motive, again?"
Director Justin Lin (The Fast and Furious 3-6) is competent in the way he sets up the action. But perhaps he was a mistake to helm this movie. Yes, it is problem of fast cut editing in this movie. Star Trek is not The Fast and Furious. As stated before, Star Trek is supposed to be more thoughtful. Big action set pieces have so many fast cuts that it's difficult to tell what is happening. You'll ask yourselves after events, a question like this, "How did Kirk, Spock and McCoy escape?"
As for the 3D version of Star Trek Beyond, save your money. It's a conversion from 2D and that shows. There's no pop, i.e. pushing out from the screen and there is is almost no depth. The only time I really noticed the 3D was the end credits with all of those CGI planets.
Star Trek Beyond is a good action movie. It is not thoughtful Star Trek. The grade is B.