Director: Justin Lin
Starring: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Sofia Boutella, and Idris Elba
2016 has been a pretty shit year for blockbusters. There’s no way around it, just massively disappointing. Even if the movies weren’t actually bad, they were just passable and very easy to move past. Never lingering too much in the mind. As the summer moved along, I started to feel a general fatigue for the tentpoles. But a thought started to creep into my head. After the massive disappointment of Star Trek Into Darkness, what if Beyond was going all out to right the wrongs of that movie and ended up becoming the sleeper movie of the summer? It was in perfect position to do so. Falling under the radar while other high profile releases were just slinking along, disappearing as quickly as they were released. And now that the movie is here, it’s really good to be proven right. Because there is no more fun and entertaining blockbuster released this year.
Star Trek Beyond finds the cinematic Trek world back on track, essentially ignoring all of the events of Into Darkness. This pretty much plays like the sequel the 2009 entry deserved. We have Kirks father issues playing out still, questioning his place in Starfleet as he passes his father in age. There’s Spock, still haunted by the destruction of his home and other bad news that he comes to learn. The plotting and arcs and themes in the movie just play so much more naturally than the false flag 9/11ish bullshit that Into Darkness traded in. And I kinda like that movie, but know full well it did work the way it should have. The way this movie does. It does what a Trek entry should do. Play with ideas in the sandbox of a big popcorn story, entertaining us while the good vibe themes work their way into our brains. The 2009 entry got away with a lack of ideas to work with because it was busy setting the stage for this new universe. Into Darkness played way too cynically with the universe that is built to be uplifting. Beyond moves back to that feeling by getting back to its roots and feeling like an episode of The Original Series.
3 years into the 5 year mission, The Enterprise makes a stop at a new Starfleet outpost in deep space for a rest. Kirk is feeling restless and lost, unable to get his bearings deep in space. His lack of self is getting to him, feeling like he doesn’t know where he belongs. Also feels like he is a failure to his fathers memory, as he only joined Starfleet on a dare and to measure up to his father. Kirk feels he hasn’t set a path for himself and is getting stir crazy. He is ready to leave the game when a mission comes in and he volunteers one final time. But there is more to this mission, as it is an ambush and leaves the Enterprise stranded on an unknown planet. A mysterious bad guy known as Krall is after something that the Enterprise has, and Kirk and crew have to stop him. So very much like the old school episodes of the show, a simple mission goes south and the crew ends up on an exotic planet. Good times roll on ahead to a propulsive finale.
For all the flash and whiz bang in the movie, what really makes this movie shine is that it is all tied into a thematic point. That point is all about looking forward. While that may not be as heady as some God like being making them question life or alternate universe stories, it fits very well for the 50th anniversary entry into the series. This is a series all about hope and optimism and progress of humanity. And in this one, everyone is looking backwards and getting stuck in place. Kirk can’t get past the death of his father and blaze his own past, Spock is still reeling from the death of Vulcan and the death of original universe Spock that he is about to embark on a less interesting path than his original self, and the villain himself is one very much stuck in the past. Krall is a man who spouts off anti colonialist ideas, but at the heart of him lies something more sinister. This is a man who was a soldier who was essentially put out to pasture with the arrival of Starfleet. His whole life is predicated on war and violence, so the idea of peace and prosperity doesn’t work for him. He feels that humanity can’t reach its best self without conflict. You get the sense that he doesn’t honestly believe that, that it’s more like an angry boy lashing out at his parents with a half cocked belief he has. But he is willing to go to extreme lengths to succeed, so he has to be stopped. And his character helps Kirk and Spock grow past their hangups, allowing them to become who they were meant to be.
All of this unshackling of the past works into other areas too. The new ally they introduce, Jayla, is a girl who was stranded on this planet and captured by Krall and saw her family die. She escaped and is now doing whatever she can to escape the planet. But she is very much in a PTSD kinda mindframe, living in complete isolation and then so filled with terror at the idea of having to go back to Kralls prison camp. It’s only by essentially becoming apart of the Enterprise crew that she is able to move past her trauma to help out and eventually escape the planet. Jayla is a great character, played too perfection by Sofia Boutella, and I honestly hope she comes back for more installments.
Justin Lin, the man who managed to turn the Fast and Furious franchise into a global phenomenon, comes in to replace JJ Abrams, and he does a phenomenal job. He makes it feel very much in line with the world that they set up prior, while still putting his own visual spin onto things. He has a very mobile camera, and it makes the action very riveting. While Fast and Furious helmer might seem like a bad idea for Star Trek, it ends up being the best decision they could make. Lin’s done this before, clean up a franchise and make it work like gangbusters again. And when you remember that his entries into Fast and Furious highlighted the familial aspects of the characters, that makes him ideal for this series. Everyone in the cast gets to work, feeling like actual parts of the story and never once feeling relegated to glorified cameo status. You get the sense of camaraderie needed to make this series work. The cast does great work as usual. Lin works very well with them. I gotta give credit to the continued success at making McCoy the MVP of the series. And of course, he brings some ball busting action to the series that never feels too ridiculous for Trek. Lin is so talented at popcorn filmmaking that he manages to work in the JJ verse trend of Beastie Boy songs popping up into the narrative of the movie that works in a very thematic but also just fist pumpingly enjoyable way.
This movie really made my weekend. I wrote up a little something the other day (seen here) that gets into the hows and whys of my burgeoning Trek fandom. But simply put, 2009s entry got me into this and holds a special place in my heart. It’s why I can rewatch Into Darkness despite its issues. But seeing this movie just get everything right was so satisfying. On every level this is a winner and gives me new found faith in the series.