Let’s just start here: Star Trek Beyond is a good movie. It may even be a great movie, though I probably should see it again before I make that assessment.
In some ways, it’s better than it has a right to be. J.J. Abrams directed the first two movies in the “reboot universe,” Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness (both of which I was a fan of), but as he was busy with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, he wasn’t available to take on another Star Trek sequel. Though, Abrams remained as a Producer, Justin Lin stepped in to direct, along with a new writing staff that includes Montgomery Scott himself, Simon Pegg. Lin directed four movies in the Fast and the Furious franchise, and that influence showed quite a bit in this film. The action is fast and frenetic, the one-liners are quick and intelligent, and overall, the movie is just fun. Pegg, an unabashed Star Trek fan, co-wrote a solid story. It isn’t anything Oscar-worthy or anything, but it evoked a classic Original Series episode.
To back up a bit, the crew of the Enterprise is midway through their “five year mission” and you can tell the crew has settled into their routine. Kirk runs through his Captain’s Log toward the beginning, giving the viewer a feel for how life on the ship has progressed since we last saw them. They stop off at Space Station Yorktown when a mysterious alien arrives, asking for help in a nearby nebula. After the Enterprise heads off to investigate, the crew ends up stranded on a planet run by Krall, played by Idris Elba. The crew members are separated, putting Bones (Karl Urban) and Spock (Zachary Quinto) together; Kirk (Chris Pine) with Chekov (Anton Yelchin); Sulu (John Cho) with Uhura (Zoe Saldana); and Scotty (Simon Pegg) with another alien, Jaylah (Sofia Boutella).
This arrangement kinda makes the whole movie. In the first two reboot films, everything centered on the fact that this was a new timeline. The first movie brought the crew together, while the second still very much depended on the fact that a separate timeline was created. Star Trek Beyond, on the other hand, is the first one that really feels like it’s own, separate story, one that isn’t dependent on what came before. When you see Spock and Bones alone together, they act as you’d expect them to, not based on the previous two movies, but based on 50 years of those characters’ histories. We get to see them working together to solve problems, where it isn’t just Kirk that saves the day, but each character really gets their moment to shine this time around.
I have mixed feelings about the villain, Krall. He had legitimate motivation for going after the Federation, information that comes out toward the end that ties back into the series, Star Trek Enterprise. There’s nothing critical about that information, but it was a nice touch that the writers tied it back in for fans who are familiar with the franchise. Idris Elba is a gifted actor, and while he did pretty well (and improved as the movie progressed), it was obvious he found it difficult to get his performance past the prosthetics he wore to play the role.
I also thought the CG effects were good, but maybe not as good as the previous films. There were a few scenes that were pretty obviously on green screen. Perhaps that’s because so much of the film was outdoors instead of on the bridge of the Enterprise, but still, it was noticeable.
That said, there’s a badass scene toward the end that deserves all the Oscars. You’ll know it when you see it. And it involves the Beastie Boys.
The last thing I wanted to mention was that they did a good job writing the death of Leonard Nimoy into the movie. That’s really the only connection to the previous two films that may require explanation to a newcomer, but they handled it nicely and added some depth to Zachary Quinto’s version at the same time. Justin Lin also re-edited a scene toward the end of the movie as a nod to Anton Yelchin, who died recently after filming had completed. The word is that, in the next movie, Yelchin won’t be replaced and they will somehow write out Chekov. While it’s difficult to imagine the bridge without that character, I appreciate that this family sticks together and can’t simply exchange one actor for another.
Ultimately, that’s this movie: it’s a family, working together as a team, to solve an apocalyptic problem.
Just like Star Trek has always been.