by Michael B. Hock
Before I get too deep into my review of Star Trek Beyond, I want to talk to you all about another film franchise that is just about to begin filming it’s eight sequel. It’s had some bumps, particularly around episodes 2 and 3, but eventually it’s found its footing, resulting in a truly enjoyable 7th installment that celebrated the previous 6, while maintaining a level of quality that we have come to expect from it.
That’s right, I’m talking about the Fast and The Furious Franchise.
I did a rundown of the 7 movies last year in a series of posts on my old website, I hope you go check them out. Really shows the slow evolution of Bad Shakespeare into an all around movie blog. But the one thing I chronicled is that the movie franchise itself isn’t about fast cars and needlessly extensive bank robberies: it was about family. The premise of the first movie is that you have to believe that Paul Walker’s character is so committed to the idea that Vin Diesel is not a bad guy, he’s someone trying to provide for his family, that he’s willing to give up everything. And you do believe that. As the 2nd and 3rd movies don’t focus on it quite as much, that’s when the franchise loses steam. It’s not until the return to the Walker/Diesel relationship – a friendship built up almost as a romance – that the movie takes shape.
Certainly the writers, as well as Walker and Diesel have a hand in that. But under the direction of Justin Lin – who also directed Star Trek Beyond – the movie goes from straight action to something a little bit deeper. Lin understands that action should be character driven, not the other way around.
And those fingerprints are seen heavily all over Star Trek Beyond, the third movie in the J.J. Abrams rebooted “Kelvin-Timeline” and the 13th Star Trek movie overall.
Star Trek Beyond picks up three years into the five year mission of the U.S.S. Enterprise, and as Kirk says, (in a nod to the fact that this was a T.V. Show) that things have become “episodic”. These first few moments threaten to drive the story back into the angst-ridden Star Trek Into Darkness, but rather than expounding on how exploring the Universe might somehow become boring – akin to a desk job on Earth – the action immediately picks up with a humorous mission to broker peace between worlds, and a nice reminder that one alien’s sacred antique is another’s junk.
The Enterprise is set for some technical repairs on board the Yorktown, a brand new Mega-Space Station where all of the citizens in the Federation can hold hands in peace, love, and harmony. The station itself looks like it was designed by M.C. Escher after being incepted.
Naturally, being the symbol of peace and hope, someone wants to blow it up.
The crew is sent out to a mysterious nebula where they encounter a hostile race that destroys the Enterprise and strands its crew on the planet’s surface. Their leader is named Krall, played by an almost unrecognizable Idris Elba under layers of thick makeup. You have to hand it to Star Trek… only they would take a mega-star like Elba and layer makeup on him. (Or Pegg. Shades of Cate Blanchett in Hot Fuzz.)
Star Trek Beyond’s strengths lie in the same place that most of the Fast and The Furious movies lie, that being in the focus on friendships and the crew as more of a family than a group of co-workers, steadily exploring the vastness of space. After crashing on the planet, none of the crew (except Scotty… we’ll get to that in a moment) is really left alone. Spock and McCoy get some great moments together, particularly as the former is injured and the latter is… well, Spock. Kirk gets some great moments with Chekov (the late Anton Yelchin, which make some of those scenes all the sadder). But the movie is constantly playing with relationships, reminding us that these people should be close. Lin manages to make these relationships up front, but never distracting from the story. It’s an art form that’s difficult to pull off.
The best example is the moment where Sulu meets up with his husband and daughter. It could have been played as a commentary, or a bigger moment. But it’s a quiet moment, seen from the Captain’s point of view as he just watches his crew happy to meet up with their families. It’s a more telling moment for him, where he feels a need to settle down.
Scotty is initially alone, but eventually meets up with Jaylah, a mysterious alien also stranded on the planet. Again, the theme of working together works here, as Jaylah asks for help in fixing “her house”… a pre-Starfleet Warp 4 vessel named The U.S.S. Franklin, complete with NX registration and backstory about how they weren’t sure how it disappeared… either through a wormhole or a “giant green hand” in the sky.”
Say what you will about the Kelvin Timeline, the official name given to these movie reboots… the nods to Star Trek: Enterprise are dead on. There’s even a reference to the Xindi and Romulan Wars.
Another one of its strengths is the ability to have fun again. While I liked Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness, they did suffer from taking away some of the fun that’s involved in Star Trek. There’s a silliness to exploring these worlds and encountering aliens, but Star Trek Beyond embraced it. The previous movies (although I feel Into Darkness suffered more from the need to keep Benedict Cumberbatch’s character a secret) did take the idea of introducing angst as being more serious, this movie incorporated a lot of the angst into some of the fun. Kirk wants to leave exploring space, but is thrust into this adventure. Spock needs to go back home to take care of New Vulcan. They used these as a reminder that bad stuff happens, but you can’t really let it consume you.
Sometimes, you just have to blast “Sabotage” by the Beastie Boys and fly off to do what’s right.