When J.J. Abrams rebooted the Star Trek universe, the new Star Trek created something that was both familiar and vastly different than what Star Trek fans knew. The follow-up, Star Trek: Into Darkness, felt a little too familiar, and some of the story beats became a little off-putting (Spock screaming KHAAAAAN!!!, and the “magic blood” cure for Kirk to name two). Now with Fast & Furious alum Justin Lin in the director’s chair, expectations for Star Trek: Beyond were tempered, to say the least. Ultimately, the movie doesn’t just work, it far exceeds any expectations fans will have for the picture.
The story itself is structured almost identically to a two-part episode of a show. In fact, it is so classically Star Trek that many fans will be able to figure out most of the plot twists easily. This, however, does not detract at all from anyone’s enjoyment of the film. The MacGuffin of the film, an uber-deadly biological weapon called the Abronath (a name Slate’s Dana Stevens suggests we use to replace the term MacGuffin for science fiction movies), literally destroys the flesh of anyone with whom it comes in contact, and the villain of the film, Krall, wants to use it to attack the Federation and destroy the incredibly Inception-like space station called Yorktown. Krall has a fleet of tiny ships called “bees” and he uses them to destroy the Enterprise. Taking nearly all the crew hostage (seriously, there are so few deaths it’s almost as if the Man of Steel paradigm factored into the script here), it is up to Kirk, Spock, Bones, Scotty, Chekov (rest in peace, Anton Yelchin, you were a PERFECT Chekov), and a newcomer, Jaylah, to rescue the crew and save the Federation from Krall’s insidious plan. Stuck in the background of this is Kirk’s desire to leave the captain’s chair for a posting in the Admiralty and Spock’s drive to leave for New Vulcan.
All told, it isn’t the action that makes the film work, though there is plenty of it. It’s the characters, who are developed more fully than in either of the previous two films. Spock and Bones in particular have a dynamic in the Kelvin timeline that is arguably better than even that which they developed in the Prime universe. Kirk by himself is underwhelming, but once he is back with his crew he comes alive. Though I would sometimes prefer the Scotty who wasn’t the least bit afraid to punch a Klingon, Pegg’s Scotty has the perfect foil in Jaylah, and even has a moment similar to Hawkeye’s with Scarlet Witch in Age of Ultron. In reality, everyone (with the possible exception of Uhura, who is criminally under-used) has their “moment” and each one shines. As a side note, the moment that “outs” Sulu as gay was exactly that. It wasn’t blatant, nor was it presented gratuitously as if to say “Look, we have a gay character!” It was merely a moment, and as quickly as it was shown it was over.
If you are not sure about going to see Star Trek: Beyond, let me allay your fears. It is worth the price of admission. In a summer that has been sorely lacking a genuine blockbuster, Star Trek: Beyond delivers in a way that will make casual movie-goers and Star Trek fans alike glad they paid the price of admission.