Big screen spectacle 'Star Trek Beyond' pays tribute to Nimoy, Yelchin
Posted August 2, 2016
“STAR TREK BEYOND” — 3 stars — Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg; PG-13 (sequences of sci-fi action and violence); in general release
The third film in the Star Trek franchise reboot lands viewers three years into the five-year mission of the starship Enterprise. The crew works like clockwork, but a bored Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) stands in front of a closet full of identical uniforms and laments that his life has become “episodic.”
The joke may be a nod to the original 1960s TV series, but it also sets a tone for “Star Trek Beyond,” which feels more like an episode than either of Pine’s first two stints in the iconic captain’s chair. In 2009, we got the origin story, and in 2013 we got J.J. Abrams’ twist on “Wrath of Khan” in “Star Trek Into Darkness.” Now, we see what happens when the franchise keys get handed to the director behind four of the Fast and Furious films.
Kirk’s boredom is short-lived. Soon after arriving at an awe-inspiring space station called Yorktown, the Enterprise is sent to a nearby nebula to investigate a mysterious distress signal. The trail eventually leads to a remote planet, but the crew doesn’t have the chance to investigate further before getting attacked by a swarm of alien ships that literally tear the Enterprise apart.
This impressive CGI sequence, which echoes the Enterprise’s destruction in the third film of the original franchise, scatters the crew on the planet’s surface. Kirk and Chekov (Anton Yelchin) are able to evade the enemy, as are Spock (Zachary Quinto) and Doctor McCoy (Karl Urban), who commandeer an alien spacecraft before crash-landing. But Uhura (Zoe Saldana) and Sulu (John Cho) are taken prisoner and led to the alien stronghold.
Here they meet Krall (Idris Elba), an angry fellow who has been capturing passers-by like a scaly blue cosmic Venus flytrap. Krall looks and sounds a bit like Louis Gossett Jr.’s “Jerry” from “Enemy Mine,” but at least Jerry never had to feed on the life force of other beings to stay alive. Krall has a longstanding beef with the Federation and mocks its unity as just another political platitude. With the help of an ancient bioweapon (which was conveniently in the Enterprise’s possession), Krall plans to spread death and destruction, starting at Yorktown.
Eventually, with the help of Scotty (Simon Pegg) and another stranded warrior named Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), Kirk and company mount an offensive to rescue their crewmates and take on Krall. Compared to the sweeping melodrama of “Into Darkness,” it’s a streamlined plot that might have felt more at home at episode length. But some incredible effects work, such as the initial attack on the Enterprise and some thrilling visuals around Yorktown, easily justifies big-screen IMAX treatment.
Director Justin Lin manages to keep much of the tone Abrams established in the last two films, and there are no obvious nods to his Fast and Furious past unless you count some motorcycle stunt work and a couple of classic 20-year-old rap songs on the soundtrack. (Is there a fan of the franchise over the age of 30 who ever would have thought they’d see Trek characters toe-tapping to the Beastie Boys?) There’s also plenty of humor to offset the traditional Trek stiffness.
You also get the sense that you can finally watch this cast on their merits rather than make endless comparisons to the original actors. Urban’s take on McCoy’s folksy Southern crankiness feels curious in the world of 21st-century CGI, but it’s fun to see Pine and Quinto deal with feelings that pull Kirk and Spock away from each other even while the universe conspires to push them together.
It may not be the best of the Star Trek movies, or even the best of the new series, but “Beyond” is an entertaining piece of sci-fi action, space warts and all. Chances are fans will be quick to overlook the film’s weaknesses, and “Star Trek Beyond” will likely be remembered as the feature that marked the passing of Leonard Nimoy, as well as the final performance of Yelchin after his tragic death in June. Fans should stick around for Lin’s simple but touching salute to both cast members in the end credits.
“Star Trek Beyond” is rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence; running time: 120 minutes.
Joshua Terry is a freelance writer and photographer who appeared weekly on "The KJZZ Movie Show" from 2013 to 2016. He also teaches English composition for Salt Lake Community College. Find him online at facebook.com/joshterryreviews.