Reviews and entertainment articles by Dave Simpson
It hasn’t been easy being a Star Trek fan in the fifteen years since Voyager made its triumphant return to the Alpha Quadrant. Nemesis ended the Next Generation era on a less than stellar note while prequel show Enterprise faltered for four seasons before being cancelled in 2005. This thrust the future of the franchise into a state of uncertainty until the enthralling 2009 reboot arrived to steer things in an exciting new direction by reinventing the mythology for the modern age. Then we were given a shameless Wrath of Khan rehash and all optimism went out the window again.
Suffice it to say, if you’re a long-time enthusiast like me then you’ve probably been more than a tad concerned about how this latest entry in the series would turn out, especially in the wake of its uninspiring initial trailer. Thankfully though, I can confirm that any such fears were very much unfounded. Director Justin Lin has delivered a thoroughly enjoyable otherworldly adventure that may well be the best big screen Trek story since jolly old Jean-Luc did battle with the Borg queen.
The plot picks up 966 days into the Enterprise’s fateful five year mission and after two and a half years of charting the final frontier, intrepid starship captain James T. Kirk is starting to feel that life has become a little “episodic”. Craving an escape from the mundanity of hurtling through space at high warp, Jim agrees to investigate a world beyond an unexplored nebula, but what was supposed to be a humanitarian trip has disastrous results when an implacable new enemy emerges to plunge the crew into untold calamity and chaos.
Despite being one of the better Star Trek movies to date, Beyond does stumble slightly in its opening act. It starts strong with some well written exchanges between Kirk and McCoy ahead of a touching tribute to the late Leonard Nimoy that’s likely to leave a lump in the throat of anyone who adores The Original Series. But an assault on the Enterprise soon after feels jarringly abrupt and far too similar to what we saw in Into Darkness.
This ends up being a minor issue though because Beyond excels in almost every other area. It’s obvious that writers Simon Pegg and Doug Jung made a genuine attempt to respect the source material when they were working on the script. As most of you out there will no doubt be aware, 2016 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the franchise and this film does a fantastic job of paying homage to what came before it.
Unlike Into Darkness, Beyond honours the established mythology by incorporating subtle nods to previous events rather than replaying them. From mentions of MACOs and Xindi to Kirk toasting to “absent friends” and the appearance of a picture that made me smile from ear to ear, the story is stuffed full of in-jokes and allusions that will delight devotees.
Well-executed Easter eggs aside however, the real reason this movie excels is that it makes a point of paying close attention to its protagonists. Star Trek has always been more concerned with characters than action and Beyond is at its best when it’s focusing on fleshing out the senior staff of the Federation flagship.
Chris Pine’s Kirk is a lot more disillusioned than Shatner’s rendition was during The Original Series and while it initially seems uncharacteristic, it actually makes a lot of sense. This is a Kirk haunted by the death of his father and the decisions he’s made as a result, which differentiates him from his prime reality counterpart in an interesting way. At the same time, the confident, charismatic commander we all know and love is still buried beneath the surface and Pine impresses as both a noble leader and an individual experiencing an existential crisis.
His half-Vulcan science officer is similarly afflicted, having reached an impasse after receiving some bad news about someone to whom he has an intimate connection. Zachary Quinto succeeds in conveying the conflict within Spock without compromising the stoic demeanour for which he is famous, but both he and Kirk are consistently outshone by their fiery physician friend.
For as long as I’ve liked Star Trek, Leonard Horatio McCoy has been my favourite character and Karl Urban’s depiction of the temperamental doctor has done nothing to dispel that. The criminally underrated Kiwi actor continues to prove that he’s perfectly cast as the Enterprise’s CMO, spouting out hilarious one liners while impeccably emulating the mentality and mannerisms that made DeForest Kelley’s iconic take on the character so compelling. Bones is finally done the justice he deserves here, playing as prominent a part as Kirk and Spock after being unceremoniously relegated to the status of supporting player for the previous two films and Urban steals the show throughout.
Simon Pegg is on fine form as merry miracle worker Montgomery Scott too. He may not have been the first name that came to mind for the role when the reboot was announced, but the quirky co-writer channels Scotty’s lighthearted humour well and is clearly having a blast bringing the engineer to life.
John Cho exhibits a tremendous take charge attitude as helmsman Hikaru Sulu, who gets a greater opportunity to show his leadership skills when the crew are split up in the second act. Cho is believable as an ambitious, altruistic officer who has what it takes to one day command a starship of his own.
The tragically departed Anton Yelchin exudes oodles of enthusiasm as Russian “whiz-kid” Pavel Chekov, immaculately mimicking Walter Koenig’s classic accent in the process. I, for one, was profoundly affected by Yelchin’s untimely death in June and am pleased to report that his swansong as Chekov is superb. Not only does he have much more screen time than he did in Into Darkness, he also gets one of the movie’s most memorable moments when he declares that Scotch was invented by a little old lady in Russia. Anyone familiar with Chekov will surely appreciate this wink to his proclivity for claiming that so many commodities came from his homeland in The Original Series. Yelchin’s delivery of the dialogue is irreproachable and he will be sorely missed from here on out.
Zoe Saldana’s role as Uhura is surprisingly subdued this time around, which at least means her perplexing romance with Spock is downplayed. Although, that’s not to say that the communications expert isn’t essential to the story. Uhura’s keen ear is instrumental in identifying the impetus of the primary antagonist.
Speaking of which, Idris Elba’s enigmatic villain, Krall, feels rather one dimensional at first, but as the plot progresses and his motivations are made clear, he becomes considerably more intriguing.
Nevertheless, the most endearing new addition is inarguably Sofia Boutella’s ass-kicking alien scavenger, Jaylah. Displaying some great chemistry with Scotty, she’s an extremely likable heroine who slots seamlessly in among the Enterprise’s central ensemble.
While the “big three” of The Original Series are in the spotlight more often than their subordinates, Beyond balances its core cast fairly well as it unfolds. The decision to split the protagonists into pairs for a period allows for some engaging interactions, particularly in the case of Spock and McCoy, but the story is especially engrossing when all seven senior officers are united and working together. Every member of the main crew contributes to the plot in some significant way and the film far surpasses its predecessor by recognising that the characters are more crucial than the action.
That being said, there’s certainly no shortage of set-pieces to keep the momentum moving. A skirmish in space during the final act is much more effective than the aforementioned early attack on the Enterprise, although the two most thrilling throw-downs don’t involve starships at all. The motorcycle sequence teased in the trailers is unexpectedly exhilarating and a lot less contrived than it could have been, while the climactic confrontation with Krall is a pulse-pounding affair packed with plenty of suspense and tension.
The action is intercut well with the characterful development, ensuring the narrative is never boring, even in its weakest moments. The first half hour or so may be somewhat shaky and Kirk and Spock’s relationship isn’t as warm as it was in The Original Series, but to be honest, my only major gripe with this movie is its assertion that Starfleet’s first warp four ship was launched in the 2160s despite the fact that Archer’s Enterprise was equipped with a warp five engine a decade earlier. Beyond embodies everything that made Star Trek special in the first place, showcasing more than enough captivating characters, vibrant visuals and unique aliens to satisfy established fans and mainstream moviegoers alike.
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