Review: ‘Star Trek Beyond’ (out of the darkness)

An effective job of bringing across the crew dynamic and the values of the original series glosses over plenty of story shortcomings and conveniences.

The USS Enterprise is three years into its five-year mission — exactly where NBC cut the original television series short. The bridge crew is considering some hard choices regarding their Starfleet careers as they arrive at a distant deep space outpost, but everything is put on hold when a refugee arrives to get help. Her crew is trapped on a planet deep within a nebula that obstructs both visual and broadcast communications, and Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) is tasked with taking his ship into uncharted space to rescue them. In true Star Trek fashion, of course, things aren’t exactly what they seem, and it will take everyone working together to escape the nebula planet, defeat the villain responsible, and save all of Starfleet before the end credits roll.

Besides Star Wars, no other science fiction franchise has a bigger following or is more widely recognized than Star Trek (although “Doctor Who” is nipping at its red shirts). The first J.J. Abrams reimagining of an alternate Jim Kirk and company — simply titled Star Trek — played well to a new film franchise, but future installments were almost derailed due to a derivative and ho-hum sequel, Star Trek Into Darkness, rehashing the Khan character made famous by Ricardo Montalban before being marginalized by Benedict Cumberbatch and a convoluted script. Fast and Furious director Justin Lin not only picks up duties from Abrams but manages to infuse an overblown storyline with the humanity and galactic unity Gene Roddenberry envisioned fifty years ago… opening the door for plenty more sequels should the ticket sales continue.

“King of the Nerds” Simon Pegg pulls double-duty as both chief engineer Montgomery Scott and head writer for the film’s script; while he does his character justice, more than a few issues sneaked into the script. Sure, there’s always moments in big summer blockbusters where its necessary to just roll with it, but unlike Star Wars and its fantasy Force elements, Star Trek bases its own continuity in real-Earth innovation and current NASA know-how. Since J.J. Abrams series began, however, the new films favor spectacle over science, and the number of conveniences that keep the plot humming along vary between winking cleverness and serious eye-rolling — even the villains seem to have things just drop into their lap exactly when and where they need to. If you find this kind of storytelling unbearable, you’re going to have some serious issues with Beyond.

Even the macguffin to the whole plot seems ridiculously petty and underwhelming, but Beyond’s secret is in its characters. Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, John Cho, and Anton Yelchin again slip comfortably into the roles of the famous Enterprise bridge crew. The interaction, their hopes and fears, and just the general attitude of each individual and the way they bond feels wonderfully like the way long-time fans remember William Shatner, Leonard Nemoy, DeForest Kelley, and everyone else on the small screen. Of the three new Abrams-produced Star Trek films, it’s the first to really nail the dynamic and sadly the last since losing actor Anton Yelchin earlier this year; it has been rumored his role of Chekov will not be recast.

Nitpicks are spoilerish, so they won’t be mentioned here. Suffice it to say if you enjoyed the first Abrams Star Trek and felt the sequel came up short, this is the best of the three. While not up to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (and what could ever be?) in this franchise, it’s the best combination of nostalgic fun, crew camaraderie, and big-action popcorn flick for the summertime.

(a three and a half skull recommendation out of four)

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