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Star Trek Beyond - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Star Trek Beyond
Directing: B+
Acting: B+
Writing: B
Cinematography: B+
Editing: B+
Special Effects: B

Let's face it, thirteen movies in, I'm pretty much just talking to already-established Star Trek fans here. Even those who might be new ones since the first and best of the reboot films, Star Trek, was released in 2009. Longtime and/or diehard fans had valid arguments to make regarding misguided plot choices in the 2013 follow-up, Star Trek Into Darkness, but the new fans brought in by the seriously action-minded (yet keeping with the spirit of Star Trek) J.J. Abrams had little reason to care. Personally, I kind of loved them both nearly equally, giving them the same overall grade of an A-. I never thought of the original Khan from 1982's Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan was so sacred that Into Darkness ruined it; in fact I thought Benedict Cumberbath made a very compelling villain in his own right. He certainly made up for Eric Bana being such a bland villain in Star Trek, the only complaint I really had about that first of the Abrams films.

So is Star Trek Beyond as good? Not quite. But it's close! It definitely is a better title than Into Darkness. "Beyond" actually makes more contextual sense, something you can actually apply to the plot in a straightforward way: the crew of the USS Enterprise is now three years into their five-year mission, exploring strange new worlds, seeking out new life and new civilizations, and boldly going where no one has gone before. After an amusing opening sequence involving an alien race Captain Kirk is attempting diplomatic relations with, we find the Enterprise crew, and especially Kirk, ruminating on the mundane after all this time. But things are about to get super exciting. Good thing director Justin Lin (The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, and Fast & Furious, and . . . Fast and Furious 6) shows up at just the right time with his cameras!

More than one critic has commented on how Star Trek Beyond feels more like an extended episode than a standalone movie, and I'm here to echo that sentiment. This has generally been noted as a nice quality, which I agree with as well. Actually, all three of the reboot-series films so far work perfectly well on their own; one need not have seen any of the others to understand what's going on, although it does enrich the experience if you have. There is, though, a sense in this case that this is just one of this crew's many adventures, and there's some comfort in that.

Historically speaking, this is the first stretch of three Star Trek films in a row to have such consistent quality; the earlier films were very uneven -- so much so that, among fans, it was widely known and discussed that only even-numbered films were the good ones: Star Trek II; Star Trek IV; Star Trek VI; Star Trek First Contact. The pattern ended with Star Trek Nemesis, which is admittedly a mess but I always enjoyed it in spite of itself. But then came along J.J. Abrams in 2009, seven years since the pervious motion picture, and new life and vitality was injected into the franchise. And as a fan of the entire film series, each of the reboot films have harkened in some way back to the original cast -- and particularly Spock, casting both the excellent Zachary Quinto as the young version him and Leonard Nimoy as (spoiler alert!) the now-alternate-future older version of him. There's a moment in Beyond which, though very brief, references the entire original cast, but showing them at their ages in the original motion pictures, that is very satisfying.

And that's really it with Star Trek Beyond: much discussion about its relative lack of depth (which is true) belies how satisfying a movie experience it really is. You might not expect it with the director of three throwaway sequels in another franchise of seemingly countless (albeit very lucrative) movies, but Justin Lin does a fine job here. Having J.J. Abrams stay on as producer certainly helps. The lens flares are still there, but not so overdone; it's just that the visual style remains consistent. And in this outing, the cinematography is often thrilling; the score by Michael Giacchino is wonderful (and that's something I rarely notice); and the story is just plain fun. The special effects are occasionally imperfect, but, well, what are you going to do?

As far as the Star Trek movies go, there is something very different about this one: after an attack leaves the Enterprise crashed and stranded on an unknown planet, the key crew members of the bridge are separated into different groups, and much of the movie is spent moving from one group to another as they attempt to find each other. Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) and Cheokov (Anton Yelchin) are alone together; Bones (Carl Urban, still challenging DeForest Kelley but less pointedly) and an injured Spock are together; Scotty (Simon Pegg, who co-wrote this script with Doug Jung) finds himself allying with a lone young alien woman named Jaylah (Algerian actress Sofia Boutella, here putting her exotic accent to good use), who becomes a key character in this story, and the fight against the one villain coordinating the countless drones that operate with a hive mind. (Very slight echoes of the Borg there, perhaps.)

That villain is Krall (Idris Elba), who makes for a more interesting villain than Eric Bana but not quite as memorable as Benedict Cumberbatch. At least there's nothing here for diehard fans to whine about messing with original-cast stories. Beyond is entirely its own thing, and it works, except when Krall's motives are muddled. We eventually do get an explanation for Krall's psychotic desire to cause massive damage to Starfleet, but the scale of his intentions doesn't quite match his backstory.

But hey, at least we get to see Yorktown the massive, globe-shaped starbase that -- and this will annoy the Star Trek vs. Star Wars people -- essentially serves as the Trek version of Star Wars's Coruscant, the planet-sized city. Yorktown isn't the size of a planet, but it is the size of a city, and it might be my favorite location of any in the Star Trek franchise: it's made of crisscrossing planks, each with their own sets of skyscrapers, all pointing to the center of the sphere. This makes for a very cool climactic action sequence near the base's center, where its gravity functionality naturally gets wonky.

I do feel compelled to mention Anton Yelchin specifically, since his tragic and untimely death occurred just before this film's release. Chekov was never the most vital of the Enterprise crew characters, rarely getting much focus, but Yelchin embodied the young version of the character very well. Another film is already in the works, and it will be interesting to see whether they recast the same character with a different actor, or just introduce a new character holding the same position with some explanation for Chekov's absence. I think the latter would be the more interesting choice, given semi-tradition among the films to take this universe in unexpected directions.

There is certainly a twinge of bittersweetness to the sight of both Yelchin and the couple photos seen of the late Leonard Nimoy in this film, but at least it's only a twinge. Justin Lin keeps the story moving at a steady pace, with plenty of action to go around -- but also steady build-up; Beyond is not the mindless action flick the original trailer suggested it might be. It's true that this movie could have spent more time on the ideas that made Gene Roddenberry's vision so great, but that hardly sinks the film. On the contrary, this is just one of many great adventures, and it makes is look forward eagerly to the next. That's an achievement when only three movies into a franchise, let alone thirteen.

Simon Pegg (who co-wrote), Sofia Boutella and Chris Pine make the old new again in STAR TREK BEYOND.

Overall: B+
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