The temptation to compare any installment in the current re-imagined Star Trek film franchise to the preceding series of shows or films is natural, given that both share the same name, the same characters, and, ostensibly, the same universe. But what they don’t share is the same genre.
If you’re looking for cerebral or imaginative science fiction, the series J.J. Abrams kicked off back in 2009 will ring hollow, that much is evident. As others have pointed out, what Abrams and company created is a real post-Star Wars Star Trek film: action-adventure spectacles of the summer blockbuster breed; visually stunning, fun, and oriented on the action. These films occupy a strange sort of limbo created by the reboot culture in Hollywood. You could compare it to Gene Roddenberry’s original, in fact, you feel every right to. But on the other hand, why on earth would you? There is no longer such a thing as a singular “Star Trek” film standard that can be used to intelligibly measure all the films that bear the name.
So they are completely different in tone, atmosphere, and energy, and now exist to be judged along separate lines. That being said, what Star Trek Beyond does (and does successfully) is infuse the new series’ story and characters with some of the original tenets. There were certain things missing from the previous two installments of the reboot, qualities the talented new cast were certainly capable of delivering, but which the screenplays never really allowed for. One example is a more mature Kirk. Gone is the caricatured frat-boy of Star Trek (2009) and Star Trek Into Darkness who is constantly seeking validation from his subordinates. Chris Pine finally gets a crack at playing a mature leader on a mission that more closely resembles the type of scaled down story line you would find in the old series.
This new film’s story follows the crew of the Enterprise after they are marooned on an unknown world that lies beyond an uncharted nebula. There, the main cast finds themselves separated; eventually, they uncover the film’s enigmatic villain, Krall (Idris Elba), and his schemes involving an ancient alien artifact and the Federation’s latest, cutting-edge starbase: Yorktown. With the help of an alien orphan living alone on the hostile world, the crew gets to work subverting Krall’s nefarious efforts.
Taking Trek back to its roots of “exploring strange new worlds” was one of the clear goals for the film’s co-writer, Simon Pegg, who also plays Scotty. While developing the script at his home in England, Pegg and co-writer Doug Jung rewarded themselves at the end of each productive writing day by watching an episode of the original series. Those goals certainly stand out in the finished product.
Though the characterizations, setting, and the efforts to implement a thematic through-line into the story are where the film is strongest, the story itself does suffer from some of the thin plotting expected in an action-blockbuster. The film packs Avengers/Guardians of the Galaxy style terrorist attacks in space and glowing talisman mcguffins. Despite being visually impressive overall, these retreaded plot elements have certainly begun to look and feel a bit generic.
Overall, this is a solid installment and a great improvement over Star Trek Into Darkness. Now that the new cast has had the opportunity to flourish a bit more in the iconic roles they have assumed and the film franchise has proven it can cut a bit closer to the mark in terms of capturing the spirit of the series, perhaps we might see this rebooted series—with all its strengths—finally paired with the last and most noticeably lacking ingredient: a substantive science fiction story.
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