I’ll have to admit that as trailer after trailer of the third installment of Star Trek of the Abrams universe came out…I was underwhelmed.
The question for me with new Star Trek movies is, what are they going to show me that I haven’t already seen before? How many times can the Enterprise be destroyed; the Federation come under existential threat; that Kirk and Spock and McCoy be put into hopeless situations and figure some hair brained scheme to save humanity?
See…I think I actually got the entire question backward.
This movie succeeds specifically because it does all those things all over again.
I recently watched the other Abrams Star Trek movies, and I have to say upon my first viewing…Beyond is the most purely enjoyable and satisfying of the three.
This isn’t to say the story is a game changer, that it shows you something you haven’t seen before. Every narrative and plot device in this movie is something we’ve not only seen before, but something we’ve seen in the Star Trek movies or TV universe. I could go point by point telling you which movie or episode had each plot point in the movie, scene for scene.
But where the last movie, Into Darkness, failed, this movie succeeds. The last move misuses the greatest villain in the Star Trek universe, Khan, and makes it into a rote action movie. This movie uses no villain that you will remember a day after watching the movie, makes it into a rote action movie…and you walk out of the movie happy. In short…this movie simply is a lot of fun to watch.
Part of this is the fact of a new director, Justin Lin (who famously made the last several Fast and the Furious movies). Lin brings far more entertaining and fast paced actions scenes than the prior movies do.
The story often brings the threat of change to the crew. A disenchanted James T. Kirk, questioning his role in the universe, in a midlife crisis of sorts. Commander Spock, facing his own mortality with the death of Ambassador Spock (Leonard Nimoy’s alternate timeline character; the nod to his passing his short, but profound). Others in the crew, in small ways, appear to be pushing against the stagnancy that develops after several years in a small ship with not much to do than fly from planet after planet, struggling to find something worthy to take up their time.
The villain is an enemy named Krall (Idris Elba, in heavy makeup). He is, for all practical purposes, not a very deep villain. He hates the Federation, wants to destroy him, etc, etc. His weapons are quite fascinating, as they are of a type that Starfleet is clearly unprepared for. But other than that, this will not be a role Elba is ever remembered for.
In short, if you are looking for deeper philosophical meaning, looking for an ideological and ethical debate on the policies of the Federation, etc…you are in the wrong theater. This movie provides almost none of that. What it does to is harken back to the days of fun, with the original Star Trek crew, and even later with New Generation. This is clearly episodic in nature, for better or worse. As a fun summer movie, it does its job admirably.
My only question is where this franchise goes from here. Moviegoers happily will pay for this type of installment once, or maybe even twice. But there will have to be something deeper for this series to stay vibrant.
But as for now, a worthy next installment in the hallowed franchise.