*Warning: Potential Spoilers*
For some, the voyages of the starship Enterprise and her crew are as familiar as the back of one’s hand whilst holding up the Vulcan salute. Their adventures are piloted by William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, and a new generation takes over where the first left off. For others, such as myself, Kirk and Spock are shaped like Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto, and the adventures we know began in 2009 when the U.S.S. Kelvin was attacked by the Romulan starship Narada. Star Trek Beyond has found a melding point between these two- while the previous two films in this reboot series, Star Trek (2009) and Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) have held a slightly darker tone, Beyond is more playful, more colorful, and (according to my more Trekkie friends) more like the original TV series. At the same time, the journey of Captain Kirk in this new life and the interactions amongst himself and his crew are still the same ones we’ve come to love as the reboot has started branching out.
A little more than halfway through their five year voyage, Captain James T. Kirk (Pine) and his crew stop at a Starfleet base called “Yorktown” to resupply and evaluate themselves. Kirk is struggling with his own purpose in life, and when his second-in-command Spock (Quinto) learns of a personal tragedy, it seems as though the crew of the Enterprise is about to change drastically. Before it can, however, they are called away on one last mission to rescue another crew whose ship malfunctioned and crash-landed on a planet not far from the Yorktown. As the Enterprise approaches, it is attacked by a swarm of unknown aliens, causing Kirk and crew to become stranded themselves. They must rely on their integrity and determination to band together and stop the force that threatens Starfleet and the innocent people in its care.
The tone of this new Star Trek series, let’s call it the Kelvin series, has always been a bit dark, though not necessarily bad or unpredictable (I mean let’s face it, Benedict Cumerbatch’s reveal as Kahn was only a surprise if you were five). The series predicates on time travel and the deaths of many who lived in the original franchise. It also insists on its characters exploring the darker parts of themselves – what line they are willing to cross for revenge, who they truly are, what they are willing to do for Starfleet, an organization that is founded on peace but has been questioned in every single movie now (though no one seems willing to dwell on that fact). Beyond still has the slightly darker undertone, but they do take a bit of a step back, allowing for exploration, wonder and the feeling of watching an episode on TV instead of a movie – rather than a long, drawn out battle between good and evil, it feels like the problem will wrap up with a neat little bow and the team will head on its next adventure.
Another thing that Beyond has altered is the character time. While both original movies were very much Kirk/Spock centric (and everyone else got a couple of one-liners), most characters are now given equal amounts of screen time and importance. Sure Kirk is still the captain, but we don’t spend all our time on him – we get a healthy dose of Scotty (Simon Pegg) and newcomer Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), Sulu (John Cho) and Uhura (Zoe Saldana) interacting with our main villain Krall (Idris Elba), and the pairing we all didn’t even know we wanted: Spock and Bones (Karl Urban). Seriously, Spock and Bones have not been spending enough time together because five minutes of them is more than enough to carry this movie on its own, even if Bones has gotten about ten times more Southern than he has been the rest of this reboot. Then again, how would we know, since we never spent much time with him?
Another huge improvement to the Kelvin series is its world-building, taken to a whole new level in Beyond. Both previous films in this sequence have taken place mostly on the Enterprise itself or a subsequent ship – sure we got a couple shots of Vulcan (before its demise), Earth and the fun little native planet where the Enterprise is now basically a god, but they were all minor intervals. Yorktown, while technically a space station, is still planet-like, evoking the same awe of Treasure Planet (2002) when you get to the city on the moon. There are so many places to look and feel amazed at the futuristic technology that you immediately forgive anything that seems slightly ridiculous, like the waterways spaceships can somehow go under and come out of at the same time. And the planet the crew ends up stranded on has so many facets that it almost feels like different worlds, but at the same time you get a clear sense of where everyone is in relation to each other – something we certainly never got aboard the Enterprise, even though we spent two movies on the thing.
Of course, the film is not without its flaws – the timing of certain scenes feels quick, almost too quick to actually make sense in the story (Sulu and Uhura figuring out the changing of the guard within five minutes screen time, maybe three hours of film time? That just seems ridiculous). And Krall, despite having interesting new powers I don’t think I’ve seen from any villain before, is given so little time to actually make something of himself, it’s sad. About half of his screen time is wasted on cryptic clues of his true frustration, and then when you actually get into his personal backstory there’s not enough runtime left to feel as though its impact is thorough enough. Again, this film seems to be emulating the TV show, and unless Krall is a recurring villain, they need to wrap him up quickly. Oh how I wish he had been a recurring villain…
Overall, Star Trek Beyond is one of the most entertaining movies I’ve seen this summer, and if this is what the original series was like, I’m kicking myself for not getting on board with it. Am I going to miss the deeper tone this serious had already taken? Sure. But if we get more Spock and Bones, I have no reason to complain.
Be prepared – tributes to fallen cast members are heartbreaking and twofold. It’s okay to cry.