For aficionados of space sci-fi franchises such as myself, this is it! 726 Episodes. 13 Feature films. 50 years of being a pop culture phenomenon – that’s Star Trek for you. Part of the charm of watching these new reboots comes from experiencing the five decades-old series return to life in its former glory. Back in 1966, the crew of the USS Enterprise was launched straight into the hearts of sci-fi lovers all around the globe, and demonstrated how an amalgam of broad and futuristic ideas with some fun, campy action were the ingredients of a science fiction touchstone, despite the budgetary constraints faced by creator Gene Roddenberry back in the day. There’s a reason why countless ST conventions have been held by millions of die-hard trekkers to express their love for the show, and that’s also the reason why you see Sheldon Cooper going bonkers with even the slightest mention of the original series in your passing TBBT episode – Star Trek literally defined the term “fandom”. Thematically, Star Trek Beyond epitomizes the same Original Series formula, taking us back to the roots of Roddenberry’s classic five year mission with the same characters we know and love. A long awaited, glorified TV episode? Sure. But a good one? Now that’s the question.
This time round, director Justin Lin hurls viewers straight into the conflicts that Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) is encountering – he’s a year older than his father ever got to be, and still questions his own decision of following his dad’s footsteps and joining Starfleet, that too on a dare. Spock (Zachary Quinto) is facing a similar midlife crisis, after having ended his recent fling with Uhura (Zoe Saldana), as well as coming on terms with the recent loss of Ambassador Spock (Leonard Nimoy). Both chose to keep their problems hidden and continue with a rescue mission to the nearest nebula, but it all goes to hell when a ruthless alien, Krall (Idris Elba) wreaks havoc upon the USS Enterprise, and the crew is separated and stranded on the planet which Krall is using as his base, trying to find their way back out before Krall succeeds in his mission to destroy the peaceful Yorktown along with rest of the federation planets.
Speaking of the cast, Chris Pine showcases how confident he has become in the captain’s skin, in what happens to be his third outing as Kirk. He never once tries to impersonate Shatner’s TOS persona, but instead just captures the basic essence and makes the character his own. That also goes for the rest of the cast – Zachary Quinto is truly remarkable as Spock, a character which people were once accustomed to associating only with the late Leonard Nimoy. His compelling strangeness is spot on, and so is Karl Urban’s take on Bones aka Dr. McCoy – whose character dynamics with Spock really make for some of the best moments of the film. Idris Elba hardly gets any screen-time as himself, as he is mostly buried under a tight alien costume for majority of the runtime. While Benedict Cumberbatch walked away with most of the spotlight in Star Trek Into Darkness (2013), Elba hardly gets to that status – which, quite frankly – gives the rest of the characters a chance to shine. Almost all of the supporting cast does a fine job, from co-writer Simon Pegg, Zoe Saldana, John Cho and the late Anton Yelchin (who recently passed away in a car accident), all the way Sofia Boutella who marked her entry in the series on a high note as Jaylah.
First things first – They finally did it! They’ve come close to destroying the Enterprise almost twice in the last seven years, but did not fully go through with it – until this time. It’s quite a visual spectacle – the scene in which the massive ship is blown to shreds, and you really feel for Kirk as he orders his remaining crewmates to abandon the ship, just before the disaster. It almost goes without saying that the previous two films were grander and darker, but this one is much lighter on its feet in comparison. The exchanges between Spock and Bones act as a major highlight for the film, amidst the many touching central performances given by the principle cast. The last act of the film is particularly strong, giving us a lot to look forward in the upcoming installments. I was pleasantly surprised by how expertly the magnificent CGI shots and massive set pieces were handled by Justin Lin, who helmed four films of the Fast and Furious franchise. That also means there is an absence of J.J Abrams’ signature lens flares, which by the way, I’m not at all complaining about. Also, Leonard Nimoy’s passing was handled with a small tribute to the old Star Trek films, where a photograph of the original cast is handed to Quinto’s Spock. This also counts as William Shatner’s first appearance in the rebooted saga, even if just in a photograph.
That brings us to what doesn’t work in the film’s favor – once our heroes are stranded on Krall’s planet, the film does suffer a bit on account of its rather flimsy narrative for a good forty minutes or so. What started off as a truly promising opening act devolves rapidly into a tale of how these splintered groups try to find the reason behind Krall’s wrath. You are literally just counting minutes before the crew unites again, under one roof and takes on Krall before the latter initiates a massive attack on the federation. What helps is the fact that your mind is hardly given time to wander off, as all of this is aptly squeezed into the film’s 123 mins runtime.
Also – Sabotage by The Beastie Boys is back, and the classic ’93 Rap Rock song acts as a functioning plot point, this time round. Don’t worry, I won’t spill – It’s really hard to explain anyways, except for the fact that it’s a rare fanboy moment that binds the reboot trilogy together. The rest of the soundtrack is a mixed bag of traditional tunes coupled with a rehash of what we’ve already experienced in the last two films. Again, nothing really feels out of place.
Now, if I’m not wrong – they’ve already started working on the fourth/ fourteenth installment where Chris Hemsworth (yes, the mighty Thor) is all set to return to the franchise as George Kirk. That should make for a compelling watch, but it’s still a few years down the line. For now though, Trek celebrates its 50th anniversary with a strong summer blockbuster that pays tribute to the franchise just in the way its fervent fanbase has been waiting for. It’s far from a perfect film, and not even the best one in the series (Wrath of Khan, duh!) – but for all its minor tribbles – oops, quibbles (Ah, I dig these references) which don’t make the movie falter all that much anyways, I’m going with a 3.5/5 for Star Trek Beyond. Saved from being ensnared in a nostalgic loop, this is probably one of the most entertaining flicks I’ve seen this year. Franchise virgins or fervent fans, you may wanna make sure this film is on your weekend watchlist.
– Prakhar Prabhakar, MTTN.