Review: Star Trek Beyond (2016)

Better late than never, as they say. My third child was born this summer; because of the timing of his arrival coupled with my local theater inexplicably only playing the film for two weekends, I missed Star Trek Beyond in theaters. As a longtime fan, it was a pain to wait this long and avoid all spoilers, but I worked hard to not, and I came into this knowing blind, a rarity in this day and age. To start off, I summarize with high praise as I could for the film: Star Trek Beyond felt like an extended episode I’ve never seen.

In their third outing, I have a strong affinity for the crew here. Chris Pine’s Kirk is much less reckless now, and he is even contemplative. Spock continues his existential crises, as propelled in the destruction of Vulcan in the 2009 film, with news of his own older self passing. The late Leonard Nimoy casts a tall shadow here, even as he never appears on screen. Karl Urban, a favorite of mine, gets much more screentime as Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy, and we all win there. Scotty does as well, and while that may stem from Simon Pegg’s script involvement, overall, this felt like a team movie, and that’s Trek at its best.

The story holds secrets I don’t want to reveal here, but suffice it to say, that we find the crew deep into their five year mission, and complacency has set hold of the crew. Purpose is lost, as is passion, and the film does a good job of setting that mood early on. I have found in my own life, spiritual complacency can eat away all passion for service to Christ. Sometimes, it takes something big to shake me out of it, and, OH BOY, indeed, something big happens to the crew here! Watching any trailers for the film almost reveals too much info, but basically, we follow a crew who over the course of the film need each other now, more than ever. Idris Elba is always fantastic, and his villain, Krall, proves to be far more than the initial brute he appears to be. Sofia Boutella brought a welcome energy and unique presence lacking of female characters in these recent films and may have earned her place in Trek moving forward, so don’t be surprised if she hangs around in a sequel.

The special effects are incredible here: visceral and with an impact I haven’t ever felt in Trek before. Director Justin Lin brings his experience and expertise gained his Fast and Furious movies, and strangely enough, it all works. I had my doubts at his announcement, but he did great bringing this to screen. In particular, the action is so varied: stunning spaceship battles, phaser shoot-outs, gravity-defying setpieces, you name it. It’s no wonder I’ve heard some critics call it ‘the action movie of the year’. In particular, the scenes involving the Enterprise have an added weight to them, making it much more than just watching CGI.

Jokes are aplenty, but if anything feels out of place, it may be certain music choices. Anachronistic may not necessarily be the right term, because at this point, the songs in question would be relics. Still, they give their scenes an added punch (I could feel why they were included), but I could sense the collective groans of many a longtime Trek fans, even as I watched it from home with my wife. There are decisions in this “reboot” series that push lots of buttons, and I understand why. Still, many episodes of the television series functioned over long silences, so this energy was bound to offend purists.

Content-wise, there is language, and while the preceding films found ways of slipping in the “f-word” once even (pay attention, it’s there), the expletives here are mild and almost always used for humor. Refreshingly, no sexual content here, after producers learned you can’t just parade a female in a bra for the sake of gratuity. In the way of controversy, you may have heard of the filmmakers’ decision to make Sulu gay. It was called out as pandering, even by George Takei himself, but its inclusion here is a ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ moment. Violence is throughout, but blood shown is rare. There is a weapon that disintegrates beings, and while not gory at all, it may be disturbing to some.

Overall, I very much enjoyed the film. Doing this review months after theatrical release, I can add that the film didn’t seem to do as well at the box-office as those preceding films in the series, even worldwide. I believe plans are still there for more, and I hope they continue.

Score: 8.0 (out of 10)

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