New ‘Star Trek’ goes beyond its predecessors

Charles Liu

Fifty years have passed since TV audiences were swept into a captivating future of unity and diversity with Gene Roddenberry’s “Star Trek.” Several generations of shows and films have succeeded the original show since then with varying degrees of quality, but the rebooted movie series is now three for three. With director Justin Lin taking over the captain’s chair from J.J. Abrams, “Star Trek Beyond” is a dazzling spectacle of epic proportions.

“Star Trek Beyond” returns us to the USS Enterprise during its arduous five-year mission to seek out new life and explore strange new worlds. Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) is growing increasingly weary and considers applying to be promoted to Vice Admiral. At the same time, Spock (Zachary Quinto) undergoes a similar personal crisis: The Spock of the original “Star Trek” timeline has passed away (a touching tribute to the late Leonard Nimoy), and he feels it is now his responsibility to lead the remaining Vulcan.

Before the dynamic duo can decide whether or not to part ways, the USS Enterprise is sent to an unknown planet to rescue a downed Starfleet ship. Upon arriving, the ship is attacked by the evil Krall (Idris Elba) and the crew is separated and marooned on the harsh world.

Here, the film separates itself from the previous entries by grouping characters into unexpected pairings as they struggle to find a way off the planet and defeat Krall. Kirk and the ever-lovable Chekov (the late Anton Yelchin, fittingly given a meatier role than in the last two “Trek” movies) share a thrilling action sequence in the Enterprise’s wreckage. Walking antitheses Spock and Dr. McCoy (Karl Urban), the former logical and the latter emotional, finally get large chunks of the film devoted to their laugh-out-loud banter.

Chief engineer Scotty (Simon Pegg) shares screen time with the most interesting of the film’s new characters: Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), an alien who was also marooned on Krall’s planet as a child. Boutella gives Jaylah a sharp edge and dances about in her battles with dizzying brute force, but she also balances the character’s tougher side with burdened loneliness and innocence.

Because of its ensemble nature, “Beyond” feels more like the TV series than the last two films did, which focused primarily on Kirk and Spock. The script, written by Pegg and Doug Jung, gives the rest of the Enterprise crew more time to shine than before while remaining tight and focused. The reliably kick-ass Sulu (John Cho) in particular gets fleshed out: The camera lingers on the character’s reunion with his husband and daughter while Kirk proudly looks on.

Krall’s characterization, though, is drastically shortchanged. He’s meant to be a parallel of Kirk, and he’s supposed to be more sympathetic than he initially appears. But “Beyond” doesn’t flesh out its villain enough for its rushed third-act twist to be impactful, and Krall’s search for an ancient superweapon seems silly considering he already commands a powerful army. Elba’s sinister performance is worthy of a better part.

But you won’t be thinking about the film’s failings when Lin lights it up with hectic, swashbuckling action. He stages the set pieces with exciting urgency and speed, and the characters often rely on highly unorthodox methods of combat. Amid all the frantic fistfights and shootouts, the film’s standout moment comes in when the heroes blast the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” over their radio channels as their ship plows through Krall’s fleet.

“Is this… classical?” McCoy asks when he hears the music. “I believe it is,” Spock replies.

While “Star Trek Beyond” isn’t classical “Star Trek,” it honors the history of the series while blazing its own trail. There is more adventure left for the post-reboot cast and crew; “Beyond” will make you want to see where they go next.

  • “Star Trek Beyond”
  • Running Time: 122 minutes
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Score: 4/5 stars