Star Trek Beyond Review: Less Bold, More Fun

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At this point in 2016’s dull summer blockbuster lineup, you might be wishing for a film to boldly take you where no one has gone before. For those, the third Star Trek of the reboot franchise J.J. Abrams started in 2009 may feel derivative. There’s not really anything new here, and that isn’t exactly something to celebrate. But what also matters is that director Justin Lin, coming over from the Fast & Furious films, and writers Simon Pegg and Doug Jung have crafted a harmless, fun addition to this never-ending franchise. The cast Abrams assembled are all game for a simpler film that puts the focus on their gentle ribbing of each other over mystery villains and big promises.

From the beginning, Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) tells us he’s bored. Traversing the cosmos to bring peace to up-and-coming societies feels, in his words, “episodic.” It’s hard not to feel the same way going into Beyond. the thirteenth film in the series. Star Trek has been around since the ’60s, this year being the landmark 50th anniversary. There have been lots of good stories and bad stories told during that half-a-century. Lin knows this and instead opts to tell a story where the characters get to be the closest they’ve been to the ones fans fell in love with decades ago. So sure, there’s a villain threatening the federation with mass genocide this time around, but what’s refreshing is the often hilarious dynamic between Spock (Zachary Quinto) and Bones (Karl Urban).

On the other hand, this new villain, Krall (Idris Elba), is underdeveloped and menacing only in the most cliche ways. He does bring with him, however, a new female heroine, Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), who offers both badassery and her own new interplay with the crew of the Enterprise. Not only is her design visually arresting, like the rest of the film, but she helps lift the weight off the shoulders of Uhura (Zoe Saldana) as the only female on the crew.

As for the action, Lin carries the knowingly over-the-top tricks he learned with muscle cars over to starships. The set pieces are a lot of fun and vary greatly from each other. The early attack on the Enterprise seen in the trailers is arresting, but a later sequence involving an old motorcycle mixes things up just enough to keep things light and fresh. The variance contributes to the breezy feeling of Beyond, allowing it to skate by without anything new to report.

Now, I have to talk about one very small part of the film that’s been making headlines: Sulu (John Cho) has a husband in Beyond. As a young man who considers himself part of the LGBT community, these tiny moments treated as if they don’t even need to be treated floored me. Fifty years ago, Star Trek was a show that broke boundaries in race and equality. Fifty years later, a summer blockbuster in a popular action franchise featured a gay character as one of its main heroes. Frankly, watching two men embrace before and after massive CGI swarms took place was just plain emotional. It’s a small tweak to a classic character, yet one that proves Star Trek hasn’t forgotten its roots in equal representation and the idea that a brighter, more accepting future awaits us all.

This carefully handled small piece of the film woven into the story of these timeless characters shows us that Lin, Pegg, and Jung understand what Star Trek is. It’s this authenticity that makes Beyond a wonderful tribute to a series that means so much to so many. Tributes by nature do little to elevate the very thing they’re tributing, which is certainly true of the film. But that doesn’t take away the infectious spirit of Stark Trek that rings true now and will continue to do so beyond. Grade: B+

By Matt Dougherty

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