Star Trek remains one of the most popular shows on television because, like its crew, we were always willing to let the Enterprise take us somewhere new, somewhere shocking, and in Star Trek Beyond, somewhere very entertaining.
Kicking off the series in 2009 with a highly recognisable if slightly altered world, Into Darkness followed with a hallmark villain and enough fan-service, replete with radiation chambers and tribbles, to delight die-hard followers but still make us wonder if the creators were ever going to take a leap and try something really new.
Opting to take a chance on an untested story, not always the flavour of the day with summer blockbusters, Furious 7 Director Justin Lin has turned what could have been a series slump into a fresh and exciting plunge toward the expansive galaxy tepid fans have been dying to see.
Tongue-in-cheek from the get-go, Kirk (Chris Pine) remarks that his adventures into space, notwithstanding a hilarious cold-open where he tries to negotiate a truce between two rival species, have become almost episodic. More akin to The Next Generation but still a staple of The Original Series, classic Star Trek was distinctly episodic and better for it; the decision to opt for a stand-alone story here as opposed to the arc-shattering rambunctiousness of its predecessors too refreshing for heralding something closer to the multi-episode arcs that were always highlights of the TV shows.
Launching into an uncharted nebula with nothing but wit, acumen and the best ship in the fleet, the crew’s venture into the unknown is something even the casual viewer can’t help but find a little bit endearing. Discovering a new species and a forgotten spaceship, even if it takes some time to really get started, Beyond is bursting with thrilling action, one-liners and coy references to earlier iterations, but never so much that it overwhelms the film, itself adding a few new pages to Star Trek lore, even if, yes, this is an alternate timeline and none of this ever really happens etc etc
An impromptu descent down the hull of the ship, as with a novel approach to kick-starting another, are among the film’s most exciting scenes, only to be outdone by a visually astounding assault on the enemy fleet only slightly more compelling than it is rip-roaringly funny. A manoeuvre that would make even fans of Mars Attacks blush, the filmmaker’s ingenuity here plays up the greatest assets Star Trek has ever had, blending the series’ classic campiness with its deft for strategy, at all times keeping up the film’s intensity by drawing on the icons we know and love to maintain Beyond’s emotional, character-driven core even in its most outlandish moments.
Counter-intuitively, it’s during the film’s final, action-heavy third act when Beyond is at its most cerebral, delving into its mysterious, enigmatic villain Krall (a heavily made-up Idris Elba) and philosophical leanings distinct but reminiscent of the cold-war mentality which drove the series’ early years. Generally reliable for a bit of pathos in and amidst all the action, even a creative fight in a gravity slipstream plays second fiddle to the developing realisation of Krall’s motives, bereft for so much of the picture and deserving of greater elaboration than could feasibly be allowed or was proffered in a packed final act.
Having evolved nicely into a mould more befitting of its origins, the film series has rousingly embraced the shows’ headlong, action-adventure roots and set itself up for a sequel which, following Beyond, is now as inevitable as it is welcome.
Star Trek Beyond is in cinemas now