To Infinity and Beyond

Everyone is all doom and gloom these days. Every time you turn on the TV or open a newspaper, it’s all, “WE’RE DOOMED” and “THEY’RE COMING FOR YOU AND YOUR CHILDREN”. In the midst of all this fearmongering, it’s a genuine pleasure to find something that conveys a sense of hope for the future.

Thank God for Star Trek.

One of the reasons for the franchise’s enduring popularity has always been its sense of hopefulness, its embracing of all the good things mankind is capable of. Star Trek Beyond, the latest film in the storied series, is no exception.

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Early in the new movie, the crew of the starship Enterprise visits Yorktown, one of the Federation’s newest space stations. Yorktown is a beautiful creation, a snowglobe-like installation with its own atmosphere. As the camera explores the structure and the music swells, there’s a real sense of hopefulness, a positivity that says, hey, look what we can accomplish together.

That may sound cheesy, but I appreciated the movie’s upbeat tone. It’s especially significant considering the recent loss of two of the cast members. The legendary Leonard Nimoy passed away last year, and of course Anton Yelchin died in a tragic accident a few short weeks ago. The film is dedicated to both of them, and the passing of Nimoy is worked into the plot in an organic way.

The filmmakers announced that they will be retiring the role of Chekov for future sequels, which is a classy gesture. It ensures that the role of Chekov in the rebooted movie series will be remembered as Yelchin’s. It would be very difficult to recast the role, and any actor who did play it would have had big shoes to fill. I will miss Chekov in future Trek adventures, as I’m sure many other fans will, but Beyond gives the character a good sendoff and reminds us once again of the talent we lost with Yelchin’s passing. The way he pronounces “Captain” as “Keptin” is something I will always treasure.

As the movie begins, the Enterprise is about three years into its five-year mission, and lethargy is starting to set in. “Things are starting to feel…episodic,” Captain Kirk says in one of his captain’s logs, in a funny nod to the television roots of the series. I find it kind of hilarious that a space mission could become boring, but it works in the context of the story. Think about it: when space travel has become commonplace, a really long space voyage could feel akin to an endless road trip or plane flight. Being in space on a high-tech starship wouldn’t necessarily alleviate the boredom after a while.

But this is James T. Freakin’ Kirk we’re talking about here, and it doesn’t take long before the intrepid crew of the Enterprise find themselves in a heap of trouble, shot down and marooned on an alien planet. They’re scattered and disorganized, and have to regroup and figure out what the hell is going on.

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The movie was co-written by Simon Pegg, who plays Scotty. The dialogue crackles and the chemistry between the cast members is very strong. All of the actors wear their characters like gloves, and their familiarity and camaraderie with each other is palpable.

The villain is an ugly son of a gun named Krall, who is played by the great Idris Elba. Decked out in makeup and facial prosthetics, and speaking with a growly Bane-like voice, Elba is unrecognizable for most of the film. His character isn’t quite as memorable as Benedict Cumberbatch was in the previous entry, Star Trek Into Darkness, but Elba is a strong presence nonetheless.

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Also new is Jaylah, an alien scavenger the crew encounters on the planet on which they become stranded. Jaylah has her own reasons for helping them fight Krall, and she kicks plenty of ass along the way. She’s played by Sofia Boutella, best known for playing Samuel L. Jackson’s razor-legged henchwoman Gazelle in Kingsman: The Secret Service. She’s a great addition and I would like to see more of her in future installments.

As you would expect from a sci-fi epic with a nine-figure budget, the movie looks great. Krall has a drone army which swarms like a massive cloud of pissed-off bees, and they make mincemeat of the poor old Enterprise pretty easily. It’s sad to watch the old girl get ripped to shreds, but the effects make it look great.

Chris Pine delivers another solid performance as Captain Kirk, effortlessly projecting the magnetic charisma the character is known for. The rest of the cast is also terrific. When they get marooned, the crew is broken up in pairs, with Kirk meeting up with Chekov, Sulu and Uhura getting captured by Krall, Scotty meeting Jaylah (whom he adorably calls “Lassie”), and Bones being paired with Spock. Bones and Spock are particularly great, since their personalities are so wildly different, and Karl Urban and Zachary Quinto have fun bouncing off each other in a combative but still friendly way.

Star Trek Beyond is the first film in the new series to not be directed by JJ Abrams, since he was busy with another sci-fi franchise with the word “Star” in the title. Instead, Beyond was directed by Justin Lin, best known for bringing us four of the seven films in the Fast and Furious series. Lin is a talented action director who also shows a deft hand with character development.  The crew of the Enterprise is similar in structure to the ensemble cast of Lin’s Fast and Furious films, and he juggles the various characters and storylines with ease.

Star Trek Beyond is probably my least favorite of the new Trek flicks, but I don’t mean that as an insult. If anything, it’s a testament to how good Abrams’ two Treks were. Beyond is still a rollicking good time, a fun, action-packed sci-fi blockbuster which delivers on the action and the characterization in equal measure, and lovingly pays homage to departed cast members and to the legacy of the films before it.

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