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Sunday, July 31, 2016

Review: Star Trek Beyond

Star Trek Beyond (2016): Written by Simon Pegg and Doug Jung, directed by Justin Lin.  Starring: Chris Pine, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Sofia Boutella, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, Anton Yelchin, Idris Elba.  Running Time: 122 minutes. 

Rating: 3/4

            Although it’s really only been a few short years, it feels like ages since we last had a Star Trek film.  After my review of the last one kind of wentoff the rails, I was in forced detox mode for some time, and could only be spoken to about the original series (and Next Gen, obviously).  But now that ol’ J.J. has scampered off to leave his prints on another pillar of modern Sci-Fi (and has proven to be markedly better at it that he was at making Star Trek), and after nearly a decade of this series officially existing, we finally get a movie worthy of this franchise’s remarkable cast. 

            The last film left off with the Enterprise about to set off on its 5-year mission to explore the cosmos, and we start off here after 3 of those years have passed.  In need of a bit of “shore leave,” the ship docks in the latest, most technologically advanced outpost the Federation has yet built, a marvel of buildings and homes spiraling around each other inside a massive glass shield.  After a great introduction to the Federation version of the Elysium Fields, a broken-down ship with a single passenger comes tumbling out of a nearby nebula, seeking help for her crew stranded on a massive planet in the nebula’s center. 

            As required by official Star Trek law, the Enterprise is the only ship in the vicinity, and is dispatched to locate the planet and the crew.  Right after locating the planet(the nebula is as disappointingly easy to traverse as the God Fog from Star Trek 5), though, a strange fleet of swarming, bee-like ships attack, literally tearing the enterprise into pieces and forcing the entire crew to evacuate ship, only to have most of them swooped up by the enemy ships and taken prisoner. 

            Separated into several groups, the crew must struggle to find their way back to each other and stop a looming threat to the Federation that, they learn, has been festering on this world for a long, long time.  Kirk, Spock, Bones, Scotty, and Chekov are able to escape capture, but Urahara and Sulu are part of the surviving group taken by the forces of Krall (Idris Elba), a strange being with a power that lets him literally drain the life out of others.  What (and who) he constitutes a late plot development, so all I will say here is that Elba succeeds in making Krall by the far the most interesting, engaging, and intimidating bad guy in this entire trilogy. 

            Another unforgettable new character (who I expect will become a new cosplay standard for Cons) is Jaylah, a warrior stranded on the same planet who, after meeting Scotty, agrees to aid him and the others in their attempts to rescue the remaining crew.  She is a legit scene-stealer, a perfect foil for Scotty and the others, and getting to see her kick more ass is the only remaining reason I have to want to see another film in this franchise. 

            With Abrams off the set, there’s also a blessed absence of lens flare, making this the best-looking and best-shot film of the trilogy as well, and Michael Giacchino’s score wonderfully accompanies the slick visuals.  While the film does feel a bit rushed at times (there are a few story parts that don’t add up, and it feels like some stuff with Jaylah and Krall got cut for time’s sake), it mostly jives along at an expertly brisk pace.  It even finds room for a hilarious musical scene that might be the funniest visual sequence I’ve seen so far this year.  It’s a great example of the kind of cheesy, off-the-wall cheekiness that used to be a hallmark of the original show, but that had been mostly missing from this reboot. 

            Star Trek Beyond is an immensely fun time, easily the best Star Trek film to hit theaters since the original cast hung up their Starfleet uniforms, and well worth a viewing for any devoted Trekkie.  May the world of Gene Roddenberry continue to live long and prosper. 

-Noah Franc 

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