Just in time for the franchise’s 50th anniversary, Star Trek Beyond (Paramount Pictures, Running Time 2 hours) beams into theaters hailing the third go-around for this iteration, which emanated from JJ Abrams’ well-regarded reboot of the series. While the 2009 film’s success in its initial foray with audiences coupled with a most favored status among modern movies that are repeatedly shown on commercial television, Trek‘s status as a pop culture symbol has remained somewhat strong despite a mixed reaction to JJ’s 2013 follow-up Star Trek Into Darkness (A $467 million worldwide haul has also given way to a divisive online community opinion) and witnessing Abrams’ huge directorial windfall with sci-fi competitor Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Given that original writer and director Robert Orci left (or was excused depending on whom you ask) the project opening the door for Justin Lin (Fast and Furious) and the writing team of Doug Jung and Simon Pegg, could Beyond still be counted on to deliver a galactic adventure worthy of “Trekkies” everywhere?
Set three years plus into a five year mission, we find important members of the crew at a major crossroads in their career and in their lives. Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and his first officer Mr. Spock (Zachary Quinto) are both pondering thoughts of leaving Star Fleet when a plea for help has them and the rest of the crew of the USS Enterprise blasting off onto the other side of a mysterious nebula where they are subsequently attacked by the evil alien Krall and his swarming array of attacking ships. The Enterprise is unfortunately destroyed (how many times in the Star trek universe is this?) and the majority of the crew is taken hostage on an uncharted planet. Now it is up to Kirk, Spock, Dr. Leonard McCoy (Karl Urban), Pavel Chekov (the late Anton Yelchin), Engineer Montgomery “Scotty” Scott (played by Pegg) and a new character named Jaylah (Sofia Boutella) to devise a way to save the crew and defeat Krall and his dark forces before they wreak havoc upon the innocent residents of the Federation’s beacon of peace and prosperity with its Yorktown star base.
As someone who believes the reason for the success of the rebooting of the series begins with one of the greatest opening segments in sci-fi history in the 2009 film, it was just a tad disappointing to watch the first half of the film and not be a little underwhelmed. That slow pacing of the first hour, while effective for Trek fans in creating a semblance of personal conflict and tough decision making for the crew may leave casual audiences bored and harder to reach once the second half of the movie kicks in. But when it does however, it does so with a loud, high-octane action fest that Lin has come to be known for from directing four Fast and Furious movies and when the movie finally clicks as a viewer you feel rewarded for getting through the sluggish start as the movie comes to a thrilling and satisfying climax.
The movie also tries to represent itself in a lighter, funnier tone via the writing of Pegg and Doug Jung (who is boyfriend to John Cho’s character Sulu in the film) as a way of distancing itself as much as it can from its into Darkness predecessor with mixed results. While it was amusing at times to see the familiar crew in lighter situations, a tighter focus on the narrative as a whole and also a clearer explanation for Krall’s motivation was more in order because what was shown was brief, difficult to explain and bit “hokey” even for a Star Trek film. The movie also managed to get in its fair share of fan service, but it always came off as respectful and well-placed unlike other movies such as Ghostbusters who continually beat the audience over the head with it.
While this movie has plenty of issues when breaking it down piece by piece there is no doubt that the action and banter between characters in the second half of the film does a good enough job of camouflaging its flaws enough in order to give it a passing grade by this reviewer. Star Trek Beyond does not warp up to the top of the list for best movies in this storied franchise but it doesn’t transport to the bottom of it either. In a summer filled with sequel and reboot blockbusters that have not quite measured up to their predecessors, it’s best to say that despite a rough start a good time can be had beaming into this part of the Star Trek galaxy some time soon.