Unlike the Star Wars series-- its great foil--Star Trek is marked by a feeling of restlessness. Nearly every entry in the cinematic series is unique. Sometimes they’re naval battle films set in space; sometimes political thrillers; military films; religious allegories; even body horror. Star Trek: Beyond marks the fourth or fifth reinvention of the film franchise. Much of this is due to JJ Abrams handing over the reigns to Justin Lin.
Changing directors wouldn’t always mark a dramatic shift, but Lin is a burgeoning auteur in his own right. Sometimes the zeal to establish his own visual style works against him. Gone are Abram’s lens flares, and while they aren’t missed several of the action sequences are incredibly dark. I watched the film in the cinema, and I’d worry about viewing in 3D or on a plasma screen.
Of course Lin’s hallmark in his Fast and Furious entries was his casual dismissal of the laws of physics. Unlike the worst Roger Moore entries of the James Bond franchise, Lin’s histrionics never fall into pure camp. His work in Star Trek Beyond continues this for the most part, but entire sequences are suffocated by their ridiculousness. Perhaps none more egregiously than Kirk’s strategic usage of a Beastie Boys song to eradicate an enemy fleet in less than three minutes of screen time. Nothing devalues an enemy threat like wiping them all out through a gimmick.
The measure of a good Star Trek film however is in how well it utilizes the core Enterprise characters. J J Abram’s initial reboot confirmed that the original characters were a pretty effective mix, especially the three leads of Captain Kirk, Spock, and Bones. In Beyond, a surprise attack by the villainous Krall leaves the Enterprise destroyed and the various crew members spread across an alien planet. It may at first register as an effective trick to give facetime to all of the main crew, but all the these sub plots threads carry weight. We know an eventual reunion looms for the cast, and they’ll get there largely intact, but how many other franchises could use a half dozen of its characters to effectively carry large portions of the film?
Plotwise, this time its Krall, another in a long line of gnarly-faced Star Trek villains. He posses a vast swarm of space vessels that hobbles the Enterprise over a desolate world. Its up to Kirk and co to prevent Krall from taking his fleet to capture Starfleet.
For most of Beyond, Krall is simply a made-to-order generic villain. Someone who’s managed to amass a significant fighting force in isolation. Beyond’s neatest trick is to slip in a twist that surprisingly poses Krall as a decent foil to Kirk.
Much of the film is set aside as a memorial for Leonard Nimoy. His Spock is laid to rest in tribute to the man. However its Anton Yelchin’s tragic death that really hangs over this film and clouds the future in terms of sequels.