It is hard to imagine a television show with the same cultural cache as Gene Rodenberry’s influential science fiction epic, Star Trek. With an amazing wash of galaxies and worlds to explore, the television show has had 5 different crews over the last 50 years. It has a loyal, some would say fanatical fan base, who will lap up the novel’s comics video games and the movies. In 2009 J.J Abrams rebooted the franchise by revisiting the original crew and placing them in an ‘alternate’ timeline. The first film was met with box office and some critical success, while the second one floundered, being too close to (or exactly like) The Wrath of Khan. However these two films never seemed to do the series justice and just seemed like your standard action film with a thin layer of ‘Trek’ and too much lens flair. Now with this new film Star Trek Beyond penned by famed Star Trek fan and all round nerd, Simon Pegg, as well as Doug Jung and directed by Justin Lin can the franchise find the balance between finding its own voice and paying its respects to the Original series?
The plot of Beyond follows the crew of the USS Enterprise headed by Captain James Tiberius Kirk (Chris Pine) venturing into a nebula where a ship was attacked and its crew crash-landed on an uncharted planet. While making their way to the planet, the Enterprise is attacked by a powerful alien army lead by Krall (Idris Elba). The Enterprise is then totally destroyed and the crew are forced to abandon ship, however as they do so Krall’s army sweeps up the crew, including Helmsman Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu (John Cho) and Communications Officer Lieutenant Nyota Uhura (Zoe Saldana) who are both held at Krall’s base. Engineering Officer Lieutenant Commander Montgomery Scott/Scotty (Simon Pegg) escapes within a Photon Torpedo shell and stumbles into another refugee on Krall’s planet called Jaylah (Sofia Boutella).
Meanwhile Ship’s Doctor Lieutenant Commander Leonard Bones McCoy (Karl Urban), First Officer Commander Spock (Zachary Quinto), Captain Kirk and Navigator Ensign Pavel Chekov (Anton Yelchin) try to look for the crew in two separate groups. It is revealed that Krall has uncovered an ancient weapon and seeks to use it to destroy the new nearby Federation Space station. It is now a race against time for the crew of the Enterprise to regroup and find a way off the planet to save the population who live on the station.
It is important to say before I go on with my opinion that while I am not a fully-fledged ‘Trekkie’ I have been watching the original series on Netflix, so I have some working knowledge of that era of Trek; having said that, this film is fantastic fun. Every other positive that I can say about the film seems to stem from the fantastic script that Pegg and Jung have penned. The film clips along at a great pace not feeling too fast or too slow, and it feels as though every character is developed and given a great deal of screen time. This I think is helped by splitting the crew up and having little stories and struggles that help to make up the major narrative It is no longer the Kirk and Spock special and instead feels more like an ensemble piece.
Though having said that Spock Bones and Kirk are given a greater share of interaction and screen time, which is understandable as they were the main cast of the original series. While Uhura was relegated to an audience surrogate having Krall’s plan explained to her and therefore to us, she still had things to do, like sacrificing herself in order to save the captain and trying to contact the federation for help. Scotty similarly helped introduce us to the new character Jaylah, while also rebuilding the ship that eventually gets the crew off the planet.
The film is also a master class of show, don’t tell, character building, which included Chekov’s womanising, but the stand out moment for me was the slightly controversial inclusion of Sulu’s homosexuality. I felt that it was a fantastic piece of subtle story telling as with the introduction of his family, who live on the space station in danger, the audience can fully understand and empathise with his emotions and motivations. He not only has to save a Federation space station but he wants to and must save his family.
The cast had great material to work with; it feels that Pegg has great admiration for the
original material, the previous mention of Sulu’s family being just one example. But while JJ Abrams and previous screen writers held it in too high regard, never deviating at all, and filling the film with references and winks to the audience, Pegg is able to create a new story using the original tropes of the TV show. We have a simple objective but with complex characters to keep us engaged and entertained. There are great moments of action and humour, especially the interaction between Bones and Spock and anything that comes out of Scotty’s mouth. The film is fun period, and even when it gets serious there are still elements of entertainment and also behind it that same thought provoking message that was behind the original series, especially in its portrayal of the type of villain that Krall is, or is revealed to be.
I was personally worried when I watched trailers with the Beasty Boys Sabotage featuring heavily in the campaign (which I was relieved was used appropriately and humorously in the film’s conclusion) and heard that the studio wanted a script that wasn’t too ‘star-trekkie’. However I was thrilled by the project, there is a great balance between new and old. Please get Pegg back to write more.
I would be remiss not to briefly mention the sudden and unexpected loss of a great
talent. Anton Yelchin, who died a month before the film’s release; he was taken too soon and had great potential. It is saddening to see such a young man snuffed out before his flame could truly catch. In his other projects like Odd Thomas, Fright Night and Green Room he showcased a great subtlety and skill, will live with us forever. Navigate the stars Ensign.