Matthew Kresal confesses.
I've always said that if I was wrong about something, I would own up to it.
Well starting from about the middle of 2015 or so, I was immensely skeptical of Star Trek Beyond. I became iffy over the problems with the script, was worried by the fact that Fast & Furious director Justin Lin was being put at the helm and then the first trailer seemed to confirm all my worst fears about what the film would become. I'd just about washed my hands of it, deciding for the first time that I wouldn't see this new Trek film in cinemas.
Then it came out and people whose opinions I trust sang it praises. So I eventually decided to give it a go after all...
Well folks I was wrong. Star Trek Beyond wasn't the wham bam, action driven and plotless film that the trailer made it out to be back in December 2015. Far from it in fact.
Though it doesn't start out that way.
The opening minutes of Beyond are comparatively slow compared with the openings of the two films that proceeded it, though it does do a nice job of bringing the audience up to speed where this version of the Enterprise crew stand some three years into their five year mission. The film finally gets going plot wise, though that ultimately leads into the first major action sequence which felt like a long retread of a big part of the climax of Into Darkness, despite just how spectacular it is. Thankfully, that was just the opening of the film.
Once it moves beyond that slow and at times clunky opening, Beyond soars. The plot is an intriguing mix of Trek elements which also explores the series mythos, and includes tie-ins to one of the franchise's more unloved spin-offs, something that came as a pleasant surprise. Not only that but the film contains quite a few little Easter Eggs for long time fans which range from references to lines of dialogue. These are things that will make those fans happy while not alienating an audience of new viewers, something that has been key to the success of the this new Trek film series. Also, Beyond's ultimate message about strength in unity, not giving into the prejudices and patterns of the past is a timely one as well. Despite the issues with the early part of the film, it's a significant improvement over the plot of Into Darkness.
The action sequences also work splendidly. While the trailers gave the wrong impression of many of them, in context they work splendidly, from chase sequences to fist fights that take full advantage of what a big budget film can do over what the series did back in the 1960s. The climax is a tour de force of the kind of sci-fi action/adventure that Trek does well, even if it does include a Beastie Boys song as part of the action (which I have to admit didn't work in the trailer but actually works in context, perhaps showing once again why context is key). Actually that last sentence nicely sums up so much of Beyond's action sequences, most especially a sequence involving a motorcycle which makes no sense until you see it in the film itself.
In the midst of all that though, Beyond doesn't lose track of its characters. There's quite a bit for everyone to do in this film, after some of them were sidelined in the past. Simon Pegg's Scotty comes across quite well and there's more screen time for both Zoe Saldana's Uhura and the now sadly late Anton Yelcin's Chekov. The focus though is on Trek's three greatest lead characters and it is a genuine pleasure to see Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto and Karl Urban grasp their roles and run with them. The film's supporting cast does well with Sofia Boutella's Jaylah coming off the best of the lot. Idris Elba's villainous Krall is effective in his scenes though Elba as an actor is effectively lost behind layers of makeup. All told though, it's a solid cast with the Enterprise crew really getting a chance to shine here.
Despite what is one of the poorest marketing campaigns in the history of the Star Trek film series, Beyond is definitely worthy of the franchise as a film. While not on the level of the 2009 reboot (if one chooses to look just at more recent history), it is definitely a step in the right direction that proves that this fifty year old creation of Gene Rodenberry is far from being done. Though it seems to have become only the second Trek film ever to have flopped, I hope that word of mouth will eventually give Star Trek Beyond a strong life on DVD, Blu-Ray, streaming and whatever else. Because Beyond is exactly the Trek film we need right now.
Matthew Kresal lives in North Alabama where he's a nerd, doesn't
have a southern accent and isn't a Republican. He's a host of both the
Big Finish centric Stories From The Vortex podcast and the 20mb Doctor Who Podcast. You can read more of his writing at his blog and at The Terrible Zodin fanzine, amongst other places.