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‘Beyond’ Boldly Goes Where Trek Has Needed To

Hi, my name is Jerrold and I’m a Trekkie. Phew. Glad I got that out there. I’m at the age where I remember sitting in front of the television on a Saturday evening and watching Star Trek. My first exposure to the franchise wasn’t the original series but the 1987-1994 run of Star Trek: The Next Generation. After that, surrounded by my Playmates action figures and die cast vehicles, I continued on with each series in succession – Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise. But when the last show went off the air, all signs seem to point to the death of Star Trek. Gene Roddenberry had created the show to showcase that people of different creed could unite together to tackle anything in their way, using alien species to play out political, ethical, and hot-button topics as more of an undertone. And the trick worked. Whereas Star Wars was your classic good-versus-evil archetype, Star Trek had a deeper purpose that most fans could easily read. When J.J. Abrams rebooted the franchise in 2009, I was fully aboard the idea. Still very much am. However, 2013’s sequel was too much of a remake and less of an original tale to thrust these iconic characters into. Thank Kahless that, instead of going bigger and broader in scope, instead Bad Robot opted to go smaller and more of a personal and emotional tale for the 50th anniversary tale Star Trek Beyond. (I won’t go into the 50th anniversary here. I’m saving that for the next article, folks. It’s better that way.)

I’m still speechless as I type out this sentence – but not only is Star Trek Beyond the fun movie the trailers have hinted at, but it may be the most fun I’ve had at the box office this year. More than Deadpool and, I’m going to say it, more than Captain America: Civil War, but because of the cast and because of the love letter the movie is to the days of Trek past in its storytelling.

Star Trek Beyond brings us roughly three years ahead from the end of the last film. The crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise is in the throngs of their five-year mission to explore the unknown, but the tried and tested crew is growing weary. Following a first contact that doesn’t exactly go to Kirk’s liking, the crew finds themselves docking at the Yorktown, a massive space station that is the hub of interstellar travel for Starfleet. Kirk, growing increasingly weary from space travel, is mulling accepting Vice Admiral at the Yorktown, ditching his captain’s title to settle down to normalcy.  Spock too has his own life-changing decision to make, as he longs to leave Starfleet int he hopes to lead the Vulcan people on the rebuilding of their society on new Vulcan. Both men find their decisions put on hold when Captain Kalara drifts into Yorktown and reveals her ship and crew are downed on the planet Almatid, on the other side of an uncharted nebula that leaves all communication lost. Kirk and crew head off on a rescue mission but are met by a swarm led by the villainous Krall, who has other plans for the Federation with a nefarious plot. The crew lands across the planet – Kirk with Chekov, McCoy with Spock, Uhura with Sulu, and Scotty with a feisty loner named Jaylah (Sofia Boutella, complete with legs unlike her last role in Kingsmen: The Secret Service). Can they reunite in time to stop Krall from striking at Starfleet?

If you’re worried about spoilers – don’t worry. I won’t ruin some of the great lines and secrets that Beyond succeeds in delivering. Carrying on…

Sounds awfully lot like your typical episode of The Original Series, doesn’t it? There’s no shame in saying the sentence at all. Following the fun but ultimately disappointing Star Trek Into Darkness, rather than ground the action mostly around Earth for a third time we’re plunked down far on the other side of the charted galaxy, in regions no Trekkie has ever seen before. One wonders which half of former writing duo Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci is to blame for the shaky Into Darkness – though, that may fall on Kurtzman. Orci (who did an uncredited rewrite), along with J.J Abrams, is now co-gatekeeper of the Star Trek franchise and Beyond shines because the scope is very streamlined. The stakes are still immensely grave and the crew is flirting with death and destruction as usual, but one component that made the shows and previous movies a joy to obsess over is put front and center – character. The best of the 1966-1969 series was scripted by D.C. Fontana, Gene Coon, even Harlan Ellison (whose City On The Edge Of Forever still stands as one of the best episodes of the franchise). Sure, their scripts had a plot but without the chemistry of the cast, those episodes would lack the punch that made them each iconic in the first place.

Simon Pegg and Doug Jung wrote the first draft with a pass by Patrick McKay and John D. Payne. Given how much the movie buzzes with each passing second, I can’t help but ponder if Pegg has become the Grand Nagus of nerdom now over Kevin Smith. (Sorry, but Kevin Smith is starting to become a bit old hat these days, isn’t he?) Pegg and Jung seem to understand that while action was essential to any classic Star Trek episode, the chemistry with the crew was the heart of Roddenberry’s creation. Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Uhura, Chekov, Sulu, and Scotty were the gang you wanted to be part of. They banded together through love, loss, and triumph. They were a family of different color, culture, and background united together out of necessity. Of course, without the talents of the cast, the new series wouldn’t have the soul that it does. The interactions feel very real and down to Earth, sprinkled with the technobabble Trekkies are accustomed to. You feel plunked right onto the bridge from the get go and are kept in the loop with all the action on screen, not by summation of events but because the characters are telling you what is transpiring. Simple, yes, but practical.

While the cast has had a couple of movies to perfect their iterations of their characters, I guess better late than never is the thought. Chris Pine, having proven himself the right choice to take Shatner’s throne, and Zachary Quinto, already given the stamp of approval by the late Leonard Nimoy, shine as Kirk and Spock yet again, two characters torn asunder by wandering minds who look to leave their own footprint. Kirk now wonders if he’s blazing his own trail in the way his father did at the helm of the Kelvin, whilst Spock’s curiosity is more on the survival of his species and their continuation into the future. Sure, this may seem like your classic story trope for any storied franchise, but look inside yourselves. Is the same not true of yourself? Don’t you wish to leave your own mark on the world, yet ensure the future of your lineage? Pine and Quinto show the struggles of both men as their fears that overshadow them stay firmly on their shoulder, even in the midst of their fight for survival. You have to hand it to them both. Some actors couldn’t juggle fisticuffs, humor, and emotion evenly. They manage to pull it all together in Beyond.

If you are expecting a fun and thrilling ride as advertised in the numerous trailers, you won’t be disappointed. As I learned over the course of the too-brisk 120 minute run time, Beyond is more than just the Enterprise’s crew attempting to overcome the impossible. Actually, this Trek installment may be the most emotional tale told in over 34 years. Both Kirk and Spock’s foreboding fears are the core to the story, not just the Macguffin (which is pretty much a throwaway plot point but a necessary evil) nor Krall’s blood lust to strike back at Starfleet. The rest of the cast is drawn into the emotion is other ways. Sulu is concerned about his husband and daughter on Yorktown, too close to the danger that looms. I’ll mention this now, by the way – there is nothing wrong with revealing Sulu to be gay and his tale is never stuffed in your face but rather serves as his motivation to save the crew, his love for life serving as his greatest strength. Uhura has a falling out with Spock over his preference to start a family, be it with her or with another Vulcan (a nod to the original series in a way). Scotty is paired more with Jaylah more, a woman tattered with her family brutally murdered by Krall. Justin Lin manages to give equal time to all the characters, be the scene comical or more casual. You feel more invested in character development coupled with story progression rather than just two hours of fluff thrown at your face.

Speaking of Lin, I give major props to J.J. Abrams for passing the baton to a gifted filmmaker. Abrams may serve as producer but he wisely chose a director who can juggle storytelling with set pieces. Lin up to this point has strictly worked on the more grounded Fast & Furious franchise, existing somehow in a more realistic world as opposed to one Star Trek inhabits; just trade out country-hopping action shenanigans for science fiction elements. Lin dials up his visuals past his norms, playing with camera angles and pans in the most wonky and twisting of ways. As always, his flair and attention to action make his direction the most valuable aspect to the success of Beyond, lending a feels-like-you’re-there semblance to the midst of all of the fisticuffs, shootouts, and chases. There’s instances where Lin goes a bit crazy with the camera, but give the director credit. His film feels wholly different than what Abrams has given us thus far. I do wish he signs on to return, but I fear his stock is only going to go up after his efforts here.

Wisely, Beyond doesn’t flat out ignore the passing of Leonard Nimoy but rather incorporates his very being into the movie in a way I didn’t begin to imagine. Even from the heavens above, Nimoy still can leave a lasting impact on the very franchise that he once wanted to walk away from but stood firm with until the very end. It also is heart wrenching to see Anton Yelchin for the last time deliver a worthy performance of timid Ensign Chekov. Yelchin had such extraordinary range as an actor and once again steals the show as the young Russian at the con. I am relieved that Abrams will not recast the role, nor kill off the character. Both actors are honored and dedicated in memorium both through the movie and at its conclusion, and rightly so.

If only one complaint, just one, Idris Elba is unrecognizable as Krall. The layers of make-up plastered on his face mask the scenery he chews and plods through. What, do tent pole blockbusters need to go to great lengths to hide the dearth of talent basking on the screen? Elba is one of the finest actors of his generation and has a range that’s hard to match, but I was too busy looking at the intricacy of his make-up that I missed some of what he was growling. Literally, growling. Minor issue aside, Elba leaves a mark in the franchise’s history as one of the best baddies, and I’ll put him on the pedestal with Khan and the Borg Queen.

That, and the dirt bike sequence. Alright, two complaints. A scene like this fits in more with Vin Diesel riding around like a maniac as opposed to Chris Pine, and the visuals are very pedestrian to start the sequence, but okay, I’ll suspend my disbelief, if only for the tie-in to Kirk’s past.

Oh, and if you love the Beastie Boys (or hate the fact they’ve been featured in both reboot movies to date) – surprise! Their works are featured again. However, instead of just background noise, the song selections actually do correlate with the plot. I’ll credit Pegg for that one, given his affinity for tying pop culture into his movies. (See – Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz.) Music choices aside, once again the incomparable Michael Giacchino provides a rip-roaring iconic score that showcases his best work to date and why he is quickly becoming his generation’s John Williams in terms of orchestration and chorale.

Star Trek has survived for 50 years because the themes, tropes, and elements are timeless and relatable. For a long while, Trekkies felt like the franchise was whimpering to the next generation, but with the resurgence of the reboots the franchise has new stable footing. Hell, in just six months, fans old and new will be treated to a new show on CBS All Access masterminded by Bryan Fuller, Roberto Orci, and Rod Roddenberry. Then again – that discussion is best left to another article, isn’t it? But without Beyond hitting theaters to bring out the most passionate of fans and casual moviegoers, then that next step for Trek would not exist. Lin, Pegg, Orci, and Abrams have finally unearthed the notion that the most memorable of tales isn’t always to outdo your predecessor. It IS okay to take a step back and return to the basics. The fact that Star Trek Beyond could easily be a big-budgeted episode is just the ticket the franchise needed. You don’t need to go over the top to celebrate a half century of existence. You just need to refresh people’s minds of what matters the most – remarkable storytelling, stellar special effects, and the right actors. And with the untitled Star Trek 14 already greenlit (with Chris Hemsworth returning as George Kirk- huh?!), Trek isn’t going anywhere. Roddenberry’s darling is recharged for fans old and new and will boldly go another 50 years to wherever they have never warped to before.

Reber’s Rating – 94/100

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Jerrold Reber

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Jerrold spent his childhood in southeastern Pennsylvania ingesting far too many TV shows and movies, thus creating a stark-raving mad geek. He’s a movie aficionado, binge-watches Netflix, and is a total TV junkie. His addiction has led to an unhealthy and rabid obsession of various geek pantheons – Star Trek, Star Wars, both DC *AND* Marvel, cult 80's and 90's television, Supernatural, The X-Files, Doctor Who, and, and...holy overload. He's still waiting to run away in a 1967 Impala or a a blue police box.