Film Review: Star Trek Beyond

Note: This review contains some plot spoilers.

This weekend Star Trek Beyond, the third installment of the rebooted Star Trek movie franchise, beamed its way onto the big screens, clinching the top spot for the weekend’s box office. The first in the series directed by Justin Lin (after J.J. Abrams’s departure), the film gave many fans reason to doubt whether the addition would fit in with the earlier films. However, while Beyond moves the movie franchise in a more action-oriented direction, it still maintains much of the wit and humor of the original films.

Beyond really shines in its unique depictions of the mental trials of Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) and the crew during their extended expedition. At the conclusion of Into Darkness, the second film in the rebooted series, Kirk and the crew begin their coveted five-year mission into uncharted space. As the new film begins, it’s three years into their mission, and their initial enthusiasm has dampened to retrospective longings for home. As a result, Kirk debates abandoning his position as captain to take up an ordinary office job back on Earth, while Sulu (John Cho) stares longingly at photos of his same-sex partner and their daughter. (This move appears to be a nod to the openly gay actor George Takei, who played Sulu in the original TV series and who expressed some reservations about the reboot’s portrayal.)

Keeping its roots in mind, Beyond makes a point of paying tribute to Leonard Nimoy, the actor who originally played Spock and who passed away in 2015. Nimoy had a role in the reboot as Spock’s father, and in Beyond, his character’s death shocks Zachary Quinto’s Spock into an existential crisis, which mirrors the reaction that many fans of the series experienced upon hearing the news of the beloved Nimoy’s death last year.

The plot becomes a little murky with the introduction of the film’s villain, Krall (Idris Elba) and his horde of lizard-looking bandits who bear a resemblance to the Gorns. Krall appears to function as a foil to the United Federation of Planets, which seeks to bring peace and unity to its constituents. At one point Krall booms, “Unity is not your strength, it is your weakness!” This declaration appears to be at the heart of the conflict between Krall and the Enterprise crew.

On top of the film’s external conflicts, Lin takes time to focus in on the personal struggles of the crew and develop their camaraderie. The introduction of Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), a spirited alien with a knack for engineering that rivals Scotty’s, perhaps adds the most dynamic character interactions to the film and contributes to the gender diversity of the cast.

The philosophical themes in the movie aren’t explicitly stated, but in an interview with BirthMoviesDeath, Lin revealed his take on the questions Beyond asks its audience:

What would happen if you go on a five-year journey and you’re trying to not only explore but also maybe introduce other people to your way of thinking? What would that mean? What are the consequences of that? You’re spreading a philosophy that you think is great—are there going to be any philosophies that counter you?

I wish that this theme had been more explicitly drawn out through character dialogue. Krall doesn’t seem to be much of a philosophical sort; the movie primarily depicts him in battle scenes that are nonetheless entertaining.

For its additions and jaw-dropping cinematic landscapes, Star Trek Beyond is well-worth seeing. There’s still a part of me that wishes the emphasis on philosophy and positive outcomes for humanity, which Star Trek creator and humanist Gene Roddenberry focused on in the original series, would be brought back to the forefront, rather than playing second-fiddle to action-oriented blockbuster scenes. But I suppose that it’s a necessary compromise to reach wider audiences and improve box office sales, so I’m willing to overlook it.

For longtime fans and newcomers to the series alike, Star Trek Beyond delivers the best sci-fi thriller of the summer to date.