For the present Star Trek franchise, the third time is the charm with Beyond. Justin Lin and team have finally found the ideal balance for their reboot. Writers Simon Pegg and Doug Jung have brought smaller characters to life who previously only served as background for Kirk and Spock and echoes of their original incarnations. They’ve successfully created the perfect combo of story and action; humor and thrill; past and present.
Beyond begins by addressing some very valid questions about life in deep space. How does the crew maintain family relationships back home? Is there a lot of inter-crew dating on the confined ship? Don’t they get cabin fever? Bored? Anyone’s who’s thought about life on our ISS has pondered these same questions so it’s natural that they be addressed in terms of deep space in the Star Trek universe. In fact, briefly exploring these issues humanizes the crew on the USS Enterprise to a much more relatable place than random space ship crew. The answers are that families are maintained like all tough long-distance relationships; yes, there is a lot of inter-crew liaisons; and yes, the crew very much gets cabin fever.
Which is where Kirk (Chris Pine) steps in. He is growing weary of the monotony and solitude of the Enterprise’s deep space diplomacy missions. Three years into their five year mission, he seeks to leave the Enterprise for a more stationary role on space station, Yorktown, leaving the ship securely in Spock’s hands. Zachary Quinto’s Spock, however, has similar doubts about his future with the Federation after receiving notice that Leonard Nimoy’s Ambassador Spock (his older self from an alternate timeline) has passed away. As the crew disembarks for a furlough in Yorktown though, it’s not only Kirk’s and Spock’s philosophical and personal reflections that are highlighted. By shifting the focus slightly away from the usual leads, smaller characters are given added depth.
Upon docking for furlough, John Cho’s Sulu reunites with his family- a husband and little girl. The late Anton Yelchin’s Chekov gets some screen time as the crew casanova, chatting up intergalactic ladies at every opportunity. Karl Urban’s Bones gets paired up with Spock for a large part of the movie which allows for a lot more character development (not to mention some great quips from both), and Simon Pegg’s Scotty has a great subplot with the newly introduced, Jaylah (Sofia Boutella). These peeks into the crew’s personalities and private lives not only adds dimension to the characters, it also makes the stakes that much higher when the Enterprise gets deflected to a rescue mission in an uncharted nebula, with no communication to the rest of the Federation. The only core character left uninspired is Uhura, who serves only as an element in Spock’s predicament. Though she’s smart and tough as always, she doesn't have anything to call her own in this movie.
The focus on characters and relationships balances the sometimes unrelenting action of space conflict. After the Enterprise is ambushed during its uncharted rescue mission, the crew is forced into a prisoner’s camp, controlled by Krall (Idris Elba), self proclaimed enemy of the Federation, wielder of a threatening bioweapon, and sucker of souls. His army is made up of hundreds of thousands of single-manned ships which swarm and attack like mechanical bees. Normally, this type of aggressive, nonstop barrage fighting is exhausting and mind numbing but in Beyond, the action is more means to an end rather than action for action sake. There is definitely plenty of combat, but it is offset nicely by story and character moments.
Beyond is full of humor as well as poignancy and it walks that line well. With Pegg’s own scripted banter, his character Scotty provides almost constant comic relief in every scene he’s featured in. Even when he’s stranded from his crew in Krall’s domain, his thick Scottish brogue and classic wit lend themselves easily to wisecracks. Bones and Spock similarly play a role in breaking up tension when they’re stranded together after the rescue goes awry. In his own analytical way, Spock is coming to terms with his mortality after hearing about Ambassador Spock. Paired with Bones’s dual sarcasm and sincerity, the two make a compelling pair. Searching for their crew mates, the two engage in their usual amusing bickering. Bones quips at Spock, “Here I was thinking you cared.” As enemy forces suddenly corner them from above, Spock responds straightforwardly, “Of course I care Leonard, I always assumed my respect for you was clear.” He then launches into a very Spock explanation of their history of quarreling (a staple of early incarnations of their characters). Before Spock can go full-Spock on him though, Bones dismisses him, “It’s ok Spock, you don’t have to say it.” This simple scene incorporates the poignancy and sentimentality that sets Beyond apart from previous films in this reboot.
All of the core members of the Enterprise crew go above and beyond in their depictions of their characters. The actors do an amazing job of paying homage to their original depictions. Even for audiences who aren’t acquainted with earlier for versions of the crew, minute details and mannerisms add depth and reality to the characters. For fans of the original Enterprise crew, the cast of Beyond hits the nostalgia nail on the head. From the first acknowledgment of Leonard Nimoy’s real life passing this year, the bridge between past and present Star Treks is solidified. Spock’s existential dilemma makes perfect sense in the face of the death of his future/alternate self and it’s even more hard hitting because of the death of the original Spock.
There is plenty of originality that offsets the sentimentality in Beyond. The extra time devoted to Scotty’s subplot is especially engaging because of the appearance of Jaylah, a humanoid alien who escaped Krall’s clutches but remains stranded without a working ship. Like Scotty, she’s mechanically savvy so the two hit it off right away. She’s even arguably more savvy than Scotty and confident in her abilities (in contrast to Scotty’s “give it a try” attitude), so she offers a strong female role where Uhura missed the mark. Though Jaylah escaped Krall’s prison camp, her family did not and it’s for them that she seeks a way to defeat Krall and escape his domain.
Beyond is uncomplicated compared to its reboot predecessors but it works in its favor. Where the film holds back on convoluted concepts and gratuitous action, it fills in character details, humor, and poignancy. The rebooted characters have been honed as a link between the past and the present and small moments illicit just the right amount of nostalgia. The film offers originality in the confines of a pre-existing universe and balances ideas and influences old and new. Above all Beyond serves as an excellent tribute to Gene Roddenberry’s original imagining of Star Trek.