Justin Lin’s Star Trek Beyond shows that a blockbuster can be in the same realm as a character drama and still be successful
Going into Star Trek Beyond I wasn’t feeling the highest on Star Trek Into Darkness (check out my review here). I thought it was thisclose to being a great movie. But two things kept it from that. The first was the underutilization of the full cast. Second, the movie felt more concerned with having these epic action set pieces that it forgot to have a strong plot underneath connecting them. Since Justin Lin was directing it I was a bit nervous that it would actually be even more concerned with action set pieces. He proved me wrong. He proved me so wrong, in fact, that I think this is the strongest movie in the Star Trek reboot franchise.
Now, I will precede this review with the fact that I saw the movie during an incredible birthday weekend orchestrated by Brian, but I really think that this movie will hold as one of the best blockbusters of the decade.
I’m not too familiar with the Star Trek franchise outside the reboot films, but I imagine this is what the series felt like. Justin Lin has shown surprising restraint in character scenes throughout the movie. The movie begins with a simple, but resonant monologue that talked about what is like aboard the Enterprise when they aren’t being attacked or fighting. Lin said he was interested in those moments outside of work and how characters interacted with each other in a personal setting and this sequence was perfect in positioning the overall mood of the movie.
In all, this movie was the most humanizing of the franchise so far. That brings me to the much talked about decision to make Sulu (John Cho) gay as a tribute to George Takei. As a gay Asian man it was so refreshing to see that particular culture portrayed on screen and the meaning behind it was even stronger. The way it was handled was so beautiful. It didn’t feel like an epic moment. It felt normal. As John Cho said, in ten years it’ll just fade into the background because his sexuality didn’t matter. But what was even more impressive was that this movie talked about the lives of these characters outside of the ship. There was Sulu’s family, but early in the movie, there was a scene between Bones (Karl Urban) and Kirk (Chris Pine) where they talked about his father’s death and talking to his mother. It’s so easy to forget that these characters have lives and that three years aboard a ship is going to take a toll.
As for the main plot and action, I think that it is visually one of the most interesting and impressive of the series so far. The Enterprise is attacked just above an uninhabited and uncharted planet and as the crew gradually evacuates, they are separated and some are taken by the mysterious villain Krall (Idris Elba).
The pairings make for incredibly funny moments, but also such great character moments. There are McCoy and Spock which makes for a hilarious pair, but also really touching moments when Spock begins to question his morality. They naturally seem like such opposites, but when they are faced with what seems like a hopeless situation they raise each other up in their own unique ways.
Then there’s Chekov (Anton Yelchin [RIP]) and Kirk. I think that Chekov felt like a boy in the first two movies, but he truly comes into himself here with Kirk as his fatherly figure. I wish there was more to their story, but the work the Yelchin and Pine put into it is some of the strongest acting of the series.
Uhura (Zoe Saldana) remains the heart of the crew and that continues when she’s imprisoned by Krall. She is out insight into him. Plus, she gets to kick ass. I wish her role was more integral to the plot, but I’ll take what I can get. She matches with Sulu, who has also become this strong heart in the crew as well.
Lastly, we have Scotty (Simon Pegg) and Jayla (Sofia Boutella). They become unlikely partners when she saves him from a group of bandits on the planet. Her ignorance to some of the human tendencies makes for hilarious exchanges between the two. But she also has a nice arc about what it is to be brave. Boutella is a breakout star. Her addition ups the female power in the series and shows what an action hero can truly be.
But as much as I love the action set pieces like the Enterprise being attacked and crashing into the planet or the rescue plan for the imprisoned crew, I still go back to these character moments. However one sticks out to me in particular.
MILD SPOILER ALERT AFTER THE JUMP
Early in the film, we are shown the futuristic Federation base Yorktown. The same way our hearts swelled when we first saw dinosaurs in Jurassic Park and we heard the score swell, the visuals of this city were incredible. But it plays a part at the end of the movie too when Krall turns his attack towards it.
We are introduced to Sulu’s family on the base, which adds an emotional element to the attack. We aren’t seeing faceless red shirt being killed. It is Sulu’s family who we care about because we care about Sulu. It was a smart simple touch that made the film all the better.
Star Trek Beyond is about unity and why being together is better than being apart. With the Brexit and Donald Trump being in the news this year, that message holds, even more, truth. However, Star Trek doesn’t concern itself with politics. Yes it had the first interracial kiss on television, yes they have a gay Asian character, but these are born out of moments of character. It’s what made Mad Max: Fury Road so great and what makes this one of the best movies of the year so far.