Thursday, 21 July 2016

Film Review: Star Trek Beyond

To infinity and beyond? The crew of the USS Enterprise journey further into the final frontier than ever before in Justin Lin's Star Trek Beyond.

Newcomer Sofia Boutella steals the show as Jaylah
Having begun their five-year mission through the depths of space at the end of 2013's Into Darkness, Captain Jim Kirk (Chris Pine) and the crew of the Enterprise are starting to feel the effects of long-term space travel; fatigued and blunted by routine, the crew are caught unawares on a routine search and rescue mission.

Attacked by a deadly swarm of ships lead by the villainous Krall (Idris Elba), the crew abandon ship and find themselves scattered to the winds on an unfamiliar frontier planet. Divided and desperate, they must forge new alliances and confront new enemies in order to find a way to return to Federation space - and defeat Krall before he can enact a deadly plot.

With director JJ Abrams departing the franchise to work on something small and indie, the Star Trek series turned to Justin Lin, a man who is best known for helming most of the Fast and Furious films. Lin's differing approach is instantly noticeable; Beyond is less glossy than its predecessors, with the colour palette angling more towards an rich, earthy texture. The action set pieces are shakier and more fast-paced. JJ's fingerprints are all but erased at this point; Lin has assumed command of the movie and takes it in his new, rough-and-ready direction. There isn't a single lens flare in sight! The tone is refreshingly fun too; even though I liked Into Darkness, a lot of people felt the film was too sombre for Trek.

Urban and Quinto as McCoy and Spock
These detractors can breathe easy for know, as Beyond is a whole lotta fun. The set-up and plot is pleasingly simple whilst the screenplay is a delicate mix of breezy fun and more thoughtful, classic Trek stuff. It's like an episode of the classic TV series, just protracted and with a few extra zeroes added onto the budget. And Lin certainly squeezes said budget for every cent that he can - the film trots along at a merry pace with an eye-popping action set piece or shootout around every corner.

Purists might see this as a deviation from the more cerebral beginnings of Star Trek, but it's an angle that makes Beyond a palatable mixture for newcomers and returning fans alike. It's certainly the 'Trekkiest' Trek out from the new, rebooted series.

Once again, the cast are great. Pine has settled into the role of Kirk by now whilst Quinto is clearly relishing the chance to don those pointy Vulcan ears again. The latter is especially funny when partnered with Bones (Karl Urban). The breakthrough character is series newcomer Sofia Boutella as Jaylah. She's a badass rebel warrior who Scotty (Simon Pegg) bumps into and Boutella 100% sells it. She kicks a lot of butt and isn't just there to be oggled at by Kirk. Instead, her character has a lot depth interwoven with the main narrative, deepening the story and giving Beyond a pivotal emotional crux.

Characters like Sulu (John Cho) and Chekov (the late Anton Yelchin) are given a lot more to do in this instalment which is nice to see. It's also an element that makes Yelchin's passing even more heartbreaking; he delivers a fantastic final performance in Beyond.

However, there are two people who get somewhat shafted to the sidelines. Elba's snarling villain spends a lot of time monologuing about his plans for destroying the Federation, showcasing some rather weak plotting through avoidable exposition. He only gets interesting deep into the third act through a reveal that I feel would've worked better had it come much earlier in the movie. Meanwhile, the only crew member who doesn't dazzle is Uhura (Zoe Saldana). Saldana's performance is fine, it's just that the story doesn't create much for her character. She's often the one on the receiving end of all those waffly monologues that Elba reels off.

The Verdict: 8.5/10

Beyond makes a compelling case for being the best entry to date in the nu-Trek series Entertaining characters, well-crafted action and touching tributes that celebrate the franchises 50th anniversary makes Star Trek Beyond one of the most well-rounded cinema outings you'll get in 2016 thus far.

Star Trek Beyond is in cinemas across Australia now

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