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Sunday, July 24, 2016

Star Trek Beyond



Find Hope in the Impossible

It's been a long road, getting from there to here. After being thrown together in a breakneck, timeline-altering adventure in JJ Abrams' rebooted Star Trek, and then weathering a grim downer in the maligned Star Trek Into Darkness, the young crew of the Starship Enterprise hit their stride in the pleasing and triumphant Star Trek Beyond. Helmed by Justin Lin and co-written by Simon Pegg, who pulls double duty as miracle-working engineer Montgomery Scott, Star Trek Beyond boldly goes where Star Trek has gone many, many times before: an edge-of-your-seat, by the book space adventure, but this time with an exemplary emphasis on the characters and their relationships, gleaning abundant warmth and humor while Captain Kirk and his crew once again save the universe. 

Winking at the "episodic" nature of life aboard the Starship Enterprise, Star Trek Beyond opens three years into their five year mission. Exploring strange new worlds and seeking out new life and new civilizations can get banal, apparently, and a spacedock in the magnificent new Starbase, the Yorktown, finds Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) looking to move on up to a Vice Admiralship. Meanwhile, Spock (Zachary Quinto) receives tragic news: his older doppelganger from the original timeline Ambassador Spock (Leonard Nimoy) has died. Spock, also facing the end of his relationship with Uhura (Zoe Saldana), decides to leave Starfleet to continue the older Spock's work. The specter of death looms over Star Trek Beyond, both intentionally, as the movie outright and perhaps heavy handedly addresses the loss of Leonard Nimoy, and unexpectedly, with the heartbreaking recent death of Anton Yelchin, who vibrantly plays Pavel Chekov. Before the Captain and First Officer of the Enterprise can part ways, they are recruited into one more rescue mission in an uncharted nebula. Of course, it's a disaster.

Attacked by an unknown alien vessel, using thousands of mechanical bees to disable the Enterprise, the crew is forced to abandon ship. Just as in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, the Enterprise is destroyed in this Star Trek 3, with the saucer section crash landing on a rocky alien planet just like the Enterprise-D did in Star Trek Generations. With most of the crew captured and the bridge crew separated, Kirk, Spock, Dr. McCoy (Karl Urban), Scotty, Chekov, Uhura, and Mr. Sulu (John Cho) must find a way to reunite, get off the planet, and solve the mystery of their new enemy Krall (Idris Elba), a fearsome warrior with a murderous beef against the United Federation of Planets. They're alternately betrayed and aided by two very cool female additions to the cast, the duplicitous Kalara (Lydia Wilson) and the resourceful Jaylah (Sofia Boutella). Both women are caked in alien makeup, yet create fetching, appealing performances, especially Boutella, a scene-stealer as Jaylah.

What transpires are classic Trek moments: phaser shoot outs, betrayals, last second rescues, manic space battles, a motorcycle chase, and that time-honored Star Trek standby, Starfleet Officers sleeping in caves. Just like in Star Trek First Contact, our heroes use "classical music" to amusing, Kirk-smirking, eye-rolling effect, as the Beastie Boys' "Sabotage" returns in a callback to the 2009 film.  Both the Enterprise crew and Krall's alien forces are after a MacGuffan, a disc that allows the holder to control the mechanical swarm of bees, but it seemed like Krall was doing just fine making the bees do his bidding without it. 

Rife with Trek references, Easter eggs, and in-jokes, it's a bit shocking how much of Star Trek Beyond's plot points are derived from and driven by the prequel series Star Trek Enterprise. The starship crashed on the alien planet that Kirk, Scotty, and crew salvage and use to escape is an NX-class ship, the same ship class as the Enterprise that Scott Bakula captained. It turns out Krall is actually a long-lived and mutated former M.A.C.O., the pre-Federation space marines that used to serve as ground troops on Bakula's Enterprise. There are references to the Xindi (season two of Star Trek Enterprise) and the Romulan War. Even the blue Away Team jackets and uniforms Kirk and Chekov wear (the costumes in Beyond are the best ever in any Star Trek movie) look like a fashionable evolution from the blue Star Trek Enterprise jumpsuits. In-depth knowledge of Star Trek Enterprise isn't necessary to enjoy Star Trek Beyond, but there are enough Easter eggs here to fill a carton.

Though many of the plot points feel like Star Trek Redundant, the cosmic joy of Star Trek Beyond is spending time with these characters we love and who clearly love each other. Pegg and his co-writer Doug Jung exhibit a thorough grasp of the characters and what makes them tick. For his third outing as Kirk, Pine is more mature and disciplined, much less the irritable hothead of movies past. (It's Kirk's birthday, just like it was in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, where Kirk (is he even 40 yet?) laments getting old.) McCoy spends a great deal of screen time caring for an injured Spock, the two friendly rivals commiserating on the abundant respect for each other they are at pains to admit. Scotty and Jaylah form a sweet bond, as she slowly grows to trust these strange men who are sincerely trying to stop the villains who murdered her father and her people. Uhura and Sulu, captured by Krall, nonetheless exhibit bravery and resourcefulness in trying to learn his motivations and keep their fellow captured crew mates safe. And it's gratifying to see Yelchin's Chekov be part of so much of the action alongside Kirk. The end credits fittingly dedicate the film to the late Leonard Nimoy and #ForAnton.

In the end, Star Trek Beyond can best be appreciated as a metaphor for life. Life can be good, things can be going well, safe, happy, routine -- and then disaster! What do you do? Don't be afraid. Be brave. You trust your crew. You trust your Captain. You trust your skills. You trust yourself. You stand together. There's strength in Unity. You find Hope in the Impossible. These are the important lessons that Star Trek can teach us, when Star Trek is done well. Star Trek Beyond is Star Trek done very well. Even with the vaccuum the late Yelchin leaves going forward, we hope the crew of the Starship Enterprise continues to boldly go where no one has gone before. To echo Kirk to his best friend Spock, "What would we do without you?"