Film Review: ‘Star Trek Beyond’

Star Trek Beyond
Courtesy of Paramount

Director Justin Lin brings his bravura action energy and a certain nostalgic flair to the 'Star Trek' series, even as he unboldly goes where too many have gone before.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see why director Justin Lin was handed the reins of the “Star Trek” series from the outgoing J.J. Abrams. Lin, the director of four “Fast and Furious” films, is a virtuoso at making vehicles fly through space, and his “Star Trek Beyond” has a few of the most spectacular set pieces ever seen in the series. What’s more, if you had to find a theme in the “Fast and Furious” films — apart from their real theme, which is that speed and destruction rock — it would be this: A motley crew of multiculti ego-driven auto pilots works best when they make themselves into a team. Yet it’s not until the halfway point of “Star Trek Beyond” when Lin stages a sequence that truly seems to get his juices flowing.

We’re in the jagged wilderness of a foreign planet, where the Enterprise has crash-landed after being cut in two by a swarm of metallic space “bees.” The swirling bees are controlled by Krall (Idris Elba), a dictator with the face of a lizard and the voice of a warlord and an attitude to match. He gets energy by literally sucking the life out of people, and he’s out to capture an artifact that was on board the Enterprise, an ancient clicking doohickey he wants for terrible (but unspecified) reasons. The crew of the Enterprise, dispersed on the planet, is trying to regroup, and now, at last, they have it together enough to launch a plan of attack. Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) provides the diversionary activity, riding a chopper around Krall’s woodland headquarters, his biker image literally multiplied a dozen times. Meanwhile, a leonine alien named Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), whose black-etched-on-white face makes her look like Darth Maul by MAC Cosmetics, engages in hand-to-hand combat with Krall, whomping him with kung fu kicks.

The sequence has that Lin spin, that overdose of activity that gets you pumped. And that’s a good thing — or, at least, it’s good up to a point — because “Star Trek Beyond,” for all the addictive intensity of its visual flourishes, is the most prosaic and, in many ways, the least adventurous of the Abrams-era “Star Trek” outings. It’s a sturdily built movie that gets the job done, and it’s got a likable retro vibe: The fact that Kirk and his crew spend a good part of the film stranded, without recourse, gives “Star Trek Beyond” a wide-eyed, slightly clunky analog stasis that takes us right back to the spirit of the TV series. Like the show, it lets us share quality time with cast members who now seem like old friends. Yet to say that the movie fails to break new ground would be putting it mildly. It truly feels like an extended episode, without a single “Oh, wow!” trick up its sleeve, which may be why, until the eye-popping climax, it’s more earnest than exciting.

To be fair, a “Star Trek” movie — this is the 13th — can’t be expected to reinvent the wheel each time. Abrams already did that once, and he did it brilliantly, casting the series with such an acute eye for the inner qualities of every “Trek” crew member that you almost feel as if each character should come with a little book entitled “The Zen of Scotty,” “The Zen of Bones,” etc. Yet the dimension of the original series that turned fans into lifelong cultists is that it pushed and poked boundaries; it kept spinning your head. That’s what Abrams tried to do in his two films, and the underrated “Star Trek Into Darkness,” though it played a bit of a shell game with “Trek” mythology, casting Benedict Cumberbatch as a young Khan who didn’t completely parse as the Khan of legend, was still a movie that took you on a sinister cosmic joyride.

“Star Trek Beyond” might have been more accurately entitled “Star Trek Contained.” It’s got a very familiar, old-fangled, no-mystery structure, and that’s because it’s basically the “Star Trek” version of an interplanetary action film, with a plot that doesn’t take you to many new frontiers. But there’s plenty of chance to hang out with a cast that audiences have — rightly — come to love. On the planet, the crew members land in different places because they’ve escaped the crashing Enterprise in separate pods. It’s fun to watch Spock (Zachary Quinto) and Bones (Karl Urban) bond through their antipathy. Or Scotty (Simon Pegg) try to weave his nerd weaselness around the forceful Jaylah, the alien dominatrix in white who refers to him as “Montgomery Scotty.” Or Anton Yelchin’s Chekov simply be, in every scene, his ardently antic Chekov self, which allows us to revel in what an inspired job the late young actor did of making Chekov’s face match his heavily accented words, his eyes popping in comic communion with his vowels. Yelchin, a superb actor (he is honored in the closing credits with a simple “For Anton”), slyly disappeared inside this role, and in that very act of disappearance he was never more himself.

Conveniently, the planet houses the carcass of an old Federation ship, the U.S.S. Franklin, which our mighty crew can resuscitate. From there, the battle heads to Yorktown, a Federation outpost that’s like a gyroscopic steel-and-glass city that resembles an amalgam of the aristocratic satellite in “Elysium,” the city of the future in “WALL-E,” and an Apple store. It’s a lurching, multi-planed vertiginous place, and Lin stages the protracted final battle there like a gladiatorial contest suspended in the air. It’s a sequence you won’t soon forget.

What is forgettable, perhaps, is everything else about the movie, which doesn’t so much advance the “Trek” cosmology as keep it running in place. “Star Trek Beyond” opens with Kirk, and Spock, each having a private existential meltdown: Kirk from the every-day-is-like-the-last-day routine of piloting through space, and Spock from the knowledge that he might want to ditch the Enterprise to become a Vulcan patriarch, now that Commander Spock has died — a nod to the late Leonard Nimoy, whom Quinto inspiringly echoes in the hint of warmth masked by his impish ultra-deadpan. You can rest assured that this team will become a team again, because that’s the message of the movie: that in space (or maybe anywhere), a crew of quirky oddballs beats a scaly megalomaniac every time. But that’s kind of a lesson that we already knew. “Star Trek Beyond” is a somewhat diverting place holder, but one hopes that the next “Star Trek” movie will have what it takes to boldly go where no “Star Trek” movie has gone before.

Film Review: 'Star Trek Beyond'

Reviewed at AMC Century City, Los Angeles, July 14, 2016. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 122 MIN.

Production

A Paramount Pictures release of a Skydance Media, Bad Robot Prods., Sneaky Shark, Perfect Storm Entertainment, K/O Paper Products production. Produced by J.J. Abrams, Bryan Burk, Roberto Orci. Executive producers, Jeffrey Chernov, David Ellison, Dana Goldberg, Tommy Harper, Lindsey Weber.

Crew

Directed by Justin Lin. Screenplay by Simon Pegg, Doug Jung. Camera (color, widescreen), Stephen F. Windon; editors, Greg D’Auria, Dylan Highsmith, Kelly Matsumoto, Steven Sprung; music, Michael Giacchino; production designer, Thomas E. Sanders; costume designer, Sanja Milkovic Hays; casting, Miranda Davidson, April Webster, Alyssa Weisberg.

With

Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, Anton Yelchin, John Cho, Idris Elba, Sofia Boutella.

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  4. Star Trek Beyond says:

    Beyond is a very solid film, made for an incredible cinematic experience; it’s fun and just so damn entertaining. Simon Pegg did a great job with the script: Idris was amazingly dark, and the crew had spectacular scenes all around. 8/10 May the franchise live long and prosper…

  5. Susan says:

    This was my favorite Star Trek movie yet. A great mix of science, action, relationships, and humor. The relationship piece was spot on. And the humor was not forced, but perfectly done. And it kept to the true nature of the original series and the franchise. I loved it.

  6. I’m not sure the reviewer actually understands Star Trek. Star Trek was always about character interactions and veiled(sometimes not so veiled) social commentary. The action was built on top of that.

    This is the first Star Trek movie in the new series to actually give the ensemble cast time to interact and play off of each other. It’s the first to make even a rudimentary attempt at having an overarching message- Strength and peace in unity over divisiveness, conflict, and xenophobia. Given our current political climate in the US and EU, it’s a fairly relevant message.

    I’m not saying the movie was perfect, but out of the new series it’s the most “Star Trek” out of all of them.

    Also, it gets bonus points for all of the Star Trek: Enterprise callbacks.

  7. Navycross says:

    I don’t agree with everything in this review, but I can say that the movie was not written well. The character development was weak, cliche after cliche, story/plot was formulaic and simplified for a very young audience (13 and under). It was the first Star Trek movie I have seen where I was looking at my watch thinking, how much longer till we can go eat?! The CGI seemed to lack a realism we have seen in past films. Tough to put a finger on everything, but Star Trek works because of the relationships and the characters themselves, the CGI and everything around it should help colour in the rest. Scotty/Bones I believe had more screen time than Kirk it seemed. The key to a successful franchise is the importance of each film in that series. If a viewer can simply pass over a film in that series, will they have missed something integral to the story, its characters etc. Star Trek Beyond is one you can pass over and not have missed anything when this series of films has run its course. Sure there was some entertainment value, but we are beyond just needing another enterprise crashing and burning.

    • Susan says:

      Not sure why you think the character dev’t was weak. The relationships among then characters was well done in this movie.

  8. Clairvoyant says:

    What I find disappointing are the usual “racist subliminals” in yet another American movie. You know, umm, let’s see, oh yeah, the “black” guy is the villain – and, of course, he’s using borrowed technology. Can’t have them inventing their own. And then there’s the “black woman”, helpless, symbolically chained and freed by her “white” ,nerdy lover. Wait, oh wow, who’d have guessed, the “white” guys do all the brain work, heavy lifting and are the heroes of the movie.

    Apart from the same old, sinister racial propaganda from Hollywood, the movie was humdrum, mindless entertainment for people wanting to kill some time but don’t mind soaking up the crappy subliminals. Meh.

  9. A very repetitive review. The ‘Critic’ did everything in his lapse of the English language to get the job done. It is a review but nothing more. Poor in every sense of the word. Look elsewhere for information on this film….

  10. Good review! Honestly, this was the worst Trek movie I’ve ever seen, so overloaded with cliches and plot holes that it was obviously made by people who thought sci-fi meant putting car chases in space and calling it a day.

    Spoiler warning…

    Why didn’t the main villain (whose name is too stupid to type) use his extended lifespan and extensive technology to leave the planet? Why was a marooned Starfleet captain blaming Starfleet for not answering a message they obviously never received? Who was the race that found the missing piece of the super-weapon, how did they find it, and what were they doing with it before Kirk got it? Why did the planet on which the villain and his pseudo-Jem-Hadar were marooned have all that deadly technology on it, ie who left it there and why? How far did Sulu’s husband and daughter travel to meet him at that base if the Enterprise had been exploring for three years? Why did Mannis, the villain’s right hand man, show some reluctance to kill Enterprise crew members but seem excited about killing another innocent woman who had been marooned on the planet? Speaking of her, how did she generate the power to cloak the Franklin for YEARS, right under the nose of a well-armed enemy with a boatload of scanning equipment? Why did no one seem all that upset by the fact that about half the crew of the Enterprise probably died in the fighting or their subsequent captivity? Is entering Starfleet really as easy as somebody “pulling some strings,” since I seem to remember that even supergenius Wesley Crusher had some trouble getting in?

    There’s a lot more but I think that’s enough to prove my point that this movie has no business existing in a franchise known for creativity and philosophical storytelling as much as space-battles.

    • Susan says:

      Funny you think it’s the worst Star Trek movie, because I think it was the best one. Maybe we were watching 2 different movies. The relationships, character dev’t and humor were all well done. I loved it.

    • millerfilm says:

      My brother and I have seen all the “Trek” films. But, we just saw “Beyond” today and haven’t been able to stop talking about how messed up it is!

  11. Chris says:

    “a leonine alien named Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), whose black-etched-on-white face makes her look like Darth Maul by MAC Cosmetics, engages in hand-to-hand combat with Krall, whomping him with kung fu kicks.”
    She didn’t fight Krall. She fought the guy who killed her dad while Krall went off to go get Yorktown.

  12. Greg Price says:

    Assuming your statements are entirely accurate, it’s a good thing we had a bit less “oh wow” and a little more solid characterization. As it is, we’re still stuck with the stupid motocross sequence.

    JJ’s penchant for paper thin plot dressed up in shiny mystery boxes had done a great deal of damage to the Trek brand by barely functioning as a bridge between noisy Michael Bay rip off scenes.

  13. G. Blake says:

    ““Star Trek Beyond” might have been more accurately entitled ” Really!?! It is titled one thing and is “entitled ” to a review, as you are “entitled” to w rite one. You are writing for Variety and you make a juvenile mistake! Really? That pretty much discredits your opinion as being uninformed or formed in the mind of a child. Have a little respect for journalism.

    • JJneveragain says:

      From Dictionary.com: entitled to call by a particular title or name:
      What was the book entitled?

      When you criticize another’s language the onus is on you to be accurate, even more so than the person you’re criticizing. You failed.

      • You go to an internet website to prove your incorrect argument. Titled is the correct usage, and you are the perfect example of a pseudo-intellectual.

  14. tlsnyder42 says:

    Meh. . . why do so many “critics” seem to miss the real good points as well as the real bad points of movies and television programs? This kind of superficial review is easy to do.

  15. Ivan Sicard says:

    The movie was great (4 out of 5). A nice balance of action, character development, and story.

    This review, however, is poor (1 out of 5) and does not reflect the movie or the Star Trek series. Did Gleiberman even watch the movie, or understand the 50th year anniversary and progression of Star Trek?

    Perhaps Gleiberman just made up some generic messages to get his review done in time. Unprofessional.

    • Susan says:

      So agree. We’ll said. Great movie. Loved it. And reviewers should know their subject matter well before doing a review.

  16. Likeucare says:

    Your review breaks no new ground. It regurgitated the same tired tropes used by so many other movie bloggers. 1 star.

  17. Michael says:

    Interesting review. The Star Trek Beyond that I just saw at the cinema was obviously not what Gleiberman saw. In my cinema people were laughing, cheering, respectfully silent … and absolutely enthralled by what they were watching. It was a marvelous experience.

    Maybe the subtlety was too much. Star Trek is going boldly … and good on ’em!

  18. Certs222MN1 says:

    I got the Batman vs Superman Blu-ray today. It’s awesome. If the new superman accidently destroys a city I can deal with it but it’s harder to deal with the collateral damage in the last “Star Trek” movie. Captain Kirk violated the Prime Directive a few times in TOS but he never accidentally leveled an office building on earth.

  19. I didnt like the movie, so dead boring i was surprised they have to make another sequel Im so sick and tired of remake ! STAR TREK movie , please enough is enough. NO MORE

    • Susan says:

      If you’re not a Star Trek, then why are you watching them? As a fan, I loved this movie. This new reboot series is my favorite yet. We’ll done, great relationship building. Loved it. If you’re not into Star Trek anymore, then stop watching and let the rest of it enjoy our interest.

    • Likeucare says:

      Wow. Really? Now the button hurt bat boy clan are going to troll starvtrek?Dude it’s not even a super hero movie.

  20. MatthewJ4738 says:

    Lost me at “underrated Star Trek Into Darkness.”

    • millerfilm says:

      He had to write that, because he couldn’t publicly say “what-the-@#$%-was-that Star Trek Into Darkness.”

  21. meiray says:

    I don’t remember Gleiberman’s EW reviews being quite this spoiler-filled. I don’t undertstand why Variety and THR can’t be more oblique about plot specifics.

  22. Profzed says:

    “…a “Star Trek” movie… …can’t be expected to reinvent the wheel each time. Abrams already did that once, and he did it brilliantly, casting the series with such an acute eye for the inner qualities of every “Trek” crew member… ”

    Wow. I wish I could have seen the JJ Abrams Trek movies that the author of the review saw. The JJ Abrams Trek movies I saw (first one in the theater, the second one I waited for the DVD to show up at my local library) clearly proved that Abrams had no clue whatsoever as to the original Trek characters’ “inner qualities”. Abrams also had no clue (nor did he care) as to what Star Trek has always stood for or what it truly is. (Just as long as non-Trek-fan adolescent boys get all the action they can handle and none of that stupid, “who cares” story/plot – that makes you actually think – to get in the way.)

  23. Stan says:

    You really should warn us that thi review is full of spoilers. I good movie review can be done without revealing plot points.

  24. IT--II--IT says:

    A franchise slum is — NOT — an enterprise.

    And certainly NOT any kind of FREE enterprise.

  25. Tony says:

    This is a “Film Review”. I would say more but :-!

  26. Odinson says:

    Why don’t you tell us MORE about key plot points and events of the movie, jackass….?!?!

  27. millerfilm says:

    Comfortably Familiar sounds better than the what-the-@#$% messing with tradition “Into Darkness.”

  28. stevenkovacs says:

    I AM SO GOING TO SEE THIS!!

  29. BillUSA says:

    I’ll pass. The whole Star Trek thing ended for me when Kirk died in “Generations”.

  30. Alex says:

    Action and a lot of CGI doesn’t cut it anymore, “STAR TREK” needs Joss Whedon.

  31. Star Trek into darkness is an absurd rendition of what Star Trek and its original characters portrayed. Advanced special effects and prolonged scenes of violence will never rescue it from its absurd and demented characterizations. Captain Kirk is portrayed as a foolishly daring and reckless youth and someone who would have sex with an animal being. That is enough said in my opinion. Two thumbs down..

  32. Merrill Jones says:

    Being butthurt isn’t a review.

  33. JOE S HILL says:

    While the visual effects are well made,JJ Abrams’ “STAR TREK” movies are no where like the original movies with the original cast,and the storylines here,are just so damned “Anti-TREK” given that Abrams was never a fan of the original TV series,or it’s valuable story and timelines! when “STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS” was released in 2013,the movie was a huge disaster! not only did they botch and ruin the valuable timeline involving the “Khan” character,which was badly cast,but this other bullshit with the two Spocks of present and future-what was that supposed to be? i mean,its always great to see the late Leonard Nimoy in his iconic role,,but the same characters present and future,,existing in the same time space? totally absurd! and this other stuff about the “Kelvin timeline”,,so Abrams wants to honor someone from his personal life,,but what actual relevance does it have in the Franchise? i’ll stay with “STAR TREK The UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY”(1991) one of the finest and last of the original cast and movies,before “STAR TREK:GENERATIONS” (1994) came on board! as for “STAR TREK BEYOND”,i’ll see for myself what Justin Lin does here,and “Fast and Furious” that this will be-but so far,it hasn’t altered my opinion of Abrams previous movies,nor do i expect this one,to be any different!

    • BillUSA says:

      I think J.J. Abrams was put on this Earth to destroy the two most popular space-based movie franchises. He has accomplished that mission with gold-standard execution.

  34. As you as you praise “spectacular set pieces” in context of Star Trek as a compelling reason for it to be good, you prove that you have no freakin’ idea what you’re talking about.

  35. Mitch says:

    Sounds lame. Hope it bombs.

  36. David Murphy says:

    Enjoyed the review. I think Vulcan is gone (from the modern first Abrams movie?)? OR maybe I missed something?

    • BillUSA says:

      Vulcan is indeed gone, but I have a vague recollection of reading somewhere that the is a new settlement called Vulcan. Don’t hold me to it, beer and boxing have taken their toll on the old noodle.

  37. Jon Silman says:

    I was gonna say “somebody went to grad school” but it’s Owen so my b, he’s earned that shit a million times over. This actually sounds like the movie equivalent of a baseball game. You know what you’re gonna get but it’s comforting nonetheless.

  38. Carlo says:

    Well, Owen, make up your mind. You liked it or you didn”t like it. Typical of most critics; they really don’t like to say anything that might resemble a good comment. And like most critics, probably have never been on a set or have the slightest idea of what it takes to make a film either good or bad. Most of them have their noses stuck in books or in theaters watching stage plays. I dismiss most of their comments as a real lack of knowledge.

    • Tom says:

      You have to have been on a set to have an opinion? Really? If that were the case , no one would ever be watching movies

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