In the capable hands of Fast and Furious director Justin Lin, the latest installment of the Star Trek franchise, Star Trek Beyond, is without a doubt the best Trek movie since The Wrath of Khan – the finest of all the films based on the original TV series.
It is hard to go into too much detail without revealing major spoilers here, but I will give away one thing that most everyone knows – the iconic U.S.S. Enterprise does get destroyed as part of a much larger nefarious plot by evil villain Krall (Idris Elba), who is reminiscent of Khan but also has unique qualities that make him a much different nemesis.
After a failed encounter to try to present a gift of peace to a group of unimpressed aliens who attack him, Kirk returns to the Enterprise disheveled and disheartened. The gift – an ancient weapon called Abronath – is stored away on the ship, and as Kirk licks his wounds he records a captain’s log in which he wonders about his crew, their mission, and his place as their leader. In a few moments it gives Kirk more introspection than we have ever seen before from the character, but also sets up the conflict that is about to come.
Docking inside Starbase Yorktown, a magnificent new space station that is amazingly realized by cinematographer Stephen F. Windon, the ship gets resupplied and maintained while the crew has a chance for shore leave. During this time we get glimpses of the other crew members interactions, including Spock (a fantastic Zachary Quinto) and Uhura (Zoe Saldana) having a few bumps in their relationship, much to the amusement of Dr. McCoy (Keith Urban).
Their stay is short-lived because an emergency presents itself that only Kirk and his crew can handle. A survivor of a doomed spaceship comes to the space station asking for help to save her crew that has crashed on a planet inside a nebula. Kirk and crew take on the mission, but as they enter the nebula it becomes clear this was an ambush as they are attacked by a massive armada of ships that quickly decimate the Enterprise, causing it to start breaking up and crash on the planet.
Krall and his crew are behind the attack and are in search of the Abronath, which seems to be necessary for Krall to complete a super weapon that he wants to use against the Federation. Kirk and he engage in a fierce battle, but as that is happening the crew manages to evacuate the crashing ship in escape pods. Kirk also gets away from Krall and escapes to the planet.
Once on the planet the separated crew members struggle to survive and make sense of what has taken place. Interesting dynamics are explored when Kirk ends up with Chekov (the late Anton Yelchin whose scenes seem to have added poignancy), Spock and McCoy are thrown together, while Scotty (Simon Pegg also doing double-duty as co-writer) meets up with alien Jaylah (a terrific Sofia Boutella who steals every scene that she is in) who knows all about Krall and may be their best shot at defeating him.
To tell any more would spoil things too much, but let it suffice to say that the crew is as resilient as ever and is not going down without a fight. The situation gets quite bleak, and there are some disturbing scenes where people are tortured and killed, and some of the main characters are in imminent danger.
Despite all of that, the film itself is beautiful to behold, and even the crash of the Enterprise is handled like visual poetry; in that horrible occurrence there is the choreography of explosions and destruction that is unpleasant and yet thrilling, enhanced by Michael Giacchino's glorious musical score. Everything from the ship going into warp speed to the space battles and the exploration of the immensity of the Yorktown comes together in a cinematic tapestry that should make even the most ardent Trekkies think that they got the biggest bang for their bucks.
Still, after all these years – all the TV episodes of different series and 13 feature films – the message that creator Gene Roddenberry brought forth seems as enticing and resilient as ever. His concept of a future where we have overcome divisions and war, where all people – including a wide array of alien beings – live in peace and treat others with respect and dignity, is still a beacon of hope to us all.
Star Trek Beyond continues the journey of these beloved characters and the mission they have been on all along – and, thanks to Roddenberry’s enduring vision, we all keep gladly wanting to go where no one has gone before.
Live long and prosper, Star Trek fans, and go see this film on the big screen in 3D to fully appreciate its magnificence.