In his opening captain’s log, James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) recounts his voyages through outer space, noting they have begun to feel episodic. This remark could seem like metacommentary at this stage of the series, especially since beginning in the episodic world of television in the ’60s. Having been rebooted by J.J. Abrams in 2009, Star Trek Beyond is the third film in this vivacious contemporary franchise and the most self-contained yet transient chapter so far.
When the crew of the USS Enterprise find themselves stranded on an uncharted planet they encounter a menacing swarm of enemies led by the mysterious Krall, played by Idris Elba whose imposing presence is buried under heavy prosthetics in the underwhelming villain role. Also unrecognisable in make-up is Sophia Boutella as Jaylah, a resourceful ally and pleasing addition to the cast.
Star Trek’s strength has always resided in its well-defined, charismatic characters and Beyond flexes that muscle here with enjoyable pairings and banter. Simon Pegg, who also plays ship engineer and comic relief Scotty, seems like an inspired choice to scribe the film in this instance. He lifts the series’ inherent whimsicality without irreverence and manages to subtly knead in any fan service obligations into its screenplay. However, the narrative is all too familiar, borrowing numerous tropes from similar films in the sci-fi genre – notably the likeness between the character of Jaylah and her counterpart Rey from Star Wars: The Force Awakens, as well as the climactic battle in the atmosphere above a multispecies population that’s reminiscent of Guardians of the Galaxy.
It’s expected that the combination of Pegg and Justin Lin in the director’s chair would deliver more than just an above-average sci-fi adventure. Lin’s action credentials, earned from three films in the Fast and Furious franchise, are at the forefront here but should’ve contributed an extra spark of imagination to provide antithesis for the many lacklustre, shaky-cam interior action scenes. Still, he creates a visually striking film with colourful sets and costumes complemented by seamless visual effects. There’s also a sequence towards the end that uses one of the best music cues I’ve seen in a film for a while (you’ll know when you hear it, and it’s unsurprisingly the one used in the trailer).
Ultimately, the film doesn’t exactly amount to much, with only slight discernible development in the grand scheme of the blockbuster series, but is that necessarily a bad thing? For Kirk, the episodic nature of his voyages are arduously transitory but, more importantly, alluring and thrilling. Star Trek Beyond demonstrates that there’s still fun to be had with this franchise, even if it’s only fleeting.