SPOILER POLICY FOR THIS REVIEW: Most of the plot details I mention in this review are things we knew from the trailers (casting, fate of Enterprise, name of villain, etc.) I plan to talk a bit about the specifics of the Enterprise sequence, but I’ll avoid some details about the villain. The basics of Jaylah are discussed, as well as some of the cast pairings that happen in the middle section of the movie. If you’re spoiler sensitive, avoid this post until you’ve seen the movie. If you want a sense of what’s cool, what could have been done better, and whether you should go see this movie (you should), then read on.
Right from the first trailer and the announcement of this film’s director a lot of fans were worried that we were getting Star Trek: The Fast and the Furious, a generic action movie instead of true trek spirit we’ve come to know and love. Simon Pegg’s script and a lot of sly references do what they can to challenge that expectation and there are bits and pieces of something greater, but most of the middle section is exactly what we expected from Justin Lin. But the movie is still eminently watchable.
The fate of the Enterprise: There’s a real “oh sh-t!” moment early on in the sequence that my wife actually caught a few seconds before the rest of the audience. The design of the Enterprise throughout the decades has often been criticized for putting the nacelles on long delicate arms. And in Beyond we see the consequences of that choice. It actually takes a good ten or so minutes from initial battle till everything comes crashing down as the Enterprise is picked apart by a swarm of ships unlike anything they’ve ever encountered. Most Trek battles are naval engagements, two heavy cruisers duking it out until one is victorious. The swarm of enemy ships in this movie is a force of nature, one that will be next to impossible to defeat. Everyone gets a good moment, from Scotty’s clever escape, to Uhura’s battle with the baddie, to Kirk saying a last goodbye to the bridge. Everything up through this moment is the Trek we love.
Let’s wander around on a planet for a while: There was a lot of potential in the middle act of this movie, and we get glimpses of it through some character beats. Most of the crew is picked off by Krall and huddled together in cells pretty early, but a few are able to escape on their own or with a buddy. We see some traditional and unexpected pairings here: Kirk and Chekov, Spock and McCoy, Scotty and Jaylah. There’s some real potential for interaction and character development in these sequences, but the best we get (as expected) is Spock and McCoy. Their grudging respect for each other is explored, as well as Spock dealing with a big loss. I’ve been a fan of Urban’s McCoy and feel like he’s been underused until this movie. The Kirk and Chekov stuff is all action, and Scotty and Jaylah are mostly played for laughs. Uhura, Sulu, and rest of crew in Krall’s camp is less compelling, though Uhura’s one-on-one’s against the villain aren’t bad.
New life-forms: Jaylah’s a nice character. She’s got a cool character design. Her outfit’s not exploitative. She’s shown as being a capable engineering novice and a fighter. She calls Kirk “James T.” Overall, not a bad effort. Simon Pegg mentioned on Late Night with Seth Meyers that her name comes from her script designation (Jennifer Lawrence from Winter’s Bone) and I don’t know if we would have made more of a connection with this character if it was actually Jay Law. Her development is a little lacking, but I look forward to seeing how potential future movies use her (or at least the comic books).
Ordering off the menu: Idris Elba on the other hand, is buried in the makeup and that voice he put on for this movie. Whatever you think of Cumberbatch’s Khan, you were getting everything that actor had to offer as a sympathetic villain. There’s so much we could have gotten from Idris, even just from his voice, that his slow, spittle-spewing performance didn’t give us. On Fallon, Idris remarked that you didn’t really have to act when you looked like his character, which makes me wonder why they used someone as talented as him for the role. If you hadn’t told me it was Idris, I wouldn’t have known for much of the movie.
Callbacks: The trek references in this movie were largely from one of the least popular series: Star Trek: Enterprise. There were a lot of good TOS refs as well. The Enterprise callbacks make sense, since technically the prime and Abrams (Kelvin) timelines share that common ancestry. There was one choice of music in a sequence toward the end of the movie that came off as very hokey, especially considering what it was being used to do. That was probably the most Fast and Furious the movie got. Yes, I know that First Contact used “Magic Carpet Ride” in a sequence, but it made way more sense in context than the moment in Beyond. The best moments are the movie’s tribute to Leonard Nimoy, which is handled with more than just a title card. There’s a moment at the end that really connects with Trek’s 50 year legacy.
Raise the stakes: Star Trek (2009) destroyed Vulcan mid-movie. It’d be hard for any movie to rise to that level without repeating itself. Into Darkness did it with a personal character death, Pike being killed by Khan early on. Beyond does shock us early on with the Enterprise attack, but the actual threat of the movie seems relatively minor. Most of our villain’s violence, and the devastating power of his weapon, is implied not shown. The thing to protect is largely significant because it looks cool and has a lot of people on it (oh and Sulu’s husband and daughter who we’ve never seen before, and never talk to). I’m not sure how you correct this point, but since there was less connection with earlier movies or Trek lore, it seemed more generic in a building-smashy way than the previous films.
Bottom-line: The movie is fun. There’s a lot of laugh lines. The space action sequences are superb. The planet stuff is more generic, but still fun. We’re back to the curse of the odd numbers, but if you think about it, only 1 and 5 are real stinkers. 3, 7 and 9 are all very watchable. I think Beyond actually most resembles 9 though without the romantical time-freezing bits. It’s definitely still in the top third of Trek movies. I doubt you’ll hate it, and you definitely will want to see it in the theater.
Just maybe go for the matinée.