The USS Enterprise crew explores the furthest reaches of uncharted space, where they encounter a mysterious new enemy who puts them and everything the Federation stands for to the test.
After being handed over the reins to the series by J. J. Abrams, caught up in other intergalactic duties directing Star Wars, Justin Lin has injected his own brand of Fast and the Furious firepower into the Star Trek series. The third film in the reboot series after the mostly well-received Star Trek (2009) and the less well-received Star Trek Into Darkness (2013), Star Trek Beyond delivers with Lin’s signature combination of high-octane thrills, cross-cultural camaraderie and irreverent humour.
This sense of playfulness is established from the get-go, with an enjoyably indulgent slow-motion sequence used to introduce the crew in relaxation mode aboard the USS Enterprise – enjoying the pleasure of each other’s company, bantering in corridors, catching up on old times. It’s overlaid with very earnest, armchair philosophical voiceover narration from Captain Kirk (Chris Pine), coming out with gems such as: “It can be a challenge to feel grounded when even the gravity's artificial.”
With the Fast and the Furious films, Lin showed himself as a sure hand with ensemble casts, and sure enough one of the major strengths of Star Trek Beyond is the effortless flow of chemistry between the Starfleet crew (and its new allies). Interspersed with the customary blockbuster razzle-dazzle of explosions and climactic combat sequences, there’s the welcome relief of the squabbling Spock (Zachary Quinto) and Bones (Karl Urban), the trouble in paradise between lovebirds Spock and Uhura (Zoe Saldana), the awkward affection between Scotty (Simon Pegg, who co-wrote the screenplay) and new tough-as-nails addition Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), as well as comic asides from Chekov (Anton Yelchin) and the now out-of-the-closet Sulu (John Cho).
Indeed, there’s a large amount of carry-over from Fast and the Furious in Star Trek Beyond. Among other things, there’s the gonzo-like need for speed, the affection for alcohol and brazen music cues and, most significantly, the value placed on the crew above all else. The main underlying theme of Star Trek Beyond is the importance of the unity and cooperation of the crew in the face of the enemy, Krall (played by an unrecognisable Idris Elba), whose main aim is to cause division and chaos. Given, it’s a theme common to countless action blockbuster franchises, but what makes it interesting is the way Lin ties it into a modern-day context in playful, unexpected ways.
Perhaps most unexpectedly is in the seemingly casual inclusion of Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power”, a song inextricably tied to its role as the anthem to Spike Lee’s seminal 1989 race relation film Do the Right Thing. Jaylah blasts the song as she does some repair work to her ship with Scotty. She is, of course, ignorant to the song’s cultural significance, explaining her choice of music to Scotty by saying “I like the beats and shouting,” but its inclusion in the film is far less arbitrary. It acts as both a politically charged rallying cry as well as cleverly setting up the way music is used to literally ‘fight the power’ later on in the film’s most memorable set piece, when the Starfleet crew turn up the volume on the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” so loud it acts as a sonic force field against the oncoming enemy.
These are the highlights of a film that seriously aims to please, but unfortunately it’s this attempt to cover all bases that ultimately lets it down. In trying to be everything to everyone – to tick off blockbuster imperatives, pay sufficient fan service and construct a meaningful narrative with fully-fleshed out characters – each element ends up suffering somewhat. There’s a certain ‘so what’ factor to the film’s big climactic ending, as there’s been too much frivolity, explosions, crashes and nudge-nudge jokes along the way to really care about the resolution of the film’s more ‘serious’ narrative elements. But, while there might not be much going on beneath the surface of Star Trek Beyond, it’s certainly fun to go along for the ride, whether or not you’ll remember it in two weeks’ time.