How does a writer reinvigorate a story that on one hand is full of characters dear to the hearts of many, but on the other is decades old? How to stave off fatigue?
The co writers of Star Trek Beyond, actor Simon “Scotty” Pegg and Doug Jung, don’t duck the issue of whether we’ve all had enough of the adventures of the U.S.S Enterprise. In fact, they have Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) asking himself that very question at the start of the film. Jim is into the third year of his five year mission to explore new worlds. He’s feeling a little jaded, a “been there, done that” kind of feeling. And space is infinite anyway, so what’s the point? There is no great answer lying out there, just ..more space. He’s up for promotion, which would mean a desk job, and he thinks he wants it.
Spock (Zachary Quinto), too, has reasons to want to give up the life of a Star Fleet officer. But first, the Enterprise crew is needed for one more mission. And over the course of this rollicking, exciting and funny adventure, Kirk and Spock look to find their mojo. Thankfully many of the other crew members never lost it. Sulu (John Cho) and U’hura (Zoe Saldana) have plenty of fire in their belly, and Scotty does what Scotty does. One welcome change of emphasis, from a parochial New Zealand point of view, is the bigger part afforded local actor Karl Urban as Dr McCoy. He provides most of the comic relief, which he does with scenery chewing gusto and no little skill.
The story is, well, another Star Trek story. A bad guy (Idris Elba) wants an ancient artefact which will give him unfathomable power to destroy the Federation. The Enterprise stands in his way. No great surprises in the arc of the story then, although along the way there are dramatic and comedic twists. What room for old technology in this universe? What room for songs from The Beastie Boys and Rihanna? Might a crew member be gay? How will the death of original Spock actor Leonard Nimoy be dealt with? (Not to mention the recent death of actor Alton Yelchin, who plays Chekov). Star Trek Beyond acknowledges where it came from, and then some.
Of course the big picture is how a diverse grab bag of humanity (and other species) aboard the Enterprise cooperate. Kirk and Spock, both circumspect about their careers at the start of the film, are constantly reminded of this. The loyalty and affection the characters feel for each other drives the story, and reminds us of a group of characters we’ve had a fondness for over several decades.
Steve and I have spent some time lately on Crave podcasts talking about the amount of CGI in modern blockbusters and how we are so used to special effects these days that they wash over us. But Star Trek Beyond makes you sit up and take notice. A long sequence of an attack on the Enterprise, in the first part of the film, is visually stunning and genuinely gripping. The introduction of a massive new Federation starbase is also superbly conceived, and especially so in 3D and on an IMAX screen.
The 2009 film which re-introduced Star Trek was welcomed as a joyful re-energising and re-booting of the series. 2013’s Star Trek Into Darkness made more money but attracted criticism for its darker more serious tone. Star Trek Beyond has occasional scenes of nasty violence, but rekindles the verve of the first film. What’s beyond Beyond? Another chapter, most likely.