“Star Trek Beyond” Movie Review

     Just as he did with the “Star Wars” franchise and creating “The Force Awakens”, J.J. Abrams was also responsible for bringing the all but dead “Star Trek” franchise back to life with his 2009 reboot.  Some felt Abrams 2013 sequel, “Star Trek Into Darkness" underwhelmed, but nonetheless, for the third time around it was a wise idea to pass the torch to another talented filmmaker.  In doing so, the reigns were handed over to Justin Lin, who was the director responsible for four “Fast and the Furious” films, including the best of the series, “Fast Five”, which ignited the current run the “Fast and Furious” brand finds itself on today.  After completing the sixth installment in that franchise, Lin was hired to direct “Star Trek Beyond” and bring with him the adrenaline charged action sequences he had become known for.  Lin has no doubt delivered on that promise.

     As we know, the characters in any film are only as good as the screenplay they are reading from. And for all the whiz bang action Lin brings to the table, it’s the script by Simon Pegg, doing double duty here as both screen writer and his on screen persona Scotty, and feature newcomer Doug Jung who provide the real fireworks.  Pegg and Jung accomplish two important things with what they’ve written.  First, they have a story which takes the famed crew to places and situations they really haven’t been before, which gives the film a level of freshness that meshes nicely with what Lin contributes visually.  Second and most importantly, the characters, particularly Kirk (Chris Pine), Spock (Zachary Quinto), and McCoy (Karl Urban) interact in much the same way they did in the best of the original cast “Star Trek” films, with much of the banter back and forth between them reminding me especially of “The Voyage Home” (1986) and “The Undiscovered Country” (1991).  Credit Pegg for a heavy dose of humor here, even when the characters are facing long odds of survival, which was a hallmark of the series.  Put differently, these characters come off as human, rather than caricatures drawn from the usual science fiction stereotypes.

       To go along with the snappy dialogue and an overall fun tone to the proceedings, Lin provides several pulse pounding action set pieces that function as integral portions of the story, never once feeling bloated or unnecessary.  Perhaps the best example of this is a sequence in which the Enterprise is attacked and systematically dismantled by a hoard of bee like spacecraft numbering in the thousands that strike together and obliterate their target with the speed and accuracy of an actual swarm.  Lin’s camera floats through the action as if it’s attached to the front car of the latest high end roller coaster, gliding and turning in every direction as the massive CGI sets crumble around the actors.  And yet, you never feel as though Lin is just showing off his latest trick because what’s happening to these characters is always directly attached to the ongoing plot.

     The story centers around a nefarious villain named Krall (Idris Elba) and his thirst to make Starfleet pay for a number of past deeds he deems as being worthy of the level of terrorism he plans to unleash.  Krall sends a double agent to a Starfleet base called the Yorktown, a massive planet sized sphere that encapsulates a city like space station where it appears hundreds of millions of people live as well.  When Kirk and the Enterprise are sent to investigate what they are told is a downed spacecraft in need of assistance, they arrive to what is actually a trap set by Krall, as he dispatches thousands of killer space craft toward a helpless and unprepared Enterprise.  Ultimately, Kirk orders the crew to abandon ship, which leaves them separated and stranded on the planet below.

     Where I was particularly impressed with the film was its noticeably creative and detailed production design courtesy of “Saving Private Ryan” and “Crimson Peak” vet Thomas Sanders and “Tomorrowland” and “Elysium” art director Don Macaulay, whose vision of the inner workings of the Yorktown star base is easily one of the most inventive and awe inspiring visuals you will see on screen all year.  In addition, series new comer Sofia Boutella (“Kingsman: The Secret Service”) is given plenty of moments to shine, particularly with Pegg, as her character, a tough female heroine named Jaylah,  provides the Enterprise crew with the tools necessary to take Krall on before he can realize his plan to destroy Starfleet.  Sadly, the impact Anton Yelchin makes as Chekov with another fine performance as the classic character only rubs salt into the wounds caused by his recent and tragic death.  The film somehow tries to work the death of Leonard Nimoy into the story as well by having Spock informed of the death of Ambassador Spock on Vulcan, but to this day I still don’t really get the alternate universe explanation for the older version’s existence in this current “Star Trek” world.  Perhaps I’ll have to get with one of my Trek buddies and have it explained to me again.  GRADE: B+