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It retreats and repeats, but 'Star Trek' succeeds


July 26, 2016

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    Star Trek Beyond, the third entry in the revived series, is a small but successful step in the right direction despite repeating character beats and plot points from its predecessors. 
    Screenwriters Simon Pegg — who also plays Montgomery Scott — and Doug Jung have stepped up to task in writing a fun, slightly self-aware script. Alternatively, after directing both Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness, the incumbent J.J. Abrams has stepped down from the franchise, handing the reins to Justin Lin of Fast and Furious fame. The changes behind the camera are a much-needed defibrillator, jumpstarting the fading heartbeat of the rebooted franchise. 
    Pegg and Jung’s script follows The Enterprise (absent Alice Eve’s character from Into Darkness) in the third year of its five-year voyage. Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) is once again worried about living up to his father’s legacy, and once again, Spock (Zachary Quinto) struggles to appease both his Vulcan and human commitments — both characters seemingly stuck in perpetual angst.
    It doesn’t take long before the Enterprise crew is lured into a trap, separated from each other and stranded on a far, forgotten planet. Subsequent films have largely been the Kirk and Spock Show, but Beyond changes things up and splits the cast into pairs, giving the underutilized supporting characters a little more to do this time around. 
    Kirk is paired with Chekov (the late Anton Yelchin, who tragically died a little over a month ago), Sulu (John Cho) is captured and held in captivity alongside Uhura (Zoe Saldana), Spock is matched with McCoy (Karl Urban), and Scotty shares screentime with alien newcomer Jaylah (Sofia Boutella). Each character is given a moment or two to spout lines that range from cheesy to charming. 
    They’re all working to stop Idris Elba’s Krall, a brutal but bland alien commander who, much like Eric Bana’s Nero and Benedict Cumberbatch’s Kahn, harbors a strong, initially unexplained hatred for Starfleet and The Federation. Vengeance and blind revenge have been the primary motivator for all the rebooted franchise’s villains, and it’s starting to grow stale. Unless the series learns some new tricks for future films, it’s going to outstay its welcome. 
    Luckily, with a new director, the film offers some exciting new visuals and stunning set pieces to keep things fresh. Lin, having directed four Fast and Furious films, has no problem transitioning from muscle cars to starships, having fun with the infinite spatial possibilities of interstellar combat. Staging the wonder and kinetic energy of a massive space hub while the team is on shore leave, the frantic confusion and chaos of an unexpected ambush set by a swarm of hostile drones, or the manic activity of a third-act chase scene — Lin is able to capture it all. He only falters with interior shots: Shootouts in corridors and fisticuffs between foes in cargo bays are too dark and dimly lit to get a clear sense of action. 
    Despite being a third entry, Star Trek Beyond is full of promise and far from a swan song. It retreats into familiar territory instead of treading new ground, but there’s also a glint of ingenuity and inventiveness in how it delivers its rote material. There’s hope for later films to finally “boldly go” beyond its recycled structure and explore new stories.  

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