STAR TREK BEYOND

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Growing up, I was never a fan of Star Trek. Whether it was the countless films or endless amounts of small-screen programming, Star Trek was never a franchise that grabbed me, nor did I ever once view it in a high regard at all. My sci-fi preferences always leaned in different directions, always away from Star Trek, and although over time I did absorb enough information about the stories, characters & various settings to have a vague understanding of was going on, I never once believed anything would come along to convert me into a die-hard fan.

However, that mentality did eventually change upon the release of 2009’s Star Trek, a reboot of the entire franchise following the underwhelming Next Generation film Nemesis in 2002 and television series Enterprise around that same time as well. As I aged into adulthood, my moviegoing horizons had broadened dramatically, and I was now far more willing to subject myself to films of this ilk more so than the old me of days gone by. Directed by J. J. Abrams, Star Trek started back at the beginning, changing the trajectory of how the Enterprise crew came together and thus giving Abrams the freedom to take the story in whatever direction he pleased-a true reboot, to be sure. With an excellent cast including Chris Pine as Captain Kirk, Zachary Quinto as Spock, Karl Urban as McCoy, Zoe Saldana as Uhura, Simon Pegg as Scott, John Cho as Sulu, the late Anton Yelchin as Chekov and an equally outstanding supporting cast that featured Bruce Greenwood as Kirk’s mentor Captain Pike, Eric Bana as the villainous Romulan Nero, a baby-faced Chris Hemsworth in a brief appearance as Kirk’s father George, enough lens flares to qualify as a supporting character & even Leonard Nimoy reprising his role as the original Spock, Star Trek was a massive hit, and a film I enjoyed thoroughly. Following his success with Lost and Mission: Impossible 3, Abrams provided Star Trek with a hefty amount of action & flawless special effects, while screenwriters Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman kept the dialogue both snappy & nostalgic and Michael Giacchino composed a thrilling soundtrack that even integrated the original Star Trek theme at one point as well.

It would be another four years before the crew of the Enterprise would take on the Final Frontier once again, and upon the sequel’s release in 2013, Star Trek Into Darkness featured toned-down lens flares & divided audiences, with many seeing it as a ham-fisted remake of 1982’s The Wrath of Khan despite the return of nearly the entire cast and crew from its 2009 predecessor along with Alice Eve, Peter Weller & Benedict Cumberbatch as the film’s bad guy now along for the ride as well. With additional screenwriting help from Abrams collaborator Damon Lindelof, Into Darkness did indeed utilize a number of elements from Wrath of Khan, and although the film wasn’t widely viewed as a worthy follow-up, I still enjoyed it, to the point where I didn’t once believe that another film was necessary.

Predictably, talk soon began to surface regarding yet another entry, this one now rumored to be helmed by Roberto Orci with writing assistance from star Simon Pegg. Although Orci would eventually withdraw from directorial consideration, Pegg continued to script the as-yet-untitled film and Justin Lin, a veteran of four Fast and the Furious films, was now brought in to direct. This announcement, coupled with the release of the disappointing first trailer in late 2015 gave the impression that this new film would essentially be nothing more than a loud, dumb thrill ride with Lin’s arsenal of Fast and the Furious car chase sequences now replaced by spacecraft whizzing by at breakneck speed. I can safely say I also believed the film would turn out this way, and didn’t exactly start counting down the days to its release.

Luckily, early reviews of the now-entitled Star Trek Beyond were highly positive, and I’m happy to report I agree with all of them. This, absolutely, is a movie worth seeing, a film loaded with alien battles, philosophical discussions about mortality, discoveries of ancient Starfleet artifacts and a lot of things flying around onscreen, usually exploding. The film has only tiny elements to connect it with Into Darkness, therefore ensuring that Beyond overall has the feel of just another weekly episode of the original series.

And those are just a few of the reasons why Star Trek Beyond works so well. Along with writing partner Doug Jung, Simon Pegg has written a film that’s as faithful to Star Trek as science fiction as a whole, with enough Simon Pegg-esque comedy that gives the dialogue a great deal of levity while still preserving the serious moments that help make Star Trek the happily complex franchise that it is. While the entire cast again does a fine job, it’s Chris Pine who again gives Kirk all the cockiness and smarm that would make William Shatner proud, while Zachary Quinto as Spock and Karl Urban as McCoy find themselves paired up throughout much of the film, an unlikely team that actually works extremely well-again, a testament to the writing team of Pegg & Jung, along with outstanding acting by Quinto & Urban. Simon Pegg, naturally, gives himself a healthy amount of funny, though he wisely knows how to balance things out and provide the entire cast with their moments to shine. Furthermore, Sofia Boutella, who last year stole much of the show as Samuel L. Jackson’s deadly henchwoman in Kingman: The Secret Service, does a fine job yet again as Jaylah, an unlikely ally of the Enterprise crew who lost her family at the hands of a maniacal alien named Krall (Idris Elba).

Speaking of Idris Elba, an actor I normally enjoy, he does do an satisfactory job as Krall, but while it’s not a bad performance, I’m not going to be losing any sleep while visions of the dreaded Krall keep me awake. In terms of interchangeable bad guys in sci-fi, Beyond’s villain is as textbook as it gets, with a run-of-the-mill-bent-on-destruction backstory and a vocal delivery that sees him over-enunciating key phrases, usually while shouting, to make them sound more terrifying. Even his appearance looks a bit rubbery, reminding me of Thor: The Dark World’s big bad or a clearance-sale mask from Bartz’s. Overall, not bad, but not great.

Then again, it’s hard to care about things like an average villain when the rest of Star Trek Beyond is as enjoyable a cinematic experience as it gets. Director Justin Lin clearly has an eye for action, and when those moments arrive, they keep going just long enough while at the same time acting as a showcase for a director who knows when to hold back, giving the dramatic moments the weight they deserve. The special effects are as high quality as the last two films, and Michael Giacchino again recycles much of his soundtrack material from those films as well, which is not something to complain about. The theme Giacchino has created for this new Star Trek cinematic universe is rousing, exciting and a worthy successor to the memorable works of James Horner and Jerry Goldsmith, arguably the two most prolific composers in the franchise’s history.

Star Trek Beyond works on many levels, and is another excellent entry as the franchise celebrates its 50th anniversary. With three solid films under his belt, J. J. Abrams (his Bad Robot production studio also brought Beyond to screens) has reinvented Star Trek in a manner I never would have thought possible, making it accessible to modern-day filmgoers while still preserving enough components to remind old school fans of what makes this series the science fiction cornerstone that it is. If nothing else, it made a fan out of me, and for that I’m thankful-I already look forward to the next film, the next television series, and beyond, as I continue to boldly go where my moviegoing palate had never gone before.