Star Trek Beyond (2016) — Underrated adventure in space

“You gave your girlfriend radioactive jewelry?”

Justin’s rating: To seek out strange new films

Justin’s review: Few cinematic sins infuriate me more than when audiences and critics dismiss a sequel that actually overcomes the odds to be really good. That sort of confluence of events doesn’t happen that often, and when it does, it should be praised.

So here I am to praise the third entry of the Kelvin timeline Star Trek films and posit that it’s an underrated entry that actually does the franchise proud.

It’s about three-or-so years into the Enterprise’s five-year mission, and for some reason, Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) is feeling weary and directionless. Perhaps it’s because, as McCoy (Karl Urban) suggests, he’s still trying to live up to his father’s legacy rather than creating his own. In any case, his duldroms are quickly dispersed when a mysterious space swarm decimates the Enterprise and sends a bulk of the crew fleeing down to the surface of an unknown planet. There, they have to find each other, recruit allies, and figure out what the threat is and how to counter it.

I can totally see why some people are so dismissive of Star Trek Beyond, and so I guess I’ll address their viewpoints first. To start with, there was a changeover in directors from J.J. Abrams to Justin Lin (who’s best known for directing four of the Fast and the Furious flicks). I like Lin, but there was a lot of initial concern that a popcorn flick guy wouldn’t be able to handle a movie in this franchise. I think he did — and did quite well — but his action-heavy approach didn’t sit right with some. I get it.

There’s also some legitimate criticism about all of the implausibilities to make this plot work. The story seems kind of straight-forward on the surface, but the more you think about it, the more you see the giant gaping holes that the film skirts around. The enemy’s ability to make a highly advanced space fleet while marooned, the sheer crazy size of the Yorktown starbase, tracking the very small alien doohickey across the stars, the magical disintegration dust, and so on.

It’s also not a movie that plays to some of Star Trek’s historic strengths, such as intellectual exploration, diplomacy, science, and slow-paced discovery. It’s a little bit like a kid who rushes in the room, grabs your carefully constructed models, and starts zooming them around in some frenzied action sequence.

Yet I genuinely like Beyond — both the first time I saw it in the theater and now upon a rewatch with my Star Trek-loving daughter. In fact, I feel that this is the most Star Trekky of all of the three Kelvin films with a whole lot in its favor.

I’ll start by saying that it’s first and foremost a fun, upbeat, and fast-paced movie. It’s not boring or confusing or depressing. We actually get to see the Enterprise doing what it should’ve done in the first two films, which is being a ship of exploration. The attack on the Enterprise is a lengthy and absolutely thrilling experience that plays like a disaster movie on fast-forward, and it may go down as being one of the longest starship destruction sequences in this franchise. The film even takes the time to destroy the Enterprise a second time, which is a first.

But perhaps better still is the character work on display. At three films in, this cast seems far more comfortable and confident in their roles. They have a good chemistry, too, which the movie wields to great effect as it creates different pairings for the planet’s surface. Seeing McCoy and Spock have some buddy adventure time while quipping at each other did my heart good. Even Pine’s smirking Kirk was a lot more tolerable and mature than before.

Sofia Boutella joins the crew as an alien ally named Jaylah, and she crushes it as a resourceful scavenger who’s shaking off the psychic weight of past failures. It’s perhaps not surprising that Simon Pegg’s Scotty gets a lot of one-on-one time with her, seeing as how Pegg also helped write the script. But he’s funny and I don’t mind it at all, so I’ll let him off with only the slightest of side-eye.

I do feel a sad twinge upon seeing Anton Yelchin, who was killed before Star Trek Beyond came out. But I am glad that we got one more tour of duty with his Checkov. Compounding that sadness is a tribute to Leonard Nimoy, who also got a tribute with this flick.

Star Trek Beyond may be both fast and furious at times, but it’s got so much heart, humor, and positive vibes to make up for some of the drearier entries in the Trek film registry.

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