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STAR TREK: BEYOND finally goes beyond the source material of the original Trek canon…

Posted on July 26th, 2016
Posted on July 26th, 2016

by Coop Cooper

As a lifelong ‘Trekkie’ I haven’t been the biggest cheerleader for the J. J. Abrams “Star Trek” motion picture reboot. I gave the first film lukewarm reviews. I like the second one better but upon repeated viewings, I’m seeing a great many flaws. I like the casting and I think the actors have chemistry. I appreciate the production design and I don’t mind the high-concept idea behind the rebooting. The issue has been with Abrams trying to recycle Trek history into an original script that doesn’t insult the intelligence of both lifelong fans and casual viewers. “Star Trek: Beyond” thankfully moves beyond that problem to deliver an original and exciting story the previous two films were lacking.

A few years into their five-year mission – the same mission Kirk and his crew was on in the original series – Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) is starting to question his career choice. The tedium of long-term space travel is taking its toll on his enthusiasm and he plans to take a vice admiral position and leave command of the Enterprise to Spock (Zachary Quinto). Little does Kirk know that Spock is considering resigning his Starfleet commission to help Vulcans preserve their endangered population. Both of their doubts are put on hold when a distress signal leads the Enterprise into a trap which destroys the ship, leaving the surviving members of the crew marooned and enslaved on an alien planet controlled by the warlord known as Krall (Idris Elba) who has plans to cripple Starfleet’s reach into new territories. Kirk, Spock and the remaining crew must team up with an orphaned alien named Jaylah (Sophia Boutella) who has been spending years rebuilding a crashed Starfleet ship in order to escape both the planet and Krall’s destructive armada.

I’ve never liked it when a Star Trek film destroys an Enterprise. It has happened twice before, once in “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock”, there was no working Enterprise in “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” and the ship was destroyed again in “Star Trek: Generations”. As a kid, it always felt like the death of a beloved character, even though they eventually rebuild it better and more advanced. It also felt like a failure of the main characters to let it perish so tragically. Perhaps I take this trope too personally, but when I learned this Enterprise would not survive the film, I fell back into that old prejudice. Luckily, my fears were unfounded because this film stands on its own, starship or not.

“Beyond” shows that the series doesn’t have to bear the burden of what came before it. It is allowed to go into new and original directions while only having to reference the source material every so often (the giant, green space hand from the classic Trek episode “Who Mourns for Adonis?” gets a funny reference and cameo appearance in the closing credits). I’m very relieved Abrams did not try to reboot yet another classic storyline as a cinematic crutch. It even managed surprise me with a very cool twist with Elba’s Krall character. I wondered why Elba, who is such a hot Hollywood commodity right now, would agree to play a stock Trek villain with his face entirely unrecognizable in alien makeup. After the twist, I understood. It’s a good one.

Sure there are lots of moments where the main characters survive out of shear luck or find a convenient solution to a problem that would only work if the script laid it out perfectly for them, which it does. It works because the story is tightly plotted and moves at a breakneck pace. Another great touch is how the characters are separated and paired off on the planet so we can see the development of relationships that haven’t gotten much screen time in the reboot universe. The biggest highlight is the banter between Dr. McCoy (Karl Urban) and Spock who notoriously had a catty, yet loyal friendship in the original canon. The moments between the two were the most rewarding in the entire film, especially when a painful injury to Spock causes him to lapse into delirious cursing and laughter, much to the amusement of McCoy.

This “Star Trek” film marks two sad real-world deaths. The death of the original Spock, Leonard Nimoy, who appeared in the last two Trek films was a loss for the franchise, but the sudden and shocking death of the young Anton Yelchin makes “Beyond” his last performance as the likable Mr. Chekov. The original Star Trek crew (Shatner, et al.) does make a cameo appearance in an old photograph possessed by the original Spock, making the nostalgia bittersweet.

This is the best “Trek” reboot film to date. Paramount and CBS will soon launch a new Trek series in January 2017 in order to elevate their brand as Disney has done for “Star Wars”. If “Beyond” is any indication, they are finally on the right track.

Rating: 4 and ½ out of 5 stars

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