The Star Trek franchise has learned a valuable lesson in the three years since "Star Trek Into Darkness." American and worldwide audiences want some fun in their science fiction blockbusters. There can be darkness and serious plot developments, but when everything comes across as joyless and dour, audiences and critics don't respond quite as well.
"Star Trek Into Darkness" made almost half a billion in the box office and certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, but was seen by quite a few diehard "Star Trek" fans as being the absolute nadir of the "Star Trek" cinematic universe. While the film certainly had its problems, it was a fun ride at the movies, which is all the rebooted "Star Trek" movies have ever been.
Gene Roddenberry's "Star Trek" launched in 1966, and since then, America has only fallen deeper in love with the crew of the USS Enterprise. Roddenberry's vision of the series was always one of peace, love and harmony. The series was a hopeful vision of the future where exploration and knowledge were the ideal, rather than war and domination. While there were always fisticuffs and space battles through the "Star Trek" franchise (including "TNG," "Voyager," "Enterprise," "Deep Space Nine" and the pre-reboot films), JJ Abrams' vision was one of big budget explosions and sci-fi set pieces. "Into Darkness" even had Spock howling in rage while beating the hell out of a whitewashed Khan.
"Star Trek: Beyond" is a huge course correction. It takes a few lessons in fun from "Guardians of the Galaxy" and "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" and tells a fairly simple story well because of its great affinity for the characters. Writers Simon Pegg and Doug Jung truly love Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Uhura, Scotty, Sulu and Chekov, so their script fawns over the characters without adding much to them.
The film unspools like a big budget episode of the original series, with the crew answering a distress call, which leads them to an uncharted nebula and a villain who destroys the Enterprise. This splits the crew into three different groups, all searching for one another, and gives the movie a new way to play with the character dynamics. Most of the film is plot-driven, so a majority of the dialogue is exposition-based. But the pace is so quick and the performances so expertly dialed that it's hard to complain.
This film also fixes thematic problems evident in the previous two films. The villain's motivations are based on his unhappiness that peace has formed throughout the galaxy. He is a soldier, and that is what makes sense to him, so a universe of treaties and compromises rubs him the wrong way. While "Beyond" is still very much a "Star Wars"-style "Star Trek" film, exploration, love and knowledge are once again the fabric of this universe.
Watching Anton Yelchin in one of his final screen roles makes the film more emotional than it would be otherwise, but "Beyond" is still a fun and exciting space adventure for people who aren't purists of the original series. While the film doesn't necessarily boldly go anywhere, the journey is a delightful one.
"Star Trek: Beyond"
Dir. Justin Lin
Now playing at Old Mill Stadium 16