Following the events of the previous film, the crew of the starship Enterprise was sent on a five-year mission to explore deep space. They are now halfway through that mission, and Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) decides that the crew needs some shore leave. The Enterprise docks at the Federation’s newest star base, Yorktown, but they are soon contacted by an alien escape pod which emerges from a nearby uncharted nebula. The occupant requests assistance, claiming that her crew is stranded on a nearby planet. Venturing into unknown territory, Kirk and company soon locate the planet, but when they do the Enterprise is ambushed by unknown forces and crash lands on the planet. Alone on an alien world with the crew held captive, Kirk and company must rescue them and find a way back to Yorktown before the mysterious forces destroy it.
Overall Star Trek Beyond is quite comparable to the previous two reboot films: they’re fun, flashy action movies. Beyond is certainly the most action-packed so far, which both helps and hinders it. On the one hand, the battle and fight scenes are undeniably well-done and cool to watch, courtesy of new director Justin Lin (known for his work on the Fast and Furious franchise). On the other hand, it’s a bit odd to see Captain Kirk riding around on a 80s motorcycle and new character Jaylah (played by Sofia Boutella) fight like she’s out of a Chinese wuxia film. There’s one or two scenes which are just too over-the-top, but fortunately the movie for the most part the film doesn’t become too ridiculous.
The acting is also good, as both returning cast members Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, Anton Yelchin, and John Cho and new additions Sofia Boutella and Idris Elba give solid performances. Although I believe a good part of this is due to the fact that since this is now the third movie featuring this incarnation of the Enterprise crew, the actors have developed good chemistry from working with each other and we as an audience have grown accustomed to them as a group. Elba’s acting range is somewhat restricted by the fact that he is covered in extensive alien prosthetics, although it’s nowhere near as bad as what happened to Oscar Isaac in X-Men: Apocalypse. Plus, the fact that both Leonard Nimoy and Anton Yelchin have passed away since the last film was released make their appearances (in Nimoy’s case only photographs) quite poignant.
However, where Beyond continues the tradition of the new Trek films is a lack of substance. Although the film features a story which attempts to comment on the stress between the civilian and military duties of Starfleet officers, it’s merely a shallow excuse plot which gives a reason for the (admittedly really good) action scenes to happen. The film lacks any of the philosophical questioning, social commentary, and rich storytelling which characterize the very best of Star Trek, like the episodes The City on the Edge of Forever, The Best of Both Worlds, and In the Pale Moonlight.
Of course, I know that most of the people who go to see Star Trek Beyond won’t care about that. Most people just want to see a cool sci-fi action movie. And that’s fine, because it’s a really good sci-fi action movie. But in its transition to the silver screen Star Trek lost what made it, well, Star Trek. I can only hope the as yet untitled new series premiering next year will recapture the lost magic of the classic science fiction franchise.