The latest Star Trek instalment gets back on course after a soulless second movie
Following the ponderous and leaden Star Trek Into Darkness, Fast and Furious director Justin Lin puts real zip back into the space-going franchise. Zip being the operative word - Star Trek Beyond whips along at warp speed but it’s also well-paced and when the action does pause, it is for some philosophical conjecture and sharp banter between the leads.
We open with a great, tongue-in-cheek set-up of real sci-fi pulp vintage. Kirk negotiates with a star chamber of warlike aliens leading to a killer visual gag which recalls the Enterprise’s run in with those Tribbles all those years ago. Meanwhile, back on board the good ship USS Enterprise all is not well. We find the crew in a funk as they enter the third year of their latest five-year mission. Patience with fellow life forms in close quarters is beginning to fray and the solipsism of life in deep space is beginning to close in. Think Bruce Dern as the lone environmentalist in Silent Running or maybe even Eddie Izzard’s Death Star Canteen sketch.
Karl Urban and Zachary Quinto have the best bromance in the movie
When the Enterprise docks in the brilliantly imagined base of Yorktown - a self-contained city of glittering spires and spacious walkways encased in a giant globe - a chance for R&R finds the crew in philosophical mode; Kirk is again wrestling with his conscience and seriously considering taking up a job as a Starfleet Admiral while Spock is concerned with the very future of the Vulcan race.
However, instead of dwelling on their next career moves, the crew answer a plea to help a marooned scientist who has lost her own crew in a mysterious Nebula, a real danger zone that is not unlike a cosmic Bermuda Triangle.
Karl Urban, who plays Bones, and John Cho, who plays Sulu, talk to RTÉ Entertainment
Kirk and co are split up and left scattered on a wild and rocky planet ruled over by arch villain Krall (a strangely underused Idris Elba). He's bent on the destruction of The Federation using an ancient weapon, which has unwittingly found its way into Kirk’s hands and his sneered dialogue about human frailty and Kirk’s gung-ho retorts are finely-tuned and lend Beyond some heft amid the almost non-stop action.
Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto and Sofia Boutella talk to RTÉ Entertainment
What can only be described as the 'fetishisation' of the USS Enterprise also continues. Fans who enjoy saucer detachments and photon blasts will coo and gurgle over the hell that the ship goes through here. The most spectacular action set-piece is a bravado scene wherein Lin abruptly pulls out from a bulwark-crunching star fight to a dramatic wide-screen shot of the silent depths of space with a Starfleet ship dwarfed by a fearsome enemy. And all to the blistering sound of Sabotage by The Beastie Boys. It’s eye-popping and exhilarating.
Captain courageous: Chris Pine as Kirk is the right combination of cocky and commanding
Of course, there is also a sad undertone to the film following the recent death of Anton Yelchin and as Chekov he is boyish and impish. Along with the death of Leonard Nimoy last year, Star Trek Beyond really proves that this is one sci-fi franchise with an inter-generational sense of family that calls down the decades.
As Lt Uhura, Zoe Saldana doesn’t have a lot to do but her star-crossed romance with Spock has reached crisis point and their interactions are tinged with sadness and regret, Meanwhile, newcomer Sofia Boutella is great as Public Enemy loving alpha alien Jaylah.
In terms of the tiresome skirmish that has developed over Sulu’s outing as a gay man, both George Takei, who played the helmsman in the original series, and Simon Pegg make compelling points. However, given Kirk’s taboo-busting interracial kiss with Uhuru back in the sixties, not to mention his numerous extraterrestrial trysts, it has slightly soured the Star Trek spirit of inclusiveness. In any case, Sulu's sexual orientation is handled subtly in a passing, almost throwaway, scene.
As Scotty, minor irritant Pegg has more to do than blurt out exasperated entreaties from the engine room and Pegg, who co-wrote the screenplay with Doug Jung, must also be applauded for a script that relocates the chemistry between the leads and the nobility and soul of the sixties series. In particular, Karl Urban’s lugubrious Bones’ sparky and sarky exchanges with a supercilious Spock (the always great Zachary Quinto) are comedy gold after the dour and portentous Into Darkness.
It boldly goes back to basics with sheer fun and a great sense of wonder.
Alan Corr @corralan
Star Trek Beyond is in cinemas on Friday, July 22