Star Trek Beyond

Sarah Ward

The third instalment in the sci-fi reboot series delivers a visually impressive dose of upbeat but unsurprising nostalgia.
Star Trek Beyond

Sofia Boutella and Simon Pegg in Star Trek Beyond. Paramount Pictures.

It's difficult to escape the feeling of inevitability when a reboot of a popular film and television franchise spans its own follow-ups, even when it is predicated upon a premise that champions charting new territory. And, as new chapters keep being added to the canon, it also becomes hard to avoid their repetitiveness.

Of course, as Star Trek continues to evolve from the 1966 Gene Roddenberry-created TV series that started it all, through the initial array of five small screen outings and 10 spin-off movies, and into the current three-strong feature run, both sensations are to be expected. Fifty years into the content’s lifespan, it really has already been there and done that as far as sending a motley crew of adventurers out into the depths of space is concerned – and it has well and truly demonstrated its ability to present their recognisable exploits in regular instalments.

Accordingly, if 2009’s Star Trek explored the origin story behind new iterations of the characters audiences already knew and loved, and 2013’s Star Trek into Darkness brought an iconic antagonist into the mix, then third effort Star Trek Beyond focuses on the minutiae that fills Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine, The Finest Hours), Commander Spock (Zachary Quinto, Hitman: Agent 47) and their fellow shipmates’ lengthy missions. With Bones (Karl Urban, TV’s Almost Human), Scotty (Simon Pegg, Ice Age: Collision Course), Sulu (John Cho, Grandma), Chekov (Anton Yelchin, Green Room) and Uhura (Zoe Saldana, Guardians of the Galaxy) along for five-year ride, the inhabitants of the USS Enterprise are charged with navigating an unstable nebula to rescue a stranded vessel. As the group attempts to complete their task, they discover that hostile alien Krall (Idris Elba, Bastille Day) has other plans for them. 

With returning producer J.J. Abrams (Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens) relinquishing helming duties in favour of that other famous galactic escapade, director Justin Lin (Fast & Furious 6) picks up the challenge of watching his on-screen players talk about boldly going where no man has gone before while actually traversing familiar territory. Accordingly, as star turned scribe Pegg pairs with co-writer Doug Jung (Banshee) to flesh out the details, Star Trek Beyond hinges upon a clearly affectionate – and just as overtly awkward – mix: aping the elements that have kept the Star Trek brand alive and prospering over such an extended period time, while endeavouring to ramp up the spectacle to modern blockbuster levels. 

Though Kirk and Spock’s pondering of life after venturing far and wide initially seems to indicate a more contemplative direction that manifests in the strong themes of unity and loyalty, it’s in the array of action scenes that the film is at its most confident. And yet, despite the 3D wizardry on display – taking Lin’s established penchant for all things fast, furious, and frenetic flying into space – it’s also why the film can’t wrangle its fondness, formula and finessed imagery into something that’s more than adequate. Functioning as the latest segment of an ostensibly endless tale may be by design to the point that Kirk references its episodic nature in a knowing line of dialogue, but it results in effort that can’t transcend its status as a placeholder for the next, already-announced movie. 

Thankfully, while the details played out on screen are barely diverting – albeit often visually stunning – the energy they’re packaged with helps the film surge more than its lags during its two-hour running time. An early lashing of humour doesn't lead to a much funnier affair, but with Pine and his regular co-stars as committed to their beloved figures as ever, Star Trek Beyond still benefits from an engaging underlying dynamic. Alas, in his fourth primarily voice-centric role for the year after Zootopia, The Jungle Book and Finding Dory, Elba doesn't follow in their footsteps in what swiftly proves a menacing part in narrative but not in presence. As the enterprising Jaylah, fellow series newcomer Sofia Boutella (Kingsman: The Secret Service) fares better, though her character's love of early '90s hip-hop perhaps encapsulates the film's mode of upbeat but unsurprising nostalgia best.

Rating: 2 ½ stars out of 5

Star Trek Beyond
Director: Justin Lin
USA, 2016, 120 mins

Release date: July 21
Distributor: Paramount
Rated: M

What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

Sarah Ward is a freelance film critic, arts and culture writer, and film festival organiser. She is the Australia-based critic for Screen International, a film reviewer and writer for ArtsHub, the weekend editor and a senior writer for Concrete Playground, a writer for the Goethe-Institut Australien’s Kino in Oz, and a contributor to SBS, SBS Movies and Flicks Australia. Her work has been published by the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Junkee, FilmInk, Birth.Movies.Death, Lumina, Senses of Cinema, Broadsheet, Televised Revolution, Metro Magazine, Screen Education and the World Film Locations book series. She is also the editor of Trespass Magazine, a film and TV critic for ABC radio Brisbane, Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast, and has worked with the Brisbane International Film Festival, Queensland Film Festival, Sydney Underground Film Festival and Melbourne International Film Festival. Follow her on Twitter: @swardplay