“I can confirm your theory to be horseshit.”
The crew of the USS Enterprise are back on their most perilous and sorrowful mission yet, and phasers are certainly set to stun. A new helmsman pulls the strings, working off a new rulebook, written by two people who seem to know just how much this franchise means.
Justin Lin, of Fast and Furious fame, has taken the reins and his love for the franchise is palpable. Lin fell in love with the Enterprise at eight, exploring the furthest depths of space with his father, with reruns of the original series. With this love of the franchise also comes the knowledge of the weight on his shoulders. Star Trek fans have seen both jubilant highs and desolate lows, a bit like being a Wolverhampton Wanderers supporter. In 2013, Star Trek hit something of a low point, also like the Wanderers, with Into Darkness, a film one commentor described as “a messed-up retread.” Lin is very aware that a repeat of the retreat would not be acceptable. Thankfully, he has shrugged off this expectation, and steered the Enterprise back on course.
In an interview with Empire, Lin said “action means nothing unless you care about the people in it.” This was his philosophy for Vin Diesel’s full-throttle franchise, and it’s his again for Beyond. Lin’s film focuses on emotion much more than previous, investing in the subtle intricacies of the crew’s characters. Action for the sake of action is empty, but Lin, Lung and Pegg have made it their first priority to make sure we care about the characters inside the fist and fire fights.
The crew are split up after crash-landing on an unexplored planet, and this gives the film chance to explore the character’s interpersonal relationships. Spock and Bones flourish without Kirk, directly opposing each other in personality. Their humour couldn’t be more at odds, but ends up complimenting the other’s style. They form the comedic heartbeat of the picture, but their characters are much more whole than buddies played for laughs. The increased role of Bones, as well as those of Sulu and Uhura, are welcome explorations away from James T. Kirk is wrestled with too; through our captain, we are faced with the grim realities of living in space, and the rigours that detachment can cause.
Beyond holds emotion at the forefront, with mourning sadly hovering in the background. We are granted time to mourn the terrible losses of both Leonard Nimoy and Anton Yelchin, Lin slowing his well-paced story to give us moments of reflection. These moments push Spock into territory more human than he is comfortable with. He deals with grief, relationships and ultimately survival, and though some of his emotional moments are given excuses, this is certainly a less illogical half-Vulcan.
But as faithful and emotional as this film is, it rarely surprises. Lin’s pedal-to-the-metal style rattles the film along, never sagging, moving characters and plot points along at a refreshing speed. Whilst this warp-speed progression does help Beyond explore something new for the Enterprise, it is only new for the franchise. Beyond doesn’t boldly go anywhere that hasn’t been explored outside the franchise, and twists aren’t as impactful as one might hope, despite the emotional investment.
Beyond doesn’t set out to start a revolution. This is the steadying of the ship. After Abrams’ departure, and the chaos that arrived in his wake, Lin and co. have done a wonderful job in bringing Star Trek back to the Trekkies. Beyond embraces all of its characters and the vast history of aliens playing central roles. This desire to be faithful is visibly obvious in the costume design. Not only does Kirk’s attire look as good as it ever has, the Enterprise uniforms are delightful in their functional simplicity.
It may occasionally lack awe and leave plot holes clearly visible, but this is a more rounded feature, which balances humour, emotion and plot development with agile hands. Lin deserves great credit for making such an assured picture, that lays great seed for the franchise’s future, but when we reach Star Trek beyond Beyond, I think it will be seen as just another Star Trek adventure.
Images courtesy of youtube and badrobot respectively.