Sci-fi/Action/Adventure, 122 Minutes, 2016
We’re wrapping up Peggapalooza with Simon Pegg’s [IMDB] latest. Of course, he reprised his role as Scotty from 2009’s Star Trek [IMDB] and 2013’s Star Trek: Into Darkness [My Review], but he also co-wrote this installment. The reboot of the first film left fans cautiously optimistic. The second left them worried. How will this fare?
Pretty damn well!
The Enterprise has come to the jewel of Starfleet’s crown, the Starbase Yorktown, an enormous community at the edge of deep space. It’s pressed into service when an escape pod is recovered and the lone survivor begs for assistance for her crew, stranded on an unknown planet in an uncharted nebula.
The first film suffered under a burden of exposition and redefinition. Its focus needed to be squarely on the construction of its new world. The sequel traded character development and depth for soulless, hamfisted homage and off-the-shelf cliché. With this installment, under new direction with Justin Lin [IMDB] and a new writing team, it appears that the franchise is back on track.
The story is classic Star Trek. It’s fundamentally about a group working together to overcome extreme challenges. Personalities may clash, on occasion, but there’s a fundamental respect and trust in the skills of others. It’s set within a complex backdrop rich with historical significance, moral choices and political structure. Unlike much sci-fi, which seems to take place in (pun noted) a vacuum, this a localized story set on what is clearly a huge, fully realized stage.
The script does take some easy, yet successful, shortcuts; the most glaring being an early branching of the story. Due to circumstances of the crash!, zap!, boom! kind, the crew is split up on an alien world. Through most of the second act we follow four distinct threads: Kirk (Chris Pine [IMDB]) and Chekov (the late Anton Yelchin [IMDB]), Spock (Zachary Quinto [IMDB]) and Bones (Karl Urban [IMDB]) and Uhura (Zoe Saldana [IMDB]) and Sulu (John Cho [IMDB]) are all paired off. For his part, Scotty teams up with Jaylah (Sofia Boutella [IMDB]), an alien orphan who may hold the key to the crew’s salvation.
These pairings allow the characters to express themselves individually and work well, but it’s also clear the writers are more comfortable with simpler, more focused interactions. As could be expected from Lin, known for his work on the “Fast the Furious” franchise, the action sequences are tight and well done. There’s also a clear desire to expand it into the third dimension. The action sequences are staged with a risky, multi-layered verticality that succeeds much more than it fails.
All of the veterans acquit themselves very well, but the newcomers do their best to steal the show. Jaylah is clearly being groomed as a new, regular cast member. The character brushes against the Tarzan, and other, clichés, but Boutella’s performance muscles past this and easily wins the favor of the audience. She’ll be a welcome addition to future entries in the series.
Idris Elba [IMDB], as the alien warlord Krall, assumes villain duty and, as always, gives a consummate performance. While he’s far from unknown, it’s a mystery why this man isn’t leading billion dollar franchises of his own.
Like all of the best Star Trek films, this has the sensibility and character depth of the best television episodes, but all of the bluster and world-shattering effects that big-budget film can offer. Unlike the last outing, which sometimes seemed to be mocking the fans, this entry clearly cherishes them.