It’s 50 years since Captain James T Kirk and the crew of the Starship Enterprise boldly went where no man had gone before on their first missions to seek out new life and new civilisations. This new feature film makes a fitting and satisfying tribute to half a century of Star Trek. It has precisely the same mix of solemnity and self-mocking humour, of mind-bending ideas and cheesiness that made the original series so enjoyable. Whether or not it pleases the die-hard Trekkies, Star Trek Beyond should appeal both to older audiences who remember the glory day days of William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy and to younger ones looking for a placebo while they wait for the next Star Wars.
The screenplay (co-written by Simon Pegg, who also plays Scotty) treats the original characters with affection and a child-like enthusiasm. As he tells us in his captain’s log, Kirk (Chris Pine) is on his 966th day in “deep space” and three years into a five-year mission. The crew is growing a little restless. If the universe is truly endless, they are beginning to wonder in moments of metaphysical angst if they might not be striving for something that will forever be out of their reach. Kirk himself is prey to the forebodings of a middle-aged man, now a year older than his beloved father George was at the time of his death.
Plot-wise, the film isn’t especially complex or original. The Enterprise sets out to rescue a crew stranded on a planet in uncharted space. This requires them to go through a “nebula”, always a dangerous business. En route, the ship is attacked by some ferocious looking aliens led by the evil Krall (Idris Elba, unrecognisable for much of the film). He wants to bring the Federation to its knees.
Pine plays Kirk beautifully. He’s every bit as earnest as Shatner used to be in the role and delivers his high-minded one-liners with a sincerity that can’t help but seem comical. “Better to die saving lives than to live taking them” is one of his aphorisms. “I think you underestimate humans” is another. He has a wonderfully peremptory way of giving orders. “Do whatever you have to, Scotty!”
McCoy (a permanently flustered-looking Karl Urban), Scotty (Pegg with a Scottish accent that makes him sound like Harry Lauder), Spock (Zachary Quinto) and Uhura (Zoe Saldana) all speak and behave exactly as expected.
The filmmakers extract as much comic capital as they can from the faltering romantic relationship between Spock, the ultra-logical Vulcan, and Uhura. “Damn it, Jim, you won’t make it out in time,” McCoy exclaims at one stage.
There’s an obvious pathos in seeing Anton Yelchin (who died in a freak accident last month) back as Chekov, as serious as ever and speaking with the kind of Russian accent that KGB spies used to have in old Hollywood Cold War movies.
Scotty is very much attracted by the lithe and punkish Amazonian warrior Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), who listens to hip hop and heavy rock and has a genius for using holograms for the purpose of disguise.
Some of the special effects are properly impressive. When the Enterprise is crashing through the nebula or Krall is turning his enemies to dust, the film has an edge. There is a camp side to the battle sequences too that invokes memories of old B-movie matinees. We see Captain Kirk haring around on a motorbike, as if he is a galactic version of Evel Knievel. The Federation headquarters look like a gigantic shopping centre, a Westfield in space.
Star Trek Beyond certainly isn’t the most sophisticated sci-fi movie ever made but it is a very likeable one. It reminds us just why a series that only ran for three seasons in the late Sixties still has such resonance and so devoted a following half a century later. It’s part soap opera, part sitcom and has rip-roaring action thrown in too for good measure.
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