JJ Abrams has been getting ribbed on South Park for being the ‘reboot guy', but there's no denying what he did with Star Trek in 2009. He took a show defined by camp as much as its adventures told with a serious scientific bent, and lens flare jokes aside, transformed it into a summer blockbuster with all the intelligence, heart, action, and fun that fans have come to expect. Unfortunately, its sequel, Star Trek: Into Darkness, was a failure in almost every perceivable way. The story was uninspired, the action lifeless, and none of its emotional beats had been earned. So when it was announced that Abrams wouldn't return to direct a third time, I hoped Hollywood would find someone that could really do this franchise justice again. And who did they find to take the reins of such a hot property? Justin Lin, best known for helming three mindless Fast and the Furious flicks. Can't say I was thrilled with their decision. Star Trek has one of the most rabid fan bases of all time, and in that respect, Lin's resume just didn't seem to match up with what a film of this caliber requires. But with Star Trek: Beyond's script having been written by Simon Pegg and Doug Jung, there was still hope yet.
Three years into its five year mission, the USS Enterprise arrives at Starbase Yorktown, so the crew can pick up some supplies and even kick their feet up a little. Well, most of them at least anyway. Growing tired of the endless monotony of being stuck on a starship, Commanding Officer James T. Kirk applies for a promotion to Vice Admiral of Yorktown. Scotty also sacrifices his personal time to ensure the Enterprise is in perfect working order, while Spock and Uhura come to a mutual agreement to end their relationship. With everything up in the air, an escape pod seemingly appears from nowhere. Its survivor, Kalara, claims her ship and crew have been stranded on a planet within an uncharted nebula, so the Enterprise quickly embarks on a rescue mission. What should have been routine quickly turns into tragedy, as a large swarm of ships begin to decimate their starship. A lizard-faced being known as Krall boards the ship with his crew, searching for an ancient relic which Kirk should have from a previous mission. Tired of playing games, the villain takes much of the Enterprise's crew for future interrogation. Kirk, coming to the realization all is lost, orders everyone that's left to evacuate to Altamid, the planet below. Their escape pods land in different locations, and if they hope to get off that planet before Krall has a chance to get to them, they'll have to find each other… and hope for a small miracle or two.
One thing I've been dying for the reboot films to capitalize on is how the original series would often beam the crew down to a planet's surface so they could deal with its inherent dangers. There was nothing more interesting than when Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and their band of red shirts were forced to adapt to strange environments and the species that inhabited them. Fortunately, the writers were smart enough to finally incorporate this into Star Trek: Beyond. That said, they didn't lean into this as much as they could have. The planet Altamid should have been unique, but with forests aplenty and large swaths of rocky terrain, it comes off as little more than ‘Earth 2'. There's talk of a fascinating civilization that's equally capable of great and terrible things, but they're long gone. Sadly, the most intriguing thing about the crew's time on Altamid is how they got there, but even that's a bit of an eye-roller. I mean, how many times does the Enterprise really have to be destroyed? Not counting the times it's been done on television, Star Trek III and Star Trek: Generations have already been there and done that. The ship had also been severely compromised in Star Trek II, Star Trek: First Contact, and Star Trek: Nemesis. I understand Justin Lin wanted to emotionally destroy Kirk and his crew so they could build themselves up again, but after Star Trek: Into Darkness, the last thing this franchise needed was to repeat history. Say it with me: Find. New. Ideas.
I'd forgive these aspects of the script if there were other story threads I could sink my teeth in to, but the entire film is just a list of convenient plot devices that have been strung together. For example, Spock is the only primary character that's severely hurt during their descent to Altamid, and as luck would have it, he shared an escape pod with medical officer McCoy. The crew obviously needs a ship if they ever hope to get off the planet, and despite the fact Altamid's inhabitants have long since checked out, they find one. Kirk needs a motorcycle at one point to cause a distraction, and I'll be damned, he just turns around to see one sitting there. Explosions always propel protagonists in the direction of, if not directly to, their objective. The film's largest revelation comes from a connection Uhura couldn't have possibly made, and the way in which Kirk and Co. destroy their adversaries is one for the record books. Trust me, it's a doozy.
And those character beats I mentioned earlier (Kirk looking to leave the Enterprise, Spock and Uhura breaking up)? They're interesting ideas, for sure, but they're instead used as meaningless bookends to give the film just a modicum of substance.
So, basically, this is the most dumbed down Star Trek reboot flick to date, which was precisely what I was afraid of when I heard Mr. ‘Fast and Furious' would be behind the camera, so I'm certainly not surprised.
But that's not to say Beyond is terrible, because it's still entertaining for what it is. You just have to be OK with this not being a good Star Trek flick, but rather a decent summer action piece, because that's what this film is. If there's one thing I can applaud Lin for, it's creating a non-stop thrill ride that never stops assaulting your eyeballs. Krall's ships, for example, travel like an insanely large swarm of schooling fish, and to see a ship as large as the Enterprise attempt to go against them is like watching a guppy try to combat a large tidal wave. It's truly a sight to behold, and the film has plenty of moments where spectacle will make you ‘ooooh' and ‘ahhhh'. And, honestly, that's all some people want for the price of admission.
And speaking of Krall, he's one hell of a bad guy. He's cold, calculating, and seems to be one step ahead at all times. He seizes every opportunity the moment they're presented to him, and he doesn't loaf about to reveal his plans like some sort of Bond villain. He's ruthless, and I don't know anyone who could have done a better job in this role than Idris Elba. Between his take on Shere Kahn in The Jungle Book and Krall in Star Trek: Beyond, the already proven Elba has shown the world in 2016 he has more up his sleeve than we originally thought. Here, his face is caked with make-up that looks as restrictive as can be, and yet he still managed to make Krall one of the best reasons to see this film.
Another newcomer, also offering a solid performance, is Sofia Boutella. She plays an alien warrior which has just as much brains as brawn, proving to be vital to the Enterprise crew's survival, and just a loyal comrade all-around.
So weighing the good against the bad, it all boils down to this: Beyond may be dumb, but it's still much more entertaining than its predecessor, Into Darkness. If you're a die-hard Trek person, you may want to consider sitting this one out, but if you're more of a casual fan, or just like to see a lot of money thrown up on screen so you can escape reality for a while, you won't feel as if you've wasted a couple hours of your life. In fact, you may just find this to be quite a bit of fun… just don't go in expecting more than that.
Star Trek: Beyond is presented with a 1080p, AVC encoded transfer at an aspect ratio of 2.39:1, and as far as I can tell, it's flawless. There's a lot going on in this film from a visual standpoint, especially when Krall's ships are swarming in unison in space, and yet there aren't any compression issues or noise to speak of. Colors are represented very well, from the deck of the Enterprise, to the costumes, the forests of Altamid, and even skin tones. Contrast and black levels are always spot on, and there's no digital noise reduction or edge enhancement to degrade an already sharp picture with immaculate detail.
This release comes with both Dolby Atmos and Dolby TrueHD 7.1 tracks. My listening environment is more suited for a 360 degree 7.1 setup, so that's what my opinion is going to be based on.
The audio on this release is about as impressive as the video. Star Trek: Beyond provides one of the most immersive audio experiences I've heard in a while. It doesn't matter if we're talking about electronic sounds on the Enterprise, swarms of ships in space circling the surround field, or environmental sounds on the planet's surface, because this film nails everything with the appropriate levels and pinpoint precision to place you accurately in the middle of it all. The dynamic range keeps the few quieter aspects of the film strong enough so you hear every little detail, but really gives your speakers a workout when the action takes over. Dialogue is always cleanly and clearly represented in the center channel, no matter what's going on.
My only complaint is that the surround channel sounds a tad weak for this sort of film. This is probably due to the sound design itself and not an issue when this track was made for the Blu-ray, but there were moments when I expected my subwoofer to kick and rumble quite a bit more than it did. Films like Jurassic World will rumble the walls in my man cave, yet nothing got quite that punchy here, not even with explosions. I wouldn't say the LFE is flat, but it's not where I expected it would be. All in all, still high marks for the audio on this release.
-Deleted Scenes - Only about a minute's worth. Not really worth your time.
-Beyond the Darkness - In this 10 minute featurette, we see the director actually has a lot of love and respect for this franchise, and that a lot of thought and effort went into crafting this film. It's unfortunate that the passion seen here doesn't really show in the storytelling, but that just makes this featurette all the more intriguing.
-Enterprise Takedown - A four-and-a-half minute look at how the filmmakers planned the annihilation of the Enterprise.
-Divided and Conquered - This featurette clocks in at just over eight minutes, and details how the characters are separated and must eventually pull together and get back in action.
-A Warped Sense of Revenge - A closer look at the ‘big bad' this time around.
-Trekking in the Desert - A look at filming in Dubai for the Yorktown scenes.
-Exploring Strange New Worlds - This piece focuses on Production Designer Tom Sanders' work on the film.
-New Life, New Civilizations - Designing the new species that are presented in this movie. It's interesting this exists as an extra because the film doesn't really show us much in this regard.
-To Live Long and Prosper - This is a montage piece which looks back on Star Trek's theatrical legacy thus far.
-For Leonard and Anton - A fond remembrance of those that were lost prior to this film's release.
Star Trek: Beyond lacks heart and soul, which will probably disappoint most die-hard fans. But despite ditching intellect for non-stop action, the spectacle is so constant and over-the-top, that it's a fun ride that makes up for the film's lack of fresh ideas… more or less. The performances are strong, especially from series newcomers Sofia Boutella and Idris Elbra, and the special effects are jaw-dropping. The Blu-ray itself offers a stunning presentation in the A/V department, although the extras are a little ‘ho-hum'. Recommended.