In this, the 13th production in the Star Trek franchise, which was born in 1966, the crew of the USS Enterprise arrive at a huge, artificial home, Starbase Yorktown. The long-lived and much-loved series was rebooted in 2009. It has a new, younger crew, but Beyond reliably returns to the foundational legends, tropes and personnel.
The ultimate in computer-generated imagery is used to choreograph battles in the void and produce weird gravity curves in space time — space opera as the early science fiction writers must have dreamt it. The aliens look a little wobbly, as they usually do.
Part of director Lin’s intention (he has taken the reins from JJ Abrams) appears to have been to negotiate some inner space travel: unveiling the emotions of the protagonists. On the simplest level (though Star Trek has always been open to fresh ideas) the fledgling romance between Spock the half-Vulcan (Quinto) and Lt Uhura (Saldana) might yet mutate in all directions, not excluding love; Lt Sulu (Cho), previously hinted at as gay, is shown reuniting with his husband and child in Yorktown.
The famous line from the original Enterprise was "to boldly go where no man has gone before". This has long since been altered to "where no-one has gone before" and is now read by a female voice. The components of the crew fully represent this diversity, but Kirk (in the far, far future) seems a tad affronted by this dilution of his testosterone.
Kirk had always been the firm hand on the tiller, ready with encouraging advice and commands; never veering from his perceived duty. Yet here we encounter him in the midst of an almost existential crisis: his latest mission has failed, he diminishes himself by comparison with his famous space-faring father, and he is sceptical of the value of exploring "strange worlds and civilisations" for the ill-defined Federation of Planets.
Around Kirk familiar names orbit: medical officer McCoy (Urban), Lt Scott (Pegg), Ensign Chekov (Yelchin, who died this year, as did the original Spock, Leonard Nimoy). Do they seem slightly childish compared with William Shatner’s gravitas? Maybe so. But a reboot needs time to find rhythm and humour.
Then one must consider the inevitable Menace. Out there is an infinite void full of nightmares. Here it’s embodied in Krall (Elba), an anti-Foundation psycho who has been genetically modified into a thing with a giant slug-like head resembling a supermarket grocery bag with holes for eyes and nose. When will they give Elba decent roles?
He attacks Federation ships – segments of the Enterprise are irreparably damaged — with nanodrones that swarm and swerve and attack like bees. Krall’s hatred compels Kirk’s crew to realise their companionship in adversity and face the cosmic threat to their lives and laws. The final battle between Krall and Kirk is visionary – involving a modified female traitor Kalara (Wilson) and an "alien scavenger" (Boutella) who may in time become part of the rebuilt Enterprise crew; her toughness and grace will open that door.
The saga is set to explore realms beyond the predictable fare of most Star Trek outings.
Perhaps the series should lower its assault on the ears and eyes. Krall’s bee drones are destroyed by sequences of floor-trembling rock concert madness — tonnages of death metal smashing the drones’ communications systems as well as our own. And the hallucinatory detonations — we are plunged unto them — are like sleeplessness after seeing paintings by Hieronymus Bosch.
The stories here hinted at deserve more primacy.
Star Trek Beyond
Directed by Justin Lin; screenplay: Simon Pegg, Doug Yung; series creator: Gene Roddenberry
Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Idris Elba, Lydia Wilson, Sofia Boutella.