Often I'll like a movie better upon repeat viewing, but rarely have I gone from "disappointed" to "delighted" as drastically as I did during my second look at STAR TREK: BEYOND (2016).
The trouble is, the darn thing is just so dense, so packed full of action, dialogue, special effects, etc. which are all edited together like a Tsui Hark movie but without the light-fingered finesse. To be honest, I missed so much of the story details and subtleties the first time around that much of what I saw seemed like a jumbled mess. (Plus, Zachary Quinto's Spock wig looks pretty bad this time.)
Not so upon second viewing, one free of the need to decipher the plot points that go sprinting past in competition with the constant barrage of sound and fury and motorcycles and demolition derbies with starships instead of jalopies. (The wig still looks bad.)
With this, the third installment in the Abrams-verse reboot (with its all-new altered timeline that keeps us from knowing what will happen next) Chris Pine's Captain James T. Kirk and crew have been out there on that five-year mission for almost three years and this Kirk, who didn't grow up with a father's guidance and is still maturing and feeling his way through life right before our eyes, finds the whole deep space experience repetitive and boring (or as he puts it in meta terms, "episodic.")
But an alien woman's distress cry for help to rescue her stranded crew on a planet deep inside an uncharted nebula sends the Enterprise on a mission that will give Kirk more excitement and danger than even he could bargain for. Not surprisingly, this involves yet another alien bad guy out for revenge, this time against the entire Federation for reasons we'll discover after lots of fighting and shooting and starships going boom.
My favorite new character is the endearingly plucky Jaylah, played by Sofia Boutella who will be the title character in the upcoming MUMMY reboot. Here, Sophia looks great as an albino with long white hair and elegant ebony facial markings. As another stranded prisoner of Krall's hostile planet, Jaylah forms a special bond with Simon Pegg's "Scotty" and supplies the Enterprise bridge crew with something vital: a derelict ship (her "house" as she calls it) that might, with Scotty's expert help, be coaxed into flight once again.
Each of the main characters is allowed ample screen time. John Cho's Sulu, of course, gets to be the new "gay" character in the series, even though Sulu has always previously been hetero. (Even George Takei is adamant on this point.) It's not such a big deal, though--we see him greet his little daughter Demora in Yorktown and put an arm around his male partner (director Justin Lin), and that's it.
Spock and Uhura (Zoe Saldana) have their first lovers' spat, with an amicable yet painful breakup. Anton Yelchin, tragically gone from us now, offers his charming interpretation of Ensign Chekov one last time. And upon the main three--Kirk, Spock, and "Bones" McCoy (Karl Urban)--the script dotes with disarming fondness.
For action fans, STAR TREK: BEYOND kicks plenty of intergalactic ass both on the planet, where Kirk, Spock, Bones, Sulu, Chekov, and Uhura must rescue their captured shipmates from Krall and his army, to the Yorktown space-city itself once Krall launches his all-out attack involving thousands of prickly little drone ships that swarm like bees and utterly obliterate whatever they descend upon. All of this goes by fast and furious, so this is where that second viewing comes in handy.
Speaking of which, director Lin of the "Fast & Furious" films does his best to emulate J.J. Abrams while not quite capturing a certain candy-counter, toy-store, Christmas morning kind of essence his predecessor seemed capable of injecting into these films. In my review of the first STAR TREK reboot I described it as a "grandly entertaining cherry-red fire engine of a space flick", something Lin doesn't quite pull off.
Still, he does a capable job and manages to keep the series on a high level. What seems most problematic for many Trek fans, in fact, is that there's so much action effectively dominating the proceedings that no time is left either for meaningful character interaction or contemplation of the deep, intellectual themes Gene Roddenberry was known for in his original vision of the "Star Trek" universe. (At least in hindsight.)
As for the former, I think these films contain a wealth of terrific character interaction, highly meaningful little moments that occur at scattered points throughout each installment in the series, some lighthearted and frivolous (old philosophical adversaries Spock and Bones get several choice exchanges), some deeply moving (such as Kirk's ruminations on his late father and how different are their career paths and goals as Starfleet captains).
The latter, I admit, is pretty accurate--these films aren't always that thematically profound. But neither was every episode of the original series. And this is a brash young version of the Enterprise crew, impatient to go out there into that last frontier and raise some hell. They don't want to stop and take the time to be all that thoughtful and contemplative, nor do they have as much life experience to be all that thoughtful and contemplative about.
There are different kinds of Star Trek and they don't all have to be alike. This is Action "Star Trek." For a change of pace, it suits this long-time Trekker just fine.
The 2-disc Blu-ray/DVD combo from Paramount Home Media Distribution contains a Blu-ray disc with the movie and special features, a DVD with the movie, and a code for downloading a digital HD copy of the film. The Blu-ray disc contains a gag reel, deleted scenes, and the following featurettes: "Beyond the Darkness: Story Origins"; "Enterprise Takedown: Destroying an Icon"; "Trekking Into the Desert: On Location in Dubai"; "To Live Long and Prosper: 50 Years of Star Trek"; and tributes to the late Leonard Nimoy and Anton Yelchin.
STAR TREK: BEYOND is brand-spanking new and scintillatingly different, yet filled with welcome echoes of the past (there's a particularly poignant Spock moment, and an ending which recalls STAR TREK IV: THE VOYAGE HOME in a big way). With this latest entry in the rebooted series, what's old is new again, and I love warping off into the final frontier with this young crew that's so bursting with promise for the future.
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