Star Trek Beyond – Justin Lin keeps the series flying high

In 2006, Taiwanese-born director Justin Lin was tapped to direct the 3rd installment in the Fast and Furious series. The big stars Paul Walker (from the first two films) and Vin Diesel (from the first film) weren’t returning and the series could well have come to a quiet conclusion with this film. However, Lin did enough to make Universal Pictures some money and give the execs the belief that there was still life left in the franchise. He was called back for the fourth film, this time with the original cast returning. It was a significant commercial success and got him the gig for the next two films as well, each one going from strength to strength, with the addition of rising and future stars like Dwayne Johnson and Gal Gadot.

Now Paramount must be hoping that Lin can bring the same magic touch to the Star Trek series. JJ Abrams rebooted the series to commercial and critical success in 2009 and hopes were high for his follow up in 2013. But it turned out to be a bit of a disappointment, probably because of its messy plot which also fiddled around with a hallowed storyline from the original film series; Abrams and his beloved writers Kurtzman, Orci and Lindelof have been known to aim too high and fall short in the past (yes, I’m talking about Lost). With Abrams now having to produce both Star Wars (for Disney) and Star Trek films, Paramount have turned to Justin Lin to helm the 3rd entry in the rebooted Star Trek series.

Star Trek Beyond plays like a two hour TV episode. So audiences don’t have to be familiar with the plots of the previous films, only with the overall premise and with the key characters.

The film opens 3 years into the crew’s 5 year mission to “explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations”. Everyone has settled into a routine and Capt. Kirk (Chris Pine) is going through a crisis of faith as one day blurs into the other. In fact, he’s applied to Starfleet for a desk job. Other members of the crew are immersed in their own lives. Sulu (John Cho) misses his young daughter, Spock (Zachary Quinto) and Uhura (Zoe Saldana) are taking time off from their relationship, McCoy (Karl Urban) is in a philosophical mood and Scotty (Simon Pegg, who co-wrote the script) is obsessed with affairs of the Enterprise as usual.

The crew stops for shore leave at the massive new space station named Starbase Yorktown, which is a marvel of film production design – beautifully rendered in incredible eye-popping detail. There are two significant scenes at the Yorktown and I am sure that in due course I will watch this movie again just to pick up all the engineering details. I bet there will be a few scifi forums discussing the design as well. It’s so massive that as it comes into view, Dr. McCoy says “why didn’t they just rent space on a planet?”.

While at Yorktown, a rescue mission comes up requiring a flight through a dangerous route. The Enterprise is equipped with the best navigation system so Kirk is asked to take up the mission and off they go.

Very soon, the crew are fighting for their survival on the planet Altamid against a dangerous, almost invincible foe named Krall (played by Idris Elba, unrecognizable underneath alien make-up). Also on the planet is another victim of Krall, a scavenger named Jaylah who is trying to find parts to repair an old spaceship so she can escape from the planet. Jaylah (also under a fair bit of make-up) is played by Algerian born actress Sofia Boutella, who made such an impression playing the blade-legged assassin in Kingsman: The Secret Service in 2014. She is the perfect feisty foil for the Enterprise crew and together they try to outwit Krall’s forces, escape Altamid and prevent Krall from unleashing havoc on the rest of the Federation.

As I had mentioned, the film’s plot is written like an extended TV episode, so it doesn’t try too hard to explain how and why things happen. Also, in keeping with the tone of the original series, there are moments of levity, banter and situations that are outright tongue-in-cheek. None more so than when the Enterprise crew need to use an audio signal to disrupt the ship-to-ship coordination signal of Krall’s space force. Since they are with Jaylah on her scavenged old spaceship, they happen to find an entertainment system containing ‘old Earth music’, one of which is Beastie Boys’ Sabotage; perfect disruption music, no? It works like a dream and Justin Lin has choreographed the on-screen action and destruction perfectly to the cadence of the song. I was admiring it and laughing at the ridiculousness of it at the same time!

It all ends like a charm, of course. All key crew members survive and as they toast each other on another successful mission, they are ready once again “to go where no one has gone before”.

There is already talk of a 4th film, one which may feature Capt. Kirk’s deceased father George Kirk. George appeared for a few minutes in the opening sequence of Star Trek (2009) and was played by an then-unknown Aussie actor named Chris Hemsworth. Not surprising then that the filmmakers would be looking for a way to bring the new world famous actor back into the picture.

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