Okay, that’s actually probably underselling it. I actually really enjoyed Beyond. It was a very good and entertaining film, and it was actually a pretty good Star Trek film. It’s not joining the pantheon of great Star Trek films, but it can hold its own against most in the series.
That was a pleasant surprise. I had heard rumblings that this was the best of the three JJ Verse films so far, but that claim had generally come from folks who didn’t have the same distaste for the first two that I do. So, instead of leaving the theatre bitterly disappointed, it was nice to actually have a positive experience watching a new film from my favorite franchise.
First and foremost, I think Beyond succeeded because it felt more like a Star Trek movie to me than the first two JJ Verse films combined. The pacing and structure were both quite reminiscent of the TOS films (especially The Voyage Home). The characters branched off into groups, and the audience was able to follow several storylines occurring simultaneously. While Sulu and Uhura were captured, Scotty was finding Jayla and working on fixing the long-lost USS Franklin. While Kirk and Chekov were trying to get back to the bridge of the Enterprise, Spock and Bones were bickering while Bones tried to save Spock from a life threatening injury.
This focus on the characters made a world of difference. These actors have reimagined beloved characters, and for the first time, it actually started to feel like I was watching the characters I love and admire on screen. Of course, they aren’t carbon copies of the characters created by Shatner, Nimoy, Kelley, Doohan, Takei, Koenig and Nichols, but they actually come across as tributes to the originals.
Beyond also started to pay more attention to Star Trek ideals. When Kirk is in the battle with Krall near the end of the film, his declarations that humanity has moved beyond its violent and militaristic ways speaks volumes. I’ve long discussed that the most important thing about Star Trek is its strongly-held belief that humanity isn’t done growing. In a few hundred years, we’re going to be so much better than we are now. We have something to reach for.
Beyond succeeded at paying homage to the TOS films. Into Darkness wasn’t an homage to Wrath of Khan. It was a poorly executed rip off. Beyond, however, took elements from the earlier films and treated them with the respect and honor they deserved. When I saw Kirk and Bones celebrating Kirk’s birthday by drinking alcohol at the beginning of the film, my stomach sank, and I did a facepalm. I knew this was going to be a direct ripoff of the TOS films where Kirk struggles with growing older and celebrates his birthday in much the same ways. It wasn’t. It was handled subtly and with great care to the characters in the film.
The acting was phenomenal. Casting was always one of the few strong points of the JJ Verse film, but like I said above, the actors really started to come into their characters. Karl Urban as Bones really stole the show. His treatment of Spock, and his delivery of lines was a perfect tribute to DeForest Kelley. He and Zachary Quinto have a wonderful chemistry that is reminiscent of the chemistry the original Bones and Spock had. It’s a shame the first two movies squandered opportunities to allow Urban and Quinto to have significant screen time.
In short, maybe this is a story about how good things happen to Star Trek when you kick JJ out of the director’s seat and replace him with Justin Lin. Maybe all those lens flares in the first two films were just acting to squelch out any sense of character or story.
But mostly, I think this is a story about how experiencing something with friends makes everything better. I saw Beyond in the theatre with a group of five friends. They all know my feelings about JJ, so there was some good-natured ribbing about my chances of just spontaneously combusting at some point during the film. We all have different persepectives and experiences on Star Trek, and thus we all approached the movie in slightly different ways. Some of us can’t handle plot holes, some are bothered by obvious security flaws in a federation space station, and others are staunch defenders of 2009 and take offense to a suggestion that Beyond is clearly the better film. It was far more fun sitting in the middle of a group of friends while watching this movie than it would have been going alone.
It wasn’t a perfect movie, and when I get the chance to see it again, I’m sure some of the negative points in the film will become more obvious. But, hey, at least they mostly did away with the lens flares!