By Lucas Cuny Star Trek Beyond, the third in the reboot installment, calls on much of the old as well as from great literature.
When episodes of both the original series and Next Generation worked best, they usually involved amazing morality plays that mirrored our greatness and our faults all wrapped in a weekly adventure in outer space.
This one begins as Capt. James T. Kirk, after another seemingly uneventful mission, questions his purpose in space and to star fleet.
The crew stops for rest and retooling on a local outpost space station, the Yorktown -- vastly more impressive than DS9, for the expanded universe fans. There, Kirk reveals a desire to become an admiral, going behind a desk and attempting to find his own path -- a path the captain feels may set him apart from his father, whom we met in Star Trek, George Kirk (Chris Hemsworth) died saving not only his crew but his son. But as with all things Star Trek before, Capt. Kirk can make a big leap responding to a distress call.
As we have gotten used to, the enterprise jumps into warp and through an unknown nebula, where the ship is ambushed. The ship and the crew become marooned. Some are captured and others are left to get their crew to safety on their way to save humanity.
On the crew of course are Spock, Bones, Uhura and Sulu. Spock deals with the loss of Ambassador Spock, the original in the series (Leonard Nimoy). He, like Capt. Kirk, tries to come out from the shadows of what has happened before, and there a new enemy intends to push back.
This installment is very much like an episode. As the crew is split up we follow various storylines revealing various character issues and conflicts. This makes it not only more of an ensemble film, but it also follows a classic television style that involves several story arcs.
Sulu and Uhura are the main crew kept captive by the intense Krull (Idris Elba). Spock and Bones are on foot attempting to get back to the captain and hopefully save humanity. The captain, Checkov and Scotty are joined by another refugee of Kroll Jaylah (Sofia Boutella). She is a former prisoner making home in an abandoned and not quite operational Federation starship.
The plot centers on a distress call and then the eventual ambush of the Enterprise. As soon as the crew members are ambushed and attacked they are sent on a collision course with Kroll, the leader of a hive of fighters who seek to destroy the peace of the Federation, because, as he says, “Unity does not bring peace. Only struggle and war create greatness.” Kroll has been stuck there waiting to attack, waiting for a reason to fight again. It’s clear that Kroll has created a place of blind followers willing to support him in his quest, as they must be lost in his persona and influence (sound familiar?).
I told you the best Star Treks are morality plays.
Kroll gives wonderful Brando-like soliloquies to Lt. Uhura. As it progresses and Capt. Kirk and Kroll face off, you near expect Kroll to call the captain a grocery clerk.
This film pulls greatly from the Joseph Conrad book, Hearts of Darkness, which became the great film Apocalypse Now. It is a shame that we have to be reminded through our films of the mistakes and costs of war.
Hopefully, after this installment the producers and writers will feel unhinged from the original source material and trust the audience.
Both Capt. Kirk and Spock seem still too unsure of themselves. The filmmakers need to trust that we have been on board since the first movie.
Previous installments of this series included nods to the classic, but were not nearly as derivative as the last film, With Into the Darkness. I was leery at first of the directing choice, but Linn weaves the action in appropriately and when it matters.
Star Trek Beyond is a strong space adventure with a great metaphor, which is the heart of a classic Star Trek Story. I give it a hard 3.5 stars.
Lucas Cuny, who lives in Redlands, has a Master of Fine Arts in screenwriting from California State University in Fullerton and teaches film at The Art Institute, Inland Empire.