Picturing the crew of the USS Enterprise sitting around bored out of their 23rd century skulls may not the first thing that springs to mind when you hear the words “To boldly go where no one has gone before” but if we are to believe Kirk (Chris Pine) at the start of Star Trek Beyond, that is exactly the state of mind that grips everyone almost three years into their five year mission.
Yes it seems even gallivanting, womanising Star Trek captains can have a bad day or year on the job, especially when all the glamorous first contact moments or exhilarating space battles only happen once in an ill-mapped nebula,
It’s a clever move by scriptwriters Simon Pegg, who plays Scotty, and Doug Jung, to humanise the crew of the Enterprise precisely because it makes them all the more relatable, and invests the inevitable action that follows Kirk’s ennui-laden observation with a sense that this isn’t happening every day of the week.
The attacks by the villainous Krall (Idris Elba) and his deadly swarm ships that move like demented bees on a dementedly cruel but precisely choreographed trajectory, are nothing like business as usual, and by admitting as much, Pegg energises what could simply be seen as yet another battle for the universe.
In fact, this kind of thing is a rarity – thank goodness for that since if it was a standard part of the Federation’s day, it would never have made it out of Earth’s home galaxy – and the business of joining together disparate, fascinating world’s is pretty dull diplomatic fare.
Which is fine if you’re a diplomat or a vice-admiral, a position that Kirk is eyeing off as the film opens, but no so much if you’re a captain wanting adventure and excitement.
But as Kirk learns throughout the film, a little bit of boredom here and there is a small price to pay for freedom and peace; because the alternative, the rampant militaristic chaos wanted by the likes of Krall and his naturally obsequious minions, is wantonly and pointlessly destructive and does little to promote or extend civilisation.
But before that sage lesson can be learned and bonds such as those between Kirk and his second-in-command Spock (Zachary Quinto) can be further cemented, there is a great and mighty full speed ahead narrative to negotiate.
Far from being some sort of vacuous spaceship chase however, which the first Star Trek Beyond trailer gave every impression of the film being – no surprise since Justin Lin is a The Fast and the Furious franchise alum – the third instalment in the re-imagined, Kelvin Timeline-occupying original Trek franchise is an emotionally-resident, relationship rich race to save the galaxy.
On paper, it’s nothing we haven’t seen before.
Villain seemingly comes out of nowhere (this would be Krall), ambushes the Enterprise and trashes the ship to the point where abandoning it is the only course left to take, tortures and attacks the separated crew on his rocky home planet – bar of course Kirk, Chekhov (the much lamented late Anton Yelchin, one of two people, along with Leonard Nimoy), Spock, Scotty and McCoy (Karl Urban) on the loose; Uhura (Zoe Zeldana) is left to defiantly argue the case with their captor until such time as the rest of the officer corps, along with new feisty, more than capable new ally Jaylah (Sofia Boutella) come to save the day (come on, you knew that would happen!).
The thing is that it’s executed with so much foot-to-the-floor nonstop vigour that you excuse some of the been-there, done-that plot points.
But what really elevates the narrative, which restores the fun, if not the philosophical heart back to these movies, is the emphasis on the close bonds that exist between the crew.
Each of the crew demonstrate time and again how close they are to each other; not in some weird codependent, Hallmark movie of the week kind of way, but in a real world I-love-you-then-you-drive-me-nuts-then-I-love-you-again kind of way.
It lends a palpable emotional resonance to proceedings with the actions set pieces – there are motorcycles, gripping battles, spaceship jumpstarting themselves off cliffs! – not simply emotionally-empty filler.
Because every single moment of the action means something, because getting to those points involves the crew giving their heart and soul to each other and the endeavour – again not without some wisecracks and words of good natured irritation – it’s not simply action for action’s sake.
True Krall is rather thinly written and his reason for being the Big Bad du Jour rather limited and threadbare but then he is simply the means to an end – to remind that is Kirk’s Enterprise dammit and that these people, through boredom and chaotic action matter greatly to each other.
And it’s witnessing that that invests Star Trek Beyond with so much emotional gravitas and humanity.
Of course if you’re an avid Star Trek fan, you will appreciate how precious these bonds are more than most, but anyone with a beating heart will appreciate that there is nothing you won’t do for those you love and care about.
And that reality is, when you think about it, what has made Star Trek, particularly the original series, such a meaningful, irresistible piece of television, and now film franchise.
Yes the universe may get threatened and villains like Krall may try to destroy the Federation which gives us wonders like the Yorktown Starbase, which is rendered in dazzlingly futuristic glory, and only Kirk and the gang can see them off, but fun though it is to watch good triumph over evil, the reason we watch is to see people we love with people they love doing something that matters to them.
Good though the narrative is in this instance, it is merely the vehicle to effect the relational interplay that is at the heart of the Star Trek franchise, along with the idealistic viewpoints, and to which Pegg and Jung, ably helped by Lin’s directorial eye, sensibly return the movie series.
This is the film that will make you enjoy Star Trek all over again – granted it’s a little light on overt moralising but then that could be a major turnoff at times since it sounded often like an overly-earnest priestly homily – that sensibly weaves Roddenberry’s inspiring vision of the future into the narrative so tightly that coming out and remarking on things simply isn’t necessary.
It is, in the end, a rev ’em up, action thriller in space, but that’s not a bad thing when it’s invested with so much insightful and emotionally-resonant understanding of what it is that drives people to lay their lives on the line in the first place.