Here is the latest of the rebooted Star Trek franchise with Justin Lin (of the Fast And Furious movies) taking over direction – and the first in which Britain’s own Simon Pegg assumes co-scripting responsibilities, with TV writer Doug Jung. Pegg injects plenty of fun and wit and certainly doesn’t hesitate to give his own acting role, chief engineer Montgomery “Scotty” Scott, a touch more dramatic significance than might otherwise have been the case. However, he naturally also adheres to the tradition of responding to Captain Kirk’s requests for emergency improvised measures with frantic sentences beginning “I cannae...!” and “We cannae....!” – before naturally delivering the goods.
This movie is, poignantly, the final outing for the late Anton Yelchin in the role of Russian officer Chekov, a part which he made his own with boyish eagerness. It’s also notable for including a unambiguous gay relationship: for Sulu, played by John Cho, who is revealed to have a male partner, a civilian from outside Star Fleet, and crucially they also have a child. George Takei, the actor who originally played the role, caused some consternation when he announced he would rather an entirely new gay role was created. Perhaps Takei was uncomfortable with the idea that “his” Sulu has therefore been somehow timidly in the closet all this time. Sulu’s gay identity here is not much emphasised, but unlike the coy and evasive hints in the recent Independence Day movie, the statement is clear enough.
The real star, as ever, is Zachary Quinto’s imperturbable First Officer Spock, who conveys logical calm, droll humour, and a kind of martyred romanticism. He rules the movie with a single raised eyebrow. Without Spock, this might be a bit ordinary.
Star Trek Beyond doesn’t go that far beyond what we might expect: a very decent, watchable franchise episode which is marooned for quite a long time on a distant rocky planet. There is a potent new force for evil in the form of anti-Star Fleet insurgent Krall, played by Idris Elba, although his full personality and motivation take a fair bit of time to flower.
We find ourselves three years in to the Enterprise’s legendary five-year mission, and officers Kirk and Spock are approaching a kind of quarterlife crisis, both in terms of career and their relationship with each other – and it is not entirely facetious to say that their top-level bromance is still far more important, in this heteronormative world, than any actual gay couple. Kirk is brooding about his personal and professional destiny in the vast reaches of space and Spock also has issues: his relationship with Uhuru (Zoe Saldana) is in deep trouble and he receives a sombre communication concerning the great elder, Ambassador Spock. (The grave features of Leonard Nimoy are glimpsed.)
But a phoney and duplicitous distress call plunges the crew into peril, connected with a powerful, Maguffin-y weapon, the Abroneth, yearned for by Krall. Kirk finds himself confronted with the terrible choice of having to abandon ship, and the crew are marooned in alien territory: a happy reminder of the visual language of the 60s Roddenberry TV show. Here, they encounter a fiercely independent kickboxing survivor called Jaylah (reportedly Pegg was inspired by Jennifer Lawrence in Winter’s Bone – hence J-Law or Jaylah). It’s a strong performance from Sofia Boutella: her character Is not a million miles away from Daisy Ridley in The Force Awakens, but a bit tougher.
The dilithium crystals powering the new Star Trek film are in pretty good shape: it motors along and Chris Pine shows himself again to be a very good actor with easy charm and authority. The bantering relationship between Karl Urban (as Dr “Bones” McCoy) and Quinto is, as ever, very enjoyable. At one stage, McCoy dismisses something Spock says as “horseshit”. Quinto demonstrates great comic timing in the pause he deploys before his dignified reply: “I fail to see how excrement of any kind plays a part.” Maybe this is the real bromance, actually.
This new movie could arguably have given Elba more to do, earlier in the picture, but it is the inter-relationship of the Enterprise’s crew which is the real source of drama. An entertaining adventure.