Star Trek Beyond: Justin (Fast & Furious) Lin Takes Over Franchise from J.J. Abrams

star_trek_beyond_posterWith Star Trek Beyond, the third installment of the sci-fi series reboot, the vibrant director Justin Lin takes over command from J.J. Abrams, making a film that more or less reflects his own vision, while at the same time also respecting the honorable tradition.

You may recall that J.J. Abrams injected energy and fast pacing into what was a dormant sci-fi franchise with his 2009 origin story, Star Trek.  But the 2013 follow-up, Star Trek Into Darkness, was a rather disappointing blockbuster; the endless running and other gimmicks started to look tedious.



Lin, best known for his popular Fast & Furious movies, is a good action director, and in Star Trek Beyond, he delivers the goods expected of him–and of the venerable series, while also managing to present a tale that’s multiple-character-driven and also insert some humor into the proceedings.

star_trek_beyond_16_pineEnd result is an entertaining summer movie that’s old fashioned in its storytelling, modern in its vigorous set-pieces and state of the art special effects, and contemporary in bringing out to the open the issues of sexual orientation and gay family unit in ways that are unimaginable a decade or less ago.

The timing is right for this July 22 Paramount release: Star Trek is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the TV series debut on NBC.

But I think it’s pointless to speculate whether this segment (and the previous ones) is in line with the original creation by Gene Roddenberry, even though he had conceived a liberal, inclusive, open-minded community—especially by standards of his time. (I mention that due to the ongoing debate about the new film’s gay aspects).

star_trek_beyond_10_pineThe crew of Starship Enterprise consists of both vet and new members. (more about this later), but it’s a pleasure to report that the tale belongs to its commander, Captain Kirk, a role that Chris Pine plays with charm and authority, reaffirming that, with the right material, he still could become a major bankable star.


Thematically, the functional script by Simon Pegg and Doug Jung represents a logical follow-up to the 1960s vision of a utopian fantasy, ruled by Federation ideals of peace and intergalactic unity.

star_trek_beyond_8_peggBy now, you know that Sulu (John Cho) is gay and that he and his partner (played by co-writer Jung) raise a daughter in the Federation star base Yorktown.  Make no mistakes: the positive presentation of a homosexual family unit is a novelty for such mainstream global franchise, and a progressive step in the right direction.


If anything, it’s the conception of the villain that leaves much to be desired. The threat to harmony and unity occurs three years into the Enterprise’s deep-space mission is represented by Krall (Idris Elba), a brutal, greedy alien eager to get the “death machine” artifact under the helm of Kirk and crew. Krall holds that the Federation’s reign of unity has brought weakness, whereas war and struggle necessarily bring strength.

star_trek_beyond_7_quintoKirk and Spock (Zachary Quinto) are in the midst of personal crises that call for decisions and big changes.  Kirk’s upcoming birthday will make him older than his father lived to be. For his part, Spock is compelled, despite attraction for Uhura (Zoe Saldana), to return to his people in New Vulcan.

But personal concerns are placed aside, when Krall’s vicious attack leaves the Enterprise crew stranded without a vessel.  They are dispersed on the terrain of Altamid, a planet surrounded by unstable nebula.

In between the big set pieces, there is some amusing, if not really engaging, interplay among the characters. Kirk and Chekov land with a suspicious alien (Lydia Wilson).  Bones (Karl Urban) and a seriously injured Spock banter as voluble joker and emotionless literal.

star_trek_beyond_9Sulu and Uhura are taken prisoners by Krall, along with other members of the Enterprise crew.  Scotty teams up with Jayla (Sofia Boutella), a zebra-faced alien stranded on the planet and living in an abandoned Federation ship. A technical whizz and impressive kickboxing fighter, Jayla, a new member of the ensemble, is well played by the sexy Boutella. (Her character was apparently inspired by Jennifer Lawrence’s role in the 2010 indie, “Winter’s Bone.”)

star_trek_beyond_12One of the main attributes of the reboot series is its appealing young cast, whose members effectively overcome the familiar, iconic nature of their characters with fresh and personal interpretations.  This is not a minor feat considering the historical and cultural baggage of the franchise (both as TV and film series).

Lin, whose specialty is staging thrilling physical combats and aerial clashes, doesn’t disappoint here, helming big, noisy, and dense set pieces, though he is smart enough to not let them detract too much attention from the dramatis persona, and indeed, there are intimate, character-driven moments interspersed throughout the saga.

The film is strikingly shot by Lin’s frequent Fast & Furious collaborator Stephen F. Windon, whose visual strategy fits well the big Imax format.

star_trek_beyond_11_pine_yelchinIn the new segment, there are elements of nostalgia and tribute, too. The end credits state, “In loving memory of Leonard Nimoy” (who had played the revered Ambassador Spock). Then there’s separate card, “For Anton,” honoring the recent tragic death of Anton Yelchin, whose role as Russian shipmate Pavel Chekov, is one of his final performances.


Anton Yelchin, on the left.

End Note:

Some of my students are hard-core trekkies, and they too concur that the titles of the reboot’s last two chapters, Star Trek Into Darkness and Star Trek Beyond, are too generic.