Star Trek Beyond is missing a classically exuberant J.J. Abrams in the captain’s chair, replaced he’s been by Fast & Furious alum Justin Lin. “Classically exuberant” perfectly explains 2009’s Trek reboot and its terrific follow-up Into Darkness. They’re a cross between vintage Spielberg, voracious practicality, and J.J’s own brand of spectacular emotions, both tragic and comedic.
Justin Lin doesn’t have that. He’s a fine curator of stylized fiction and over-the-top mayhem, which means two things: his sensibilities lean overt over subtle, and his pacing trends consistently upward. No time for much downtime with these bubbling personalities when there’s a plot to rush through. Nevertheless, those personalities make the picture, at least in the margins. They’re too good not to. Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, John Chu, and the late Anton Yelchin aren’t at all missing in action. In fact, Beyond benefits greatly from favoring an ensemble flavor far greater than its predecessors. Bones, Scotty, Chekov, and Sulu have real moments, not mere duties on the Starship Enterprise. Sure, they’re at the expense of meaningful arcs for Kirk and Spock, but there’s sheer joy in watching the entire crew live up to the legends of their television counterparts. However, Idris Elba’s Krall is nearly a calamitous villain, underdeveloped and insultingly simple as he is for half of the film before a third act twist propels him to greater heights.
While I personally miss the epic fundamentals of J.J. Abrams, I can’t exactly knock Justin Lin’s efforts into those nether reaches of cinema. His command of action and his eye for enjoyably campy humor can’t be denied. It’s simply fortuitous that he’s got one of the best ensembles ever assembled at his disposal. I only hope that Beyond makes enough buck to continue this alternate timeline for, more or less, forever.