Offer thanks to the prophets of Bajor because derring do, some pleasantly sci-fi shenanigans and a functioning Enterprise crew finally return to the franchise to its best
This new era for Star Trek on the big-screen started strong, when J.J. Abrams’ time-twisted 2009 reboot pulled off the nifty trick of respecting the original series while completely rewriting its rules. Then came the karaoke-Khan disappointment that was Star Trek Into Darkness, which seemed to fundamentally misunderstand the success of the 1982 film and the nature of the Star Trek universe itself. Thank goodness this one puts the story back on course, finally getting around to boldly going into deep space and telling a story that recognisably belongs to Trek rather than any old sci-fi franchise.
We rejoin the crew three years into their five-year mission to explore strange, new worlds, to seek out new life etc. Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) is struggling to stay focused with no higher authority on hand; Spock (Zachary Quinto) feels a pull to go and work with his fellow surviving Vulcans, and the crew is just looking forward to shore leave on the Starbase Yorktown, a gorgeous multi-dimensional globe straight out of an Iain M. Banks Culture novel. But their break is cut short when a mysterious newcomer (Lydia Wilson) leads them on a rescue mission to a planet on the other side of a near-impenetrable asteroid belt, and the Enterprise finds itself under attack.
With most of the crew evacuated, the survivors try to find one another on the planet below and escape from a small band of fanatics led by Idris Elba’s Krall, who’s after an artefact on the Enterprise for some nefarious reason of his own. To be honest, his plot and character don’t matter. The artefact he’s after is a pure MacGuffin, of uncertain provenance but capable of ill-defined devastation, and his motivations are weaker than one might like. There are other logic bombs too: it’s never clear why a planet at the heart of a near-impenetrable field of rock would play host to so many different aliens, nor why they’d all live in close proximity. But the important thing is that the plot pushes along nicely in pursuit of escape (for the Enterprise crew) and villainy (for Krall), with regular action to punctuate the techno-babble.
Anyway, the guest stars never really matter in a Star Trek movie as long as the core crewmembers are present and correct – and here, they are at last. This story bends over backwards to act as a true ensemble piece rather than the Kirk-and-Spock show of last time and also, importantly, restores Karl Urban’s McCoy to his rightful place as the third leg of that trinity. A lot of credit has to go to writers Simon Pegg and Doug Jung, who put real thought into giving everyone a moment, but Justin Lin’s hand is visible too in the effort to make everyone look cool, and especially to quietly give Sulu his due (fans of the #StarringJohnCho campaign will enjoy his scenes).
So there is derring do, and some pleasantly sci-fi shenanigans, and a functioning Enterprise crew. The real clincher, however, is the film’s emotional tribute to the late Leonard Nimoy, for so long the connecting thread of the Star Trek universe. Just as the thirty year history between Kirk and Spock gave The Wrath Of Khan its a powerful punch, Nimoy’s absence here is acknowledged as a loss to this cinematic universe as well as to its fans. Combined with the shocking loss of Anton Yelchin, the real world can’t help but add extra poignancy to key scenes here.
Admittedly, if you don’t like Star Trek to begin with, this is not the film to convince you. There are too many odd nose-ridges and scales stuck to basically humanoid people, and too much jumping about on sharp rocks while waving phasers. But if you’re a fan, you should offer thanks to the prophets of Bajor, because Star Trek is back on form.