I know I've been gone for over a month! I'm so sorry, it's been a crazy July (and June, honestly), but I figure a few weeks after this film's release, that's still within a reasonable amount of time to get my thoughts down on this, right?
As you probably know, I hated Star Trek Into Darkness. It was just heart-wrenching to see a great film, The Wrath of Khan, be spat on and cut up and mushed into a crappy film with very little original content. The only things I liked about the second film were the cast (except for Cumberbatch), and the score; seriously, that score has all the greatness of Trek, and is really quite a marvel to listen to on its own! Everything else about it, though, failed for me.
But this time, it seems the people behind the camera actually care about Star Trek again. Right from the start of the film there's a wonderful sense of fun and optimism that was lost with Darkness. I think what really helps this out is that Kirk finally delivers a poignant and engaging captain's log, something of a first for the reboot films, and this helped a lot to convey to me that the writers were fans of, or at least understood, the original show and the original films enough to get that the log, a staple of the show, was to be used in film to give us some insight into Kirk's character. And this one did that well enough, and caught us up on what the crew's been doing for the last three years.
The interactions between the cast continues to be the highlight of this new series. Kirk, Bones, and Spock are all finally fully in character this film: gone is the weird frat-boy-Kirk that we saw in the first movie; Spock now has lines that feel more Nemoy in that they're less robot and have more hints of humanity to them; and Bones gets to be a doctor again! Yay! The rest of the cast is good too. Scotty's role is beefed up considerably, as Simon Pegg wrote the screenplay for this. I like too that Sulu and Uhura and Chekov get to have more to do this film than just be at their stations.
The plot here is exactly what I think a Trek film should be: nothing apocalyptic (for the most part), just the crew exploring space and a planet and finding new life and civilizations. There's a great sense of wonder to this nebula they're parked next to and what's on the other side, and when they end up on a planet after a riveting action sequence that sees (slight spoilers) the glorious destruction of the Enterprise, things feel like they're drawing from but in no way ripping off episodes of the Original Series. Indeed, this film feels like an episode of the original show pumped up for the 21st century in all the best ways (where as the Next Gen films all feel like episodes in all the worst ways). Here, we have a simple straightforward plot that doesn't feel the need to preach to us or cloak its stupidity under the veneer of intelligence. Yes, different aspects of humanity and our purpose in the universe are brought up, but it's all wonderfully in the context of what the villain is trying to do or in how Kirk and co. operate as a crew and family.
The villain, played by Idris Elba, is a bit weak at first, but on second viewing, I liked him more and more. His motivation and backstory are introduced just a bit too late for my taste, but the first two acts do a good job of dropping hints at who he is and his views about humanity and life that it kind of works. His debates with Uhura during the second act and with Kirk at the climax of the film on the nature of humanity feel much more substantive and earned than Khan's pseudo-intellectual bullshit spewed last film where it just made him sound really dumb (much like Cumberbatch himself, actually). Here, the "betterment of humanity" speeches are all delivered with context and character behind them, instead of just thrown out into a void.
The new direction also helps this film feel very fresh and new. Gone are the Abrams lens-flares, and the camera tilting around the ship is used tastefully here. I also like the various filters and lighting choices the camera people decided to make with this; it captured the scope and endlessness of space really well. The effects are top-notch of course, and seeing an Abrams-verse rendition of the NX-01 type ship fly around put a smile on my face; sure, Enterprise sucks, but the ship itself had some neat stuff going on with it, so I considered this a welcome return. The film is kept at a reasonable pace throughout; we get a wonderful action sequence in the first act, a slower, more character-driven middle, and a climactic third that runs just a bit too long. It's well-balanced between action, character, and plot, something that this series of films has always had a tough time of grasping. Here, it's all done very well.
Beyond is the first legitimate good one of the new Star Trek movies to come out. The first was good in the sense that holy shit, it's Star Trek on the big screen again, but beyond that there wasn't much Trek to be found there. The second one was just terrible, in my opinion. But Beyond really nails the blend of old and new, mixing a lovingness for the franchise with a good wholly original story that captures the spirit of the older stuff without dumping chewed up bits of concepts from the older material into our laps and expecting us to clap. And what a great time for this to come out, on the fiftieth anniversary of the franchise, a milestone for anything really. If you haven't seen this one yet and you're a fan of either the original shows or the new films or both, I strongly urge you to see it. This pleased me both as a casual fan of the new stuff and as a hardcore of the old. A success this was, and it was a true pleasure to watch!