‘Star Trek Beyond’ and the Benefits of a New Director


Like many reboots before and after it, Star Trek had a lot riding on it to be successful. Not only did it need to bring in the big bucks at the box office, but it also had to please fans of the original series and be fresh enough to be able to bring in newbies. When J.J. Abrams was first announced as director of the rebooted franchise there was uproar from die-hard fans. His comments about how he preferred Star Wars didn’t really help. However, 2009’s simply titled Star Trek combined new and old and used the time-honored sci-fi trick of time travel and alternate time lines to bring the 1960s franchise into the 21st century. Now, with director Justin Lin (Fast and Furious 6CommunityTrue Detective) taking over in this week’s Star Trek Beyond, the film seeks to benefit from a lighter tone and deeper character development, which will breathe new life into the franchise.

Lin, who not only took over from Abrams, but also replaced writer Robert Orci as director, is an interesting choice. Lin is most well-known for directing a few of the Fast and Furious movies, which rely heavily on action and stunt work. Some have argued that the first two Trek films are too action-centric and there is not enough exploration of space, the final frontier, which is far and wide what the franchise is known for. However, even though Lin may coordinate fantastic looking action sequences, he has proved himself worthy of balancing character interactions and action in the past.

This combination may prove easy since actor Simon Pegg, who plays disgruntled Scotty, stepped in as co-writer, along with Doug Jung. Pegg has spoken about how the new film will combine theatrics while remaining grounded, saying that the new movie is “finding a way of having that really fun, spectacular event cinema, but grounding it. Because explosions don’t mean a damn thing if you don’t care about who’s involved in the explosions.” And since the film will be set two years into the USS Enterprise crew’s five-year mission, there’ll be more space exploration and will more closely resemble the original series.

So with Lin behind the camera and a script co-penned by Pegg, Star Trek Beyond is likely to look a bit different, and that is a good thing. The second installment had a lot going for it but also tried to go too dark and move too fast before further establishing the characters. Pegg, though mostly known for writing comedy, has the potential to bring a lot of heart to the Trek characters. He knows these characters, has had a hand in bringing one of them to life, and knows what’s truly at the heart of this genre. He is also aware of the importance of the space exploration aspect of the franchise. To complement the writing, Lin doesn’t need to get too dark in order to drive the theme of family and unity home, but he can if he has to. Lin may focus less on the action and more on character interaction and development, which is highly important. I mean, half the Trek franchise is known for Kirk and Spock’s epic bromance and Lin has proven he can do the heart, humor, and action all in one sitting.

One of the main reasons I’m happy there’s a change in direction is because, after two films, I could see the film falling into the trap of recycling old story lines. Sure, J.J. Abrams re-envisioned the series, but by its 2013 sequel, it was trying to remake too much of The Wrath of Khan, and so certain aspects fell flat. Abrams was obviously set to work on the new Star Wars film and it didn’t seem like his heart was as completely in the sequel as it was with its predecessor.

It looks like there will be some bonding between Dr. McCoy and Spock. Kirk, McCoy, and Spock have a unique and integral relationship within the series, and the focus on the trio’s camaraderie has often been neglected. Now that it looks like McCoy and Spock, especially, will be sharing more scenes together, I look forward to their dynamic, which was barely touched upon and sorely missing from the first two films. With a fresh set of eyes and a new perspective, Lin can easily take what worked, like the relationship between Kirk and Spock, the humor and the intensity of the first two films, and leave out what didn’t, like certain parts of Khan’s story and not enough of McCoy, et al. The focus can shift from trying to recreate an old, but classic Trek film, and work toward an ability to more properly fuse the old and new. With both Lin and Pegg on board, Star Trek Beyond has the potential to thrill with action, but retain enough heart and humor to stay grounded and loyal to the overall franchise.

Mae is a Washington, DC-based film critic and entertainment journalist. A member of the Washington, DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), she's a geek who loves talking about all things entertainment . She is also a voting member of the Black Reel Awards. If she's not at the movies, she's catching up on TV watching with a glass of wine in hand.