As a new J.J. Abrams sci-fi reboot steers into theaters this week, another franchise he once tried to salvage is soldiering on without him. The trailer for Star Trek Beyond, which dropped online Monday, looks like a simultaneous embrace and rejection of Abrams’s legacy with the property. It’s scored to the Beastie Boys’ blaring “Sabotage” (which featured in Abrams’s first Trek movie), and is advertising itself as a freewheeling action-adventure, as if trying to avoid the moody tone of the previous entry, Star Trek Into Darkness.
There will always be a contingent of Trek fans who tear their hair out at Abrams’s “re-imagined” series starring Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, and Zoe Saldana as Kirk, Spock, and Uhura. His 2009 reboot was largely embraced by critics and was a huge success at the box office. But it leaned hard on action and humor, distressing fans who preferred the more cerebral tone of shows like The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine. The sequel Into Darkness was more widely derided, serving as a bizarre remake of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, but not advertising the identity of its villain (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) and inserting a ham-fisted PATRIOT Act allegory. It was recently voted the worst Trek of all time by fans.
Abrams eventually abandoned Star Trek to make Star Wars: The Force Awakens, probably the most-hyped sci-fi film of the millennium. But Star Trek Beyond lives on with the sterling cast he assembled (which also includes Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, Anton Yelchin, and John Cho), and with the director’s reins now in the hands of Justin Lin, who helmed the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth Fast & Furious movies. The trailer also wants you to know this isn’t your dad’s Star Trek: There’s Idris Elba in crazy villain makeup, sexy aliens, and plenty of clever quips.
Nothing about that is new: The trailer for Abrams’s 2009 Trek reboot started with the same Beastie Boys song and featured the same bombastic CGI action beats to try and draw in a new blockbuster audience. (Before then, the Star Trek films had been fairly moderate box-office players and were made with smaller budgets.) One factor in Star Trek Beyond’s plot appears to be the destruction of the U.S.S. Enterprise early on in the film, but that’s something the franchise has played too many times at this point (as the critic Devin Faraci pointed out on Twitter).
Still, it’s worth noting that Star Trek started out pretty silly. In the famed original series of the 1960s, Captain Kirk bedded a new alien ingénue almost every week. The crew traveled back in time with impunity and regularly fought rubber-suited monsters on rocky landscapes. It’s the tone so cleverly mocked in the brilliant 1999 spoof film Galaxy Quest. Beyond seems to be aiming for that looser territory again, perhaps in an effort to get as far away as possible from the chilly drama of Into Darkness. Fans will find out July 22 whether that move paid off.