Star Trek Beyond (2016): Review
The crew of the Enterprise head for the furthest reaches of outer space, encountering a frightful new enemy that challenges everything the mission and the federation have long stood for. It’s Star Trek Beyond.
Naturally, Star Trek has come a long way since the beloved television series introduced the world to the now iconic characters in one of entertainment’s most influential and longest-running sci-fi adventure series. Sensibilities shift and filmmaking advances, and while the current iteration of the franchise is less about crafting meaningful, thought-provoking stories and more about staging elaborate special effects-driven action stories, this latest is easily the best in the newest series but is still a disappointment. It has many good moments, even some surprisingly touching ones, but fails to yield any new ideas and falls instead to old Star Trek and sci-fi clichés and standards.
It starts in the third year of a planned five-year mission to explore the unknown corners of space and the starship Enterprise reaches space station Yorktown to resupply and take some much-needed shore leave. Kirk (Chris Pine) celebrates a birthday he is less than moved by, and Spock (Zachary Quinto) has some personal issues that has him also considering a change. Both begin the story by telling the other they have something important to say but promise to talk later after they take on a sudden mission, a rescue of an officer claiming to be stranded on an uncharted planet in a nearby nebula. You can bet that conversation will be different when it ends from how they expect it to start.
Of course, once at the planet, it’s a trap of sorts and they meet yet another Star Trek madman who wishes to destroy the Federation. He has been looking for a relic that Kirk just happens to have, gained in an earlier mission. Facing an insurmountable swarm of smaller, hive-like ships, they easily tear apart of the Enterprise, forcing all surviving hands off the vessel and onto the planet’s surface where they must find each other and set about a way to save themselves and the Federation entire.
Directed by Justin Lin, from a story by Simon Pegg (and a few others), Star Trek Beyond is not lacking for style. Lin is a good director and stages the story well with a fast pace and some creative sequences. Lin, who cut his teeth in the Fast and Furious franchise, knows how to film action, and if we must sit through one after another as we do, at least it’s engaging and visually exciting, if not a little derivative at this point. There is a moment when, for reasons unexplained, a motorcycle is discovered on the planet, inside a grounded spaceship. And when those curiously unreliable transporters can’t get Kirk where he wants to go, there’s no surprise when it cuts to him zooming way on the bike with a trail of dust behind him. It’s not even amusing, just obvious. That’s the problem with nearly everything in the script. We zip through the paces in familiar fashion with all the triggers pulled and all the buttons pressed. Yes, it looks good and the actors are all in fine form, but it’s so rote, so generic in its action, it’s humor, and even its finale, it does it’s duty and quickly fades away.
The central issue is that, like so many modern films in this and similar genres, is that is never takes a breath. The few moments where it does slow down are so brief and expositional, it feels all the more disappointing, especially given two great possibilities with both Kirk and Spock for adding some real depth to these already well-defined characters. They are simply glossed over and solved just as easily. The movie is so desperate to move to the next senseless fight scene that it forgets that we already care about these people and want to learn more about their stories rather than engage in a battle where there are no consequences since no matter the contrived peril they are in, none of the principals will meet their end.
There’s not all bad here. As mentioned, the cast is great, each now very comfortable in the famous roles. Pine is a confident and swashbuckling Kirk that embraces the origins well while giving it his own touch. Quinto has settled in nicely as the popular Spock and in fact, really feels the most inline with traits of the classic Vulcan. Karl Urban has downright captured the essence of Dr. McCoy, and has a few good lines that get a smile. Pegg has never really tried to be the Scotty of the past and seems content in making his engineer something a little different, and here, lives up to that. He’s always fun to watch. The others are good, too, though relegated to a much smaller presence, with Uhura (Zoe Saldana) all but there to be saved. Much has been said about Sulu (John Cho) revealed as a gay character, but given that we hardly know anything about any of these people’s personal lives (aside from the underdeveloped relationship Spock and Uhura), it’s pretty inconsequential.
The always impressive Idris Elba is the film’s main antagonist, buried under prosthetics and CGI, and does the best he can with a paint-by-number Star Trek villain. Elba is a terrific presence but is stuck in a one-dimensional role, and the film never gets under his motivations enough to give his mission any weight or justification. There is also a character named Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), who figures prominently in the story (and marketing), and has an interesting backstory but, since this is about moving forward as fast as possible, becomes nothing more than another character in a long series of well-choreographed fights sequences and escapes.
Star Trek Beyond does take the series in a less dark direction though keeps a lot of the seriousness. The film is a solid space adventure and is well-produced, but it flies through such familiar places, it won’t offer anything to make it more than a summer filler.
Star Trek Beyond (2016): Review
Director: Justin Lin
Writers: Simon Pegg, Doug Jung
Stars: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldan, John Cho, Simon Pegg, Anton Yelchin, Idris Elba