STAR TREK BEYOND
PG-13, 120 mins.
2016, PG-13, 120 mins.
Chris Pine as Kirk / Zachary Quinto as Spock / Karl Urban as Bones / Zoe Saldana as Uhura / Simon Pegg as Scotty / John Cho as Sulu / Anton Yelchin as Chekov / Idris Elba as Krall / Sofia Boutella as Jaylah / Deep Roy as Keenser / Alice Eve as Dr. Carol Marcus
Directed by Justin Lin / Written by Doug Jung and Simon Pegg
The more films from this newly minted STAR TREK reboot series that I screen the more I think that its makers don’t really have a firm grasp on what made the classic 1960's STAR TREK series…well…STAR TREK.
me, Gene Roddenbery and his creative crew of yesteryear intuitively new
the dime store production restraints of their series, which
essentially required them to become creative when it came to the finer
accoutrements of storytelling, character dynamics, and themes.
The central brilliance of the original adventures of the Starship
Enterprise was that it tackled large, weighty, and topical ideas that reflected contemporary woes despite its deep futuristic setting.
It was a TV show with soul and brains, and one that was definitely
not about pummeling viewers with visual effects and bombastically numbing
was the overwhelming problem with J.J. Abrams' first two STAR TREK films in
this new franchise retrofitting: The 2009
introductory installment and the very wrongheaded follow-up INTO
DARKNESS were ostensibly more concerned with the STAR WARS-ification
of the STAR TREK brand (Abrams, by his own public admission, has always
been more of a fan of George Lucas’ fantasy than he is for
Roddenbery’s more thoughtful and contemplative sci-fi odyssey).
STAR TREK is and never should be space opera, and the increased
predilection of Abrams’ films to deliver eye popping spectacle first and
existentialist pontificating a very distant second really rubbed me the
wrong way. There was very
little keen interest in exploring “big ideas”
in these films. Yes, these
new STAR TREKS are undeniably spiffy and glossy, but those traits are what
makes them paradoxically more superficial at their core.
They don’t feel like they belong in the grand and proud tradition
of thinking-man’s science fiction.
TREK BEYOND, rather mournfully, continues down with the relative dumbing
down of the franchise as a whole. That’s
not to say that this film – or its predecessors – are not populated by
appealingly game actors or are aesthetic write offs.
No, it’s just that this latest yarn featuring Captain Kirk and
company is, yet again, disappointingly thin on plot and very heavy on
visual wow factor. There has been ample pre-release news that this STAR TREK installment
has course corrected the wrongs of the last two films and hones in
on the roots of the original series and what made it so refreshingly
great. Oddly enough, that’s
never really readily apparent in this film, which, on one positive, tells
an original story that doesn’t lazily riff on past STAR TREK films of
old (as INTO DARKNESS was indefensibly guilty of).
Even though STAR TREK BEYOND does try to boldly go where this
reboot series has never gone before, it nevertheless stalls on its journey to
get us there. In many ways,
it just re-commits some of the same sins as what came before it.
This new film
opens as the crew of the Enterprise has logged 966 days of its five-year
mission to explore strange new worlds and seek out new life and new
civilizations. Although proud
of what he’s accomplished as captain during that time, James T. Kirk
(Chris Pine) is starting to ponder whether or not his time is best served
on board a starship, having just put in an application for a
Vice-Admiralship for Yorktown, a massive space station with its own
internal atmosphere and cities that wrap around it globe-like structure.
Kirk secretly – without Spock (Zachary Quinto) knowing – wishes
for his science officer to be promoted to captain when he departs the
position. His plans, however,
are put on hold when Starfleet orders the Enterprise into unknown
territory on a fact finding mission, only to be sneak attacked by Krall (Idris
Elba), a vindictive monster that has developed a very personal vendetta against Starfleet.
The Enterprise is destroyed in the attack, leaving most of the crew
marooned on a nearby planet, befriended by a tribal warrior
named Jayla (the slinky and dexterous Sophia Boutella from KINGSMAN:
THE SECRET SERVICE)
that also wants to see Krall pay.
One thing that STAR TREK BEYOND does get right is its few scenes of key characters playing off of one another while stranded on the mysterious planet, especially moments between "Bones" McCoy (Karl Urban) and Spock, which does echo their classic love/hate bromance of the original series. I also liked the inclusion of Boutella’s ivory skinned and tattooed Jayla as she gives this film a much needed jolt of sass and humor. That, and as mentioned, there’s at least an attempt to tell a new narrative that’s not tied to or slavishly adheres to past Star Trekian stories. Simon Pegg, who appears yet again as engineer Scotty and also serves double duty as co-writer of STAR TREK BEYOND, tries to ensure that this film doesn’t just rehash plot points and beats from iconic STAR TREK films/episodes of old.
STAR TREK BEYOND is so worried about taking its time and patiently
examining its characters and the predicaments they’re collectively in that
it has the counterproductive aura of feeling rushed, despite its two-hour
runtime. Abrams has
been replaced this go around with Justin Lin, whom previously directed, to
be very fair, some of the best entries in the FAST AND FURIOUS action
franchise. Lin embodies this
new STAR TREK with a unique stylistic sensibility that doesn’t feel like
its pathetically miming every Abrams’ visual flourishes (which is
welcome), but he – much like his director predecessor – seems to only want
to propel this film forward to the next eye popping large scale action set piece,
which has the negative consequence of ditching what could have been more
refined and compelling handling of this film’s core ideas of duty,
sacrifice, and revenge.
This brings me to
Krall, who emerges as yet another really squandered opportunity for a STAR
TREK baddie of sizeable weight and significance.
After equally disappointing antagonists like Eric Bana’s Nero and
Benedict Cumberbatch’s Khan, Krall reiterates this new franchise’s
inability to generate intriguing villains that hold up to what has come
well before. This stems from
the approach to Krall as a whole: We have one of our most commanding
actors working today in Elba cast in the role, but he’s inexplicably
caked in makeup throughout STAR TREK BEYOND to unrecognizable levels.
What’s the point of casting an actor of his volcanic stature and
imposing presence if you’re just going to bury him under pounds of latex
appliances? It’s such a
tremendous misuse of proven talent, made all the more dissatisfying seeing
as Krall, on paper, never fully commands the stature of a truly gripping
antagonist. When his real
identity and motivations are revealed it’s all for naught, seeing as
they come far too bloody late in the proceedings to care about or invest
STAR TREK BEYOND builds towards a climax that delivers on a lot of anachronistic music choices (this reboot series loves its Beastie Boys) and some nifty gravity defying fisticuffs between Krall and Kirk that does display some ingenuity. Yet, finales like this – with an ostentatious preponderance of CG effects, rapid fire and chaotic editing that’s akin to a rock video, and a would-be rousing payoff that’s never really all that rousing - leaves STAR TREK BEYOND feeling lost in space with the countless other summer popcorn entertainments that all manage to look and feel the same at this point in pure hindsight. I’ve been very patiently waiting for this reboot STAR TREK series to finally build to something that pays respectful homage to the timeless iconography of Roddenbery’s small screen universe, but BEYOND is simply not up to the task. This sequel is lightweight fun in small dosages and the cast is as amiable and charming as ever, but it never emerges as anything deeply meditative. STAR TREK BEYOND has a state of the art façade through and through, but it’s ultimately empty minded. This compulsively enthralling cinematic universe should stand proudly apart from the pact and push the boundaries of the genre frontier. Sadly, STAR TREK BEYOND doesn’t boldly go as far as it thinks it does.