A film review by Craig J. Koban July 30, 2016


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.  

To 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 action. 

That 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. 



STAR 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.

Unfortunately, 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 in. 

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. 


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