Review: Star Trek Beyond

With Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock (Zachary Quinto) both contemplating serious life choices, the Enterprise crew responds to a rescue assignment that turns bad and causes catastrophic damage to the Enterprise. The crew are forced to abandon ship and hop into lifepods that land in separate parts of an alien planet. Warrior-like alien Krall (Idris Elba) wants something Kirk has, and if he gets possession of it, it’ll result in all kinds of hell. Spock finds himself having to team up with the ever-irascible Dr. McCoy (Karl Urban), whilst Scotty (Simon Pegg) finds himself teaming with an alien warrior woman named Jaylah (A heavily made-up Sofia Boutella), a scavenger who has her own score to settle with Krall.

Although I enjoyed the previous two J.J. Abrams-directed “Star Trek” films, I did have some reservations in regards to the way Abrams had treated all that came before him and his version of the franchise. To be honest, I don’t fall into lock-step with people on the previous incarnations of “Star Trek” either, as my favourite is “Search for Spock” and I think “Star Trek: Nemesis” is at least a bit underrated. So I don’t come to this 2016 third film in the new franchise, this time directed by Justin Lin (“Annapolis”, “Fast 5”, “Fast & Furious 6”), with perhaps the same viewpoint as many of you. The reviews for this one, scripted by co-star Simon Pegg and Doug Jung (best known for “Confidence” with Ed Burns and Dustin Hoffman) haven’t been terribly good, and actually I’m gonna fall a little bit into line with that view myself. It’s a step down from the previous two films, especially the underrated “Star Trek Into Darkness”.

It starts well, with a very funny opening scene that is like a tongue-in-cheek version of something from the original TV series. We also get some pretty eye-popping visuals and the best music score to date by the ubiquitous Michael Giacchino (“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”, “Star Trek”, “Star Trek Into Darkness”) that is so outstanding, that it’s also the best “Trek” score since Jerry Goldsmith’s majestic one for “Star Trek: First Contact” (My second favourite “Trek” film). Meanwhile, did they really need to make Sulu gay? Nope. Do I find George Takei’s objections to it misguided and rather weird? Absolutely. In fact, it’s the one time I don’t think this incarnation of “Trek” is being disrespectful to Gene Roddenberry or stomping on previous “Trek” lore just ‘coz the filmmakers can. I had zero issues with it.

I think Zachary Quinto is getting better at balancing Spock’s human and Vulcan sides to where it’s not distractingly askew in this film, which is good. The previously douchy Chris Pine is starting to grow on me a bit too, as Captain Kirk. Best of all, boy does this work on an action level, to the point where it’s seemingly so dangerous that at times you’re worried someone important won’t survive. I’m not just talking about the fact that Uhura (Zoe Saldana) is in red, either.

I do wish that director Lin and cinematographer Stephen F. Windon (“House of Wax”, “Fast 5”) didn’t favour shaky-cam so much though, and there’s probably not enough action. It’s probably not fair to say that Zoe Saldana and John Cho are the best Lt. Uhura and Mr. Sulu, because this particular version of the franchise cares more about them than the original series/films did. Still, fuck it…they are and it’s not even close. It was a pretty brilliant idea to have Spock and Bones alone together, but it’s not as much fun as it could’ve been because Karl Urban, as ever, just doesn’t cut it as Dr. McCoy. Yes, the character is the source of most of the film’s humour, but I just don’t buy the incredibly bland Urban as Bones. The late Anton Yelchin is a perfectly fine Mr. Chekov, but the film doesn’t much care about the character and Yelchin was capable of so much more. Speaking of caring, we come to the main flaw that keeps this film from earning a whole-hearted recommendation from me: The villains. Led by a mostly unrecognisable Idris Elba (most overrated actor right now? Top 5 surely) failing to get out from behind the makeup and silly voice, these villains feel very ‘TV Trek’ to me, even more so than the two lesser entries in the “Next Generation” film franchise, “Star Trek: Generations” and “Star Trek: Insurrection”. This alien race are basically bland Klingon-lite aliens (who admittedly aren’t entirely alien) and terribly lacking in menace or threat. Hell, even the overall plot has a bit of a minor league “Trek” feel to it. It’s hard to become truly invested in a film when the plot is so-so and you’re only invested in one side of the central conflict, and even then mostly through the supporting cast. Getting back to Elba though, it’s rather unfortunate that his character only gets interesting with about 15 minutes left to go. By then it’s a bit too late, and why does he suddenly change accents? That never quite made sense to me. Foreign accent syndrome perhaps? There’s an awesome final shot that almost makes the film worthwhile, with narration of a familiar speech by the entire main cast. That was cool.

Perhaps a slightly underrated film, but very much a mixed bag and the weakest of the new era “Star Trek” films for sure. The visuals, music score, and action all work (even if the latter may piss off the Roddenberry purists), but the story and villains are lacking. Dedicated to the recently departed Yelchin and Leonard Nimoy, it’s…just OK “Trek”. Even with this minor misstep and Yelchin’s death, I hope they do continue on with the series as they haven’t hit a speed bump the size of “Star Trek- The Motion Picture” or “Star Trek IV: The Overrated One” yet. 

Rating: C+


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