Star Trek Beyond
Justin Lin takes the director’s chair from J.J. Abrams to deliver Star Trek Beyond; the third in the alternate reality reboot of Star Trek.
Three years ago I walked out of the midnight screening of Star Trek Into Darkness as an angry man. Nobody should be as angry as I was at 2am and I think it’s fair to say that that anger consumed me as time went on. I grew to resent Star Trek as an entity and dread what would happen next. Anyone who knows me will testify that Star Trek is my favourite entertainment property ever. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t watch Star Trek and I don’t imagine a time will ever come where it ceases to be one of the pillars in my life.
To me, Star Trek Into Darkness was a betrayal of the potential that the reboot had and showed a lack of understanding of what makes it such a beloved thing to so many people. I’d had a hard enough time accepting a reboot as it was and the second film had all but cemented the whole thing as a bad idea conceived by people who just didn’t get it. I recently hosted two podcasts on these films, you can find them here and here.
The reason for this extended preamble where I don’t actually talk about Star Trek Beyond is because I feel that it is important to understand where I was coming from as a fan of Star Trek in general. A large part of me was dreading this film as the one trailer I watched made it look like the “magic” of Star Trek had been missed again. I didn’t set out to hate this film but everything I had been exposed to suggested that it wasn’t going to be for me.
Imagine my surprise when I came out of the midnight screening with a big dumb grin on my face. I was basically the opposite of myself from three years ago and I’m absolutely delighted to say that this film really worked for me for so many wonderful reasons.
The story this time is that the crew of the Enterprise are nearly three years into their 5 year mission and there are a lot of doubts among the crew. Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) is starting to forget what the appeal in being an explorer is, Spock (Zachary Quinto) is having his own existential crisis about his place in the universe and there’s a general sense of fatigue about the crew. They’ve been in deep space for a long time and have been feeling it for a long time.
One of the major themes of the film is passion and motivation. Kirk is starting to lose his and it’s implied that the same is happening to the rest of the crew. It makes sense considering the crew will look to their captain for inspiration so if he seems to be going through the motions then they have no real reason to feel differently. I liked this angle as exploration in Star Trek has mostly been depicted as being infinitely exciting but having a very human sense of cabin fever creep in adds a layer of realism that we can all relate to.
The tedium is broken when the Enterprise is sent on a rescue mission that results in a devastating attack where the Enterprise is destroyed and the crew are separated. From here the bulk of the film is focused on the crew reuniting and dealing with the crisis at hand.
Breaking up the crew into smaller groups turns out to be a great idea as it enhances the notion that this is an ensemble piece with a collection of characters rather than having the focus being on a handful of them. Kirk, Spock, Doctor McCoy (Karl Urban), Scotty (Simon Pegg) and Uhura (Zoe Saldana) still get more to do than everyone else but nobody feels marginalised here. Everyone gets their fair share of great moments and it really comes across that they all have unique skills to bring to the table. None of the previous films featuring the original crew have managed to use all of the characters as effectively as this film does.
The initial pairings are somewhat unlikely with Kirk and Chekov (Anton Yelchin) being thrust together until they manage to reconnect with others. Spock and McCoy feels like an obvious choice but having them together without Kirk to temper their interactions forces them to create that middle ground for themselves. It’s a fascinating look into how the character relationships work and how they have evolved over the time they have spent together.
Being one of the writers, it could be said that Simon Pegg has allowed himself to be a little self indulgent by beefing up Scotty’s role since he happens to also being the actor playing that character but I didn’t feel that he was being put in more scenes just to give Pegg more screen time. He felt like an important part of the plot and his engineering skills prove indispensable in the middle of this brutal situation.
Pegg and his writing partner Doug Jung certainly understand these characters and add different aspects to them while remaining true to the core of who they are. For the first time in this reboot series I felt like I was watching James T. Kirk rather than this negligent pretender that appeared in the other two films. In this film Kirk is intelligent, resourceful and clearly someone who is able to earn the respect of those around him. There are examples of him being the ground based action hero as well as a the commander in the centre chair with both sides of him being believable. Chris Pine is a natural fit for this character and has plenty of opportunity to really become the James T. Kirk I wanted to see without imitating William Shatner.
Spock is very different to his TV counterpart but it all makes sense in the context of this universe. Events have caused his emotions to be closer to the surface and the story makes good use of that aspect of his character. Quinto embodies the character so well and his Spock never fails to be a compelling character.
The rest of the cast all do brilliant jobs as well. Zoe Saldana has always been likeable as Uhura and this outing is no exception. John Cho brings a fresh spin on Sulu that shines through his somewhat limited screen time and Anton Yelchin manages to capture the eccentric nature of Chekov without overplaying it to the point that his intelligence isn’t believable. Basically he reminds us why his recent tragic death has robbed us of an interesting actor. Simon Pegg’s Scotty is still problematic but he’s much better with a script that understands what the strengths of that character are.
Sofia Boutella joins the cast as the resourceful Scavenger Jaylah and she is a welcome addition. Her character has an implied tragic backstory that isn’t developed all that heavily but Boutella brings a lot to the table with her believable physicality and strong performance that makes the character feel like more than an afterthought. She blends in well with the Enterprise crew.
It could be argued that this reboot series has too much of an action focus and I can certainly see why people would feel that way. This is definitely a summer blockbuster and has a lot of action peppered throughout. In this case I didn’t have a problem with it as most of the sequences were really creative and kept things focused on the characters. There is one in particular that really showcases how skilled the crew are but I won’t spoil the details.
One of the highlights is the destruction of the Enterprise. This is featured heavily in the trailers and it’s a really impressive sequence when viewed in its entirety. People always say that the Enterprise feels like another character in the show and seeing her destroyed in this film feels like the death of a beloved character. It’s handled in a way that makes the loss a personal one for the crew and for Kirk in particular.
Is it a flawless film? Of course not! It really suffers in the villain of the piece. Idris Elba’s Krall is massively underdeveloped until the end of the film and by the time his motivations are explained it feels like it’s too late for it to mean anything. There was actually an opportunity to connect Krall to Kirk on a really personal level but there’s just not enough time for it to develop properly so he just feels like another forgettable Star Trek villain. Idris Elba is impressively menacing in the part but he doesn’t get a lot to do and lacks depth for the bulk of the film.
It is established early on that he is seeking revenge against the Federation and that’s about all there is to him. For those counting that is five Star Trek films in a row where the villain is bent on revenge. Maybe next time a different motivating factor should be attempted.
Another problem the film has is that the plot is really predictable. There is a lot of clumsy foreshadowing in the early scenes that are obviously designed to pay off towards the end. As such I could see many of the “surprises” coming a mile off. None of these elements needed foreshadowing to this degree as they could easily have been organically introduced as the story progresses.
I feel compelled to mention this even though it absolutely isn’t a criticism. On September 8th, 2016 it will be the 50th anniversary of Star Trek but on the whole this film didn’t feel like an anniversary experience. There is a nice Easter Egg in there that reminds us of the legacy this franchise has but other than that it feels like another entry in the franchise rather than honouring the milestone. I don’t hold this against the film at all because I think that making a Star Trek film that honours what the franchise stands for in so many ways is tribute enough but it does bear mentioning.
An excellent film that really understands what it is that makes Star Trek great. There’s a lot of impressive action but the film never forgets about the characters involved. It feels very much line an ensemble piece that gives each character important things to do and shows why their skills make them useful. Having another revenge driven villain lets things down somewhat and the plot is a little predictable but there’s no denying that Star Trek is good again and I couldn’t be more delighted.
- every character having something worthwhile to do
- creative action sequences
- a script that really understands why people like Star Trek
- actors that honour the characters while putting their own stamp on it
- Star Trek being good again
- an underused villain
- the villain motivations being fleshed out far too late for them to be meaningful
- a somewhat predictable plot