Star Trek Beyond
US (2016) Dir. Justin Lin
After the disappointing Into Darkness, the second in the rebooted series of films based on Gene Roddenberry’s enduring sci-fi creation, there was a lot of making up to do in restoring the lost faith of the hardcore Trekkies. For this newest outing Justin “Fast & Furious” Lin replaces J.J. Abrams as director while cast member Simon Pegg shared scriptwriting duties.
The basic story is a throwback to the original 1960’s TV series with the crew of the Enterprise, headed as ever by Captain Kirk (Chris Pine), sent to investigate a distress signal sent from Kalara (Lydia Wilson), currently stranded on a remote planet. Kalara is soon found and rescued but it was a ruse set up by the villainous Krall (Idris Elba) to attack the Enterprise.
With Krall’s forces proving overwhelming, the Enterprise is destroyed, the remaining crew members managing to escape in safety pods and landing on the remote planet. Separated from each other, the crew must find a way to survive and reunite with the others to get off the planet and prevent Krall from achieving his goal of destroying the Federation.
As far as sheer spectacle goes, Star Trek Beyond doesn’t disappoint, which can be considered either a strong point or clever tactic to hide the flaws in the story. The biggest is Krall, the central antagonist. This brutish, unrelenting being has a serious grudge against the Federation which is only glibly revealed in the final act, and making little sense at that.
This is probably the only cavil that can be briefly discussed without going into spoiler mode, so we’ll acknowledge the other issues as annoying or implausible contrivances, or in the case of one pivotal scene, as explained in numerous other reviews and columns on this film, a completely redundant and ineffective act of unscientific hubris.
Is it all that bad then? Well not really. As mentioned earlier, this film keeps moving from the onset to the point that some people may not have noticed that there are no opening credits – in other words out of the two hour run time, the film vs. admin ratio generously favours the film. And when it does pause for breath, not a moment is wasted, and it goes towards some form of character development.
This should come as no surprise but the two main beneficiaries are Kirk and Mr. Spock (Zachary Quinto). The latter is not only going through a relationship break-up with Lt. Uhura (Zoe Saldana) but also learns of the death of Ambassador Spock, acknowledging the passing of Leonard Nimoy. When the Enterprise is destroyed, Spock ends up deserted on the planet with Dr. McCoy (Karl Urban), an already uneasy alliance but Spock’s injury forces him to rely heavily on his caustic companion.
For Kirk, he is finding being captain a mundane job and is encouraged to apply for the position of Vice Admiral, but doesn’t want to inform the Enterprise crew just yet. It is with some providence that Krall’s attack should occur at this point, causing Kirk to re-evaluate his attitude and the bond he has formed with his crew/friends. It’s a dilemma that simmers in the background for Kirk while his instincts and loyalties take over as the situation becomes dire.
Quite surprisingly while he gets the lion’s share of witty lines, Simon Pegg’s Scotty hasn’t been pushed to the forefront nor does he leapfrog over Sulu (John Cho) or Checkov (the late Anton Yelchin) to greater prominence. Scotty does however get the girl so to speak when he meets lone alien scavenger Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), who has something in her possession that Scotty might be able to make some use of.
Jaylah is a promising character in both her unique appearance and her kick ass female credentials. She gets to show a little of her skills here and with a teaser of a possible return in the next film (provided this one doesn’t bomb), could provide an interesting dynamic to what is a testosterone heavy Enterprise crew (Uhurua notwithstanding).
Two things which overshadowed the film prior to its release – the tragic death of Yelchin and the revelation that Sulu is gay – and both are handled with respect and minimum fuss. In the final scene where Kirk calls for a toast and says “To absent friends” the camera turns to the party where Yelchin is front and centre, giving the moment an added poignancy.
The Sulu issue however is understated and barely noticeable, lasting a few seconds and with no physical interaction between the two men aside from a hug. They have a young daughter together and make for a happy family until, so whether George Takei or anyone else objects that this isn’t canon, frankly there is nothing to object to. Hell, if Spock and Uhurua can become lovers…
One thing that is always guaranteed in a Star Trek film is the visual effects and the screen is literally crawling with some kind of vibrant kinetic activity more often than not. Because it is sci-fi, what constitutes “overkill” will be debated for the ages and this film can be held up as an example of this as any other from the past decade.
Yet as this is directed from a man who made his name making films about cars driving fast, the frenetic action scenes should not be seen as a surprise, with Justin Lin bringing with much of this motor mad energy with him. Now, if he just learn how to do “subtle”…
The good news is that Star Trek Beyond is much better than Into Darkness, but still is a way behind the 2009 film. It does a good job of cementing some of the key relationships going forward and provides plenty of excitement in the process. If there is a fourth film it just needs to be less indulgent to finally win back the disillusioned Trekkies.
Rating – *** ½
Man In Black