Star Trek Beyond

  • star_trek_beyond_ver2Year:  2016
  • Director:  Justin Lin
  • Series Rank:  #9
  • The Enterprise Crew:  Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Anton Yelchin
  • Villain:  Idris Elba

SPOILER-FREE

Wil Wheaton, an actor who I am not inclined to give much leeway to, as he played one of the most annoying Star Trek characters ever (I actually dislike Guinan more), tweeted a response to the original premiere of the Star Trek Beyond trailer back in December that I agreed with at the time: “I saw the weirdest trailer today. It was for a generic science fiction action movie, but it was all dressed up in Star Trek costumes.”  But, a little ways into this film, I settled back and accepted the inevitable: as much as Star Trek was never an action franchise during the first 40 years of its existence, it certainly is now.  I may not like it, but there’s no point in continually harping over it when that’s clearly the decision they have made.  They want to give you nonstop action whether you want it or not.  So, let’s focus on other things.

Like what is wrong with this film.  Unlike when I did the For Love of Film: James Bond posts, when I had high hopes for SPECTRE, I didn’t have a lot of hope that Star Trek Beyond would be all that good.  Yet, actually walking into the film, I was feeling excited, if for no other reason than that this was the first time in seven months that Veronica and I had been able to go to a movie by ourselves.  Then the film began and the action started to ramp up.  But the problem wasn’t that this was a science fiction action movie.  It’s that Wheaton was right – this was a generic science fiction action movie.  But then something else happened – the characters started interacting with each other.

Let’s set things up first.  The Enterprise is in the midst of its five year mission (the earliest scenes in the film are the first time we actually get a glimpse that this crew could be explorers, except where the hell is Alice Eve, who was so set-up at the end of the last film to continue?) and has docked at the Yorktown, a giant starbase.  This is another of those annoyances of the new franchise, and in multiple ways.  The first is that they want to have great new special effects in these films, so they create this amazing starbase that should be way beyond anything that could be accomplished at this point in Star Trek history just so it can look cool.  And the second is that it does look cool – just like it looked cool when I saw it the first time a few years ago in the film Elysium – have some originality people.  But, there is some good as well, as Kirk and Spock both find themselves at crossroads.  Kirk’s has to do with his future, and if this really does establish that this is not William Shatner’s Kirk, it also allows for some growth in Chris Pine’s acting which is a big improvement.  Spock’s growth has to do with the way the film interweaves something that has happened in real life between the films into the plot in a manner that is both smart and poignant.  Back to the plot, an alien creature arrives at the base telling tales of her crew being captured on a strange unexplored planet.  The Enterprise is sent on a rescue mission, but it soon becomes an ambush and the ship is completely destroyed.

This is where things start to go so horribly wrong with this film.  Remember back to Star Trek III, when Kirk made the decision to destroy the ship in order to hopefully save his crew?  That was a poignant moment that was built up and you really felt it.  Here, the ship is destroyed so totally and so quickly that you don’t feel anything at all – you never have time.  You’re just rushing from one moment to the next.  The main seven members of the crew get separated into four groups.  From this point on, almost anything having to do with the plot of the film is simply terrible.  It is exactly what we feared – a generic science fiction action film.  Worse yet, like the previous film, it continually grabs ideas from previous Star Trek films.  Aspects of the villain are taken from terrible villains in Star Trek V and Insurrection.  Even Idris Elba can’t save the villain because his performance is so buried in makeup and a changing voice.  The basic notion that we need war to make us stronger comes from both Star Trek VI and Into Darkness.  The dangerous weapon he wields is strongly reminiscent of the weapon from Nemesis.  Even the ending of the film is pretty much stolen from an earlier film, but I won’t say which, although it will become obvious when you see it.  Like the last several films, this one is strongly lacking in originality.

But just when it looks like things are too bleak, there is a saving grace for the film.  Oh, it doesn’t make it a strong film, but it saves it from being on the level of the weakest films in the franchise.  It is all the moments that don’t have to do with the plot.  It is the character moments.  As I said, Chris Pine comes into his own as Kirk in this film – his Kirk is derived from Shatner’s, but he also makes him a bit more his own.  Sulu is given a bit of his own character (although that’s really just a plot device to give someone on the ship someone to care about on the Yorktown when it is put in danger).  Anton Yelchin gives a far better performance than in the first two.  Simon Pegg, who also co-wrote the film (given his penchant for comedy and his knowledge of the franchise, I’m gonna go ahead and assume he wrote the good character parts and that Doug Jung wrote all the crappy plot parts) has great moments with Jaylah (more on her a little later).  Zoe Saldana continues to be the heart of the franchise, especially in the moment where she makes a big sacrifice, although she is given much less to do in this film.  But that’s because we get what we didn’t really get much of in the first two films – a lot of McCoy and Spock.

Before I get to them, I’ll focus on Jaylah for a minute, because she was kind of a point of contention between Veronica and I.  Veronica felt that the film was really rather boring, with so much non-stop action, it just kind of numbed you.  But she really liked the character of Jaylah (the story of whose name you can read about on this page, is amusing), an alien the crew meet on the planet once they are stranded who helps them out.  I thought Jaylah was an okay character, but either because the character doesn’t naturally speak English or because actress Sofia Boutella doesn’t naturally speak English, has a very mannered performance and I found that rather grating.

Now, back to McCoy and Spock.  In the evacuation, they get stranded together and it provides the best moments of the film.  The original films had focused on the relationship between the main three characters, but the relationship between McCoy and Spock has been mostly left underdeveloped in the new films.  That is all fixed here.  Urban’s gruff demeanor as Bones and Quinto’s attempt to push his emotions deeper (made more poignant because of what he learns early in the film) play off each other in fine style.  If, in the end, there is too much plot and not enough of Bones and Spock to make the film one of the better films in the franchise, their scenes are at least enough to keep this from being one of the worst.

Now we come to the end, a moment which reminds me of the end of SPECTRE and which is completely emblematic of how I feel about this new franchise.  I wrote this about SPECTRE: “if this is the final Bond film with Craig, or even the final Bond film, then I think it ends just the way I would want it to end.”  I came out of the film saying that if this were the final Star Trek film, then what this film does with the final lines of the film would make it a wonderful way to go out, a perfect tribute to what has gone before and the strengths of the way they have assembled this new crew.  But, unlike Bond, we know this isn’t the end.  They’ve already announced that there will be a new film starring Chris Pine and Chris Hemsworth, who played Kirk’s father and died in the first few minutes of the first rebooted film.  How they will do that, I don’t know, and the very idea sounds stupid.  Like I said, this is emblematic of the new films – do something wonderful and poetic and then completely undermine it.

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