STAR TREK BEYOND REVIEW
Warning: Spoilers below
To quote the recently departed Vikings/Cardinals head football coach Dennis Green, the Star Trek movie from the guy who did Fast and Furious “are who we thought they are” or in this case, the film is just as you would have expected it to be based on the director’s resume. If your going to crown Justin Lin…crown him, just don’t put much thought into it. (sorry I was a big Dennis Green fan and will miss him) As such, I’m left with the impression Star Trek: Beyond is a simple, high energy, well-paced action film that succeeds as a summer popcorn flick, yet “boldly” fails as a Star Trek movie or iconic piece of science fiction.
Let me start by saying that I consider myself both a science fiction and Star Trek fan. I have seen every Star Trek movie ever made and think of the franchise as a beloved and treasured part of my life and childhood. So far, I’ve liked the new Abram’s material for the most part. While I’ve had some issues with the devolution of older concepts, I have mostly enjoyed the experiences.
Star Trek: Beyond is about on par with this. While I had serious problems with some of the aspects, I generally was ogled and amazed by the visuals, chemistry of the characters and fast paced story.
First, let’s get to what I disliked:
Star Trek Beyond recycles, revamps and repurposes dozens of past themes and notions from old sci fi flicks, specifically its own history. While unoriginality is not much of a crime these days, this appropriation doesn’t really slip into the area of homage either…this film is directly hoping you are a new viewer or just never saw the old stuff. Think “rip off” rather than tribute.
Let me briefly summarize the highly original story:
Star Trek Crew visits uber new space station and is asked to investigate strange Nebula only they can penetrate. Insert obligatory scene where Kirk considers a promotion to Admiral he is offered. Mission commences. Nebula, which blocks all communication (no back up), harbors vengeful aliens with a Captain-Ahab meets Count Dracula leader. Enterprise ambushed, destroyed and left to crash on planet. (including dramatic saucer section cataclysm) Crew regroups and must make do surviving and befriending the population. Naturally, an alien super weapon shows up. Rock out to beastie Boys. Team over-comes villains via ingenuity, stops obsessed leader just before an explosive final battle. Insert Dues Ex Machina solution to the problem. Alien super weapon shown to be not so super. Big party. Kirk tells ‘em to take the promotion and shove it. New Enterprise is shown under construction and within the station’s hanger dock. How convenient. Roll credits.
If this is not the mish-moshed plot of at least three existing Star Trek movies, I don’t know what is. Beyond, touted as a tightly wound stand-alone film, is made for fans who wouldn’t know the Mutara from the bad guy in Zoolander. And please, if I get another “rap rock” battle or rockin’ racing montage I think I’m gonna puke. Why does everything need to be so dumbed down?
Sadly, this current octane-fueled series continues in the vein of blurring on-screen motion, distraction, and high energy “furiousness” that the high-brow fans of yore tend to reject and see as a regression of Gene Rodenberry’s sacred concept. Unfortunately, we of the old guard are being outflanked. I half expected “The Rock” to show up and kick in some space hatch and ask us to “smell what he’s cookin'”. I mean it’s made from the guy who gave us that stuff….what did we expect?
Science themes (no small issue for Trek fans) and the logistics of plot points are glossed over without even an effort to dilute or explain in Star Trek-esque science babble. I mean, come on “mining equipment” again? The material doesn’t even try to describe Krall’s transformation, nor the physics and technology of Krall’s nigh-invincible fleet. Of course that “super weapon” never seems so super, and serves as the most cliché of tired McGuffins and potential Dues Ex Machina all at once. Speaking of Dues Ex, don’t rule out the Beastie Boys there.
One note: George Takei’s expressed reservations on Sulu’s exposition as homosexual are confirmed. Aside from Rodenberry’s intentions for the character, turns out, the scene is token, random and totally without any meaning. Even more alarming is Sulu himself is basically a background character in this film. Again, something that should have been meaningful and substrative is reduced to a simple visual.
In terms of politics, more concerning than the more touted statements about sexuality, were the same old underlying lectures within the film that militarism or more accurately the military is “bad and sinister”. Once again, left wing Hollywood paints veterans and soldiers as something mental, incapable of dealing with life after peace and incompatible with a forward thinking society. Even within Star Trek, this is an old, tired concept. We were just exposed to a newfangled version of the same lesson last movie with Benedict Cumberbatch’s underwhelming Khan. Here, Krall basically has the same core motivations of Khan, and it’s not even laid thin. For a series always needing an antagonist, I found it lazy and insulting. I mean not only did the last film give us this redux with Khan…but the film doubled-down on this notion with the nefarious Admiral portrayed by Peter Weller. How much of this do we need?
Did I mention the music is only so-so and nowhere near as iconic as the former films?
(Takes deep breath)
Now for what was positive:
All that being said, there was surprisingly, still plenty of enjoyment here. The movie was paced well, and the plot, rehashed and all, clicks along nicely without dragging. The CGI and effects are rendered wonderfully and in awe inspiring effectiveness. Overall, I really liked the scenery and execution of space, the ships, planets and other visuals we got here. The make-up and alien designs were solid. Star Trek’s artistic themes have changed, and this isn’t all bad. The new unifoms, weapons and technology appear very video-game esque, yet still well done, interesting and aesthetic. Fans of things like Bungie’s Halo and Destiney will dig these visuals.
Even better, the now familiar and reimagined classic characters, namely Kirk, Scotty, Spock and Bones….really seem to gel in this movie. In many ways, this crew is hitting their stride with on-screen chemistry. The dialogue was well done and so was the delivery. I cannot stress enough how this factor saved this movie. Pine and Quinto excel. Simon Pegg alone gave this score a healthy amount of the rating. The effect of this was that I cared about what happened to these guys/gals, even despite the fact I sorta knew where it was all going. The aspect hammers in a firm point I’ve always theorized: in fiction, originality is overrated; give me a solid pace and good characters any day. Let’s be honest, The Wrath of Kahn wasn’t the most original film ever made either.
Newcomers to the Star Trek films also shine; Elba handles the one-dimensional and murderous villain Krall with ease. The alien and affable marooned Sofia Boutella’s Jaylah nearly steals the show.
Another note: while I have criticized this series as not being for the old fans, there is a nice tribute to the old crew, namely for Leonard Nimoy and his beloved and definitive version of Spock. Well done and thank you, Mr. Lin.
I especially enjoyed the first scene in the movie, a brief diplomatic vignette that harkened to the best of Lin’s grasp of humor and was a rare homage to the old films. It was a wonderful counterpoint to the adrenaline inspired film to follow.
Truthfully, with all of Beyond’s many faults, I still left the theater feeling satisfied and that I had seen something worth my time. Thus, I would recommend the film, warts and all.
In closing this film is enjoyable and not a disaster, it’s a fast paced popcorn flick…yet fails as any sort of introspective work of seminal science fiction. I have confidence that Director Justin Lin could do some really nice work in the realm of a Marvel movie or more adrenaline charged space opera….he’s just not the right fit for Star Trek.
I give the movie 6/10 Stars