Action, Bones McCoy, Chris Pine, Drama, Federation, Idris Elba, James T. Kirk, Justin Lin, Karl Urban, Krall, Review, Sci-fi, Scotty, Sequel, Simon Pegg, Spock, Uhura, USS Enterprise, USS Franklin, Yorktown, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana
D: Justin Lin / 122m
Cast: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Idris Elba, Sofia Boutella, Joe Taslim, Lydia Wilson, Deep Roy, Shohreh Aghdashloo
It’s unfortunate, given the response to Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013), that the latest instalment in the JJ Abrams’ revamped movie franchise opens with über-Captain James T. Kirk (Pine) lamenting his time in space as part of the Enterprise’s five year mission. After nine hundred and sixty-six days, Kirk is, frankly, bored, and as he puts it, “wondering what it is we are trying to accomplish”. It’s like a listening to a man who’s treading water in the ocean, far from land, and hoping a shark comes along to break the monotony. Harking after further adventure, Kirk sounds petulant rather than unhappy. But if it’s a challenge he’s after, then he need wait no further, because once the Enterprise has docked at the Federation’s new super-duper starbase, the Yorktown (a nod to the Enterprise’s original name in the original series’ pilot), an alien craft seeking help arrives and propels Kirk and his long-suffering crew into just the kind of adventure that he craves.
Told that an alien menace headed by someone called Krall (Elba) is responsible for the abduction and imprisonment of her crew, Kalara (Wilson), leads Kirk and co to the planet where her crew are being held. Orbiting the planet, the Enterprise suffers a devastating attack, and the main saucer is forced into a crash landing – but not before Krall and his men have invaded the starship and made it clear they’re after an artifact – the Abronath – that is on board, and not before the crew have been either captured by Krall or gotten away by means of the Enterprise’s escape pods. Spock and Bones escape together, as do Kirk and Chekov, while Scotty gets clear by himself. Down on the planet, Scotty meets Jaylah (Boutella), a scavenger whose people were captured and imprisoned by Krall in the past. She takes him to what she calls her ship, and Scotty is amazed to find it’s the remains of the USS Franklin, a ship long considered to have been lost.
Meanwhile, Spock has been injured, and Bones is doing his best to keep him alive. Sulu and Uhura have been captured, and Kirk and Chekov head for the downed Enterprise to see if they can make it operational again. Krall appears to be one step ahead of everyone, and his motive for gaining the Abronath is revealed to be part of a plan of revenge on the Federation. Aided by Jaylah, the crew of the Enterprise come together to fight back against Krall’s homicidal intentions, and in the process, find some very unique ways of taking the fight to him.
When Paramount announced that they were rebooting the original Star Trek franchise and had given the project to JJ Abrams, it seemed like a risky proposition, what with William Shatner et al having become so completely associated with the roles of Kirk and Spock and Bones etc, that it was hard to imagine anyone else portraying them. But Abrams was more than up to the task, and even managed to come up with a plot device that allowed his “new crew” to have their own adventures independently of the original movie series’ timeline. Quinto was a great choice for Spock, Pine had the cocksure audacity of a younger Kirk down pat, and Urban was possibly a better (if underused) Bones than DeForest Kelley. Only the lack of a convincing villain stopped Star Trek (2009) from being a complete triumph. And then Star Trek: Into Darkness tried to be too clever for its own good with its “He’s not Khan/Okay, he is Khan” shenanigans, and overwrought plotting.
Perhaps realising that going “darker” on the first sequel works only on other sci-fi franchises, the producers have decided with this third outing to go lighter and make Star Trek Beyond more like an episode of the original series; or to be more accurate (or cynical – you decide) a retread of Star Trek: Generations (1994). The script, by Simon Pegg and Doug Jung (who appears briefly as Sulu’s husband, a gender acknowledgment that carries no weight whatsoever in the grand scheme of things), coasts along for the most part, and does what the original series always did so well: focuses on the relationships between Kirk, Spock and Bones, gives Scotty a chance to shine when something needs fixing (which happened pretty much every week), adds an alien collaborator to help the crew overcome the villain, throws in said villain and ensures they have a grudge against everyone else, and sidelines Uhura at every opportunity (though she is involved, by reference, in one of the movie’s funniest scenes). A tried and tested formula, to be sure, and one that on this occasion makes for an enjoyable if underwhelming experience.
But while enjoyable is good – and in a loud, dumb, fun kind of way the movie is enjoyable – there’s something missing that stops it from becoming a Star Trek movie that makes you want to go back and view it again because you had such a great experience watching it the first time. Partly because Krall is yet another weak villain, partly because there are too many occasions when the solution to a problem is to “couple the doohickey to the whatchamacallit and transverse the first number you thought of” (and who knew Kirk was so familiar with the properties of FM radio frequencies?), and partly because any plot development that relies on the presence of a fully functioning motor bike on the bridge of a downed starship, is stretching credibility to snapping point. (There are other moments where the viewer’s jaw is in danger of hitting the floor, but to reveal them all would take too long.)
In the director’s chair, Fast & Furious alumni Lin makes a decent enough fist of things but doesn’t manage to provide audiences with anything really memorable to go away with. It’s a turbo-charged experience, to be sure, and Lin, along with his editing team (Greg D’Auria, Dylan Highsmith, Kelly Matsumoto and Steven Sprung) ensures that the movie zips along at an exciting pace. The visuals are as crisp and vibrant as you would expect, and even though there’s an over-reliance on CGI, this is to be expected: it’s a science fiction movie, for Pete’s sake; how else is it going to look? The cast enter into the spirit of things, though Elba struggles with his dialogue thanks to the kind of alien mask that looks great but probably isn’t that functional; and there’s a touching moment where Spock looks at a picture from the past (that he can’t possibly have).
All in all, Star Trek Beyond is a movie that falls under the heading of “honourable mention”. It’s not going to be at the top of anyone’s list of all-time favourite Star Trek movies, but it won’t be anywhere near the bottom, like Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989). It zips along like a young child eager to show off the neat-looking toy it’s just found, but as any parent will tell you, even neat-looking toys can lose their attraction quickly and without warning.
Rating: 6/10 – a middling, superficially diverting entry in the Star Trek canon, Star Trek Beyond is nothing new or special, and only occasionally rises to meet the demands of franchise (and genre) expectations; more a case of “boldly going where everyone has been before” than anything else, the movie is yet another reminder that the odd-numbered entries in the series are the ones that don’t always work.