Movie Review : Star Trek Beyond (2016)
Successfully resurrected movie franchises are few and far between in Hollywood, but I'd say moviemaking's premier storyteller J.J Abrams did a killer job at ushering Gene Rodenberry's Star Trek into another era and creating a new product that's both loyal to its brand and different enough to stand out from the original material. Abrams has been scaling back his involvement with the franchise, though (he's getting involved with, you know, the other guys) and scorned Trekkies around the globe started asking themselves: can it work without him? Can Star Trek Beyond live up to Abram's action-oriented and hilariously self-referential re-imagining of the series? The movie is witty and competent, but it could've used its benefactor's nimble imaginative touch to sidestep a couple boring pitfalls it fell into.
Three years into its mission, the USS Enterprise docks into a spaceport called Yorktown for a resupply and a well-deserved shore leave. While Captain Kirk (pretty mouth Chris Pine) and his squad are kicking back and enjoying their day off in space, a non-federated and very much unidentified spaceship drifts through the port's security perimeter. The only passenger inside claims her crew got ambushed and abducted while passing through a nebula on their way to an unchartered planet. Of course, Kirk and his cosmic boy scouts volunteer for a rescue mission that happens to be a complete fiasco planned by a pissed off warrior named Krall (Idris Elba) with vengeance in his heart.
The overall feeling of fans towards Star Trek Beyond is rather positive. Some critics called it the "most Star Trek movie of the new run" and it's probably the less J.J Abrams-y too, which I'm sure purists loved because Abrams has this very distinct and homogeneous style that couldn't be any further to Gene Rodenberry's. Turned out that Justin Lin (of the Fast & Furious and infamous True Detective, Season 2 legacies) is perfectly capable of imagining scenes of an Abrams-ian scope and turn them into larger-than-life action scenes. I very much loved the first two movies of the franchise's lastest run, though. They made me chuckle, slap my knee and vocally stare in awe, something I hadn't done in years at the movies. So why did Star Trek Beyond felt competent, yet unsatisfying to me?
Star Trek Beyond's screenplay felt lazy, uneven and borderline schizophrenic to me. It's been co-written by Simon Pegg *, a proven comedian, and his contributions are easy to spot. The humorous quip in the dialogue are uproarious and there's a joke pulled right out of Shaun of the Dead's playbook, which I laughed for the entire 5 minutes of its duration because it was well implemented. It's everything else that seemed like it was written on a whim. Star Trek Beyond's entire plot revolves around the failure of running a simple background check which is, you know, kind of an easy, non-time consuming thing to do. The crew is recklessly heading into danger and there's a little part of me that didn't empathize with them for doing so. The USS Enterprise willingly ventured into Shit's Creek and kind of got what was coming to it.
I've got to deplore an entire level of lack of imagination too. Star Trek Beyond is not that removed from any movies that would've happened on Earth. There's a lot of fistfights, martial arts and there's even a freakin' motorcycle chase. I understand the unfamiliar charm of finding such props in space, but you got to give it a defamiliarizing context. Why would I watch a Star Trek movie to watch motorcycle chases and fistfights? Where are the fun landscapes and the crazy imaginative alien races with embarrassing traditions? Justin Lin's great at creating memorable visual moments, but like the nerdwriter Evan Puschak would say: moments are supposed to be the payoff of scenes and while the scenes are clearly there in Star Trek Beyond, I feel like they hastily and thoughtlessly build up to moments.
And don't get me started on that stupid Jedi-like character (played by the otherwise talented Sofia Boutella). She's another hollow, throw-in plot device, except she stays for the entire movie. Way to go writing an empowering character, guys!
I'm dissecting the flaws of Star Trek Beyond because they were incredibly frustrating to me. I love the series' new run and while Trekkie purists might not like it, I feel like it has the potential to create another generation of fans of this rich and fascinating franchise. I thought Star Trek Beyond delivered competent action in the spirit of the first two films, but that it creatively sat on its laurels and didn't deliver much surprise at all **. It felt spectacular, but predictable. Fans of the series are probably going to enjoy it anyway, which is cool and it's difficult to begrudge a movie that does what it's supposed to do. It's just that when earlier movies in the franchise went above and beyond and set the bar high, laziness is going to be magnified and your movie is going to look worse than it should. Star Trek Beyond was kind of a good time, but it was a safe action movie and I think you'll agree with me that this very concept shouldn't even exist.
* Otherwise known as Scotty.
** There is a cool twist, but you learn it when the movie is about to finish.