As a lifelong fan, I so wanted to love this latest installment in the latest wave of ‘Star Trek’ films. I’ve been hooked on the optimistic future, melodrama and visual effects of the show since Shatner was helming the original Starship Enterprise on television. When J.J.Abrams brought his flair and action sensibilities to the reboot of the franchise after ten increasingly dull films, I loved it. The 2009 reinvention of the entire mythos was excellent, from its gripping opening scene to the last frame. Abrams didn’t do as well with the second installment, 2013’s ‘Star Trek Into Darkness,’ even with the addition of the fabulous Benedict Cumberbatch, but I forgave Abrams and the cast and crew because it was still a fun space adventure.
And so we get to ‘Star Trek Beyond.’
I really, really wanted to love it, but I left the theater scratching my head over the glaring plot holes, daft story sidelines, and special effects misfires. Yes, there’s a very satisfying thread about main characters Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock (Zachary Quinto) being introspective about their lives and future goals, but it’s all ultimately just window dressing for the action set pieces that propel the story forward. Mostly.
The film takes place “three years into their five-year mission in deep space” which suggests that there are two more movies in the franchise story arc until the Enterprise is retired (though it’s destroyed in every film, so maybe it’ll end up like a famous athlete’s jersey, just pinned to the wall at a Starfleet bar in some distant galaxy). ‘Star Trek Beyond’ opens with a silly scene where Kirk is presenting an alien artifact as a peace offering to broker the end of hostilities between two planets. He fails, is beamed back up to the USS Enterprise and the crew arriving at the magnificent, just built Starbase Yorktown for supplies and shore leave. This space station is really cool, looking like something out of Larry Niven’s terrific ‘Ringworld’ books than anything we’ve seen before from the Federation.
While on the Yorktown, they interrogate the mysterious Kalara (Lydia Wilson) who shares a story of being attacked and having to abandon her crew deep in an unexplored nebula, barely making it to the space station but determined to go back and rescue them all. As the captain with the most sophisticated ship in the near galaxy, Kirk volunteers and they fly through a meteor field even denser than that from the ‘Star Wars’ galaxy, just to be attacked by swarms of space bots.
We learn that they’re all under the control of the evil Krall (Idris Elba), who has his own quite nefarious plans for Kirk, the rest of the Enterprise crew, and the Federation of Planets. Kirk, Scotty, Spock and Bones all end up landing at different parts of Krull’s home planet, Scotty meets up with friendly local Jaylah (Sofia Boutella). Think Rey from the latest ‘Star Wars’ movie but with different makeup and you’ve got the sense of the tough, wild woman archetype Jaylah portrays on screen.
To be fair, she’s one of the most interesting characters on the screen, though her flirtatious romance with one of the Enterprise crew is a bit inexplicable. Still, you can easily overlook that as the other on-screen romances offer some drama and a little bit of comic relief. Spock and Uhura. Kirk and, um, no-one, oddly enough. There’s actually not much character development at all in ‘Star Trek Beyond,’ perhaps just a sign of the maturity of the franchise.
There are lots of long, drawn out epic battles, both in space and on the planet, and consistently action movie director Justin Lin gives us a bewildering blur of activity, a dark universe where things swirl and swoop and people are hit without us ever being able to really comprehend what’s happening. Everyone in the film is also an awful shot, which is odd given the hundreds of years of additional firearm development that gets them to their stardate era.
Surprisingly, the visual effects are a mixed bag too. Usually these tentpole summer sci-fi actioners are gorgeous with their non-stop CGI models, but not ‘Star Trek Beyond.’ Indeed, there’s one scene where the rendering’s so poor that afterwards, my friend and I both mentioned its incomprehensibility.
And that’s really the fundamental problem with ‘Star Trek Beyond.’ It comes across as a film that’s resting on its mythical laurels, that’s just giving us the characters we know and love in yet another tense situation. Yes, Kirk is charming, Bones (Karl Urban) is ornery and Spock is trying to reconcile his human and Vulcan parts, but that’s not really enough when we’ve all seen this in film after film. The story itself makes very little sense too, and the “revenge against the man” storyline is so exhausted in sci-fi that it’s hard to believe the script was greenlit.
But another Star Trek movie we have, and if you’re a fan of the franchise, you’ll go see it. Who knows, you might really enjoy it. There is the pleasure of our favorite characters on screen, on seeing that great tracking shot of the Enterprise’s hull, of Scotty and Bones saying their trademark lines, of beaming up and using phasers and tricorders. There are also some great visuals and the film (mostly) zips along. But I was really hoping for more from ‘Star Trek Beyond.’