STAR TREK BEYOND IS A HARMLESS PATCHWORK EFFORT THAT ISN’T HORRIBLE BUT SHOULDN’T HAVE BEEN THE MOVIE TO CELEBRATE TREK’S 50TH ANNIVERSARY
Director: Justin Lin
Starring: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, Idris Elba, Sofia Boutella, Zoe Saldana, John Cho and Anton Yelchin
Running Time: 2 Hrs
There’s been a lot of attention focused on Star Trek recently. From the new series coming this January to the loss of Leonard Nimoy last year, to the tragic death of Anton Yelchin a few months ago to the fact that 2016 is the franchise’s fiftieth birthday, Star Trek’s been on a lot of minds. You might think this would be a perfect opportunity to release a strong entry in Trek’s lengthy and celebrated movie series. Not only to celebrate Trek’s long list of successes but to honour the memory of its recently departed family members as well.
Unfortunately, Star Trek Beyond is not that movie.
The Enterprise is nearly three years into its five-year mission of exploration and the time in deep space is beginning to wear on the crew. Spock (Zachary Quinto) is considering a drastic life and career change, his decision has strained his relationship with Lt. Uhura (Zoey Saldana) and even the vaunted James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) isn’t immune to the void’s spiritual effects. With his birthday approaching, Kirk struggles with the shadow cast by his late father and a growing sense of professional and personal misdirection. Then out of the blue comes a rescue mission that not only disrupts the monotony but puts the Enterprise crew squarely in the crosshairs of a brand new danger.
The Enterprise and her crew soon find themselves the newest victim of Krall (Idris Elba), a warlord who abducts entire ships and their crews for morbid purposes. He is a driven, vengeful madman who possesses deadly technology and a vast knowledge of both the Federation and the Enterprise. With the Enterprise destroyed (again) and cut off from Starfleet, Kirk must rely on wits and ingenuity to assemble the handful of crew members scattered across an alien planet to rescue the ones Krall is holding prisoner.
Of all the movies since Star Trek rebooted the movie side of the franchise in 2009, Beyond seems to have the most in common with the spirit of classic 60’s Trek. There’s more emphasis on adventure and confronting the unknown than previous instalments and less dependence on elaborate technology. Kirk and company are essentially stripped of their advantages and forced to fight an opponent who knows them inside and out. It’s like playing chess but your already in check before your first move.
It’s an interesting premise for Beyond, trying to embrace that sprit during Trek’s big anniversary. But Beyond fails to execute and can’t capitalize on all the feel good nostalgia. Make no mistake, there are some nice actions beats and a few good scenes in Beyond. The ship looks fantastic and there are a few new toys that will have Trek fans drooling (particularly the mind bending Yorktown Star Base). But it never truly works and feels like director Justin Lin is trying to stubbornly force together a giant jigsaw with pieces that don’t belong together. The whole movie feels rushed and you can’t escape the sense that it was slapped together at the last-minute.
Far too little attention was paid to Krall, who could have taken a place among Trek’s classic villains but was treated as a secondary character. In fact, you can see something great seething just beneath the surface of Idris Elba’s portrayal, but Elba wasn’t given any real meat to sink his teeth into. Krall’s backstory and emotional motivations are treated like after thoughts that raise more questions than they answer. I had a similar complaint about Christoph Waltz in The Legend of Tarzan; Waltz can play a sinister villain but he was handed a paper-thin bad guy instead of a truly deep and disturbing menace. The same is true of Elba here, who has the chops to turn in a truly memorable monster. It was a wasted opportunity that would have made Beyond better because it would have strengthened all the characters across the board.
Everyone is adequate in their various roles, with a few amusing exchanges between long time rivals Spock and Dr. Bones (Karl Urban) that will make you pine for the original. Yet the movie seems to struggle to find adequate screen time for some of the regulars outside of Kirk, Spock Bones and Scotty. The likes of Uhura, Sulu and Chekov occasionally border on being mere set pieces. One thing Beyond does pull off is illustrating the growing bonds of the crew and Kirk’s commitment to their safety. Newcomer Sofia Boutella impresses as the fierce Jayla (Boutella more than meets the physical demands of the role and fills the alien refugee with a nice combination of steel and well-timed vulnerability) and it would be nice to see her pop up in future Treks (or maybe even the new TV show premiering next January).
Beyond isn’t terrible but it is just this side of mediocre, which isn’t what you want for a movie celebrating such an important franchise’s big 5-0. Despite its promising premise it plays it relatively safe and fails to live up to its potential. The character growth is superficial and cosmetic and the resolution comes with no real cost. There’s some nice chemistry and a few good one-liners, but the whole thing feels like a hastily assembled TV episode with a big budget. While Beyond may be the victim of problems that reportedly plagued it during production (Simon Peg, who co-wrote the script on top of reprising his role as Scotty, was rumoured to have quit several times) one thing is for certain, it wasn’t good enough to celebrate Star Trek’s fiftieth anniversary. And it certainly lacked the gravitas to wish a final farewell to the legendary Leonard Nimoy and the promising, taken far to soon Anton Yelchin.
Photo: Paramount Pictures