To save you from yourselves: Star Trek Beyond

Star Trek Beyond (2016)

After pretending so hard to be about a lot more than that, this Star Trek reboot franchise finally comes out of the closet as what it is: action

Star Trek Beyond

Directed by Justin Lin. Written by Simon Pegg and Doug Jung. Starring Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Idris Elba, Sofia Boutella, Joe Taslim and Lydia Wilson.

Ever since this modern reboot franchise came out, Star Trek fans (or trekkies) haven’t been very pleased. One of the main complaints I’ve heard is that these new movies are much more action-oriented and less concerned about exploring ideas like The Original Series used to be. It is quite true that Star Trek (2009) and Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) had a lot of action (too much, actually), but at least they felt fresh and thrilling thanks to the bold way they bent the show’s original timeline to create an alternate version full of cool references. The same, however, cannot be said about this Star Trek Beyond, a movie that tries hard to stand on its own with an original plot but only makes evident the main purpose of the franchise: action.

Written by Simon Pegg and Doug Jung, and directed this time by Justin Lin (Fast & Furious; Fast Five; Fast & Furious 6) since J. J. Abrams was busy directing Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015), Star Trek Beyond takes place three years into the USS Enterprise’s five-year mission. You know: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before. After docking at Starfleet base Yorktown, a remote outpost in Federation space, Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and his crew venture into an uncharted territory where ruthless aliens attack them and leave them stranded on a remote planet. Now they must reunite so they can stop this dangerous threat to the Federation before it is too late.

Narrated by Kirk, the movie follows a very formulaic structure typical of a TV series episode, with the Enterprise crew split into small groups in a hostile environment and having to get back together. We have Spock (Zachary Quinto) and McCoy (Karl Urban) bonding and searching for survivors; Kirk and Chekov (Anton Yelchin) trying to locate the starship’s wrecked saucer section with the help of alien Kalara (Lydia Wilson); Scottie (Simon Pegg) being rescued by alien scavenger Jayla (Sofia Boutella); and Uhura (Zoe Saldana), Sulu (John Cho) and other survivors captured by Krall (Idris Elba), the insane leader of the attacking aliens.

First of all, if there is one thing that definitely works in Star Trek Beyond is its sense of familiarity. The actors seem more comfortable than ever in their roles, embodying their iconic characters almost like the original actors did. It is a huge pleasure, for instance, to see Kirk and McCoy drinking together and talking like old pals. On the other hand, although it is always great to see an attempt at character development, the whole drama of Spock dealing with his own death (or his old self’s death) doesn’t offer as much depth as it should and remains only superficial. But I like the nod to Leonard Nimoy’s passing, and another actor who will also be missed is Anton Yelchin, who sadly died in a car accident a month prior to the movie’s release.

While Justin Lin doesn’t seem like the most appropriate choice for a Star Trek movie, he is exactly what the producers were looking for. He goes for an epic feel and delivers what is expected, which is obviously an action movie. But the problem is that his direction is so frenetic, with the camera shaking so much in the action scenes, that you will probably get dizzy or feel unable to follow most of what is happening. Besides, his overuse of Dutch angles and exaggerated camera movements only show how hard he tries to look stylish, even if he is not. But it is a good thing that the converted 3D doesn’t look bad and is better than most out there.

Making at least great use of a stunning production design when showing the Enterprise and Yorktown, Star Trek Beyond also benefits from spectacular visual effects, especially in the urgent scene of the alien attack on the starship, which turns out to be one of the few action scenes in the movie that works – and it is hard not to feel anything when you witness the destruction of the Enterprise. Besides, the movie deserves credit for the makeup and the music score, with Michael Giacchino following his work in the two previous chapters and reusing his beautiful recurring theme to make something that sounds melancholy and epic.

But despite all the good technical work, STB gives only occasional signs that it could be more than what it is in terms of narrative, like for instance when we see Kirk dealing with his own personal doubts and deciding to leave the Enterprise. But the script is poor and the dialogue can be terrible, full of corny lines that don’t mean anything (“To save you from yourselves”) and horrible jokes (“That’s one heck of a cold”). The sense of humor, in fact, is mostly pedestrian, despite a few inspired moments (like the tracking device joke), and I can’t see what is supposed to be funny about the moment when Spock is beamed up and McCoy is left behind.

Even so, the biggest problem with this movie is how hard it is to care about anything. Spock gets wounded but this never feels dangerous or creates any sense of real urgency (it never seems like he could actually die), while Krall is just a lame villain with lame motivations. It is as if the writers had decided to come up with just about any justification for his hate towards the Federation, and there isn’t much that Idris Elba can do with such a one-dimensional character. And like I said before, the film only wants to be about non-stop action. Don’t get me wrong, I do like good action, but here it is so perfunctory and boring.

Unimaginative and trying too hard to make it accessible for a modern audience who couldn’t care less about Star Trek, Justin Lin wants to turn it into a forgettable action-packed silliness at the expense of thought-provoking ideas, and so Star Trek Beyond never manages to go “beyond” anything, really. I have heard recently that J. J. Abrams plans to direct a fourth movie, which seems to be a great thing. Lin, on the other hand, should go back to the brainless action of The Fast and the Furious franchise, because that is what he is good at.

August 13, 2016

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