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 (film)

Star Trek Beyond (2016)

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 a 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 clas­sic se­ries used to be. It is 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 ex­cit­ing thanks to the bold way they bent the show’s orig­i­nal time­line to cre­ate an al­ter­nate ver­sion full of ref­er­ences. But the same 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 chief pur­pose of the fran­chise: action.

Writ­ten by Si­mon Pegg & Doug Jung, and di­rect­ed this time by Justin Lin (Fast & Fu­ri­ous, Fast Five, Fast & Fu­ri­ous 6) since J. J. Abrams was busy with 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 the aliens’ dan­ger­ous threat to the Fed­er­a­tion be­fore it’s 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, if there’s one thing that def­i­nite­ly works in Star Trek Be­yond, it’s 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’s al­ways great to see an at­tempt at char­ac­ter de­vel­op­ment, Spock’s whole dra­ma as he deals with his own death (or his old self’s death) doesn’t of­fer as much depth as it should and re­mains only su­per­fi­cial, de­spite the nice nod to Leonard Nimoy’s pass­ing. Like­wise, an­oth­er ac­tor who will be missed is Yelchin, who died in a car ac­ci­dent a month pri­or to the movie’s release.

While Justin Lin doesn’t seem to be 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 in terms of ac­tion, but the prob­lem is that his di­rec­tion is so fre­net­ic, with the cam­era shak­ing so much in the ac­tion scenes, that you will prob­a­bly feel dizzy or un­able to fol­low most of what is hap­pen­ing. And his overuse of Dutch an­gles and ex­ag­ger­at­ed cam­era move­ments only show how hard he is try­ing to look styl­ish even though he isn’t. At least the con­vert­ed 3D doesn’t make it so much worse and looks bet­ter than most out there.

Mak­ing 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 that shows 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 its make­up and score, with Michael Gi­acchi­no reusing his beau­ti­ful main theme to make some­thing that sounds melan­choly and epic.

But de­spite all the good tech­ni­cal work, Star Trek Be­yond gives only oc­ca­sion­al hints 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. The script is poor and the di­a­logue can be ter­ri­ble, full of cheesy lines that don’t mean any­thing (“To save you from your­selves”) and ter­ri­ble jokes (“That’s one heck of a cold”). The sense of hu­mor is in fact most­ly pedes­tri­an, de­spite a few in­spired mo­ments (such as a track­ing de­vice joke) — and I can’t see what is sup­posed to be fun­ny about the scene in which Spock is beamed up and Mc­Coy is left behind.

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

Try­ing hard to make Star Trek ac­ces­si­ble to mod­ern au­di­ences, Justin Lin wants to turn it into for­get­table, ac­tion-packed silli­ness at the ex­pense of thought-pro­vok­ing ideas, and so Star Trek Be­yond nev­er goes “be­yond” any­thing, re­al­ly. I heard re­cent­ly that J. J. Abrams plans to di­rect a fourth movie, which may 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’s what he is good at.


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