STAR TREK BEYOND (2016 Paramount)
Directed by Justin Lin
The “Kelvin era” or “JJ-verse” Star Trek movies have been more “miss” than “hit”. There was a time when you could count on every even-numbered Trek to be excellent, but Star Trek Into Darkness (#12) and Star Trek Beyond (#13) were two rotten movies in a row. What went wrong?
Too. Much. Dumb. Action.
Specifically, there is one modern action motif that is freakishly common today and it drives me insane every time. It’s when a vehicle or body hits a wall or other obstacle, going right through, and keeps going, and going…minimal damage and zero loss of momentum. This happens far too often in Beyond. Hell, the bad guy Krall (Idris Elba) has a swarm of spaceships completely based on this physics-defying visual.
Every time Beyond feels like it’s going somewhere, the movie devolves into meaningless, dull action. The shame of it is, there are other scenes that are character-driver and almost vintage Trekkian. Dr. McCoy (Karl Urban) caring for an injured Spock (Zachary Quinto) felt right. Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) tiring of his daily space-grind was reminiscent of the original Star Trek pilot “The Cage”, and also colours in a little bit about how the prime Kirk eventually became an Admiral. These slower, more contemplative shots are then succeeded by numbing action, so far removed from Gene Roddenberry’s original vision that you can hear his complaints in the back of your mind.
Idris Elba is unfortunately underdeveloped and buried under layers of makeup. His character Krall has cloudy hatred for the Federation, believing that their mission of peace and exploration weakens humanity, who must instead be prepared to defend itself. Krall is not all he appears to be, of course, but the reveal is far less interesting than it could have been. Ultimately, the setup is never enticing nor is the execution. Since the plot is based entirely on the motivations of the villain, the movie can’t hold together. It’s just an alien looking for a superweapon so he can kill lots of people. And it’s never made clear why he even needs that superweapon, since he can do plenty of damage on his own.
Case in point? Krall [SPOILER] takes down the U.S.S. Enterprise only three years into her five-year mission. Compare this to the original prime U.S.S. Enterprise, which only went down only in a last ditch attempt by her captain to keep his crew alive. Only after 40 years in space, three television seasons, and three movies. Its ending was poignant, and after saving the crew countless times, it was earned. This ships’ ending was not earned, to use the words of Rob Daniels. We’ve only known her in a few hours of screen time. Her demise was not earned. It was just a gimmick to sell tickets. See the Enterprise go down!
A new character created for this movie, Jaylah (Sofia Boutella) is a tough nut and good companion for Scotty. Unfortunately, knowing the past history of female sidekicks in Star Trek films, that means you’ll never see her again.
Sadly, Anton Yelchin (Chekov) died tragically in an accident shortly before the film’s release. J.J. Abrams has said that Chekov would never be recast by another actor.
Star Trek Beyond both gains and loses points for some real-world references. The death of Leonard Nimoy in 2015 is reflected by [SPOILER] the death of Spock prime in this film, and there is a beautiful moment to reflect on that. Less successfully, the character of Sulu (John Cho) is ret-conned as gay, to honour George Takei who played the original Sulu. Even Takei found this ret-con to be strange since he never portrayed Sulu as gay at any point in the series. It technically doesn’t directly contradict anything from the prime universe, but it feels so awkwardly shoed in.
Star Trek Beyond has, for the time being at least, ended Star Trek’s theatrical comeback. Patrick Stewart has confidently returned to television in Picard, and so Trek never dies. No thanks to Beyond.