Star Trek Beyond FILM REVIEW
Release: Out now
Director: Justin Lin
Starring: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Idris Elba, Sofia Boutella, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, John Cho, Anton Yelchin
Star Trek Beyond starts with a visual gag that will have the kind of fans who like their Trek all worthy and sociopolitically weighty rolling their eyes. It is, to be fair, a very ingenious visual gag that leads into a spritely and fun action sequence but it does give the impression that Beyond is going to ramp up more silly excesses of the previous JJ Abrams Trek-verse movies (remember the giant hands, anyone?).
But Star Trek Beyond never comes close to being this silly again. Sure, there’s loads of humour (a couple of characters seem to have little reason to be in the film other than to deliver amusing asides) but this feels more like a classic Trek episode – only with a massive budget and blockbuster action sequences – than either of its predecessors. Which works to both its advantage and disadvantage.
To be honest, there’s not an awful lot of plot. The Enterprise is sent on a search-and-rescue mission inside an unstable nebula which cuts off all communication with Starfleet. But instead of finding the crew they’re looking for they discover a whole new villain in the form of Idris Elba’s Krall. He has a very particular gripe with Starfleet and a surprising past, which means he likes nothing better than collecting Starfleet personal using the majorly impressive array of tech at his disposal.
What the film does well is use this set up to split the crew up into various small groups, which allows for some great character work for the regular characters. There’s a lot of big action going on here, but time and time again the best moments of the film come from people simply chatting. There’s a particularly strong scene for Spock and Bones in a cave while co-writer Simon Pegg makes sure Scotty gets something other to do than spout technobabble (though he, Sulu and Chekov do a lot of that as well). It’s a fast-paced script, with plenty of jawdropping visuals, but the charm and the personality of the crew never gets swamped. There’s a lot of good old-fashioned heart here.
There are also plenty of fan-pleasing continuity references and Easter eggs, but nothing like on the scale of Into Darkness, which should please those who thought the previous film was little more than a cover version. Here the nods and homages are smaller scale, logically inserted and fun to spot.
Kirk’s “arc” concerns that fact that he feels he’s losing his way as a person amidst the “episodic” nature of the Enterprise’s five year mission (see what they did there?) while Spock is having the Vulcan equivalent of a guilt trip. There’s a wonderfully evocative montage at the beginning of the film that captures the everyday existence of life on the Enterprise like never before and the film in general does a great job of really convincing you that this lot are a functioning crew. Only poor old Zoe Saldana feels like she’s ended up with the short straw (worryingly close to be reduced to the “love interest”) while the script favours new girl Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), who immediately impresses with a sparky and charismatic performance that’s nothing short of an audition piece to join to the crew.
The other main problem with the script – especially given how much has been made of the importance of Krall’s MO in prepublicity – is how little Krall gets to do beyond the requisite big baddie ranting and random cruelty. He does have a back story. It is an interesting one. It’s just never satisfactorily exploited. For fans of the “socially aware” aspects of classic Trek, it’s Krall’s story that provides the meat, but it’s really thinly sliced. The film desperately needs a big dialogue between Kirk and Krall – a Kirk/Kahn-style battle of wits and ideologies – but it never comes. They have a big fight and grunt a lot at each other, but the real showdown never materialises.
Incoming director Justin Lin does a decent enough job, and certainly gets some fine performances out of the cast, though you get the feeling some of the script’s subtlety has been squashed by his on-the-nose treatment of the material. Some of the more expansive action sequences are suitably impressive (you wait till you see the “jump start”) and there are some striking visuals (such as the Enterprise docking at Yorktown for the first time, which honestly, is a zillion times more exciting than it sounds). On the other hand, his approach to more close-up, down-and-dirty fight scenes is often downright disorientating – at times it’s left to Bones or Sulu to give you a verbal report about what’s happening because the visuals alone don’t make it clear at all.
Star Trek Beyond feels like a film made to please fans after the perceived missteps of Into Darkness, and it succeeds. On the other hand, it feels slightly more like a TV movie and less ambitious than Into Darkness. There’s a hell of a lot to enjoy here, but it never really goes “beyond”, preferring instead to keep within safe boundaries.
Review by Dave Golder