Ah, it’s good to be back. Here we are, smack dab in the middle of the Summer Movie Season, and due to our choice to get the hell out of our shitty, ghetto-like neighborhood, my attention and the time that would be used to devour the selection of ‘big’ flicks that currently adorn screens across the land has been definitely occupied with all the inconvenient bullshit that goes into relocating ones self. But now it’s done, our new hood has a multiplex within an easy walk from our new pad, and I had a Vacation Day to use…so ‘Star Trek Beyond’ it was!
As I’m sure I’ve mentioned in previous reviews, I’ve never REALLY been a ‘trekkie’. Always more of a ‘Star Wars’, or more accurately, an ‘Alien’ kinda guy. I do really enjoy the films featuring the original cast, ‘The Motion Picture’ up to ‘The Undiscovered Country’ (with a very deliberate omission of the awful, Shatner-directed ‘The Final Frontier’). After those flicks, I never really got into the rest of the Trek Extended Universe. Never got into any of the various shows and never sought out or played any of the games. The ‘Star Trek’ universe was usually too clean and bright for my liking, with technology that always seemed to be powered by magic, and environments that didn’t feel lived in or believable. But in 2009, JJ Abrams slid into place and took over the reins on a ‘soft’ reboot of the brand…and I thought it was great! Disregarding the ‘Trekness’, I just thought ‘Star Trek’ was a fun, well-paced science fiction action flick that made great use of a solid cast, that also successfully honored that which came before it. As it seems to be the way with Abrams, the flick made a shit-load of coin, and therefore a sequel was inevitable…which we got in 2013 with ‘Star Trek Into Darkness’, again helmed by Spielberg Jr. Now lots of fanboys out there had all kind of issues with that one, some of which I couldn’t care less about, while some others (‘Khan’? Why ‘Khan’?!) were legit criticisms. Still, the visuals were cool, the cast clicked, and Robocop himself, Peter Weller, was in da house, so I had fun with it and have no problem counting it as the next legitimate chapter in the Abrams ‘Trek’ universe. Then, a little flick named ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ yanked Abrams outta the director’s chair, leaving room for director Justin Lin, the director of a bunch of the ‘Fast and Furious’ movies (after hack writer / wannabe director Robert Orci came to his senses and realized the undertaking was bigger than he could handle), to step in to continue the adventures of the crew of the Enterprise. Instantly, I was skeptical as, with the exception of the 5th one, I think that whole series is largely meathead, douchebag garbage. Obviously, Lin is good at a certain type of flick, the type of flick that I personally find totally disposable, so I found the choice of him as Abrams replacement to be somewhat perplexing…and worrisome. This intensified when I got a look at the first trailer, which seemed to be universally lambasted for seemingly taking ‘Star Trek’ and ‘Fast and Furious’ing it right up to an obnoxious, and not tonally correct, degree. There seemed to be a degree of ‘damage control’ that then went into action, and the film’s advertising seemed to downshift into something more resembling what the fans were apparently asking for in the wake of the divisive and in-your-face ‘Into Darkness’; a ‘Star Trek’ that was more contemplative and exploration-oriented, similar to what the very original series was. I then began to get intrigued, but was fully prepared for this to be the entry that knocks the franchise straight onto it’s face, as many Number 3’s in many a film series have done in the past. So I geared up…and headed out.
‘Star Trek Beyond’ catches up with the crew of the Enterprise 3 years into their 5 year, deep space exploration mission, with Kirk (Chris Pine) trying to broker a peace between two feuding races, only to have it hilariously backfire on him. After some downtime, during which ‘Kirk’ and ‘Bones’ (Karl Urban) discuss the meaning of their mission and what it means to them and their sense of self and duty, the Enterprise makes a stop at a far-flung space station called the Yorktown after they encounter the alien survivor of an ill-fated ship that went missing in a nearby nebula. It’s determined that the Enterprise is the ship best suited to venture into the huge space cloud to try and figure out what happened, while also searching for survivors. It doesn’t take long before the ship is violently set upon by a swarm of vicious, dangerously synchronized ships. The Enterprise puts up a good fight, but in the end, succumbs to the devastating attack, in a surprisingly exciting and beautifully rendered sequence which culminates with the main crew being split up while fleeing the dying ship as it hurtles toward a nearby planet. Once on the ground, ‘Kirk’ and ‘Chekov’ (the late Anton Yelchin) try to reunite with their friends, while trying to figure out a way off the planet and away from the leader of the swarm, a bitter alien (with a secret) named ‘Krall’ (Idris Elba), who brings to the equation a vague but apparently nefarious plan.
I was wrong about this movie, with my initial dismissiveness when I saw the trailers. ‘Star Trek Beyond’ was a lot of fun, and Justin Lin definitely proved to be up to the task of taking over for JJ Abrams. While it certainly is part of the established Abramsverse, Lin brought enough of his own, surprisingly effective flavour to the proceedings as to be noticeable. As many other critics have said, this one, of all the ‘new’ Treks, feels the most like a classic ‘Star Trek’ episode, just with one helluva budget. Something that seperated this one from the previous two, was that it mostly took place in one location, ie a single planet (and to a lesser degree, the Yorktown). Sure, there were many different settings on that planet, but it wasn’t some giant battle in space that spanned whole solar systems or anything. Nice and contained, which definitely helped in it’s favor.
Something else that certainly helped it out was the gorgeous visuals. This is one area where I would go so far as to say that I think Justin Lin actually superseded Abrams, especially in the sequences featuring space craft. There were many interesting and beautiful shots of the Enterprise, the swarm, and the USS Franklin (that turns up late in the game). The whole, ‘Elysium’-like ambience of the Yorktown was very cool to behold as well, especially in 3D. Some serious thought and money went into crafting visually interesting and dynamic shots of these huge space craft doing their thing.
If I mention the visual…then I’m obligated to bring up the audio. The sound design for ‘Beyond’ was seriously kick-ass! Every ship engine, phaser blast or explosion came with enough ‘meat’ to feel like a punch in the gut! It was awesome and really added to the experience. I could see this one becoming ‘reference quality’ when it comes to testing out home theatre surround sound systems, it’s THAT rich and impactful.
But all of the visual and audio trappings wouldn’t amount to anything if the cast wasn’t engaging us first. Pretty much the whole gang is back for this one, with the noticeable exception of ‘Kirk’s canonized love interest ‘Carol Marcus’ (Alice Eve), who joined the Enterprise at the end of ‘Into Darkness’. She is nowhere to be seen here and isn’t even mentioned in passing. Her character aside, we get Chris Pine back as ‘Kirk’, Karl Urban as ‘Bones’, Zachary Quinto as ‘Spock’, Zoe Saldana as ‘Uhura’, John Cho as ‘Sulu (who’s now gay…in a questionable homage to George Takei), the tragically deceased Anton Yelchin as ‘Chekov’ ( I got ‘the feels’ when the dedication came up during the end credits) and, of course, Simon Pegg as ‘Scotty’, also coming in as a co-writer this time around. Everybody gets a chance to shine and the chemistry among the crew crackles nicely. Idris Elba is a damn fine actor but I did think that almost anyone could’ve played his role. And his speech pattern reminded me acutely of Louis Gossett Jr’s portrayal of the stranded alien fighter pilot ‘Jeriba Shigan’, in 1985’s ‘Enemy Mine’, and it was slightly distracting. I don’t know why…it just was. I have to admit that Sofia Boutella (‘Kingsman: The Secret Service’) as a feisty and tough alien castaway named ‘Jaylah’, grew on me as the story progressed. Since Anton Yelchin was tragically killed in a freak accident a month before this film’s release, to me it would make sense if ‘Jaylah’ was to become his replacement on the bridge of the Enterprise, when she flies again. Just throwing that out there.
Now, as much as I liked this one, it’s not perfect. There are a few pacing issues, especially in the 2nd Act, and I felt like some of the ‘flesh’ of the story was missing. It was suddenly like ‘BANG’…here we are in Act 3!!…when it hadn’t felt like Act 2 had had time to properly wrap up. There was some plot holes and some potentially lazy and vague writing at work too. Little things like ‘Krall’s secret…how the hell did that work?! There’s a ‘reveal’ with the Idris Elba character that just didn’t come together for me. Sure, there was an intriguing idea at work, but it was clumsily handled and not as effective as it could’ve been. On a technical level, there are a couple of hand-to-hand fight scenes that degenerated into indecipherable ‘shakey’ cam flurries of motion and sound, and a few of the scenes at night were overly dark, in 3D. But that’s pretty much it, as bitching goes.
All in all, I enjoyed ‘Star Trek Beyond’ more than I honestly thought I would. The cast still works, the visuals were awesome, the sound design kicked all kinds of ass, much of the 3D effects added to the experience, and the 2 hour run-time didn’t outstay it’s welcome. The ‘contained’ story was simple enough to be engaging to most audience members, but could’ve used a little ‘tightening’ in either the script-writing or editing phase of production. Some alternate compositions and restraint in cutting the fisticuff scenes would’ve been good too. This one compliments what came before while also laying solid groundwork for additional entries in this series. I can easily recommend ‘Star Trek Beyond’ to fans of Big Budget Science Fiction / Action films or to anyone just wanting to be visually dazzled while cramming buttery popcorn into their faces. As a Summer Blockbuster type…it certainly fits the bill. Check it out!
*As I mentioned, I appreciated that they dedicated this movie to both Leonard Nimoy and Anton Yelchin at the end. Both contributed, in their own ways, to building the Star Trek brand (Nimoy especially) and I like that they were both singled out posthumously. It was a sweet and necessary gesture, in my opinion. I also believe the story that Zachary Quinto used real sadness and grief to fuel a key scene in which ‘Spock’ reflects on the passing of ‘Spock Prime’, as he and Nimoy had become close friends over the years, prior to Nimoy’s passing away in February of 2015. I had my suspicions when the emotional scene played, and after a little research, found that my hunch was apparently correct.