Should I Watch..? 'Star Trek Beyond'
What's the big deal?
Star Trek Beyond is a sci-fi action movie released in 2016 and is the thirteenth film based on the TV show Star Trek created by Gene Roddenberry. The film is the third in the series of rebooted films after J.J. Abrams' Star Trek in 2009, set in an alternative dimension to the original series. In this film, Kirk and the Enterprise are ambushed in a nebula by a previously unknown alien force and must use their wits and salvaged equipment to save the day. The film stars Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Anton Yelchin, John Cho, Idris Elba and co-screenwriter Simon Pegg. The film is dedicated to Leonard Nimoy (who died during the film's pre-production) and Yelchin who was killed in a freak accident mere weeks before the film's premier. The film received a generally warm reception from critics but it was considered a box office disappointment by Paramount after global returns of $343 million.
What's it about?
After three years trawling through deep space, Captain James T. Kirk and the crew of the USS Enterprise arrive at one of the Federation's most advanced space-stations - Yorktown. While they are docked, the crew enjoy some much needed shore leave while Kirk, disillusioned with life in space, applies to become a vice-admiral and requests Spock take command of the Enterprise. Suddenly, a distress signal is picked up by an approaching escape pod with a single passenger on board. Kalara, a member of a previously unknown alien species, has escaped from a nearby nebula where her ship has crashed. With its advanced technology, the Enterprise is dispatched to rescue Kalara's crew.
Arriving at the planet Altamid, the Enterprise is set upon by countless tiny ships which quickly overwhelms the ship and cripples it. With the ship critically damaged, Kirk has little choice but to give the order to abandon ship while he tries to ditch the ship onto the planet. His crew scattered or captured by the villainous Krall (the commander of the alien fleet), Kirk finds himself on a jungle world with just Chekov and Kalara for company and in a race against time to save the rest of the crew before Krall's evil masterplan is enacted.
Capt. James T. Kirk
Dr Leonard "Bones" McCoy
Chief Engineer Montgomery "Scotty" Scott
Lt. Nyota Uhura
Helsman Hiraku Sulu
Navigator Pavel Chekov
Simon Pegg & Doug Jung*
Release Date (UK)
22nd July, 2016
Academy Award Nominations
Best Makeup & Hairstyling
What's to like?
Like Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness, Star Trek Beyond offers plenty of excitement and action - certainly more than you would usually find in traditional Star Trek outings. Instead of a plodding exploration of the human condition, the crew are thrown into a pitched battle against a foe that completely overwhelms them. In the past, it was just Kirk who used to kick alien butt but now it seems every member of the crew has a variety of martial arts and marksmanship to call on. Throw in some almighty space battles, numerous gun fights in zero gravity or upturned sets and a ridiculous shootout on a motorbike (yep, you read that right) and the film works hard to attract younger viewers possibly jaded by recent lacklustre Star Wars sequels.
One area that has improved are the performances from the main cast. Pine has stepped out of William Shatner's shadow and like Urban's portrayal of McCoy, veers dangerously close to impersonating the original actors. Quinto, here playing Spock without Nimoy's guidance for the first time, has also developed but isn't given a huge amount to do which is a real shame. Of all the main characters, he has the most to offer with his sense of logic, his peaceful disposition and his relationship with Uhura. A shame that it's overshadowed by the CG effects and explosions.
- The reference to the USS Franklin being snatched by a giant green hand is a nod to a 1967 episode of the show Who Mourns For Adonais? The green hand in question can actually be seen during the end credits as the Enterprise flies around the galaxy.
- The character of Jaylah was based on the role played by Jennifer Lawrence in the film Winter's Bone and named after the actress during development of the script.
- Simon Pegg and Justin Lin made the decision to make Sulu gay as a nod to former cast member George Takei, now a prominent LGBT activist. However, Takei himself disagreed with this as he felt it betrayed Roddenberry's original vision of the character.
- Greg Grunberg, who plays Yorktown's commanding officer Finnegan, is one of a few actors to appear in both Star Trek and Star Wars as he pops up in The Force Awakens as a Rebel pilot called Snap Wexley. Both films were produced by his good friend, J.J. Abrams.
What's not to like?
While the film works hard for the youth market, traditional fans of the show will absolutely hate this. In essence, the film is one long action scene that sees the Enterprise literally torn apart and the crew dumped on an alien world to fend for themselves against an army of foes and their fanatical leader. And as much as I love Idris Elba, his performance is wasted under too much prosthetics and the role feels underwritten. So too does Jaylah, the huntress who quickly makes friends with Scotty played by Sofia Boutella. We know nothing about her but the crew still risk their survival to rescue her when the time comes. Really?
So if the film is to ignore the usual philosophising that characterises the series, the action in the movie must be pretty good. Well, it should be but the film again seems happy to rip off ideas and set-pieces from other films. Take the Yorktown space station which seems like a futuristic utopia turned on its head in a similar fashion to what we saw in Doctor Strange and even further back, Inception. The nadir comes in the form of the utterly misplaced motorcycle scene, complete with Kirk riding a dirt bike in goggles that make him look like a Second World War fighter pilot. In an instant, you realise that the film is as shallow as one of Jaydah's holograms - this is not Star Trek but some weird sci-fi action flick that could have featured the cast of any sci-fi series like Firefly or Babylon 5. This feels like a step back for the series and it's hard to see where they can go next without simply remaking the original movies.
Should I watch it?
Star Trek Beyond is a distracting enough sci-fi action film that features more phaser fire, explosions and near-death experiences than possibly any other Star Trek in history. But the film lacks any of the interpersonal relationships or intelligence that typified the original series, relying instead of huge amounts of CG and illogical leaps in story. It's possibly the worst of the rebooted series so far although they all share much of their style and narrative with each other. Is it too late to go back?
Great For: sci-fi action fans, Simon Pegg nerds, jungle natives
Not So Great For: fans of the original Star Trek, smug Star Wars fans
What else should I watch?
Frankly, none of the rebooted films have left me feeling that thrilled or entertained. Star Trek felt underwhelming with a confusing time-line-shifting narrative, underdeveloped villain and a cast not comfortable in roles associated with others. Star Trek Into Darkness kept up the same frantic pace as the first film but again, had a weak villain whose identity was a poorly disguised plot twist (and it didn't make sense, given the alternate time-line setting) and just didn't engage with its audience that well. Like this third film, it's an adequate time-passer but nothing memorable.
Rebooted tend to happen too often for my liking as it's a lazy way for producers to simply retell stories we already know but with better effects and then count the money. But part of me feels that they jumped the gun in 2009 - yes, the films featuring the crew of the Next Generation hadn't been great but they needn't have looked far to see an example of a film turning things around. Star Trek V: The Final Frontier was a complete dog's dinner of a film, underpinned by Shatner's inflated ego and shoddy direction. But Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (the last to feature all of the original cast) was their best film and by some way. A fantastic story, impressive effects and a genuine blend of light-hearted comedy and tension lifts the film beyond the standards of the others and remains my favourite Trek film to date although Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan isn't too far behind.
© 2018 Benjamin Cox