Warning: Very spoilery.
As a long time Star Trek Fan, each new Star Trek movie is reason enough to do something special, like take a day off from work so I can enjoy the movie during a normal workday, without the large crowds of evening or weekend showings. And that is what I did for the latest outing from the Star Trek franchise, Star Trek Beyond. Like the previous movie, Star Trek into Darkness, the title made no sense and had nothing to do with the actual film. This is all part of the JJ Abrams school of secrecy that wants to keep as little information about the movie as possible from leaking out. If 1982’s Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, had been done by JJ Abrams, it would have simply been titled Star Trek Wrath. No spoilers on the villain! Of course Abrams had a lighter touch for this iteration of the film franchise (Justin Lin directed). He was only a producer, not a director for this one, which probably explains the paucity of lens flares.
The rebooted Star Trek movies are action movies, so Justin Lin, of the Fast and Furious movies, makes an adequate director for that type of film. This irritates a lot of old school Star Trek fans, who don’t see Gene Roddenberry’s philosophical vision in the rebooted Star Trek films. However for me, that’s a feature, not a bug. Roddenberry’s “vision” was of a communist utopia that even in the realm of science fiction, made no sense. It was easier to make up the technobabble of transporters, holodecks, and faster than light travel then explain why they don’t need money and no one is drawing a paycheck, but still showing up for work every day.
There is another reason of course. That kind of film just wouldn’t fly today. Mark Wolper, son of the man who brought Roots to life on the small screen in the 1970’s sat his 16 year old son down to watch the original Roots with disappointing results. His son just didn’t get it, it didn’t speak to him, and the production style was just too different. In other words, much of the movies and television shows that are considered classics now are basically unwatchable to millennials and younger. I got a taste of this myself when a few months ago I had a hankering to pull up a particular episode from Star Trek, TOS on Netflix. Although I enjoyed the episode and it was everything I remembered about it, it was also extremely slow moving, and slow paced compared to modern television and movies. Since I seldom dip back into decades old TV, it was eye-opening for me. If Star Trek is to survive, it has to be faster paced and more action packed than anything conceived of by Gene Roddenberry.
And that’s what the new movie gets right. It’s a visually stunning picture with great special effects, fast moving, with great action sequences, and is finally starting to tap into some of the relationships that made Star Trek work in the first place. Karl Urban’s Doctor McCoy is pitch perfect and the movie highlights some of the old Spock-Bones rivalry that played so well on TOS and the original movies. Chris Pine seems more like Kirk and I would argue that the entire crew cast finally fits into their roles comfortably. If you knew nothing about Star Trek and were just looking for an outer space shoot-‘em-up while waiting for Rogue One to come out, this movie admirably fits the bill.
If you are a Star Trek fan it might be a different story.
In the tradition of JJ Abrams, it’s a great movie to watch, but as soon as you exit the theater and get hit with the harsh summer sunshine, you suddenly realize that the movie that you just watched and enjoyed made no sense.
The first thing that made no sense to me was Starbase Yorktown. It just seemed illogical (with apologies to Mr. Spock) to me that 3 years into a 5 year mission to explore unexplored space, the Federation has a starbase as large as the Death Star on the frontier of known space. Visually it’s stunning, it’s like a giant moon sized snow globe, but it also looks ridiculous; something that no one would build regardless of how much money and technology they had. If you can build something like that, why bother with planets?
But the silliness of the design of a star base isn’t a large plot point. Having a ridiculous villain is, and Idris Elba’s character Krall is a ridiculous villain. The alien Krall looks like he put super glue all over his face and dived headfirst into a box of gravel, but the worst part is that Krall isn’t an alien at all; he’s really a human, from an early Federation starship.
I told you this was going to be spoilery.
So this early starship, the USS Franklin, crash lands on this planet with an abandoned alien mining facility, and yada yada yada, the Captain, Balthazar Edison is transformed into some sort of long lived, energy draining rock face who has a totally inexplicable reason for hating the Federation and decides to use the mining facility as a launching pad to prepare an attack against the Federation. Again, his motivations are pretty unclear except for some vague Nietzsche-like desire to purge the Federation of weakness. Idris Elba is totally wasted in this role. Any buff guy who can handle rock make up could have pulled it off.
The USS Franklin is it’s own level of ridiculousness, since even though Krall/Edison was the captain of that ship and crashed on that planet, he somehow managed to forget all about it so thoroughly that one of his escapees Jaylah used it as a refuge and was slowly working to repair it. Jaylah, played by Sofia Boutella, actually was one of the more interesting characters and had such a good chemistry with Scotty that I wouldn’t mind if she joined the crew for the next movie. However could she have done such a good job that Chekov could make the more than a century old ship space worthy in a few hours? It just doesn’t make sense.
Although I had a lot of high hopes when I heard that Simon Pegg was writing the script, I came away underwhelmed. Parts of the movie seemed like they were patched on from other movies. Like in 2009’s Star Trek, this movie made heavy use of the Beastie Boys Sabotage. Now kudos for discovering how good Sabotage is for an action scene, and the battle scene with Sabotage playing is actually kind of cool, but we had already seen that used in a Star Trek movie. They seriously couldn’t find another piece of music that would work?
Nor was I happy that they destroyed the Enterprise again. Somehow, that ship had managed to last the entire original series up till Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. Now, barely into the 5 year mission and the ship is already toast. Even some of the destruction scenes seemed like retreads. Didn’t I see that same saucer section crash scene in Star Trek Generations? The Enterprise’s destruction in previous movies was because they were simply out of ideas, but if they are already out of ideas on the third movie into a rebooted franchise, what’s the point? Once you destroy the ship that is as much of a cast member as any of the actors, you lose the ability to keep the crew together in any way that makes sense. If you think this might be your last movie, than go for it, but since there is already a commitment for a fourth movie, why make script writing more difficult for yourself for the next movie?
The movie ends with a montage of the new Enterprise being assembled. After building a moon sized Star Base, I imagine a starship is child’s play. My only surprise was that they didn’t play Eye of the Tiger during the rapid fire scenes of the new Enterprise’s assembly, interspersed with shots of Kirk and the crew working out in the snow. Given the limited amount of imagination and originality allotted to this film, I won’t be on the edge of my seat awaiting Star Trek 4: The Revenge of Ivan Drago, or whatever “villain” they determine they need to make the movie work.
So it’s a credit to the people who bring us such movie magic that they actually put together an enjoyable film from such a weak script. But however disappointed I am in a limited story, they have a chance to make it up to me in January with the new Star Trek TV show, Star Trek Discovery.
Don’t disappoint me, even though I’ll watch it anyway.