Cast: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, Zoe Saldana, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Idris Elba, Sofia Boutella
Director: Justin Lin
Running Time: 2 hours
by Jericho Cerrona
Director Justin Lin (of Fast and Furious fame) has officially desecrated any shred of intelligence, wit, and socially relevancy fans of Gene Rodenbery’s seminal series may still have held out hope for on the big screen with Star Trek Beyond, the third installment in a reboot franchise which began with king of all things recycled, JJ Abrams, back in 2009. Like a shaky-cam version of Galaxy Quest without the laughs, this new venture attempts to return things to the narrative simplicity of the original 1960s TV series, and at least on paper, it succeeds. Featuring a story involving the crew being separated and stranded on an alien planet with their only hopes of survival resting on their ability to work together as a team, Star Trek Beyond is knowingly episodic in structure (there’s even a self-reflexive bit of dialogue delivered by Captain Kirk during the opening voiceover to this effect), but that’s as far as things goes in terms of capturing the essence of what makes this property so beloved.
The original TV show was so groundbreaking because it emphasized issues of race, gender, and politics of the day while still being geekily obsessed with space travel and scientific discoveries. These thematic concerns, so central to Rodenbery’s vision, continued through various films and spin-off TV series, but were only given glancing nods in the Abrams incarnations. From a business standpoint (which, let’s face it, is all that matters in Hollywood anyways), this was the only move that made sense. Making Star Trek cool, sexy, and filled with spectacular action was a way of ushering in the broadest possible audience who may have been hesitant to embrace something largely considered too niche for the mainstream. A hip young cast certainly helped smooth over any rough edges, but there’s no doubt something had been lost in translation. Lin, even more so than Abrams, seems entirely disinterested in what makes the franchise interesting; instead churning out an incoherent action movie that just happens to have characters wearing the branded federation uniforms.
The setup for what passes for the plot occurs early. Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock (Zachary Quinto) are contemplating retirement from the U.S.S. Enterprise as they set out on what could be their final mission together, with Bones (Karl Urban), Scotty (Simon Pegg), Uhura (Zoe Saldana), Sulu (John Cho), and Chekov (Anton Yelchin, RIP) along for the ride. Before they can reach their destination, however, the Enterprise is attacked by a fleet of spidery spaceships headed by the villainous Krall (Idris Elba, looking like the results of inbreeding between a dinosaur and the Jigsaw killer from the Saw series). Lin stages this pivotal ambush like something out of one of the Fast and Furious entries; lots of quick pans, rapid-fire editing, deafening explosions, and muddy camerawork, resulting in an incomprehensible mess of staging and geography. From there, the film turns into a series of action sequences bracketed by moments of forced character interactions, lame attempts at humor, and emotional heart-tugging which feels wildly unearned given how fast the narrative moves from one bit to the next.
A new character is introduced in the form of Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), a face-painted warrior alien who accompanies the team after they crash land on an exotic planet, and she gets to do a bunch of kicking, punching, and jumping, but offers very little to the actual story. What’s worse is that she spends most of her screen time paired with Scotty, whose exacerbating quips and uses of the word “lassie” get tiresome very quickly. It’s strange that Pegg, who co-wrote the script with Doug Jung, has crafted something so throwaway and pointless here, especially considering his supposed reverence for the brand and past success writing comedic dialogue. What’s worse is that for all it’s episodic listlessness, Star Trek Beyond also tries to pull a surprise twist during the third act in regards to Elba’s villain, who emerges as a one-note caricature for the vast majority of the running time. Sorry, movie, attempting a pathetic grasp at political relevancy at the last minute is an insult to the audience’s intelligence; not that intelligence is the first thing which comes to mind after Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” gets turned up to 11 as the crew swan dives into a flurry of indistinguishable CG mayhem.
Perhaps such a moment is a litmus test for how one ultimately comes down on the film. If you are tapping your feet wearing a dopey grin during that sequence, then the movie will probably work like gangbusters. However, if you are plucking out your eyeballs and heading for the exists while listening to the sounds of Gene Rodenbery rolling around in his grave, then Star Trek Beyond will likely drive you into the outer reaches of psychological meltdown.