Star Trek Beyond Review

Posted: July 24, 2016 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

startrekbeyondposterWritten by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

A few years ago, I started a journey to watch and review every Star Trek film, most of which I was seeing for the first time. It was a very rewarding series which gave me a firmer grasp on one of pop culture’s most important titles and also introduced me to some really good films. That series also gave me a new perspective on the rebooted Trek universe, and specifically, why a lot of fans really don’t like these new movies. There’s a lot of reasons, but at the core it’s that the films don’t feel like Star Trek, they feel like summer action movies. The storylines aren’t as ambitious in their science-fiction or as politically sharp and the characters seem off too. In short, they are films that lean towards violent action than the intelligent and optimistic values Trek was built on. I still think the new films work pretty effectively as blockbusters, but my opinion of them has certainly dipped.

Most signs indicated that Star Trek Beyond would continue the trend of Trek films which don’t feel like Trek. Justin Lin was tapped as the director of the film, a troubling prospect given he is most known for his work on the Fast and Furious movies. No disrespect to those films, but that action heavy touch is not what most fans wanted from Star Trek. These fears seem more or less confirmed when the film’s bombastic trailer hit, promising a lot of flash but nothing substantial. There was however one glimmer of hope in the fact that Simon Pegg co-wrote the screenplay. Pegg is a pretty credible voice in the geek community and his screenplay collaborations with Edgar Wright always showed a strong mix of intelligence, heart, and humour.

The film opens nearly three years into the Starship Enterprise’s five year mission to seek new life in the frontier of space. Their work has been going steady, but Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) finds himself disillusioned, unsure of what he is actually accomplishing. However his contemplation is cut short when the alien Kalara (Lydia Wilson) informs Kirk that her crew have been taken as prisoners on a hostile planet. Kirk and his crew, including Spock (Zachary Quinto), Bones (Karl Urban), Uhura (Zoe Saldana), Chekov (Anton Yelchin), Sulu (John Cho), and Scotty (Simon Pegg) embark on a rescue mission. Unbeknownst to them however, the kidnapping is really a trap set by the creature Krall (Idris Elba), who seeks to acquire an ancient weapon aboard the Enterprise.

Though the plot description might not read as such, Star Trek Beyond is actually a pretty clear effort to make the series feel more like Star Trek than the previous films (particularly Into Darkness). The film may lack a dense science-fiction plot or strong political allegory, but the underlying theme of the film is about groups of people working together to achieve a common goal. That’s obviously a pretty simplistic theme, but it speaks to the inclusivity and optimism that lies at the heart of Star Trek. Perhaps more importantly, Kirk and Spock actually feel in character. Kirk is no longer portrayed as a reckless punk who should have no business commanding a ship and at no point does Spock violently beat someone while screaming emotionally. The two feel much truer this time around and their arcs, especially Kirk’s, are more substantial and interesting than in the previous films, even if they are fairly predictable.

In keeping with Star Trek Beyond’s more hopeful themes is the film’s noticeably lighter tone. The basic story here is (relatively) small scale and the film maintains a sense of fun throughout. There’s a lot of humour here, but it’s incorporated pretty naturally and is done almost exclusively through the character’s interactions with each other. That point is crucial as it means the film can keep a fun tone while still having some sense of menace. The villains do engage in some pretty evil stuff here and the stakes are felt. In short, Star Trek Beyond works as a light adventure, but never totally embraces the comedy in the way something like Guardians of the Galaxy does.

In that sense, the film also functions well as simply an exciting action film. The action ratio is about the same as it was in the Abrams films and Lin does a pretty good job staging the various shootouts, fights, chases, and space battles. For the most part, Lin also avoids making these set-pieces too big. Things are pretty restrained, though there are some groaners like why a starship would feature an old-fashioned motorcycle other than for a slightly contrived chase sequence and the use of popular music like the Beastie Boys, while more creative than I would have expected, still seemed pretty stupid. Generally speaking, Lin fits in the director’s chair pretty well here. He manages to maintain the same basic visual aesthetic while not feeling totally beholden to what J.J. Abrams did and the film is certainly put together professionally. I still don’t think the Star Trek films really need to be action movies, but as action films these reboot films continue to work pretty well.

Star Trek Beyond is a film that does a lot right, but it also stumbles in one of the most crucial areas; the plot. Yet again, we have a Star Trek film which revolves around a villain attempting to use a doomsday weapon out of a sense of hatred/vengeance. The Trek films have been stuck on this rut since the Next Generation movies and it’s become increasingly tiresome. To be fair, Lin, Pegg, and co-writer Doug Jung do offset this somewhat by focusing more on the character interactions than the storyline. That probably is where the real heart of the movie lies and a lot of those character beats do work. Additionally, there is a twist involving Krall that makes him more interesting than he initially seemed, even if his motives are still a little questionable. Still, I can’t help but roll my eyes at the repeated use of the same damn story over and over again, especially when you consider the variety of plots in the original series run. There was a story of exploration and humanity, a revenge tale which explored gradual acceptance of failure and mortality, a quest to save a lost friend, a comedic time travel story with heavy environmental messages, a journey into the unknown to find God, and a brilliant political parallel to the end of the Cold War. Not all of these movies were great, but at least they took risks and tried to tell new stories.

Is Star Trek Beyond the Trek film I wanted? Not really. The Trek films have been starved a good story for a long time and to see this franchise continue to go hungry is very disappointing. Having said that, this is certainly a step in the right direction. The characters and tone feel right, and its themes of togetherness (though very basic) are refreshing at a time when the world seems to be splintering further apart each day. Audiences looking for a summer blockbuster will also mostly be well-served by Beyond. The cast remains a lot of fun, the film is well paced, the production values high, and generally speaking this is a pretty enjoyable romp. In spite of the issues with the plot, this is an enjoyable film thanks to a lot of the details and some strong filmmaking. If this had greater substance, I’d be more than happy to embrace this fully. As it stands though, Star Trek Beyond remains a solid enough effort.

B-

Comments
  1. Damien Riley says:

    “the films don’t feel like Star Trek, they feel like summer action movies.” Agreed. I liked this one alright myself. Thanks for your reviews, excellent job.

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