IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 120 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Three years into its five-year voyage, the USS Enterprise arrives at Starbase Yorktown to replenish dwindling supplies while the crew takes shore leave. Finding his duties as Captain growing monotonous, James Kirk applies for a promotion to Vice Admiral. When an escape pod drifts out of a nearby nebula and its occupant claims her ship is stranded, the Enterprise is dispatched only to be attacked by a swarm of ships led by an alien called Krall, who boards the ship in order to retrieve an alien artefact. Kirk gets to the artefact first and Uhura separates the ship’s saucer section, enabling to crash-land on a nearby planet only to be captured by Krall along with Sulu, Syl, and the rest of the crew save for Kirk and Pavel Chekov….
It’s possible that, out of us on HCF, I’m one of the least qualified to review Star Trek Beyond, to the point that, if one of us wants to do a more informed review, then I’m all for it. I’m not very knowledgeable about Star Trek and have only seen the other films once or twice. I never even made through much of Star Trek: The Next Generation as, frankly, it bored me, though I keep meaning to revisit the original series which I still recall loving as a kid and have watched bits of since but never the whole thing. In fact, I think I’m going to buy it and work my way through it, possibly reviewing the episodes for HCF. That’s for another day though. In the meantime we have Star Trek Beyond, the thirteenth film in the series. It seems that most, though not all, critics like it, most, though not all, cinemagoers like it, while Star Trek fans, many of whom aren’t too keen on this action-orientated reboot series in the first place, appear to be almost equally divided on it. I was at least expecting this one to be an improvement on the often stupid Star Trek Into Darkness, a film that fans voted the worst Star Trek film ever [though I recall one William Shatner effort to be even poorer], and indeed it was, though still immensely flawed in places.
Like two or three of the early movies, this one feels very much like a TV episode somewhat awkwardly expanded, only this time garnished with lots of CGI and with a thrill sequence every twenty minutes of so. There is certainly a cosy feeling of familiarity about the whole enterprise [sorry] unlike Star Trek Into Darkness which didn’t seem to feel much like Star Trek at all, though the issues with this reboot series remain, the chief one being [I’m with some of the fans here] the cheapening of what creator Gene Roddenberry had in mind when he created the series. I reckon that he’s probably rolling in his grave the way his message of peace and harmony has been all-but eradicated and turned into constant conflict and violence by what J.J. Abrams and Paramount have been spitting out since 2009, in films with the intellectual depth of a walnut made for audiences with no attention span or thinking ability – and before you say that I’m being insulting, I’ll say that I enjoy some movies of that nature too – but that’s not Star Trek, at least as it was originally created. And as for Mr. Sulu now being gay [I guess I should get this out of the way now] – well, all we see between him and his husband is one putting his arm around the other [though I do believe they shot a kiss], so there’s nothing should offend the narrow minded, but I still have an issue with the way a character who hasn’t been gay for nearly 40 years is suddenly made gay because writers Simon Pegg and Doug Jung want to not so much show how politically correct [I certainly wouldn’t have a problem with a new character being homosexual] they are as to wind a lot of fans up.
The story, which a Star Trek expert pal of mine informed me borrows a bit from the Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Disaster and Year of Hell episodes, kicks off with Kirk having a brief close encounter of the dangerous kind, a great sight gag revealing that seemingly large aliens are actually very small, before a genuinely spectacular introduction to a space city called Yorktown as the camera takes us all over it. Then we are re-introduced to our crew. Kirk is tiring of his job and still had daddy issues. Spock and Uhura have split up from having a relationship. The others don’t really have continuing stories but it’s obvious right from the beginning that all the cast members really have grown into inhabiting these characters very well, while it’s impossible to avoid some sadness when Spock looks at a picture of his older double, or indeed throughout watching Anton Yelchin somewhat sweet, but mischievous take on Chekov. There’s little time for sitting around and chatting though; our protagonists soon have to go on another mission, and find themselves attacked by a bee-like swarm of small ships with aliens inside. In what must now be a continuing joke, the Enterprise is virtually destroyed, some of the crew are captured, and some escape onto a planet, looking like they’ve been ejected all over its surface but magically finding each other very quickly as if they were in the same shopping mall.
So for much of the film the characters are split up into small groups or doubles, but this is often handled well, especially when Spock and Bones [who is actually given stuff to do in this movie] are thrown together; their bickering provides some good laughs [in a film which, while not being a comedy, still contains more chuckles than the dreadful Ghostbusters remake contained in its entire, near two hour running time]. Of course there’s a villain, a being called Krall who looks like a cross between Jerry in Enemy Mine and Apocalypse from X-Men, and he’s after stuff that can create yet another doomsday weapon. Even though he is eventually given a back story, he’s not really very impressive or interesting, though after the terrible handling of Khan in the last movie it’s definitely a step up from that, even if his motivations remain confused. The script, which gives the impression that Pegg and Jung considered taking the story into more complex territory than gave up, goes drastically downhill in the final quarter, especially with one of the most ludicrous ways to kill aliens since the sound of Slim Whitman saved the earth in Mars Attacks, which was intended to be ludicrous.
What with a motorcycle dash ending in as crazy a stunt [well, a CGI stunt] as you can imagine, a shootout while sliding down the Enterprise, and assorted other excitements, there’s some diversity of action, though the gravity altering climax just becomes laughable. Director Justin Lin turns some of the fight scenes into headache inducing blurs with shakycam and excessive close-ups, but handles much of the mayhem quite well and the way the camera is often swooping around things is quite exhilarating. Unfortunately, the decision was made to drown the movie in CGI, and often terrible CGI at that, like the sequences where alien soldiers walk around and the movement of their feet is out of sync with the movement of the ground, kind of giving an illusion of Michael Jackson’s moon-walking. For goodness sake there are shots of spaceships landing/crashing which would have looked bad twenty years ago. The fact that CGI is being used to do everything in many films now seems to also lower the quality. What with the thousnds of moving ships in the swarm, and the extremely elaborate architecture of Yorktown, it’s tempting to say that this movie was simply an excuse to break records for complexity and number of moving objects on screen at once, more than anything else.
Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto and the rest all really do a great job, while Idris Elba is given some opportunity to do some full-on acting towards the end. Michael Giacchino’s score is often extremely exciting without being remarkable. For some of Star Trek Beyond, I had quite a good time, and I’m certainly looking forward to the next one a bit more than I was four years ago. But something’s definitely missing from these new films that no amount of fast editing, whizzing around or fisticuffs can disguise, and which is sad evidence of that admittedly overused term “dumbing down”. The reason that Star Trek used to often be great science fiction – and I know this even though I don’t watch it often – is that, like great science fiction, it was about challenging the imagination and provoking new ideas, but Star Trek now leaves nothing to the imagination and makes it impossible to think.