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Star Trek Beyond Review

star-trek-beyond-review

RATING:
(2.5 STARS)

The term “episodic” gets thrown around a lot when it comes to major studio moviemaking. Between bifurcation of individual stories and the intense desire to turn everything into a “saga” or “cinematic universe,” the big-budget action film that mostly stands on its own is becoming an endangered species.

Star Trek Beyond, then, ought to be a breath of fresh air. Well, it is — to a certain point. It’s a film that introduces a theme, injects some stakes, and emerges on the other side actually about something. Better still is the fact that one leaves the theater having taken in a complete story. Beyond, um, Beyond, I’m not sure where Star Trek goes, but it shouldn’t have much to do with this finished tale.

Unfortunately, almost everything that happens between the film’s lovely opening and surprisingly graceful close is incomprehensible. Justin Lin is a talented guy, but certain scenes are visual gibberish. Simon Pegg and Doug Jung give us a screenplay with ideas, but it gets lost in nonsense when it’s ready to move the viewer from point A to point B. Considering how fast Beyond moves, that’s a problem, and it prevents me from giving it the recommendation I thought I’d be able to 30 minutes in.

The film opens with an amusing, seemingly unimportant prologue which features Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine, as good as ever in the role) trying to broker peace between two species of aliens deep in space. He offers one a trinket of little apparent worth, and it’s met with violent resistance. Thankfully, his angry adversaries are the size of his foot.

This incident is just another in a long line of pointless exercises that collectively demoralize Kirk. He’s not sure what he’s doing out here and seeks a new position on the Federation’s high-tech base called Yorktown. Before he’s given a chance to accept or decline, he’s sent back out to answer a distress call on the other side of a nebula heretofore unexplored by the Federation. Once through it, the Enterprise is attacked — it was a set-up. The ship goes down on a nearby planet, and those who survive — all our major players — are dispersed and without a way to get home.

The attackers are led by a creature called Krall (Idris Elba). He’s after the trinket Kirk was bargaining with in the film’s opening, but its true nature and his motivations are surprises best left for you to discover for yourself (assuming I don’t dissuade you from checking this hot mess out). Krall ends up being a very effective villain — easily the best of this iteration of Star Trek movies. He’s physically imposing, motivated for reasons we understand, and connected to the film’s central idea — that this place fucking sucks.

If anyone else in the film had an arc like Kirk or Krall, I’d be singing Beyond’s praises from here to the nearest nebula. Unfortunately, everyone else — Spock (Zachary Quinto), Sulu (John Cho), Uhura (Zoe Saldana), Bones (Karl Urban), Chekov (Anton Yelchin, RIP), and Scotty (Pegg) — is a one-dimensional caricature of previously interesting individuals. Even some of the other new faces, including Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), fall flat. She’s a solid secondary protagonist but fades way too much into the background as Beyond reaches it’s laughable and unintelligible conclusion.

Like Into Darkness, Beyond goes off the rails in its final third. Without saying too much, it relies on a key plot point from Cameron Crowe’s Aloha to dispatch a major threat. (I liked that film a lot, but the idea in question was and is insultingly stupid.) Lin’s eye for directing large-scale action is borderline unparalleled in today’s marketplace, in my opinion, but it doesn’t come through here. The film has some really strong special effects and builds some cool worlds, but the choreography and transitions in Beyond were sometimes so poor that it made me tune the film out.

It’s really too bad because I was ready to be back in on Star Trek following Beyond’s quiet but confident opening third. As the Enterprise goes down, however, so too does the film, and it never totally recovers.

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