The “Enterprise” and its crew is reaching the third year of its “5 year” mission of exploring the lesser known realms of the galaxy. Several diplomatic setbacks made Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) reconsidering his destination, that’s why he is now applying for a safe and trouble-free position as Admiral. Of course, as the classic rules of Greek drama demand, that doesn’t work out and soon the Enterprise, following an emergency call, is getting attacked by a swarm-like ship armada of an unknown alien species and crashes on an undiscovered planet hidden in a nebula. Kirk, Spock (Quinto) and Scotty (Pegg) now have to save the crew that was captured by the evil Krall (Elba) and his minions. They get unexpected assistance by the stranded alien warrior babe Jaylah (Boutella).
Beyond the Reboot
Beyond is easily the best out of the three movies of the dreadful “Nu Trek” reboot, which is admittedly not a high bar to cross after the loveless franchise recycling excess of Into Darkness.
For starters, this movie has actually a proper structure, means a beginning, a middle part and an end. Also, the story does, simple as it is, make sense most of the time. But the most important changes have been made regarding the personnel behind the camera.
Fast & Furious– veteran Justin Lin replaced J.J. Abrams as director and he proves to be the far more confident and versatile craftsman, actually showing a sense for compelling visuals, scale, scope, geography, pacing, choreography and design which has been sorely missing in the new Trek movies till now. Ignoring the grotesque transformation Simon Pegg’s public persona went through for a moment, one has to admit that his script for this movie is a noble attempt at course correction that -mostly- works. The cringe-worthy elements of the predecessors, like the ham-fisted “political” post-9/11 allegory of Into Darkness “writer” and conspiracy-nut Robert Orci shoved down our throat with a bathlet or the whiny New Age- armchair psychology “men have feelings too” angle – “Kirk has Daddy issues, Spock has Mommy issues”- that was only missing Pacey coming around the corner and telling us smugly how we all have to get over our own demons, have been either suspended or reduced to a bearable minimum. Pegg replaced that with some dry humour that surprisingly also (mostly) works, another first time in the new series. Goodbye smarminess!
A lot has been changed design-wise as well. Finally the Federation got rid of the shiny running shirts and dressed their members properly with stylish, Mao-collared uniforms that are very reminiscent of the ones in the original series from the 60s. The infamous, often cited “Apple store” elements of the bridge of the Enterprise have been toned down, making it less of an eyesore. Most importantly, the flashy, ugly af Nu Trek bling-bling Enterprise, whose design was only three plastic wheels away from a Hong Kong knock-off toy, gets crashed in the first third in the movie and is replaced with a subtly updated version of the 60s ‘prise in the end. Another charming throwback is the look of the planet the crew is stranded on. With its angular rocks it looks like a glossy, roided-up variety of the papier-mâché backgrounds in front of which Shatner & Co. had to (over-)act.
The standout design of the movie might be that of the space station/city Yorktown though, a truly phenomenally realized homage to Syd Mead- paintings that makes Elysium from the eponymous movie look sad in comparison. I’m not though sure why they had to make actor Greg Grunberg, a leftover from Felicity who was already squeezed into the cast of the last Star Wars, its main operator. How many times is producer Abrams going to try to sell us this presence-less, family-friendly version of Seth Rogen?
Unfortunately, there are some downsides that hamper the enjoyment, hence my frequent use of “mostly” in the paragraphs above. Main weakness of this film are the bad guys. Elba’s character, some sort of moog-voiced space-vampire (!), is more silly than intimidating and his motives are both generic and muddled. It doesn’t help that he and his rubbery minions look like an unholy cross between the villains and Rickman’s character from Galaxy Quest. The straightforward, stripped-down adventure story approach of the story proves to be both a blessing and curse. While it manages to omit a lot of ballast from the preceding films, the lack of substance causes the almost too generic plot coming to a screeching halt at many points during the middle section, particularly the “rescue the crew”- mission and I had a hard time feeling engaged with what’s going on on the screen. On top of that, the dirtbike scene and the use of the Beastie Boys song “Sabotage” reveal to be as cringe-worthy and clunky as they are suggested to be in the trailers.
Thankfully, the film gains back some momentum in the second showdown, with a spectacular no-gravity ballet inside Yorktown.
Star Trek Beyond is a solid and well-made, if rather generic space adventure with clever nods to the original series that feel surprisingly organic. A lack of substance, an only mildly engaging plot and some outlandish interludes prevent it from becoming more than an entertaining time-killer. Nonetheless, definitely a step into the right direction.