Movie Review: Star Trek Beyond (2016)
Third time’s the charm, I guess.
The first rebooted “Star Trek” was too “Star Wars”-y for me, second was too “Raiders of the Lost Ark”-y (not to mention stupid). This one gets the appeal of “Star Trek.” So who do we thank for this midsummer gift? Simon Pegg (Cornetto trilogy), for co-writing it with Doug Jones? Justin Lin (Fast/Furious movies) for directing it? Or J.J. Abrams for finally stepping aside?
It starts slowly, which is so not-done these days it felt like a relief. Capt. Kirk (Chris Pine) is in the doldrums because in the third year of his five-year mission it’s all beginning to feel a bit “episodic” (great line: I laughed out loud), and Dr. McCoy (Karl Urban) tries to bolster him with bad beside manner and good Scotch. Meanwhile, Spock (Zach Quinto) is on the outs with Uhura (Zoe Saldana, call me), and ready to leave the Enterprise, because he feels he owes something to New Vulcan—like propagating its nearly decimated species.
Not to brag, but here’s what I wrote about Spock three years ago in my review of “Star Trek: Into Darkness”:
How many members of the Vulcan species are left? Wouldn’t this small fact alter his trajectory a bit, get him off the Enterprise maybe, doing something else? Wouldn’t it give him a different girlfriend? (No offense, Zoe.) Doesn’t it make sense for Spock to want to propagate his species now that they’re nearly extinct? Or at least consider doing so? Or at least talk about it with someone?
It really isn’t bragging since it’s all rather obvious. You might even call it logical.
While on shore leave at the starbase Yorktown—which is a kind of M.C. Escher painting in space—Kirk volunteers the crew to retrieve a ship stranded in a nearby nebula. But as Admiral Ackbar would say, it’s a trap. The Enterprise is attacked by a swarm of ships that literally cut it apart, and it plunges to the planet below. And our roller coaster ride begins.
What I liked about the ride? Mystery. Who was the alien Krall (Idris Elba) and why did he attack the Enterprise? What’s his game? The early “Star Trek”s—and I’m talking TOS, first season—had a real air of the bizarre and mysterious and dangerous. You’re going into space. You’re finding all kinds of creepy shit. We get a whiff of that here.
What else I liked? We get character development and humor during the ride. There’s good repartee between Spock and McCoy, as well as Scotty (Pegg) and Jaylah (Sofia Boutelia), an alien who saves him. Yes, she’s the usual bodacious bod, ass-kicking chickiepoo that all the sci-fi geeks love, but she’s a great version of that. When they first meet, she repeats his name, “Montgomery Scott,” and he lets her know she can use the familiar, “Scotty,” so for the rest of the movie she calls him “Montgomery Scotty.” She speaks a sing-songy English, and knows all about the Federation, because she lives on the downed U.S.S. Franklin, which was the first starship equipped with warp drive. It went missing 100 years ago. One assumes it fell into Krall’s hands but the answer is more surprising and less interesting.
For a while I wondered if Krall was Cardassian (forgive: it’s been a while since my “ST” heyday), but—alley oop—he’s actually the former commander of the Franklin, whose physiognomy has been altered because ... I didn’t quite get it. Apparently he absorbs other life forms to stay young, a technology which he—I don’t know—found on this rocky, desolate planet? Anyway, his goal in downing the Enterprise wasn’t just for vengies on the Federation, which he blames for abandoning him, but to get a thingamabob (maguffin), that fits with another thingamabob, which creates a superpowerful bioweapon. He’s going to use this to destroy the Yorktown.
Are we better united or does it encourage weakness? That’s the slight (very slight) philosophical showdown between Krall and Uhura in the film. Krall gets the maguffin by torturing one crew member until another caves—thereby demonstrating the weakness in unity argument—but of course Kirk, et al., demonstrate its strength by working as a team and using the Franklin’s still operating transporters to beam the rest of the crew to safety. Then, in the Franklin, they take off in pursuit of Krall and his hive-like ships, and bring down the latter with a blast of old-fashioned rock ‘n’ roll. (In space, everyone can hear you scream bad heavy-metal.) BTW: Doesn’t this undercut Uhura’s, and the movie’s, argument? The hive-like unity of the ships is their weakness. And sure, that’s hive-like, which is bad, rather than creative team-building, which is good, but still. It’s also a ripoff of “Best of Both Worlds,” isn’t it? Not to mention—and not to brag again—“Fuck-Ups of the Federation.” Mr. B, you have the conn.
All of this leads to the inevitable battle between Kirk and Krall, which is done well, and then the usual bow-tying: Kirk turns down a vice-admiralship to keep his command, and Spock decides to stay with Uhura (schmaht!) and on the Enterprise (newly rebuilt). Screw New Vulcan, I guess. There’s a nice homage to Leonard Nimoy and the original crew, and a new version of the original opening monologue (“Space, the final frontier...”), but this time, per the movie’s theme, with many voices of the crew reading it rather than the one. Because the needs of the many...
Split your infinitives
I would’ve sacrificed some of the roller coaster for more character development, or a greater explanation of Krall. And once the endorphins wore off, I noted a lot of absurdity. But I had a good time.
A few thoughts for the future:
- Simon Pegg should keep writing these; well done, laddie.
- Jaylah should return; superhot and a good character.
- They still haven’t figured out Uhura. She’s still kind of a blank.
- Is Kirk? “You spent all this time trying to be your father,” McCoy says. “Now you’re wondering what it’s like to be you.” So are we.
- Sulu, too. Gay isn’t a personality.
- They still can’t get Spock’s hair right; but at least they get the Spock-McCoy dynamic right.
The movie focuses on the triumvirate—Kirk, Spock, McCoy—but right now McCoy’s relationship with both feels deeper than Kirk’s with Spock. So there's room for improvement. Just keep the characters in mind and boldly go.