Directed by: Justin Lin || Produced by: J. J. Abrams, Roberto Orci, Lindsey Weber, Justin Lin
Screenplay by: Simon Pegg, Doug Jung || Starring: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, John Cho, Simon Pegg, Zoe Saldana, Sofia Boutella, Anton Yelchin, Idris Elba, Joe Taslim
Music by: Michael Giacchino || Cinematography: Stephen F. Windon || Edited by: Greg D’Auria, Dylan Highsmith, Kelly Matsumoto, Steven Sprung || Country: United States || Language: English
Running Time: 122 minutes
J. J. Abrams’ Star Trek (2009)-reboot is one of my favorite films of the past decade. Not only is it one of the strongest reboots of any major franchise during this new millennium remake-craze, but the 2009 film also remains one of the most fun, straightforward, and effective crowdpleasers I’ve ever seen. It’s a tossup whether this or another masterful franchise reawakening, The Force Awakens (2015, also directed by Abrams), is more enjoyable. One thing is for sure, though: Subtract all the intense scrutiny and franchise baggage from either film, Star Trek (ST ’09) or The Force Awakens (TFA), and no fanboys would have anything to bitch about either picture.
ST ’09’s sequel, Into Darkness (ID, 2013), waited too long to take advantage of its predecessor’s explosive momentum, much like Ghostbusters II (1989). While it was well received critically and was a solid action-piece, starring a terrific villain courtesy of Benedict Cumberbatch, it flirted too much with The Wrath of Khan (1982) and doubled down on its source-material’s references to a fault. Fast forward three years later, and Star Trek feels like it’s already lost much of its mass audience enthusiasm, and fanboys remain ever ready to pounce at the first sign of weakness.
Overlooking a lackluster marketing campaign, Star Trek Beyond addresses most fan-complaints about the previous installments and feels the most “traditional” of the three. This is still a modern action film first, and a Star Trek-homage second, but the ensemble cast feels most like their Original Series (1966-1969) archetypes, and Beyond places the least emphasis on action sequences.
Depending on your perspective, this is either good or bad. On the one hand, Beyond stands on its own compared to previous Star Trek films, and feels loyal to the spirit of the television show. All the characters, from Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) to Commander Spock (Zachary Quinto) to Leonard McCoy (Karl Urban), are less hyper-charged and over-the-top, feeling like mature, fleshed-out characters at long last. The plot is patient, focusing on character-moments first and continuing the series’ penchant for great actor chemistry. The film’s special FX remain top-notch.
Then again, Beyond’s action is by far the least impressive of the trilogy. Shaky-cam, extreme close-ups, and incoherent editing abound in every action sequence, including and especially close-quarters-combat. Many of these action sequences also take place in extreme low-key lighting, so even when you can detect coherent choreography, you can barely tell who’s punching or shooting at whom. Incoming director Justin Lin attempts to compensate for this by employing looping CGI-crane shots and diverse tracking shots to connect various intertwined action scenes together, laying out where characters are in relation to one another during their respective fistfights. That being said, this does little to heighten the enjoyment of the movie’s set-pieces.
Idris Elba’s antagonist is also lackluster, even compared to ST ’09’s generic Romulan Nero (Eric Bana), and pails in comparison to Cumberbatch’s Khan. The story’s twist regarding his role in the final act is neat, and feels very “Star Trek”-esque, but also can’t help but feel too little, too late.
One of the best new additions to the franchise is Sofia Boutella as Jaylah, an alien scavenger who allies herself to the Enterprise-crew. Her character is terrific comic relief and offers great contrast to the straight-laced Federation officers. Other tasteful touches include the film’s handling of Leonard Nimoy’s passing, which is worked into the story in an organic and meaningful way, particularly with regard to Quinto’s younger Spock. Beyond even pauses to insert a shot of the late Anton Yelchin in the penultimate scene when Kirk & Co. make a classic Star Trek-toast “to absent friends.”
Being the action-junkie that I am, and given my affection for the first two rebooted Star Trek films, I am somewhat disappointed by Beyond. It boasts by far the best screenplay of the bunch, and in retrospect, it would have been unwise to try to outdo the over-the-top action-extravaganzas by Abrams. Still, Justin Lin’s action remains so standard-issue I have a hard time enthusiastically recommending this, and even Simon Pegg can’t seem to write a Star Trek villain worth a damn. At the very least, Star Trek Beyond continues the arc of Kirk and his cohorts, maturing them into assured adults while maintaining their unique, rebooted personalities.
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: Star Trek Beyond wisely dials back its action and settles into a more “episodic” rendition of classical Trek-adventure. A clear arc for each major character traces from ST ’09 to this film, with Pine, Quinto, and Urban being standouts. Newcomer Sofia Boutella is priceless as the ass-kicking comic relief. Alex Kurtzmann and Roberto Orci’s terrible screenwriting is nowhere in sight.
— However… Justin Lin is a step down from J. J. Abrams, action-wise. Idris Elba is a forgettable antagonist.
–> RECOMMENDED: Beyond remains too action-heavy for Trekkies and isn’t violent enough for general audiences, but its story and characters are what make it worth watching, in the end.
? I like the beats and the shouting!