Have we all seen Star Trek Beyond now? I hope so. If not, be warned that I’m pretty much going to spoil the entire film over the course of this post. I’ll put a little buffer text in below to give you a chance to warp away.
This is not going to be a traditional movie review. I don’t know how to review a Star Trek film that way. I can’t. I’ve got too much emotionally invested in this franchise, and there are over 600 hours of previous Trek floating around in my brain.
So let’s start with the basics. Did I like the movie?
Yes. Absolutely yes. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t have some issues with it, which I will get to later, but considering how…not thrilled I was with the first couple of trailers for the film (Which I explained HERE and HERE.), I am positively ecstatic about the end result.
The overall storyline is fine. It’s nothing particularly amazing, but, as many reviews have pointed out, it’s the closest these new films have come to feeling like an episode of the original series. The ship visits a strange new world, stuff happens, and then on to the next adventure. Granted, it’s not quite that simple in Beyond, but we are finally in the midst of the five-year mission, which it seemed like we were starting at the end of 2009’s Star Trek but that actually started at the end of 2013’s Star Trek Into Darkness.
I also appreciated the attempt to make the USS Enterprise feel more like the crew’s home in the first few minutes of the film. As I said in THIS POST about the two JJ Abrams Star Trek films, “What [Star Trek: The Motion Picture director Robert] Wise and other directors (including Leonard Nimoy) understood and Abrams did not is that the Enterprise is more than a space ship, more than a way to get from here to there, and even more than a home. The Enterprise is practically a character herself.” Star Trek Beyond and its director, Justin Lin, can’t overcome two movies of neglect in the opening of this latest film, but I did feel like that they tried.
And while the first trailer in particular made Beyond look like a generic action-fest that happened to have some Star Trek elements, the final film instead gives us time with the characters that we loved since the original Star Trek television series. There’s plenty of action as well, but the main cast all get their storylines and moments (McCoy and Scotty were the standouts for me). There’s also a very well done acknowledgement of Leonard Nimoy’s passing as well as the history of these characters. Unfortunately, this will be Anton Yelchin’s final appearance as Chekov, and he probably is the least served by the script. He has plenty to do as he runs around with Kirk, but I can’t say that much of it deepened his character. Mostly he’s there to give Kirk someone to talk to and to spout technobabble.
The main villain, Krall, is a bit underdeveloped (Which seems to be the norm for the newer films), but I was impressed and more than a little surprised at how deep Simon Pegg and his cowriter Doug Jung went into Star Trek lore for his background and motivations. Krall’s past as a MACO as well as the technology mentioned for the USS Franklin (Polarized hull plating and such) comes straight out of the last and possibly least regarded Star Trek television series, Star Trek: Enterprise, which ran from 2001 to 2005 on the now-defunct United Paramount Network. I think of Enterprise as being recent, but it went off the air over 10 years ago. For people in their 20s now, that might be the Trek that they grew up with and remember most fondly.
The movie is also very funny. That’s not to say that it’s a comedy in the vein of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (which actually had world-ending stakes), but the film finds moments of levity between the characters, just as the original series always did. The conversation surrounding Spock’s gift of a necklace to Uhura is hilarious while also perfectly fitting the characters.
What didn’t I like?
As I mentioned above, Krall is underdeveloped, and I wonder if there are several scenes left on the cutting room floor explaining his development a bit more. For example, why did he change his name to Krall anyway?
Really, though, just about everything involved with Krall, the planet, and his plan are underdeveloped. Jaylah, the alien Scotty meets who ends up being a huge help to the crew, talks about Krall’s assistant like we should know who he is. At no point prior to this, though, is he given a name or really made to stand out from the others helping Krall. And what about the goons that threaten her and Scotty? Do they work for Krall? Are they just wandering the planet as well? If there are roving gangs of other aliens that crashed on the planet, why didn’t anyone else run into them?
Just how many of those drones does Krall have anyway? How long has he been able to leave the planet? If he could leave as soon as he found those drone ships, which he talks about in his log entry from soon after he ended up on the planet, why did he stick around for over 100 years? Obviously he left at some point, so he could hack the Federation and probably to gather the other pieces of the bioweapon. Considering how many of the drone ships he has, why does he even need to bother with the cosmic scavenger hunt for his bioweapon? He could have taken out Yorktown station at any point. This is a belabored way of saying that his plan just doesn’t make sense once you think about it. This isn’t uncommon for action movies, though.
What also isn’t uncommon is the final action sequence, which basically boils down to stopping a MacGuffin at the top of a tall building (See The Avengers as another good example of this). The fun with different gravity aspect gave the thing a different spin, but in the end it was Kirk and Krall punching each other. As I said, this isn’t uncommon for action movies, but do we really need to end all Star Trek movies this way. The last four films going back to Star Trek: Nemesis have all ended with a race to stop some kind of super-weapon. There are other ways to make a successful Star Trek film. Star Trek IV, which I mentioned earlier, is one of the most financially successful of the series, and the only time a weapon is fired in the movie, it is to melt a door lock. There isn’t even a villain as such. I don’t know if a studio in this day and age would approve a film like that, particularly since the newer Trek films are competing as massively budgeted blockbusters. Star Trek IV cost $21 million, which even with inflation is only about $45 million today. Beyond, meanwhile, was budgeted at $185 million. Don’t get me wrong. Action is fine. And I actually really liked the final ship battle sequence, Beastie Boys and all. Star Trek can be more, though. I suppose I will have the new series to give me other types of stories because the movies are likely to remain in the action mold.
As a side note, since I’m talking about the action, the entire sequence inside the saucer of the crashed Enterprise was almost impossible to follow. Maybe it was just the theater where I saw it, but the sequence was too dark to see what was actually happening.
And since I brought that up, my final issue is that THEY DESTROYED THE ENTERPRISE!!!
Ahem. Sorry. I know I’ve been complaining about the possibility of this ever since the first trailer was released, but I really did not want that to happen. I wanted to get to know the ship in this film. Not watch it get wiped out! That said, this sequence is handled very well and hurts even if we don’t know this Enterprise as well as we should. I tried to imagine what it would have been like seeing this happen to the original series Enterprise, and that pain is more than I really want to contemplate.
What really bothered me more than the ship’s destruction, though, is how meaningless it all ends up being by the end of the film when the crew is given an identical ship that they just slapped an “A” on. “But that’s what happened in the original films!” I hear you cry. At a very basic level, sure. But, as with most things, it’s all about execution. In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, the Enterprise suffers a great deal of battle damage, and, at the beginning of Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, Kirk and crew learn that the ship is going to be decommissioned. After that, the Enterprise officers steal the ship in order to rescue Spock for the Genesis planet, which leads to a run-in with a Klingon Bird of Prey. Kirk is forced to self-destruct the ship in a sequence that it still rough for me to watch. The officers end up stealing the Bird of Prey and using it for the rest of Star Trek III and almost all of Star Trek IV. They get a new Enterprise at the end of that film, which does indeed look just like the last one with an “A” slapped onto it. However, before that there’s uncertainty about what kind of ship they will get, or if they will get one at all, since they are on trial for stealing the previous Enterprise. There’s a journey to get to the new ship. In Beyond, it’s more like “You lost your last ship? No big deal. Here’s another one.”
All of these quibbles are relatively minor, though. As I said at the outset of this, I enjoyed the film quite a bit. I would happily see it again and will definitely be buying it when it is released on blu ray. I also recommend Star Trek Beyond without reservations. It’s a fun two hours at the movies and nice celebration of these characters for the 50th anniversary of Star Trek.
Go see it!!!
- Alan Decker
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