Going into the screening of Star Trek Beyond, I was filled with hope that, perhaps finally a summer film can just be filled with simple fun and excitement. Something not too serious, but not too dumb, either. I like the cast of the “rebooted” Star Trek enough, despite the fact that they had yet to be featured in a film worthy of their talents (the previous installment, Into Darkness, was close, at least in the moment, but ultimately was pretty darn forgettable).
First thing about the screening I saw that was a bit aggravating was that it was in 3D. I’m not a fan of the format (rare cases like Gravity being the exception) and here the look was murky at best, dour at worst. This technical issue aside, the film could still have pushed past the 3D haziness and been enjoyable. Sorry to say that it was not.
Things start off on the goofy side. Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) is attempting to negotiate with an alien species, bringing a relic as a peace offering from another species. They somehow take offense and begin attacking Kirk. The goofy side comes in the fact that these things are just a little bigger than the original series’ Tribbles and are more an annoyance than a threat to Kirk. The rest of the crew comes into focus as the USS Enterprise makes its way to Yorktown, a fancy space station. Kirk is interested in giving the Enterprise over to Spock (Zachary Quinto), who in turn is thinking of quitting Star Fleet to take up with Vulcan matters once he receives news of Ambassador Spock’s (Leonard Nimoy) passing. Nothing truly significant here…these plot points are treated as minor and without any real threat of actually coming to pass.
On Yorktown an alien craft is intercepted and the lone passenger tells a tale of her crew being taken hostage in the Nebula, uncharted territory for the Federation, but apparently as easy as pie to get to for the crew of the Enterprise as it takes them literally no effort or time to get there. Once in range of the planet they are attacked by a swarm of ships, led by the villain of the film, Krall (Idris Elba). The Enterprise is destroyed (how many times can Kirk, in any form, be it Pine or William Shatner, be allowed to lose a ship, exactly without being stripped of his Captain status?) and the crew jettisons out to the planet below.
Bones (Karl Urban) and Spock are stuck together, which is convenient for Spock as he has a giant piece of metal in his side upon landing. Scottie (Simon Pegg) runs into Krall escapee Jayla (by far the most interesting character in the film played by Sofia Boutella – sadly she’s given nothing to do really), while Sulu (John Cho) and Uhura (Zoe Saldana) are taken prisoner by Krall, and Kirk and Chekhov (the late Anton Yelchin) work to find everyone else.
From there it’s more of the same “paint-by-numbers” screenwriting by Pegg and Doug Jung – Scottie, Jayla, Kirk, Chekov, Spock and Bones all find one another and then make a plan to save the crew from Krall, who has taken the relic from the opening of the film and put it to use as a weird, black, liquid-ish eraser of whatever he wants to erase. Like deadly White Out, I guess.
There’s some mildly amusing one liners scattered throughout the film, but little else to keep viewers’ interest here. Director Justin Lin (of the Fast & Furious series) directs the whole thing like a flat, trodden episode of an 80s TV show. Not once do you feel like anyone is really in danger of anything, there’s no drama, there’s no character development. It’s all set up and execution. The action scenes are dull and uninspired and there’s no sense of wonder to the film at all.
The worst thing is the wasting of the great Elba as Krall. He’s not all that threatening, his character’s a bore, his motivation is non-existent until the end and the reveal of why he’s so pissed off is so weak how anyone thought that was enough is beyond me. Pegg and Jung have written a lifeless film and Lin has directed it with all of the luster of a veteran TV hack. It’s a shame, because this cast is very likable, but hardly any of them get to actually do anything significant.
And, only because it stirred up a bit of controversy recently, I’d like to address the desire of Pegg and Jung to underline Sulu’s sexuality as being a gay man (with a daughter and, I assume, a husband – he is met by them at Yorktown). Pegg has defended the choice to make Sulu gay because it would just make sense in the future (of course, no argument there) and that it had to be someone the audience knew (okay…). Oddly enough, George Takei, who played Sulu on the original TV series and in the first 6 films and who is a gay man, has stated he was disappointed in the decision to make Sulu gay. Takei stated that, in his and creator Gene Roddenberry‘s mind, Sulu was a straight man and he couldn’t understand the need to make the change (never mind the fact that at one point a photograph of the original cast, all of whom share the same names as the current cast’s characters, shows up to confuse everything about this supposed different timeline). Look, I applaud Pegg’s desire to put the idea of homosexuality being a normal thing in the Star Trek timeline. Pegg, citing some mumbo jumbo about the Kelvin Timeline (I’m not a Trekkie, so I have no clue), on the subject: “Their sexual orientation is just one of many personal aspects, not the defining characteristic.” Okay, that’s fine…but then do something with it. Instead he just puts it there and you get this vague sense that Sulu’s upset that Krall has targeted Yorktown where his family is, but nothing truly dramatic or suspenseful comes of it. So it’s just there…a pointless shoehorn, albeit one that could have actually yielded something interesting if anyone had tried a little harder to make it actually matter. One of the great things about Star Trek was that it tackled prevalent societal issues. The fact that Pegg and Jung decided to do nothing with this is, to me, short-sighted at best and spineless at worst.
But Star Trek Beyond is not in the business of being interesting. It, like the dung pile of other big budget reboots, sequels and what have you this summer is just interested in trying to take your money. And, I strongly believe, like those other DOA films in the last couple of months, it will no doubt see a similar fate. Audiences are fed up with making these films just to make them. They have to have something special about them. Star Trek Beyond is in no way special. It’s actually mundane and ordinary. And why should anyone pay good money to see that?