(2016 - Director: Justin Lin Cast: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Idris Elba)
Star Trek Beyond has its merits. The film fully unhinges the franchise from its former storylines. Instead of reimagining Star Trek history (as Star Trek (2009) and Star Trek Into Darkness relied so heavily on), Beyond champions an isolated mission with almost no immediate connection to its predecessors. This is Beyond’s strength. This is what makes it interesting. It felt like the series was taking off and, for lack of better words, going beyond introducing a new generation to Star Trek. Finally. We already know the crew, their roles, their quirks, their friendship. Beyond is the equivalent of Star Trek: The Motion Picture but with the advantage of actually having previous movies to set up its characters. (Of course, TMP relied on people being familiar with characters from the TV show that ended a decade before its release. Back in the day when people actually had memories and didn’t need franchises to reboot every 5 years.)
Despite the excitement to go on a new adventure, despite being fully invested in this newly rebooted cast and storyline, we’re left with a story that’s full of fun plot but void of any real meaning. The story lacks any real focus. There are several loose strings of meaningful character interaction and definition.
Let’s look at our main character’s paths:
Kirk has a brief existential crisis about wanting to give up being captain but is left with nothing to carry that theme throughout the film. An interesting storyline with potential character growth gives way to plot. Kirk simply has to conquer whatever obstacle stands in his path. The film wraps this idea in a nice bow at the end with Kirk abruptly deciding he wants to stay on as Captain of the Enterprise. This decision plays heavy with no real substance to support Kirk’s emotional journey to get to that point.
Spock is busy being stuck between a bromance with Bones, and an abbreviated Vulcan midlife crisis that involves repopulation of his race and his relationship with Uhura. Not much soul-searching happening here.
Our main villain, Krall, is mesmerizing. He has evolving charm that keeps your interest. But no real depth. No real character development or revealed motivation until the very end. It’s hard to care for a villain unless a villain is built, and developed, from the ground up. I can appreciate subtlety in a character, sure, but Krall obviously should have been a larger feature in this film. Even toward the end, the motivation for his actions seems weak and tacked on. And Krall’s backstory directly relates to Kirk’s fears of being lost in space with no purpose. Why not capitalize on that? Lost potential.
Jaylah steals the show. But sadly, she’s not given the screen time that her character warrants. If the film wasn’t going to develop anything new between the main cast, give the film’s heart to its new characters, Kroll and Jaylah. So much backstory exists between them that I feel cheated out of the movie’s core story.
What else happens in this story that really matters? There is a lot of plot and big action set pieces. A surprise attack: A wilderness survival: An escape mission: A rescue mission. All for what? We end the film back where we started.
From what I know of the Star Trek franchise, (admittedly it’s not much beyond my initial Star Trek Maiden Voyage) the best and lasting stories are rooted in Kirk and Spock’s friendship. The films are at their best when they are the focus. It’s why, to me, Khan and The Voyage Home, are the most thematically appealing and successful films. It’s what Star Trek (2009) and Into Darkness latched onto that made them so good. But Beyond takes measures to avoid their friendship. In fact, the film ends with the two of them joking about how the film is essentially one long missed conversation. Am I missing something? Was the point to short change their friendship to allow space for another story? What story?
But don’t get me wrong; there is a lot of good in this film. The cast is great. It’s funny. It’s fun. Justin Lin steps in for J.J. Abrams and makes it his own. His direction is smooth almost to a fault. The play with gravity and the twisting camera may have been a bit overused. I’m happy to see Simon Pegg’s writing abilities front and center.
The movie has a "coolness" factor about it. But I’ll only remember cool for so long.