Star Trek Beyond is the latest instalment of a once-exciting rebooted franchise for the fans of the show, like me, in the new millenium. However, sadly this film fails to deliver on so many counts, it’s hard to find a sweet spot as to where I can even begin panning this iconic, beloved sci-fi series of without me shedding a tear in the process. WARNING! MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD.
O god, what can I say being a Trekkie for most of my life? You know that feeling where you decided to open up an investment account at a bank just coz the returns were a whopping 10% a year and then 2 years later, the bank sends you this notice that you’re only getting 1% returns on your investment? Well, yeah – that’s exactly the same deflated feeling you get when watching the latest instalment of Star Trek, ridiculously titled Star Trek: Beyond.
Apart from the incredulously uncreative title, (I mean, who the fuck was paid a million dollars to come up with that microwaved mac n cheese bullshit huh?) this film is disappointingly sober, having nothing in it we haven’t boldly seen before.
Personally, I think I was being extremely diplomatic with colleagues when asked about how the film was. ‘It was good but it wasn’t bad,’ has been my review mantra when I got into the office Monday after opening weekend.
Commercially, the film is warping at maximum drive earning 30 million US smackaroos in the box-office. The film is also cohesive and tight on the storyline but I didn’t come out of the theatre going, ‘Wow! Best Star Trek film EVER!’
Personally, I felt it lacked thrills and spills and when lined up against its predecessors it was quite a sedated, predictable affair. In fact, I’ll go out on a limb to say that Star Trek Beyond was a really nice made-for-TV film. Yes, shoot me, Trekkies but I stand by my opinion on this given how cinematography in television has made quantum leaps in the last decade on shows like Breaking Bad/Better Call Saul, Game of Thrones, True Detective S1 and House of Cards.
After investing years on Star Trek TV shows (yes, including the heavily panned Deep Space Nine version), the films and what not, except for the conventions, Star Trek Beyond, I’m afraid is a whoopee cushion that just didn’t quite feel – well ya know – WHOOPEE!
Gene Rodenderry’s iconic, beloved sci-fi series whose mission to ‘seek out new worlds’ was and has always been a statement about humanity’s bumpy ride towards diplomacy and peace while encountering strange alien races and species. Its attitude towards female empowerment was also very progressive, allowing female characters of Starfleet to display attitudes and capabilities that were equal and sometimes even better than their male counterparts.
Its integration of various alien races like Vulcan-human Mr Spock and Worf, a Klingon into the Starfleet family was also a social commentary on the integration of minority races into the fold that allowed them to enjoy equal opportunities in their careers.
So it’s surprising to see that in this latest Justin Lin instalment, that all this was taken for granted and not really explored further. No new ground was tread and it seemed that the filmakers were satisfied to stay within the franchise’s familiar themes, except for a quick glimpse into Sulu’s gay lifestyle. Other than that, Star Trek Beyond flatlined on everything political and social that made it such a great series in the first place.
The battle lines between good and bad were clearly drawn with no conflicting moral issues sandwiched in between, which is another weakness and flaw in the film, especially in an age of storytelling where characters are constantly flitting between the edges of light and darkness.
Instead, Star Trek Beyond plays it safe yet again by ignoring the noise and potential moral dilemmas by delving into internal conflicts which pretty much stay clearly on the good or bad side. Yawn, hand me a pillow will ya?
Story-wise, Star Trek Beyond opens up on the 966th day of the USS Enterprise’s five-year voyage and already the crew is feeling the heat of being away from Earth too long. Chris Pine’s Captain Kirk and Zachary Quinto’s Commander Spock are both contemplating their future in Starfleet with both trying to find some kind of meaning in their mission. Their internal conflict is just a prognosticator of what’s to come next.
As the USS Enterprise arrives at a Starbase called Yorktown, Commander Spock receives word that Ambassador Spock has passed on and this is just the kick in the butt that he needs to finally make his decision about leaving his position. Meanwhile, Hikaru Sulu reunites with his husband and daughter, Spock and Nyota Uhura have amicably ended their relationship, and Montgomery Scott works to keep the ship operational.
Everything is hunky dory until the arrival of an alien survivor, Kalara, whose escape pod is detected drifting within the nebula. Her sob story of her crew and ship being stranded on a planet called Altamid is enough for the Starbase commanders to dispatch the Enterprise for a rescue mission – a mission that obviously goes wrong when it turns into an ambush orchestrated by lead villain, a human turned alien called Krall (played by Idris Elba). As our favourite spaceship gets attacked by Krall’s massive swarm of ships, it suffers irrevocable damage and eventually crashes into Altamid.
The survivors spend the next hour of the film roaming around the planet like contestants off the Mark Burnett reality show until they find each other and realise that Kalara, who has been working with Krall, is after an alien artifact that Kirk had obtained on a recent mission.
While most reviews will tell you these ‘Survivor’ moments are integral to the film’s characterisation, I can safely say that it made the film more predictable, although there were a few endearing moments like when Simon Pegg’s Montgomery Scott bumps into stranded alien scavenger, Jaylah (played by Sofia Boutella) or when Karl Urban’s Lieutenant Commander Leonard McCoy’s sarcastic wit collides uncomfortably with that of the deadpan and very injured Spock, but even then, those moments couldn’t salvage the ordinary-ness of this story.
Even Idris Elba’s Krall, who is eventually revealed to be a former Starfleet Captain of the USS Franklin, Balthazar Edison, doesn’t bring on the scary as much as previous villains of the Star Trek films did. If anything, Krall is predictable in his actions and nothing about his character’s backstory really justifies why he is such an angry, shrivelled human-alien pickle who needs to destroy Yorktown to quell his thirst for revenge.
Even the final battle scene where the massive alien bee swarm is broken up by the pounding radio frequencies of Beastie Boys’ ‘Sabotage’ deserves at least one raised eyebrow and a jaw drop for it’s simplistic take on zoology and swarm science. I mean, really? I love the Beastie Boys but did Justin Lin really think the beloved New York rock-rap group’s music could save a Starbase and the galaxies beyond it? Wow, talk about a real suspension of disbelief.
Popular Science’s review also declares that the film is dealing with themes of a war in a universe without war and I have to agree. In the film, nothing in its storyline was set up to show that The Federation was under grave danger. In fact, it was generally at peace and really, there was nothing remotely destructive of inter-galactic proportions taking place to threaten it. Krall’s ‘Attack of the Killer Bees’ move on Yorktown, could in essence, be seen as an isolated one – a very isolated one that probably wouldn’t have made a dent in the Star Trek Universe and beyond – excuse the pun – because if it did, this would have been a great way to save this instalment and end this reboot trilogy on a high.
Go see it if you’re a Trekkie but don’t get your hopes up.