I will tell you up front, I’m a Trekker. I’m not the type to do cosplay or read every variation of the stories, official or unofficial, but I’ve been watching Star Trek since 1966 and I’m a fan of the show and much of the philosophy. I know that J.J. Abrams got a lot of s*** from fans because he emphasized the action more than the cerebral, although in the context of a two hour movie, I think that criticism is hollow, especially for Star Trek Into Darkness. I also thought the first film from 2009 was the best film of that year. There, I said it and you now can filter this post as you think fit. Star Trek Beyond is a major let down for me. I found it lacking in depth, confusing to follow, full of plot wholes and guilty of all of the criticisms that people have made about the previous two films (minus the lens flare).
As I was traveling a couple of weeks ago, the electronic poster boards were big and ubiquitous in the London area for this film. I hated that I had to wait until we got home, almost a week and a half after it opened to see it. After seeing it however, I’m satisfied to be commenting on it a day later than my usual posts would go up because there is not much here to get excited about. I’d hoped that the influence of comedy writer and actor Simon Pegg would be enough to make the film feel more humanistic and emphasize the comradeship of the crew more. My guess is that the bits that were funny, he is responsible for, but the overall structure, plot and characters are the result of multiple hands and it is a mess. As usual, no spoilers here, but what the hell did the villain need with the macguffin when his weapons systems and technology are so easily able to defeat Star Fleet vessels as demonstrated early in the film? The backstory and transformation of the character Krall makes almost no sense. There is a seed of an idea for a philosophical discussion of the need for conflict, but it basically goes nowhere except to become cliches in the mouths of both our heroes and the villain.
When the ship met it’s end in Star Trek III, I was moved. When it has subsequently been destroyed or damaged so substantially that they just rebuild it and move on to the next episode, there is a loss of engagement with the audience. This is one of the things that has been missing from the rebooted series, a sense of loyalty to the craft and the crew. Except for the main figures, everyone else is an extra that hardly bears mentioning much less mourning, they might as well all be wearing red shirts at the start of the story. Speaking of secondary characters, there is an explanation of the lead villain in the story, but the data on all of the other bad guys is not clear at all. A couple of them actually have names and it is not clear if they were with their leader when transformed or if they came from later groups or if they are indigenous and represent the pure form of the species. This film is in such a rush to get to the next action sequence that they don’t bother with basic explanations and the ones that they do come up with are the techno gibberish that often fills the dialog of a Trek film, only now it is delivered at warp speed.
There are a few things that work pretty well in the film. I think the relationship between Spock and Kirk continues to develop and I liked that Bones and Spock end up spending time together. Karl Urban has been a great Dr. McCoy and he has all the best lines and comic moments in the film. The character of Jaylah is potentially a good add to the character mix but her dialog is often so “you Tarzan, me Jane” that the character mostly has to be appreciated for the action scenes. Since they have come up, let’s talk about the action, it is a special effects and editing nightmare. It is often so dark you can’t see what is happening, and the constant movement of the set, while interesting, renders perspective meaningless. It is very difficult to tell what is blowing up and what is causing it to do so. Sometimes you can’t even say who is in the scene. The sequences are edited frantically, as is the style these days, which means there is almost no development of tension in any of those sequences. Everything is spectacle and narrative goes out the window. There is a long sequence with a motorcycle that was awkward and the effects shoots are not as well paired up with the live action as they need to be to sell it. This was at least one place where the quality of the visuals was not up to snuff. On the other hand, there are some solid mixes of make up and CGI effects to make some of the alien creatures seem real. I must say however that it sometimes feels like an extended version of the Cantina sequence from Star Wars.
So on the plus side you have some good visuals, and a few funny lines from Dr. McCoy and once in a while from someone else. On the negative side, you have a confusing story, a lack of character development (being gay and having a kid does not count if they are only props and not integrated into the story), plot holes that should make for some great YouTube parodies in the next few years. The movie also feels small, despite the size of the base they are ultimately trying to protect. There is no big issue except the bad guy wants to destroy things. Once again the old adage proves true, “You are only as good as the villain”, and in this case, Idris Elba can’t compensate for a poorly written antagonist. Look, it’s still Trek and you should see it, but it is closer to “Nemesis” or “The Final Frontier” than I think anybody wants to admit.