Director: Justin Lin
Writers: Simon Pegg, Doug Jung
Cast: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Simon Pegg, Karl Urban, Harold Cho, Zoe Saldana, Anton Yelchin
After JJ Abram’s successful reboot of Star Trek as a film franchise in 2009, I was left feeling flat by it’s successor Star Trek Into Darkness, a film that became too focused on action and spectacle for my liking. On its own merits its a perfectly serviceable blockbuster but as part of a well established sci-fi series, I thought it veered too far away from what makes Star Trek Star Trek.
When I think back to the best traits of Gene Roddenberry’s original series, I think of its emphasis on space exploration, comradery between different cultures and a storytelling style that was more cerebral than driven by violence. By comparison, Star Trek Into Darkness was a film that concluded with Spock chasing down Khan whilst screaming at the top of his lungs and then belting him in the face repeatedly in a fist fight.
I didn’t really know what to make of Star Trek Beyond at first. I was cautiously optimistic when I heard that Simon Pegg was handling the screenplay but those first trailers which edited the film to look like ‘Fast and Furious in space’, left me feeling a bit dubious.
Star Trek Beyond begins with a listless Captain Kirk, who is three years into his five year space exploration mission, wondering what his purpose is. He feels alienated by the repetitive and endless nature of his work.
The Enterprise arrives at the space port of Yorktown where the crew goes on shore leave. Kirk considers accepting a promotion to Vice Admiral which will remove him from any duties aboard his ship in exchange for a much more sedentary life in Yorktown. He recommends that Spock take his place as captain of the Enterprise.
The crew are dispatched on a rescue mission when they intercept a distress beacon from an escape pod in a nearby uncharted nebula. The lone survivor on board the vessel is Kalara, a captain herself who explains that her crew was kidnapped by a swarm of ships lead by the nefarious Krall. The Enterprise takes on the job of rescuing Kalara’s crew from enslavement by Krall and his minions.
Oddly enough, the trailers and promotional material for the film seem quite happy to spoil what happens next: the Enterprise flies into a trap set by Krall. The ship is destroyed and its crew are marooned on the planet surface. Can the crew of the Enterprise escape the planet without their ship? Can they stop Krall in his quest for the Altamid? Will Kirk find his mojo again?
There’s a number of things I quite liked about Star Trek Beyond. Firstly, a good chunk of the film is spent in the company of Spock and Bones, one of my favourite pairings from the original series who are oil and water in each others company. It’s this sort of interaction, between two people who have completely different personalities, learning to get along, that serve up some of the best moments in Star Trek – both in the original series and in the current incarnation.
Sofia Boutella is also a welcome new addition to the series as Jaylah, a skillful and resourceful scavenger who befriends the crew of the Enterprise. Her dry personality makes her the perfect foil to Simon Pegg as Montgomery Scott and she is given an opportunity to shine in the film’s third act when she helps lead a raid on Krall’s slave camp.
Where the modern Star Trek films continue to frustrate me is their insistence on moving the story along at a hundred miles an hour. If they could just slow down the proceedings by a gear or two, there would be a much improved film to be enjoyed here.
Some examples: There should be some apprehension on the part of the Enterprise crew and the audience as to whether Kalara is completely trust worthy. Instead her story is taken on face value and we abruptly jump into the next scene before any suspense can be built.
When the Enterprise crew are captured and taken to Krall’s slave camp, instead of giving us a couple of scenes showing the hardship and cruelty imposed on them, we see Uhura and Sulu escaping. Not even plotting to escape. Just straight up escaping. You don’t have any sense of whats at stake if they haven’t done any hard time yet!
This sort of pacing – this rush to go from one scene to the next – has bugged me throughout the modern Star Trek films. It makes them feel as though they lack confidence in their audience. That the producers are worried they might tune out. But the best films know to take their time. You don’t see a dinosaur in Jurassic Park until half an hour into the film. You don’t see the xenomorph in Alien until forty minutes in. You don’t see the great white in Jaws for over an hour. But in the first fifteen minutes of Star Trek Beyond, Kirk has pondered the meaning of life, visited this incredible looking space station called Yorktown, rescued an escape pod and crash landed the Enterprise. It’s hard to get attached to the fate of Yorktown, wonder about the intentions of Krall or just about anything else in Star Trek because you aren’t given any time to absorb any information. All of it just flies at you at a relentless pace.
Of course I’m ranting here and I’m probably being a little hard on Star Trek Beyond. It is a perfectly decent film. But I think these films could be better. Should be better. They just need to have faith in their source material and ease off the caffeine. You can’t make the audience wonder about the enormity of space and what exists out there if not a single shot in the film lasts longer than ten seconds.