"Star Trek Beyond" (2016) - Rated PG-13 / Runtime: 120 minutes
Directed by Justin Lin
Review by: JJ Mortimer
I may be in the minority on this one, but I thought the "critically-acclaimed," often-lauded-as "original" Star Trek Beyond was not very good. It's a decent "fantasy" film, but as a good "science fiction" film, this Star Trek is not. This film feels more simplified and less convoluted in plotting than its two predecessors, but to its detriment feels more like a two-hour "away mission" or a second act of a larger story than it does a fully fleshed-out motion picture.
This movie could have been directed by Roland Emmerich and it would actually have been better, believe it or not. That's how much I disliked this as a Star Trek film.
From director Justin Lin of the Fast and the Furious franchise, Star Furious Trek Wars - Beyond starts off with what feels like the seventeenth time the U.S.S. Enterprise has carelessly, and unemotionally, been destroyed for the sake of plot. In 1984s The Search for Spock, when the decision was made to sacrifice the ship, it was emotional and tragic, like losing a skin-and-blood character that has been established and cared for over the course of many years. The Enterprise has arguably more at stake as an actual character than some of the human characters in the movies and television shows. As a kid, watching Spock die in Wrath of Khan was sad, but I would argue that watching the Enterprise course across the sky in a fireball of debris was almost equally as tragic
In Star Trek Beyond, we are book-ended with a paper mache destruction of the Enterprise that rallies no emotional response and argues the ineffectiveness of "shields." By the end of the film, the crew blankly stares out a window as the A-version of the NCC-1701 Enterprise is constructed in a quick montage that looks like the ship was already being built before the crew had time to take a constipated shit the day after returning from their mission. The ship's completion took less time than an assembly line Toyota in 80s Detroit. The Enterprise is treated like a simple bucket of bolts, and not as a beloved icon of space exploration and discovery. One gets destroyed? Who gives a fuck - build another in three hours.
By the way - fucking plot holes abound and beyoooooooond....
"Hey, fuck drama. Blow some more shit up! We don't want none of this 'intelligence' or 'SCIENCE' in our movie about space exploration and 'SCIENCE'." Star Trek is supposed to be about science and space - the NASA counter-point to the George Lucas 'FANTASY' that is the Star Wars series. In Beyond, never once did I feel at any point that I was learning something scientific. I only blankly stared at the screen trying to figure out what the hell I was seeing during these shaky-cam laser blaster battles that were all shot in the dark. I couldn't see shit, and when you can't see shit, you don't give a shit. I didn't give a shit. Mindless action for the sake of watching "bad guys" die generates hardly any response from me any more. Gone are the days of an Enterprise captain trying to negotiate or settle a dispute. What we are left with is a Kirk that says (and I'm only marginally paraphrasing) they need to insure that they "kill" the bad guy before they progress the story any further.
The bad guy in this film makes no fucking sense. His motivation is non-existent, and if it was explained, I didn't hear or see it. Actually, I meant to say I didn't READ it, because 90% of his lines were in another language and we were given an all-caps subtitling. Filmmakers please be aware that if you want subtitled dialogue to be read easily by audiences, please don't use strange fonts or ALL CAPS, or have the lines do some strange dissolve graphic before and after appearing on screen. Simple yellow font with uppercase letters where they need to be, and lowercase letters following, makes for a seamless transition from reading to seeing the reactions on screen. End rant and tangent.
The villain commands a bee-like hive of alien space ships that coordinate attacks that don't appear mechanical in the least bit. They tear through a space shit like balsa wood with no respect for shields. Ok, cool - raise the stakes on the bad guy and their technology. I'm fine with that. But when you essentially give them god-like powers - a technology that isn't explained how it was even constructed and makes the Borg look like pussies - I have a hard time believing this race of aliens wouldn't just annihilate everyone in the universe. Which is strange why the planet the Enterprise and her crew crash land on is full of other races of defeated space travelers, with these villainous race of creatures not expanding their horizons with their mechanical swarm army that doesn't feel like anything out of Star Trek as much as it belongs in a film like Flash Gordon or the third Matrix.
The Enterprise crew herself is fine, and at times they are finally given moments to shine outside of the preconceived notions of the already-established nature of their characters. But not by much. The relationship between Dr. McCoy and Spock goes through similar tropes as one would expect. Kirk punches aliens over and over again, and for some reason so does Uhura, who can now be added to the list of random female characters in movies that magically possess fighting skills out of thin air that can dismantle, disarm and flip a 250-pound alien killing machine during hand-to-hand combat.
This film's portrayal of the characters is where some of my main problems come from. This film was hailed as being the first "original" of the rebooted movies, and I disagree. Being the third in the new series, they just couldn't resist destroying the Enterprise like the Star Trek III did before. Bones brings up Captain Kirk's birthday again, and Kirk has to battle it out with the main villain (who looks like a Klingon during his reformation back into human form, because apparently he used to be a human) in a one-on-one fist fight.
Where many of the actors could have played their characters with a bit more originality, they instead come off often as caricatures of the actors who used to play the roles. Karl Urban, an actor I actually enjoy and isn't bad in this movie by any means, is still the worst offender of this notion, playing McCoy with the most heavy-handed and obvious reference to DeForest Kelley rather than being more...himself. And I was either surprised or disappointed, depending on my mood, that the new character Jayla (whom Scotty first meets) isn't turned into a love interest for the master of engineering. They both have technical skills and are both shown to care somewhat for each other, but nothing is ever developed from it. I guess it would have been too obvious had they walked off to bone at the end, but hey, it's not like the movie's trying to be thought-provoking or anything. A film like this is going for the base carnal natures of action and sex, and you could barely see any of that in this film, whether by lighting, shitty cinematography, or a lack of sexual knowledge. I half expected Kirk to push Scotty to the ground like the scene with George McFly in Back to the Future and just have his way with Jayla as Scotty pouts in the seat of his own diapers.
By the way, Sulu is a Japanese character, yet they inexplicably cast John Cho, a Korean, in the part. I'm not one to scream "racism!" AT ALL, but how come nobody ever had a problem with this, which is one of the worst Asian miscasts since hiring a Chinese actress for the lead role in 2005s Memoirs of a Geisha. And what's with all the controversy over making the Sulu character supposedly gay? While I don't agree with the decision to change a fictional character to relate and give respect to a real-life actor who formerly portrayed him, the film didn't overtly show any sign that he was homosexual. In fact, had the film makers had any balls, they would have shown him do more than just have an arm around the back of another Asian man. They danced around the bush with the idea, never quite committing to it. They even went as far as to have the other Asian guy carrying a small child, which easily could be seen as a relative - a niece, perhaps - and not a love child. And why did the other guy have to also be Asian if they didn't want to confuse audiences enough already? If they wanted him to be gay and let everyone know it (just short of having them kiss each other), the other man should have been of another ethnicity as to not confuse the possibility of blood relationship. It's this "tiptoeing around the story" that highlights the low parts of this film's script and technical production.
There were a lot of little things that bugged me about the movie: Fucking Bones and Spock perform a last-minute rescue that was reminiscent of the idiocy in the Star Wars prequels, with Bones flying a space ship for some reason in order to be Mr. Action instead of the doctor. In an earlier scene, Spock is injured and Bones has to help heal him in a somewhat primitive way as they are stranded on an alien planet. All I kept thinking to myself was, "This would have been a great opportunity for a reversal of roles," and had Bones injured with Spock helping to save him while the doctor argues and insults the Vulcan as he attempts to remove shrapnel from his abdomen. You know - character development opportunity. I also laughed a little on the inside when they planned their attack to rescue the captive Starfleet personnel by laying out models on a table to represent areas of the prison, in a scene that immediately reminded me of 1984s Top Secret, a film that poked fun at the "planning an attack with models" notion thirty-two years before Star Trek Beyond did it in all seriousness.
The use of the Beastie Boys' "Sabotage" would have worked well in the context of an action scene in a Galaxy Quest or Guardians of the Galaxy-style tongue-in-cheek space action movie, but in this Star Trek film it feels wildly out of place. Actually, it feels in place in THIS Star Trek-based film, but in a true Trek film, you stick with something less abrasive and intrusive. Had the scene NOT been Star Trek based, the way the song is used would have been fucking AWESOME. But, I keep hearkening back to the slower moments in the Next Generation shows and the earlier Star Trek films, for instance, when Star Trek used to be smart, and the use of philosophical banter was always the precursor or the preventer of destruction and doom. Men used to speak to each other and debate the incongruities of the human condition, and themes involving the dichotomy and coexistence of science and religion often brought weight, emotion, and thought-provoking discussion into the...
BOOOOM!! BLAAAM! 'SPLOSIONS! VIOLENCE!! DEATH!! BOOOOOOOM!!!
The four writers on this film just couldn't resist, could they? I could sense Simon Pegg's fingers all over this script, too. I don't dislike him, but his obvious pumping-up of the importance of the Scotty character was completely evident of his involvement in the writing of the script, which made it kind of hilarious that Sulu and Chekov were almost completely absent from the majority of the comings and goings in the film. No bros before hoes, I guess, Mr. Scott.
One other dumb moment that got me a day after seeing the film was upon the discovery of the long-missing USS Franklin, and how it had been abandoned on the planet after crashing there may years before. The Enterprise crew gets her running and is able to fly it off the planet and in turn use it, as well as the Beastie Boys, to defeat the organic-like alien space swarm. After all is said and done, they head back to the Federation space colony and marvel at the construction of the new Enterprise, despite earlier showing its complete failure in the heat of the battle and the Franklin's complete dominance over the enemy. Other than going with continuity of the series and the fact that they are REQUIRED to be on board an Enterprise-titled exploration ship, for script purposes and functionality they should have just refurbished and flown off in the USS Franklin as their ship for the following movie I'm sure they will make, before finally being gifted the model A of the Enterprise at the conclusion of said follow-up film.
Heading back to what I said before about Star Trek Beyond feeling like a large second act of a much larger three part story is made even weirder by the fact that, at just over two hours in length, it managed to accomplish less than Star Trek III: The Search for Spock which was almost twenty minutes shorter. Everything involving the characters crashing on the planet and overcoming the obstacle could have been told in 45-minutes of screen time. There were no evident arcs to the stories of any of the Enterprise crew, and I'd be hard pressed to think of any evident umbrella themes in the script. And the fact that the film is mis-directed by a man who made his cash from having Vin Diesel flex his arms while crashing cars makes it obviously fucking clear that the producers really don't GIVE A SHIT about the Star Trek franchise being a STAR TREK franchise any more. They want their own Star Wars, and are too afraid to let audiences think about philosophical issues without spinning the camera around constantly without letting us see a straight-on shot of the Enterprise before they destroy her like an angry child mad at his big brother's Lego spaceship he made on a Saturday morning.
I want a villain that makes sense. Idris Elba as Krall is actually very good in the role, despite being given very little of any substance to work with other than "he used to be a Starfleet Captain who went bad." I would have been happy had they just went "fuck it" and had the Klingons again. I would have liked the main characters to go through actual changes or learn something about themselves that they didn't know in the beginning of the film. I would like to see a future Star Trek movie where the ENTIRE crew works together to accomplish a goal without one or a couple of them questioning their place aboard the ship or threatening to leave. And make the USS Enterprise a character again, and not just a shitty, twenty-year old Honda a father gives to his mediocre son upon barely graduating high school. There are no stakes if a destroyed ship can be rebuilt while our heroes get drunk and fuck each other after a birthday party.
As for a recommendation, I would say if you are a fan of action and fantasy films that take place in space, you might enjoy it. But the only reason you'd probably want to see it is if you enjoy Star Trek, in which case you won't want to see it because this is only a Star Trek film by name. It is more fantasy than science. It is more dumb action than philosophical debate. It's not Star Trek.
So, I don't know who this film was made for. I found mild enjoyment out of some pieces of dialogue, but the overactive camera, the dark lighting during mindless action scenes, the lack of villain motivation, and the lack of character development beyond what we already know about the Enterprise crew makes this film a pass for me. See it only so you can have an opinion and argue about it.
I'm fucking fed up with producers not giving a shit about popular properties and literally dumbing them down to satisfy mass audiences. I'm over it.
And where the fuck is Carol Marcus? Did she DIE?