Star Trek Beyond Review
Reviewed by Mark McCullough
The weight of expectation placed on the shoulders of Star Trek Beyond before its release was nothing short of enormous. Not only did the film have to pay homage to the fifty year history of the franchise, but it also had to match the quality of the two predecessors with the reboot. Since release in 2009 JJ Abrams take on Star Trek Universe has attracted a new audience to the age old franchise. His narrative, laced with enough humour to feel light hearted whilst still able to deliver a serious and at times gritty narrative. This formula was enough to inject a new spark into an ailing franchise. Then came Into Darkness in 2013 building on what made the first film so great and expanding the relationships between the crew.
Obviously a third film was commissioned to be directed by series newcomer Justin Lin. However having read interviews from the director and cast it appears that film was delayed only starting one year before the films scheduled release. This was probably not the best start the film could have hoped for and left the creative team with little time. Consequently there was only time for one shoot of the film and virtually everything that was produced made its way into the final cut. Whilst this is not ideal to give the movie a strong platform to generate the success of its predecessors, with a strong script and a good vision of what the end product should look like, success would not have been light years away.
Unfortunately the creative decisions behind the film are what I take issue with the most. It was no secret to those who had seen the promotional material of the film that The Enterprise suffers a grim fate. Far from being part of a grandiose dénouement as one would expect, this occurs in the first act of the film and ultimately proves to be the catalyst for the events of the narrative. An argument could be made for the decision in the form of the fact that it allowed the crew to be split into smaller groups to allow characters who aren’t usually together to have that opportunity. A good idea in theory, but its execution is lacking here. Of the four character duos this through up, two meet the criteria of character who don’t normally interact, one involves a new character and the other is one of the common duos from the first films. Unfortunately, the narrative decides to allocate most time to the latter pairing with the new character featuring in an unsurprising close second. Sadly this leaves the other two pairings short-changed in a film that is already tight for time.
Another major drawback of removing The Enterprise is that it takes away from the space element of the film which is such a key aspect of the lore of the franchise. As such you could you can present an argument that it’s the ship that anchors the narrative and without it what your watching doesn’t really feel like Star Trek. Complications from the decision continue to arise as the film progresses, none more obvious than the power differential between the enemy ships and snitching our heroes possess. Consequently the narrative is backed into a corner from which the only way to escape is a Deus Ex Machina resolution. Thankfully this transpires to be more than plausible in a Sci-Fi universe, albeit somewhat cringe-worthy. Despite this minor issue the rest of the denouement remains high octane and very engaging.
On a more positive note, the narrative progresses at a rate which feels natural for the story. The action scenes are well choreographed with particular highlights being the space battle in the first act of the film, the destruction of The Enterprise, and the assault on Krall’s Base at the beginning of the final act of the film. Credit has to go to Director Lin for bringing to life such a vibrant alien world upon which the story is so seamlessly set. The other location of the film Yorktown is equally as impressive, playing with gravity in a way that makes the structure mesmerising. The cast also give an exemplary performance in the roles which they have held for three films now. This shows in how the carry themselves showing consistent mannerisms over the course of all three films. Sofia Boutella is given the hard task of integrating into an already established team of characters (and by extension actors) and does so with ease giving the impression she belongs right from the off. Idris Elba on the other hand is given a more difficult job, one which he makes an impressive stab at, but ultimately the character is not strong enough to allow the actor to convey his proven talents.
Krall, the antagonist of the film is undoubtedly the weakest of the reboot. With Nero in the first film you had the personal attacks on both Kirk and Spock, this gave the viewer an added emotional incentive to dislike him. Kahn on the other had was a more intelligent villain who had us questing his every move and never sure what side he was one. Krall offered neither of these despite appearing as a hybrid of the two: a twist in his identity, and trying to assemble a weapon capable of wiping out worlds. Another unfortunate consequence of the massive twist in his identity damages the subtext of the entire film. It’s as subtle as a sledgehammer and very in your face. This robs the film of any intellectual element for the viewer, everything is presented to you on a plate so you don’t really have to work to see the parallels the film is trying to draw. As such this leads to them feeling forced as if the film is trying to make sure it is something more than just a plain action film. Consequently it doesn’t feel natural and has a negative impact on the film overall.
Finally on a much more tragic real world note, the film aired in the wake of the passing of two cast numbers of the rebooted series. Leonard Nimoy who had played Spock in the original show and Ambassador Spock in the reboot passed away during production. Nonetheless his presence is still felt throughout the film which does a fantastic job of paying him tribute. It is touching how the film uses this as a way to bring new life to the character he played so well. Anton Yelchin on the other hand was a tragic victim of an accident involving his own car and passed away shortly before the film’s release. It would have been if the film had given his character a proper send off, however it is understandable that it would have been impossible to edit so close to release. Unfortunately this means Chekov will likely be subject to an awkward write out between instalments. I was half expecting the film to have been dedicated to him, and was a little disappointed when it was not. Granted this may be due to the fact that I was watching in an Indonesian Cinema, other versions may have been dedicated to him.
Sadly, for a film with a lot to live up, it fails to reach the bar. There are several factors which contributed to my disappointment with the film and I hope I have outlined them above. Ultimately the failure of the film can only be pinned on how tight for time its creation was. Given more time I am sure that the film with a few tweaks could have been something much, much better. It essence that is the root of my frustration with it, the missed opportunities. Thankfully the untapped potential of the series is not lost on the creators with a fourth film already commissioned. Hopefully those involved will learn from the mistakes here and restore the series into something which will live long and prosper. As for this film, I’d recommend waiting for the DVD release of you haven’t already seen it.