Matt at the Movies: Star Trek Beyond
I was nervous from the moment the words "From the Director of The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift" appeared on screen during the first trailer for the new Star Trek installment.
Especially when accompanied by shots of James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) jumping over things on motorcycles. With J.J. Abrams, who in my opinion did a great job of initially rebooting Trek and then a lousy job on Chapter Two, leaving to helm another space saga which shall not be named in a Trek post, the question was: who will be worthy to carry on the mantle, giving Trek fans the second movie they deserve? Justin Lin certainly would not have been my first choice, although it was refreshing to see, in light of recent calls to end Hollywood white-washing, that the job wasn't given to another white guy. Lin is certainly an accomplished action director, but it his sci-fi chops aren't quite there yet.
Beyond starts out well enough, with the crew of the Enterprise, and Kirk especially, at a crossroads. Two years of space travel have worn them down, and every day begins to look the same. When they dock at a state-of-the-art Federation spaceport called Yorktown, Kirk reveals to Commodore Paris (Shoreh Aghdashloo) that he has applied for the Vice Admiral position. Before she can give it to him, however, they have one last mission: to explore a nearby space nebulae where days earlier a ship went down with a mysterious distress call.
Because the Enterprise is the best navigational ship in the fleet, Kirk takes the mission, but not long after they enter the nebulae, the Enterprise is attacked by a swarm of ships that brings it down on a nearby planet and scatters the crew, most of whom are captured and brought to a prisoner-of-war camp. It now becomes Kirk's responsibility, along with Spock (Zachary Quinto), Bones (Karl Urban), and Scotty (Simon Pegg), to rescue his crew and escape. The trio get a little help from an alien named Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), who was shipwrecked on the planet herself many years ago. The big baddie is an ugly dude named Krall, who, like all sci-fi villains, is bent on massive death and destruction. In Krall's case, he really has it in for the Federation,
What starts out strong soon devolves into just another generic sci-fi action flick. Yes, Kirk does ride on a motorcycle for a significant portion of the climax. Lin is sticking to what he knows, I guess. Some promising subplots about key members of the crew thinking about going in different directions with their lives are given short shrift and resolve rather quickly. An incredibly stupid tactic involving rock music to destroy enemy ships is, well...incredibly stupid. And the worst part of all, the movie commits the high treason of action films, containing no less than three separate climax sequences. Just when you think it's over, it goes on.
What's missing from the last two Trek films is the philosophy and character development that made the show, and the earlier films, great. Team origin stories are always fun when done correctly, so the first 2009 reboot about a crew of disparate personalities learning how to work together was promising. Unfortunately, all of that is on little display here. This is just another good guys vs. bad guys storyline, and if you removed the Starfleet insignia from the uniforms, you probably could have kept the same plot.
However, in a summer beset by box office duds, Star Trek Beyond is still an above-average offering. It sits at 83% on Rotten Tomatoes, not bad for a third installment in an unwieldy franchise. It's certainly better than the less than 50% averages of other movies out right now. It's co-written by Simon Pegg, which means it keeps its sense of humor (mostly towards the beginning). It's still a fun ride, albeit one going a little too...well, you know.