Sometimes I’m too lazy for a full-out piece. Sometimes everything I’ve got to say about a film can be summarized in a sentence or two. Sometimes I was up til 2am jamming on a Star Trek marathon. So herewith, a quick-n-dirty on Star Trek Beyond!
Nutshell: By combining the 21st Century Enterprise crew with a 60s-era “stranded on a planet” Trek episode, Beyond kicks it into high gear for this new era’s third outing while maintaining a groovy old-school vibe. Is there anything new and different here? Nah. But it’s a fun ride nonetheless. Trekkers should find plenty to love, and casual moviegoers will enjoy the all-out special effects. I just wish that as baddie Krall, Idris Elba wore less makeup. He so purty. Grade: A-
Before: It’s another new-cast Star Trek movie! I love Zachary Quinto as Spock! Karl Urban as Bones and Zoe Saldana as Nyota Uhura are always great to watch. And Sofia Boutela’s Star Wars-esque Jaylah looks way cool. ZOMG – is that IDRIS ELBA as the Big Bad? There’s even a Star Trek marathon with the first two films included? Sign my ass up. I may get teary when I see Anton Yelchin’s Chekov on screen – I still can’t process Yelchin’s passing – but I’m all in.
During: “I ripped my shirt again.” Of course you did, Jim. Because Chris Pine is coming into prime Kirk Mode in this third film. He’s cocky, but after three years of their five year mission to “to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before”, things are starting to become routine. And the zip is gone. So when Kirk tries to broker a peace treaty between two warring planets, things go wobbly and Kirk considers taking a Vice Admiral position. Because really, how dull. What alien race would decide on peace when all they’ve been given is some silly bit of a tiny old weapon? Pin that.
Kirk and the crew hit Yorktown, a space station that looks like the Death Star of Niceness, complete with tons of folks from the Federation being all friendly-like. Cue the bad guys! And you know they’re bad guys because their ships are all pointy-sharp. And these baddies drain the life force out of the living. Or rather their leader, Krall, does. Why you gotta be like that, Idris? Why? Because he wants that piece of tiny weapon, silly. The better to destroy the Federation with, my dear…
The alien race here really is alien, from the way the drone ships “swarm” like bees, to their ability to transform by using the life force of others. They’re like creepy Star Trek vampires, but with rock crystal ships that can tear everything apart. No wonder so many non-Federation planets have fallen under their buzzy boot-heels. The first two thirds of the film is madcap adventure time, with little to no whys or wherefores to be had. But after I figured we’d all get to the meat of the issue sometime, I enjoyed the way this film played with the audience. You don’t know what’s going on? Well, neither does the crew of the Enterprise. How’s it feel? Well, kinda shaky, and unsettling. Which is how you should feel if a new alien race is bent on tearing your Federation apart.
Elba is definitely hampered by waaaaaay too much latex and chunky false alien teeth, but the look is awesome. (And a slight spoiler; with regeneration, he won’t be all clunky all the time.) With Krall, this is one Big Bad that has a definite message, and it’s a pity so much of it is hobbled by makeup FX that make being understood rough. Meanwhile, Boutela’s Jaylah is amazing, and has her own reasons for wanting to join in the fight, along with some pretty badass weaponry and a taste for “banging a screaming” (aka American music). Did you think a new Star Trek movie would go without a little Beastie Boys? Hell nah baby. Don’t you fret. There’s plenty adrenaline beats here.
I love the themes here, from distrust of unity/authority to the question of what’s best for man/alien-kind. Do we rise above our baser instincts, or are those instincts what make us great? Do we lose our strength by banding together, or does that give us a better life and a better chance at survival? Definitely pub convo fodder for the rest of the year.
After: Okay, there were times in Beyond where I really thought I’d be dissatisfied with this story. It’s too fast, too busy, too rushed. But damn if director Justin Lin (Fast & Furious) didn’t pull it out at the third quarter. Things get tied up, pieces fit together, so all of that super-quick adrenaline junkie wonderland gets put into context. And I got to justify my love of zoom-zoom by Beyond‘s themes of unity, the higher cause, and doing what’s best for all rather than settling for what you can get for yourself.
The special effects are wonderful, though I don’t think the 3D is necessary. There’s enough pretty on screen to get sucked in without the depth of field, and to be honest I didn’t notice the 3D. I was too busy wondering what was gonna happen to Our Crew to think about that. I did think about the amazing set design and cinematography, both of which lift this riff on the 60s series into a new weight class of awesome. The sound editing is excellent as well, something that really needs to be on point for a sci-fi battle show. And yes, Sulu has a husband, but it’s played so naturally – and not as ZOMG HE GEH – that it’s simply a fact of his life. In fact, it’s good to see that all the Main Seven of the Enterprise get fully fleshed out backstories by the time Beyond wraps up. They may have been mostly background dancers for Kirk and Spock on television, but here they’re badasses in their own right. Every one of them. And that ensemble feel is one that helps this series avoid rehash-itis. There’s always a character or two that has something up his/her sleeve, or a subplot interaction that needs resolution.
Beyond takes Into Darkness‘s idea of camaraderie and fighting for those you love and sets it in the universal stage. And much like Into Darkness, this film doesn’t have anything new to say, but it manages to rehash the Trek tale and get the ol’ adrenaline pumping. And it’s good to know that if I’m ever stranded in the future, the Beastie Boys will be around.