In one of Star Trek Beyond's rare, quieter moments, captain James T. Kirk turns to first officer Spock and says, "We make a good team." Spock pauses for a second, before calmly replying, "I believe we do." This brief exchange, which is meant to show genuine bonding between two crew members who have developed a friendship in near cataclysmic times, is awkward to the point that it doesn't feel right, a prevailing sentiment echoed throughout most of the film. Actors Chris Pine (Kirk) and Zachary Quinto (Spock) didn't butcher this scene; the unease is intentional, as we learn both characters are holding secrets from the other. Director Justin Lin and writer Simon Pegg, who also plays chief engineer Scotty, handle the character ensemble well, juggling classic personality traits Trek fans have come to expect with new wrinkles that make each character more interesting and worth following. However, the time allotted with each character is rarely satisfactory, truncated into short snippets that are often lost amid loud and overly long action sequences – some are exciting and suspenseful, while others are goofy to the point of almost smacking of parody.
Again, something just feels off in this new Star Trek adventure. Even Kirk bounces unpredictably between dashing and charismatic to somber and directionless. When we first meet him in this third Trek film in the rebooted series, he's struggling to come to terms with his thirtieth birthday, knowing he's now a year older than his father ever was. The edge is taken off of this heavy moment by Karl Urban's "Bones" McCoy, the ship's doctor, who is often the highlight of any scene. Bones is written exceptionally well, adding levity and heart at the right times. Kirk's conflicted story arc is interesting, but again, is not given time to develop in a satisfying way amid the action, and the apparent need for the plot to keep moving from one set piece moment to the next.
As we worry about Kirk and Spock on a personal level and want to invest more time with both characters, the story is steered in a different direction. When the Enterprise, which has been exploring unknown space for three years, is sent on a rescue mission through a nebula and asteroid field, all hell breaks loose. Levels of hell that we haven't seen in a Trek movie before. Just when it seems that Kirk and his crew will figure out a miraculous way of saving the day, all is lost. The death and destruction are immense, unfolding through a bombardment of action – it just keeps coming, bigger and more chaotic as it races toward a surprising end. Lin handles this chaos deftly, and as visually stunning as it all is, should be credited more for creating such a monumental threat to a vessel and crew that always find a way to win. At the head of this new threat is a character named Krall (played by Idris Elba), a mysterious alien being who can siphon the life out of living things and wields technology leagues more powerful than anything the Federation has seen before. He introduces this film's MacGuffin: a device called the abronath, which can apparently destroy everything, but he really doesn't need it since he seems capable of that already. Chalk it up to the idea of the powerful apparently wanting more power. It works. He's super evil. I get it.
With this villain in play, the story appears to be heading into even darker territory, but it again hits the pause button to shift in a different direction. With the crew down and out, the story adopts a playful spirit with Spock and Bones discussing life, and Scotty and a new character named Jaylah (Sofia Boutella) trying to come to terms with their current predicament. The great threat Krall posed just moments ago now appears more pedestrian and hospitable, almost acknowledging the threat was OP and the good guys need a sporting chance if this film is going to end any time soon. This is when Kirk hatches a plan he won't reveal yet, and, well, all forms of silliness follow. I won't reveal what happens next for the sake of spoilers, but if you thought the inclusion of the Beastie Boys' song Sabotage in J. J. Abrams Star Trek was absurd, you haven't seen anything yet. That line of thinking can be used for far worse things. J. J. Binks levels of bad. In this instant, the film slides into disaster territory and fully embraces it.
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I wanted to cover my ears and eyes during this moment, debated walking out, but I'm glad I didn't. After the terrible stuff subsides, the film slows again to give us more fun character development and the promise of something great on the horizon. Lin's debut in the Star Trek universe is shaky at times, but he understands what people love about these movies and characters and clearly wants to appease everyone. A couple of bad ideas (one horrible one) are not enough to sink the fun in this film. It just feels a little off. Here's hoping Lin gets a second shot at nailing that formula.
Outside of this review, this entry of Science-Fiction Weekly will be a little lighter than normal (apologies), but there is one newsworthy item that you should know about. According to a report from NY Daily News, Disney has apparently signed actor Alden Ehrenreich, who is playing a young Han Solo in another "Star Wars Story," to a three-film deal, which may mean we are getting a trilogy. The insider the info comes from says "Given that Han’s early adventures do not need to be tied to the Empire,
it leaves story lines open with the opportunity to really give fans
something different. They can explore new galaxies and crazy creatures
and bring in a wide array of new characters." I like the idea of Star Wars moving beyond the Empire to expand the size of the universe. All too often Star Wars stories are too familiar, using the same characters over and over again. Yes, we are getting more of Han (and probably Chewbacca at some point), but the other players involved will likely be new to the lore.
Again, sorry for the shorter column. I'm spinning far too many plates at the moment with other work, but should be back to my normal schedule next week. See you then!