STAR TREK BEYOND Review

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Tony goes one step beyond.


Star Trek has a weird history in the movies – some of its movie instalments are regarded by the fans as absolute classics (The Wrath of Khan, First Contact, arguably Search For Spock, possibly Generations), some are reviled as garbage (Insurrection, Nemesis), and yet others are just OK, or ‘so cheesy they’re good.’

Where does Star Trek Beyond fit in the ranking? It’s actually difficult to say. It’s certainly not an Insurrection. But like Into Darkness, it occasionally overplays the hand that the fifty years of Star Trek’s history has dealt it, the winks and nods getting a little thick, occasionally getting in the way of the storytelling and the oomph.

That said, oomph there is in some abundance – the crew of the Enterprise are much more seasoned by the time we meet them in Beyond than they were when we left them at the end of Into Darkness. According to Kirk’s early narration, they’re three years into their original five year mission, and things have become ‘a bit episodic’ (cheeky, but fun). In fact, we’re at the point where Kirk, feeling bored of the routine and not entirely sure what he’s doing out in deep space now he’s outlived his father, is applying for a desk job at Star Fleet’s new uber-starbase, the Yorktown.

Spock too has decided to cut some Enterprise ties and embark on a different path, though neither man, being men, has yet discussed their choice with the other.

And then, to put a very blunt point on it, all hell breaks loose.

Receiving a distress call from a fleeing alien, the Enterprise crew is assigned to go through a nebula to help rescue her ship and crew.

It would be spoilerific to tell you exactly what happens, but suffice it to say, the words ‘Abandon ship’ are heard because oh…holy…Jesus! The reason those words are spoken is one of the more impressive visual scenes in the movie, and Simon Pegg and Doug Jung on writing duties deliver something new – rather than, as in the first of the new movies, relying on an enemy of enormous size, or, as in Into Darkness, an enemy of prodigious strength and intellect, this time out, the effect is of a swarm of midges on a Summer afternoon – if midges exploded through metal and left you breathing nothing but deep space. It’s a new kind of threat in the Star Trek universe, and both visually and philosophically, it works well, because, to quote Mr Spock, ‘We are not equipped for this form of combat.’ That means the Enterprise crew have to adapt, die or abandon ship.

The Big Bad in this movie though is Krall, played by Idris Elba, and that’s where the trouble really starts. Elba’s a fine actor and a formidable physical presence, but Krall himself seems to make an insufficient amount of sense throughout the movie – the ‘why’ of him is never really given sufficient time, even when we find out how he began his campaign against the Federation. Like Tom Hardy in Star Trek Nemesis, he’s a good actor disguised in a lot of make-up and never really given enough of a reason to do the things he does, giving Star Trek Beyond a sense of hanging from scene to scene, propelled only by its own sense of purpose and characterisation.

That makes it fortunate that the movie’s been written and played with what can only really be described as love. The leading members of the Enterprise crew are all given lots to do, and given more than enough time and character-richness to make this feel like the most personal of the new Trek movies so far – Karl Urban as Bones gets plenty of scope with both Zachary Quinto’s Spock and Chris Pine’s Kirk. Kirk himself also gets lots to do with Anton Yelchin’s Chekov and John Cho’s Sulu, who in turn has plenty of screen time with Zoe Saldana’s Uhura. It’s a cleverly constructed script, to be sure, and each of our heroes gets moments to shine and moments we can treasure as high points in the Star Trek movie series. Meanwhile, Simon Pegg as Scotty is probably the lead character who grows the most and takes the story most firmly forward as he makes contact with the movie’s most effective new alien, Jaylah, played by Sofia Boutella. Jaylah has a distinctly Original Series look, but updated into the 21st century, and Boutella gives her a quirky fierceness that appeals.

Besides the character-richness, there’s never a shortage of Stuff To Watch. From the journey through the nebula and the first encounter with Krall’s army, through Scotty’s adventures with Jaylah, uncovering some Star Fleet secrets, to Bones and Spock discovering the origin of a particular MacGuffin of importance to Krall, through a completely mad motorbike chase, through a massively risky starship manoeuvre, and all the way through to what is, if we’re honest, one of the greatest triumphs of absolutely kickass style over any hope of substance in the whole Trek franchise (really, it’s on a par to Craig Owens ‘blowing the Cybermen up with love’ in Doctor Who, but the soundtrack is way cooler – like Guardians of the Galaxy cool), through a spaceship chase and a final race against time before the MacGuffin does its traditional Trekkie universe-annhilating thing, the screen’s barely empty for long enough for things to get dull, and many of the action sequences (and a handful of just ‘travelling-along’ sequences too) have the essence of a theme park ride – you’ll have to hang on to your stomach now and again. So let it never be said that Beyond is a bad Star Trek movie – it absolutely isn’t; you more than get your money’s worth, both in terms of characterisation, action and stunning visuals. The only empty zone really is the motivation of Krall – and even there, Pegg and Jung give you solid answers to hang the movie on. If they never seem entirely convincing, or they come too late to make sense of everything that’s come before, leaving the motivation for the movie’s action in that state of blankness, it’s an unfortunate misstep that perhaps keeps Beyond from absolute classic status, but never stops it being an entertaining watch.

Where does Star Trek Beyond come in the hierarchy of Trek movies? Probably on a par with Star Trek, the first of the new movies; the motivation of the Big Bad a little convoluted and wound up with Federation history, the time-twisting chronological references a little heavy-handed. But as the first Star Trek movie since the deaths of both Leonard Nimoy and, tragically, Anton Yelchin, there’s enough that’s good in Star Trek Beyond to make it re-watchable (Yelchin in particular taking a far larger part of the action this time out and really making it a bittersweet watch). In fact, ultimately, that’s what it is – a re-watchable ‘Sunday afternoon on the couch’ Star Trek movie. The best Trek movie ever? No, not by some way, but a character-rich, action-packed addition to the franchise, (with Chris Pine being, if possible, even more Kirk than he’s ever been before), and one that will stand the test of time alongside some of the better instalments, absolutely.

Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who, Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the 70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By day, he runs an editing house, largely as an excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book. With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk

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