STAR TREK BEYOND Review
Director: Justin Lin
Genre: Sci-Fi Action
STAR TREK BEYOND is a wild, heart-pounding ride that is fun to watch (especially for Trekkies), with the “WOW!” factor off the charts. It is a very strong showing for a summer blockbuster, though if you are looking for a movie with a strong statement or in-depth exploration of character, STAR TREK BEYOND is not for you.
Paramount got exactly what they paid for when they hired Justin Lin, of FAST & FURIOUS fame. Within about seven minutes of the beginning of the film we are thrown into a devastating and catastrophic space battle between the Enterprise and hundreds, if not thousands, of tiny space ships. This battle is striking because, as the ships battle on a macro scale, the aliens are simultaneously boarding the Enterprise and taking on the members of the Starfleet crew in close-quarters hand-to-hand combat. The intercutting between the large scale and the small scale is seamlessly integrated and perfectly constructed to build upon one another to heighten the tension and feeling of panic. The fist fights and phaser blast exchanges taking place on board the ship are masterfully choreographed while the awe-inspiring shots of the Enterprise violently breaking apart send a chill down one’s spine.
“The Enterprise does what now?!”
After this epic battle the viewer has no time to breathe – and never does throughout the rest of the movie. The crew is stranded across the planet’s surface and therefore each scene changes to a different group of survivors and every group facing different threats. Many movies would not be able to pull off so many simultaneous storylines, but the striking differences between each of the parties’ situation, supported by the artful editing between these scenes, allow the viewer to keep up and stay invested in each storyline.
And this is where we meet the newest addition to the Star Trek universe: an original character (of unknown alien origin) named Jaylah. Paired with Scotty after saving him from the lackeys of the film’s villain, Jaylah proves to not only be a formidable fighter but a skilled engineer. Played by Sofia Boutella (of KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE), Jaylah is a welcome additional leading female in a cast dominated by men, and the film gracefully uses her gender to add some well-timed tongue-in-cheek jabs at fragile masculinity (which is certainly appropriate for a character named after Jennifer Lawrence and her character in WINTER’S BONE).
Although the makeup department got confused when they read “midwestern, pasty white girl”
Though Star Trek is known for its historically extremely liberal and socially progressive stances and portrayals, the reboot series has struggled with its identity. In both STAR TREK (2009) and STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS (2013), female characters were seen multiple times in various states of undress and were rarely shown in command, or even just officer, positions. In fact, it seems like the only diversity or representation in the first two movies of the reboots was dictated by the 1960s series itself in the ethnic diversity of the Enterprise bridge crew. But in STAR TREK BEYOND it feels like the writers were aware of this and consciously chose to try to continue sending the franchise forward, including not only Jaylah but a female admiral who counsels Kirk, and most impressively choosing to portray Sulu as a happily married gay man with a family as a matter of course.
Unfortunately, the writing itself was somewhat less dazzling. Instead of flowing through the narrative, the plot points felt more like the writer checking off the boxes of film structure but ending there, never getting deeper than surface level with the plot nor the characters. The total production process — from greenlight to delivery — was only 18 months, and I think that this is where that shows. It seems clear that the plot could have been saying something profound, since the movie’s villain, Krall, played by the spectacular Idris Elba, has a vendetta against the United Federation of Planets (Starfleet is its humanitarian and peacekeeping armada) due to his career within the former military and subsequent command in Starfleet. It seems that the film was trying to say that he was a former soldier who had difficulty acclimating to peacetime life, but the film falls short of fully fleshing out that story.
It also functions as a Stringer Bell origin story
It also falls short of actually explaining Krall’s physical changes, inhuman powers, and knowledge of an artifact that causes him to attack the Enterprise in the first place. This is the film’s biggest blunder, though I do have to admit that I was having so much fun while watching the film it took me a few hours before I realized this major information was missing.
That said, BEYOND strives to appeal to Trekkies and certainly succeeds, truly making this a worthy addition to the franchise in honor of its 50th anniversary. From its memorial of Ambassador Spock (in place of Leonard Nimoy), to its close-up of a photograph of The Original Series bridge crew, to Bones and Kirk enjoying a drink on Kirk’s birthday, to even the destruction of the Enterprise, this film strives to stuff as many Easter eggs as it can into the 120-minute movie.
Finally, if you didn’t at least feel a little something at the sight of this sweetheart you’re a sick, cold-hearted beast
BEYOND feels like it was made for Trekkies, and I wonder if the interactions between certain crew will mean as much to those who have not watched Gene Roddenberry’s original three seasons. This movie chooses to (finally) focus on a different relationship between bridge crewmembers: Spock and Bones. For Trekkies, who have strong feelings about their past interactions, it is a treat to see them take a break from verbally sparring to bond. I do have to wonder if non-Trek fans will appreciate the gravity of throwing these two characters together, as any Trek fan will be aware that they have a 50-year history of disagreement and backhanded compliments to overcome. Without the knowledge of the rest of the content in the Trek universe, these scenes may not really translate.
Trekkie or not, when viewing this film one cannot help but be swept up in the action that keeps ramping up. As the credits started to roll, I realized that my heart was beating triple time and had been for quite some time. Justin Lin is masterful in his ability to create large-scale spectacle and keep up the energy for the entire two-hour movie. He is a self-proclaimed Trekkie and it certainly shows, but the film may actually have suffered from this as he attempts to fit so many different throwbacks and references into just one movie. BEYOND is sure to have a polarizing effect on the audience with action movie and science fiction fans enjoying the massive strengths of the film and disregarding its weaknesses, while the average viewer’s experience will suffer from its flaws.