Cinema Dispatch: Star Trek Beyond

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Star Trek Beyond and all the images you see in this review are owned by Paramount Pictures

Directed by Justin Lin

We’re once again invited to visit this new Star Trek universe, though it doesn’t quite have the same shine that it used to now that we saw the bafflingly mishandled Into Darkness, and even that really crappy video game that came out.  Remember that?  While we all may fondly remember the first reboot film in this series that kicked off this new universe, there’s no doubt that some damage has been done in the intervening years that it’s now up to this movie to start correcting.  Do they manage to steer the ship back on course, or should we all start heading for the lifeboats before this whole franchise crashes and burns?  Let’s find out!!

The movie follows the crew of the USS Enterprise who are in the middle of their five year mission to explore strange new worlds, seek out new life and civilizations, and to boldly go where no one has gone before.  Of course, for some reason there’s a Federation space station in the middle of this supposed unknown, but whatever.  They need to fuel up the tank every once in a while.  Anyway, during their pit stop at the space station Yorktown, Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) is getting ready to give up his command of the Enterprise… for some reason, but can’t do it just yet as a distress ship manages to make it to Yorktown with an alien who’s begging Starfleet to help them out.  Kirk agrees to get everyone back on board the Enterprise (probably pissing off a lot of the crew in the process) and heads to wherever this planet is which honestly doesn’t seem to be too far but there’s a giant nebula between Yorktown and this mystery planet so maybe it’s just that no one wanted to fly straight through that.  Kirk does however, but once they make it to just outside the planet’s orbit, a fleet of a bajillion tiny ships tears the enterprise to shreds and the bad guy of this movie simply known as Krall (Idris Elba) JUST SO HAPPENS to find that the Enterprise is carrying the ONE piece of a superweapon that he’s been searching for all this time that’s only on the ship due to a fluke peace mission from some point during their five year mission.  Luckily Kirk manages to hide it before the ship goes down in flames, but now the crew is completely separated and needs to find a way to get back together, defeat Krall, and get the hell off this planet.  Spock and Bones McCoy (Zachary Quinto) are together constantly kvetching at each other, Scotty (Simon Pegg) ends up meeting a local alien trying to get herself off the planet too named Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), Uhura and Sulu (Zoe Saldana and John Cho) are captured by the enemy along with most of the remaining crew, and Kirk and Chekov (Anton Yelchin) are left with the alien who initially sent them to this planet and are working together to find what remains of the enterprise.  Can these heroes set aside their differences and work together so they can survive this mission?  What is Krall planning to blow up with the super weapon once he finally gets the pieces together?  Most importantly, just how grumpy can Bones get!?

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“So what’s the plan again?”     “You forgot already?”     “Damn it Spock!  I’m a doctor, not a-”     “Alright fine!  I’ll explain it again!”     “Is he always like this?”     “All the time.”

After the disaster that was Into Darkness, this movie really needed to knock it out of the park to keep the series relevant, especially considering how well the new Star Wars movie turned out.  Sadly, that is not the case here as this ends up being a pretty bland affair overall.  While I REALLY hated where Into Darkness ended up, it’s first two thirds are way stronger than the entirety of this film which lacks any real progress of its characters, a Captain Kirk who still doesn’t fill the shoes of his predecessor, and a villain who can’t hold a candle to the magnificence of Benedict Cumberbatch’s Khan who COULD have been an all-time classic villain had the script writers known what the fuck to do with him.  Still, this movie does feel like a step closer to what we should be getting from Star Trek as opposed to the oddly cynical reference grab bag that was Into Darkness (even more baffling now considering how well a similar approach ended up working for JJ Abrams in Star Wars), and I do like what they add to the world and the crew of the USS Enterprise.  Unfortunately, that ends up being a small part of this as the movie feels content to spin its wheels rather than move forward in any significant way.  Into Darkness may have been one step forward and two steps back, but this is just jogging in place; too afraid to make any significant changes or advances for fear of falling into that traps that Into Darkness found itself in.

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“That’s it.  Take it easy now.  No need to rush.  We’ll get where we’re going in maybe another three years.”     “Couldn’t we move a LITTLE bit faster?”     “WHOA!  When did you become a wild man?  Has Kirk been rubbing off on you?”

So what exactly is it that makes this so underwhelming?  The movie feels like it doesn’t quite know what it wants to be, and so it never succeeds in any of the myriad things it attempts to be about.  Rather than focus on one aspect (spectacle, characters, sci-fi themes, etc), it tries to blend them all together into one big sloppy concoction and none of it manages to stick out significantly enough to carry the movie.  Sure, you CAN blend various genres an themes together to make something truly original (Guardians of the Galaxy is pretty much the gold standard for being everything at once in sci-fi cinema), but that amalgam there was very stable and managed to give us all that in a satisfying package.  Here?  It feels like three different scripts smooshed together into one, and it’s done without much skill or expertise.

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“How’d it go Captain?”     “Well you know what they say; whether you win or lose, what’s important is that you tried.”     “So… you failed Captain?”     “I tend to think of the glass as half full instead of half empty.”

As a spectacle film, it’s rather lacking and does one thing that I REALLY hate in blockbuster movies which is to use up all your best effects and explosions in the first act.  In here, the Enterprise is SO THOROUGHLY destroyed by the enemy that it’s impossible to buy the few remnants of the crew being able to win in the end unless the enemy is massively depowered for no apparent reason.  Sure enough, that’s the case here as the first action scene is the biggest, and everything after that feels like a step down both in terms of raw action filmmaking and story based escalation.  We’re supposed to believe that an army of thousands were on hand to take out the crown jewel of Starfleet and the Federation, yet maybe forty dudes are on hand to protect their base of operations and can be completely out maneuvered by Space Xena, a grumpy doctor, a wounded guy, and someone riding a motorcycle like he’s Marlon Brando from The Wild One?  Really!?  Fortunately the third act does manage to pull things together a bit with a space battle that’s as gloriously awesome as it is ridiculously cheesy as well as a very creatively executed chase inside of a Federation space station, but the first two thirds don’t manage to elicit much excitement or suspense, especially considering that our good ol’ friends CLOSE UPS!  QUICK CUTS!  SHAKY CAM! are on hand to infuriate me to no end!!

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So they don’t really succeed in the realm of spectacle, but that’s downright inspired considering what we end up getting for character arcs in this.  Kirk still has Daddy issues?  Spock still doesn’t know if he should be more human or more Vulcan (represented by his relationship with Uhura)?  Uhura is only on hand because of Spock’s subplot!?  ARE WE SERIOUSLY GOING THROUGH THESE STORY LINES AGAIN!?  This is the third damn movie in this series and yet it feels like we’re still trying to assemble the full crew of the Enterprise because they’re all still acting like teenagers!  When are they gonna grow the fuck up and when are these movies gonna focus on the story at hand instead of rehashing plot points from the other films?  It’s not that I DON’T want these characters to have arcs and personal demons to overcome; it’s just that it’s the SAME demons again that should have been overcome in the first film and DAMN sure should have been overcome by the second one.  Now to not sound completely doom and gloom about this, I think Spock at least comes out okay as there’s the added pathos about Future Spock having died in between movies so he’s thinking about that and the fate of the Vulcan race as well as well as his own struggle with his humanity.  It gives the rehash here a bit more flavor, and Zachary Quinto is still a fantastic actor so he can carry the weak material throughout this film.  However, Chris Pine as Captain Kirk not only has nothing new to add to his rehashed subplot, but he’s still not strong enough in the role to carry it to any meaningful level.  Maybe Pine has it in him at some point to become the true Captain Kirk instead of the petulant teenage version, but that should have happened by now and it sure as hell doesn’t help this movie that he’s not there yet.

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“You’ve been a Captain for what, four years now?”     “Yeah, but I always wanted to write instead.”     “Really?”     “No.”

As much as Kirk is underwhelming, I kind of expected that from Chris Pine at this point.  What I DIDN’T expect was Idris Elba having one of the most thankless villain roles I’ve seen in a while.  He’s wearing a stupid mask throughout this, his main ideological stance is that Friendship Sucks (no for real, that’s the principal by which his actions are guided), and his plan makes no god damn sense; nor does his backstory when its finally revealed.  Cumberbatch may have been in a poor movie that did him no favors in the script, but at least his portrayal as Khan was strong and there was the semblance of a brilliant idea there (subverting our expectations of him being an out and out bad guy by the virtue of this being an alternate universe).  Here though?  Idris Elba is drowning under the weight of everything against him and it’s embarrassing to see someone THAT good have to play a character this dumb and cliché.  It only gets worse once we find out what the twist is to his character (as it were) because it raises an unbelievable amount of questions and his final plan ends up having no logical connection to the goal he wishes to achieve.

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“Okay, here’s the plan.  We destroy the Federation, and then…”     …     “And then profit!”     “Wait, did you skip a step there?”     “NO!!”

This movie isn’t a complete waste of time as I do think it’s still worth seeing, though maybe not at the theaters.  Don’t get me wrong; it’s a HUGE disappointment, but it’s not terrible.  The crew (minus Kirk) are still perfectly cast and do their jobs admirably even when they don’t have a lot to do, and for the most part this movie looks really nice.  I though the prison camp that’s also the bad guys’ base of operations looked REALLY fake, but everything else in here from the star ship designs to most of the outdoor environments look perfectly fine; as well as the costuming and technology which has always been a bright spot for this series.  There’s a real sense of scope and scale throughout and especially when going from one huge environment like the Enterprise to an even bigger one once they land on the planet proper which goes to show that there’s still a lot of creative and technical chops behind this series even when the writing isn’t up to par.  Also, I’m glad to see Shohreh Aghdashloo get some work as we don’t see enough of her and she’s a really great actress (I put her in the same category as Charlotte Rampling as far as older actress who always kill in their roles yet never get to be in big movies).  Sofia Boutella is just fine as the big new character here Jaylah, but her role is pretty perfunctory and nothing we haven’t seen before (something that would have been more forgivable if the rest of the movie didn’t feel so derivative).  I’m not sure if she’ll be in future movies, but she definitely made the most of what she had to work with.

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“I’m all alone on this planet, but I know how to fix things, fly spaceships, and I’ve got this really cool stick.”     “You are SO original!”     “I know, right!?”

The first JJ Abrams Star Trek movie really did feel like a revelation as far as well-done reboots are concerned and it probably led into stuff like Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Dredd, and even Star Wars to follow in its wake.  Unfortunately, this movie feels like the series is being left behind as bigger and better revivals are doing what they started and doing it better.  I still want to see Star Trek movies going forward, but I actually want them to advance on the concept and not feel like we’re watching the same movie over and over again.  It’s not a terrible movie and I’m not too sure it’s a bad movie either, but it’s a really underwhelming one considering the license and considering the resources they have to work with.  Maybe they’ll get it right next time, but by then it might be too late.  There’ll be what, three more Star Wars movies by then?

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If you like this review and plan on buying the movie, then use the Amazon link below!  I’ll get a percentage of the order it helps keep things going for me here at The Reviewers Unite!  In fact, you don’t even need to buy the item listed!  Just use the link, shop normally, and when you check out it will still give us that sweet, sweet, percentage!  You can even bookmark the link and use it every time you shop!  HOW AWESOME IS THAT!?

Star Trek Beyond (BD/DVD/Digital HD Combo) [Blu-ray]

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One thought on “Cinema Dispatch: Star Trek Beyond

  1. Pingback: Cinema Dispatch: The Mummy | The Reviewers Unite!

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