Rating: “Go see it. Now!”
Hey, Everybody! Welcome to another review from Flickmuncher. Today we’re going to be reviewing the newest entry to a franchise that has shaped American culture in a myriad of ways since it was first aired on television 50 long years ago. This is going to be so much fun! So without further ado, let’s dig into Star Trek Beyond.
So to start off, let me give some context to this film for those of you who are unfamiliar with the Star Trek franchise, and to all you Trekkies out there, yes, they do exist. Starting off in 1966 as a tv series about a crew of space explorers and their trusty ship, the U.S.S. Enterprise, the series was a decent hit but not enough to earn it more than three seasons. However, though the series was cancelled in 1969 it soon found cult status due to regular reruns in the 70s and sci-fi conferences across the country saw its uniforms and characters as mainstays soon after. The series popularity eventually saw the spawning of five new series (including the underrated animated series) and twelve feature-films that have brought joy to thousands of fans. Needless to say, that’s a pretty successful run.
However, with the franchise approaching its 50th anniversary a lot of people were wondering what the folks at Paramount were going to do to celebrate this occasion which brings us to the movie we are here to talk about, Star Trek Beyond.
There were a lot of questions hanging over this production as it began. Not only was the 50th anniversary coming up but the franchise was also coming off a bit of a sour note with the fans in 2013’s Star Trek Into Darkness. Matters weren’t helped when J.J. Abrams, the director who reinvigorated the franchise by rebooting it in 2009, decided not to return, instead opting to direct Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Fans instantly started wondering who was going to take over the director’s chair. The anxiety only increased when it was announced that Justin Lin, director of several Fast and the Furious movies. People wondered whether a director who had done so much in action movies could do justice to a Star Trek movie.
The story is as follows: two and half years into their five year mission into deep space, the U.S.S. Enterprise and its’ crew put in at the new Yorktown Starbase for some badly needed shore leave when they recover a crewmember of a lost ship asking for help after they were attacked in a previously unexplored nebula. The Enterprise and its’ crew set out to find the crow of the lost ship but in the process run afoul of a threat to all of the Federation that lies in its own dark past. So did Lin and the film’s writers deliver a “good” Star Trek movie?
In my humble opinion…abso-tacular-lutely!! Sitting in the theater on Friday night, I was pretty sure this is the most fun I’ve had at a Star Trek movie in a long time. Does it have its weak points, of course and I’ll get to some of those but let me elaborate on some of what I liked about this film.
First, the camerawork. Justin Lin is an action director and as I mentioned before, a lot of the franchises fans—especially the more hardcore ones—were worried that an action director would work well for a “brainy” franchise like Star Trek and I can understand that. This film is very action-heavy and for some that could be a turn-off but Lin’s skill at action camerawork and creativity with his set pieces really works to the movie’s benefit. He really takes advantage of the environments and I was on the edge of my seat more than once with a stupid grin on my face. If you don’t want to see this movie because it’s not the traditional “brainy” Star Trek you’re used to, you’re really missing out on something fun.
The other thing that really carries this movie is the characters and dialogue. The way they interact with each other and with other individuals felt real to me, and what’s more it felt like how the Star Trek crew would talk. Now that can also work against it but I’ll save that for later. I especially liked the dynamic between Spock (Zachary Quinto) and Dr. McCoy (Karl Urban) which we haven’t gotten to see a whole lot of in the more recent movies. The dialogue between them is both funny and genuine as Spock confides to McCoy that he is contemplating leaving Starfleet to help his people rebuild their society and that he is unsure of where he should belong. Karl Urban especially is a treat to watch as he plays Dr. McCoy in such a way that you know he’s McCoy but with his own personal touches thrown in.
Yet he’s not the only actor who gets a chance to shine. The entire cast is each given at least one moment in the spotlight and each of them makes the most of those opportunities. I especially enjoyed the alien newcomer, Jaylah (Sofia Boutella) as a hardened survivor on the world where our motley crew of heroes find themselves stranded. And I would be remiss if I failed to mention the performance of Chekov by the late Anton Yelchin. It isn’t one of the greatest performances ever put to screen but Yelchin did the role proud and it is truly unfortunate we will never get to see him as Chekov. Indeed it is unfortunate that we may not see Chekov again for quite some time.
In addition to the action, the cast, and the dialogue, one of the things that I enjoyed most of all was the assortment of environments that the film saw fit to show off. Places that looked and felt—if you pardon the pun—alien. Truly strange in how they were designed and shot. I am a huge fan of the Star Wars films—perhaps more so than any other movie series—but I’ll be the first to admit that the planets they go to are, more or less, relegated to one specific type of climate be it the desert, the forest, the jungle, the ocean. Not that this is a problem on its own but there’s very little that’s visually interesting in these environments. Star Trek Beyond takes advantage of its alien setting to put our heroes in truly interesting and bizarre places that are fun just to look at.
Now this film does have some weaknesses. First off, the film’s MacGuffin. For those who may be unaware of what exactly a “MacGuffin” is, it’s a story device that every major character in the story is after and often can provide whoever possesses it with great power. In this case the MacGuffin is an ancient weapon of immense destructive power that the villain Krall (Idris Elba) is trying to acquire to use against StarFleet and the federation.
To be honest, I’m not against using MacGuffins in film. They are a sometimes necessary part of telling a good story. However, if you’re going to have a MacGuffin then you need to have it live up to the reputation that you choose to give it in the movie. This weapon is so powerful “that the ancients who built it, couldn’t control it. So they split it into two pieces and hid those pieces.” Needless to say that’s a pretty big promise. The people who created this thing were afraid of it and hid it. This could be like a StarFleet atom-bomb’s worth of destruction if our heroes don’t stop the villain. What is he going to do with it? How much is it going to cost our beloved crew to stop him?
I won’t go into spoilers here but the grand, judgement day weapon that has been built up as a tremendous threat to the safety of the entire galaxy ends up killing (counts on hand) about two people. Yeah, in the whole film. Kind of a letdown if you ask me. Anyhow, my point is this, a MacGuffin is a promise. A promise that us as audiences expect the film to keep. Think about this, would the ending of Raiders of the Lost Ark have been nearly as awe-inspiring as it was if the Ark had opened and simply done nothing? After all we had heard about it? Of course not.
Now, you could go the Maltese Falcon route and have the MacGuffin be completely worthless in the end but I personally would have preferred that Beyond hadn’t tried to go both routes at once. It makes a powerful object seem much less powerful and takes away from the story.
Then there’s Krall a villain who seems kind of cool at first. He comes across as a legitimate threat and you’re interested to see what exactly his beef is with StarFleet. Then you start to learn his backstory and I’ll be honest, I thought it was pretty weak. Idris Elba plays him with all the gravitas you would expect after seeing any of his other roles and he does his best with the material he’s given but overall, I thought Krall was a case of a great concept mixed with poor execution.
Finally, there’s the finale. To get things out in the open, my biggest problem with the finale is that I think it’s a bit too long. Not to say that it’s a terrible final act, far from it. But the truly awesome moments that had me gleefully leaning toward the screen are mostly in the first part of the finale. It’s a rip-roaring set of moments as the crew takes on a swarm of enemy ships to the beat of rock n’ roll which is a nice call-back to the first reboot film. The enemy is defeated, yay. But then it just keeps going as our heroes take on the tedious task of catching and taking down the villain like they always do. And when they do stop him it just feels rather underwhelming.
Conclusion: So after that long winded your probably wondering how I would recommend this and my answer is that this is a hearty must-see film for theaters. If you’ve got the ability to go see it in theaters I would recommend it far above many of the other blockbusters that have been gracing theaters this summer. It is well worth the money to see it on the big-screen. Is it perfect? No. But as any of you who’ve read my previous reviews well know, I’m a firm advocate of the notion that there is no perfect movie. It has flaws but this movie entertained and intrigued me from start to finish and that is one of the highest compliments I can pay to a movie.
What did you think about this movie? Did you like it? No? What stood out to you? I’d love to hear more so let me know in the comments section and check out some of my other reviews and editorials at Flickmuncher.com. Until next time, have a great week and May the Flick be with You!!