Mark Reviews Movies

Star Trek Beyond


2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Justin Lin

Cast: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana Simon Pegg, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Idris Elba, Sofia Boutella, Joe Taslim, Lydia Wilson, Shohreh Aghdashloo

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of sci-fi action and violence)

Running Time: 2:00

Release Date: 7/22/16

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Review by Mark Dujsik | July 22, 2016

This third installment in the rebooted science-fiction series escapes from the sense of nostalgia that drove its two predecessors. Star Trek Beyond offers a story that is almost entirely independent from the original television series and the movie series that followed it. There are hints of the past—or, in the new series' logic, the alternate present—within this entry, although they have very little to no bearing on the story. It's the first time, then, that we're allowed to see what this new incarnation of the series can do on its own. The results are not promising.

The nostalgia may be absent, but so, too, are the two most vital elements of the franchise: character and ideas. Instead, the screenplay by Simon Pegg and Doug Jung takes the route of a wholly generic adventure, in which the characters' abilities to run, leap, shoot, fight, and drive are their most significant qualities. The acts of running, leaping, shooting, fighting, and driving become the primary reason for the movie's existence.

This could work, if not for the expectations that come with this franchise—which, even when it was in action mode, almost always possessed some bigger-picture idea or intriguing science-fiction concept behind that mode—and the muddled staging of all the action. Director Justin Lin takes the reins in this installment, and his hyperactive, quick-cutting approach to the action sequences (assembled with the aid of no less than four editors) even negates the potential spectacle of the movie's visual effects. On top of that, there are multiple sequences here in which it's nearly impossible to understand the layout of the action—where characters are in space, on ships, or in relation to each other.

Three years into the Starship Enterprise's five-year mission, Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) is feeling the "episodic" slog of routine (There's a nice comic tone that opens the movie, from a playful alien encounter that gets a good laugh from the use of perspective to Kirk mournfully inspecting a closet filled with the same uniform). He's ready for a new job and in line for a promotion to vice admiral at a base near a nebula (The architecture of the base, with its multiple spires and buildings that point in every direction, is the single ingenious piece of design here, but when the movie returns there for a climactic chase/fight, it becomes clear how little Lin has done to establish the actual logistics of the place.

While on leave at that base, Commander Spock (Zachary Quinto) receives news about his alternate self that makes him reconsider his work. With his relationship with Lieutenant Uhura (Zoe Saldana) on the rocks, Spock has even less reason to stay aboard the Enterprise.

The plot involves a rescue mission on a mysterious planet on the other side of the dangerous nebula. A starship has crashed. One crew member has escaped. The crew of Enterprise is tasked with finding the rest, but after their ship crashes as a result of a confusingly staged space battle (As if the assembly of this sequence weren't confounding enough, the movie's 3-D presentation makes certain sections appear far too dim), the Enterprise crew is stranded and separated on the planet.

The place is ruled by the evil Krall (Idris Elba, buried under layers of scaly makeup), a villain whom Uhura says has something underneath his evil villainy but who turns out merely to have the motivation of being an evil villain. Sure, there's something to the character's rationale that raises a debate between advancement through conflict and progress through peace, but it comes far too late to have an impact. Also, the movie is far too enamored with conflict for the main characters' protests to mean much of anything.

As with the previous entries in this new series, the cast remains a highlight—perhaps the highlight in this installment. After the crash, the crew ends up in pairs. Kirk and Chekov (the late Anton Yelchin) wander the woods looking for signs of the crew. Scotty (Pegg) and Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), a warrior alien who has been stuck on the planet for a while, try to repair a different starship that crashed on the planet a century ago. In the most effective pairing, Spock and Doctor "Bones" McCoy (Karl Urban) search for their comrades while engaged in an extended comedy routine based on the irreconcilable differences and grudging respect between their characters.

The Spock-Bones pairing stands out because it's the one area in which the movie not only tries to have fun but also succeeds. The other attempts primarily arise in the action. A couple of such sequences (A chase through the rising wreckage of the Enterprise, a diversion using holographic doubles, and a space battle set to "classical" music come to mind) are conceptually distinctive, but then we return to the problems of Lin's approach to assembling them.

Maybe, for the time being, a sense of nostalgia is necessary for this series, if only because it forces the filmmakers to remember the cornerstones of the franchise. Star Trek Beyond succeeds in getting away from the past, but that success only results in a standard-issue, sci-fi adventure without a distinct identity.

Copyright © 2016 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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