The latest instalment of the rebooted Star Trek franchise (newly directed by Justin Lin of the Fast and Furious movies) is a movie for the fans. Rather than a fully fleshed film, it feels more like an expansion of a 60s episode; a well-rounded yet inconsequential blip in the long journey of the Starship Enterprise. This is unusual given the set-up. The crew are three years into their five-year deep space voyage. Captain Kirk is having a quarter-life crisis. He feels fatigued and his role on the ship no longer satisfies him. “Things are starting to feel a little…episodic,” he says to Bones over birthday Whiskey. The word ‘beyond’ within the title seems to invite a suggestion that Kirk is somehow going to break out of this existential crisis by having the franchise throw out the rule book, rattle conventional formats and go beyond what we might expect. In fact, the opposite is true. The answer we are offered is renewal, a re-igniting of interest in the conventions and familiarity of the franchise.
All the hallmarks that formed the spirit of the original series are here. Even the plot line is somehow nostalgic. The crew are marooned on a mysterious alien planet in uncharted space when they are led into a trap by the warlord Krall (played by Idris Elba) who is after an artifact, supposedly part of a long-lost weapon, from the Enterprise’s storage. This makes for a distinctly Star Trek-y adventure, with fantastic visuals and fairly entertaining action sequences. The definitive highlight was seeing thousands of drones attack the Enterprise resulting in its spectacular and bombastic crash-landing. The garishly bright-coloured costumes, the self-aware tongue-and-cheek banter, and the humorousness of Spock and Scotty are all at work.
The movie is entertaining in parts, and funny at times. But I couldn’t help feeling that something was missing, that perhaps all of this Star Trek-y-ness was at the sacrifice of substance. This could either be a good or bad thing depending on whether you’re a fan, thirsting for nostalgia, or an uninitiated, looking to pass the time with a substantive summer blockbuster. I simply happen to be in the latter category. There is enough to satisfy, but not enough to engross and linger in the mind long after the film has finished.
At this point the characters seem like pastiches of themselves. The imitations are excellent, but it was difficult seeing them as anything more than cardboard cut-out personalities, rehearsing the same roles, the same actions, and the same dialogue. There are exceptions of course. Chris Pine always manages, through those vibrant blue eyes, to present Captain Kirk as if he actually existed as a real person, finding hidden depths within the character that are simply not there with the others. And Zachary Quinto is too humorous as Spock to dismiss. Yet overall it somehow feels second-hand, as if the film was a puppeteer controlling the inanimate limbs of the original 60s series.
A lot of stuff happens in this film, but I caught myself thinking “do I care?” Stuff happens at such a fast pace that the ability to breath and reflect on the deeper aspects of the film, the subtext of the action, was severely restricted. Fast cuts flash between indistinct shaky-cam movement and people breathlessly spouting scientific jargon to save the day. It was all a bit wearing. The alien setting where it all took place never truly felt like a new world, because we were never allowed the liberty to stop and look, or get a sense of our surroundings. This film was a gift to nostalgic fans; there were moving references to the original cast and, in particular, Leonard Nimoy, who died last year. But I, personally, expected a bit more.
Dir: Justin Lin
Scr: Simon Pegg, Doug Jung
Cast: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, Idris Elba, Anton Yelchin,
Prd: J. J. Abrams, Bryan Burk, Roberto Orci
DOP: Stephen F. Windon
Music: Michael Giacchino
Run time: 120 minutes
Star Trek Beyond is available on Blu-Ray, DVD and Digital now.