Live Long and Star Trek Beyond: A review by Douglas Davidson

By Douglas Davidson 

July 23, 2016

2016 marks Gene Roddenberry’s fiftieth anniversary of the original Star Trek television series, a show that broke many boundaries over the course of its four-year run. With the latest cinematic incarnation, co-written by Simon Pegg and Doug Jung and directed by Fast & Furious 6’s Justin Lin, the crew of the USS Enterprise find themselves in peril once more. Rooted once more in a story about father-figures, Kirk and company find themselves on the receiving end of great vengeance during their five-year diplomatic space exploratory mission. Lured to a planet on the other side of a communications-barring nebula, the Enterprise is destroyed and the crew scattered by the enigmatic Krull (Idris Elba). All of this happens before the first thirty-minutes are up, leaving a lot of room for the character-driven storytelling fans of the original television series admire and the action spectacle modern audiences expect.

Idris Elba as Krull

Simultaneously Beyond is the most straight-forward, barebones story so far released in the new Trek universe, while also being the most thin and confusing. It’s an odd place to be in as an audience member, but it’s important to understand that the positives lay in the story and acting, while the negatives lie with the direction and cinematography. As has become typical of the series, Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock (Zackary Quinto) are the anchor for the story: Kirk struggles still with how the loss of his father, George, impacts his relationship to the Federation, while Spock struggles with his mortality in light of the passing of Ambassador Spock (a heartfelt nod to the passing of Leonard Nimoy).

Impressively, Pegg and Jung crafted a story which, despite all the action, allows its characters to process their circumstances in an authentic way. Even though the remaining main crew of Uhura (Zoe Saldana), Sulu (John Cho), and Chekov (the late Anton Yelchin) receive minor story arcs, with the bulk of the tertiary story going to McCoy (Karl Urban) and Scotty (Pegg). Seven main cast members are difficult to balance on their own, which makes it impressive that new comer Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), and villain Krull are given enough to make their presence and allegiances plausible, given how quickly each are introduced and neither are given much time for the audience to get to know. Credit for this goes to all the actors who manage their performances so well that each individual storyline feels authentic, though Krull’s is the thinnest of the lot. Elba is still a menacing sight to behold and manages to convey his character’s motivations without heavy posturing. My singular complaint about Krull – he’s the third villain in a row with a vendetta against the Federation.

Chris Pine as Kirk

A solid story and great acting should be enough to carry any film, yet that’s not enough here. More often than not, it’s difficult to track – visually – what is happening any time the action takes place in a dark environment. Either at night or in space, any low-level light action sequences become a blur of bodies and debris. This could be a result of the additional filtering from the 3D glasses, but it seems more likely that the intent was to create a more realistic approach to the chaos of a firefight. Lin has incredible experience managing fast-moving action sequences from his time working with the Fast & Furious franchise – and it shows here – but when it’s visual chaos, it feels like style over substance.

Ultimately, if the audience can’t figure out who hit who or what went where, it immediately removes the audience from the experience. As this happens more than once throughout the film, it becomes an enormous drag on the story. Luckily, this really only impacts the film in the first half, with the second half more cinematically stable, enabling Lin to show off what makes his directorial vision so engaging.

The third of any franchise is a difficult spot to be in. The first sets the rules, while the second tries to bend them. The third must push beyond the rules in order to keep things new, fresh, and interesting. Though there is nothing that strays too far beyond what’s expected, it’s delightful how the trio of Pegg, Jung, and Lin cultivated a story that builds upon the story begun in 2009’s Star Trek that honors both creator Roddenberry and the series fans still crave. In doing so, the conclusion of Beyond feels like the closing of a trilogy, where Kirk, Spock, and the rest of the Enterprise crew are finally ready to embrace their destiny.

Zackary Quinto as Spock

However, though Beyond ends with the crew of the Enterprise possessing both the understanding of the significance of the mission and the self-confidence to carry it out, I wonder how long this will last. Considering the swirling rumors Chris Hemsworth’s return as George Kirk in the untitled fourth installment, it makes one wonder if a new time ripple will be created and what impact that will have on the Enterprise crew. One thing is for certain, whatever comes next, the crew of the Enterprise will face it together.

Star Rating: 3 out of 5

A review by Douglas Davidson of Elements of Madness

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