Thursday, October 13, 2016

Star Trek Beyond: A Review


Can something exceed expectations and still be mediocre? Star Trek Beyond manages some positives.  It's better than Star Trek Into Darkness.  Apart from that, there's nothing awful about Star Trek Beyond but nothing spectacular, nothing that makes one want to keep following more adventures of the U.S.S. Enterprise.

It's been three years into the Enterprise's five-year mission, and Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) is finding all this travelling empty and meaningless.  The thirty-five year old captain is having a midlife crisis, so much so that after a bizarrely bungled peace mission, Kirk thinks of moving on.  Also facing personal issues is Mr. Spock (Zachary Quinto), who has learned of the death of Ambassador Spock.  This makes him wonder whether he too, should move on from Starfleet Command and go to his Vulcans on their new home.  This internal crisis causes a breakup between Spock and Lieutenant Uhura (Zoe Saldana).

Arriving on the massive space station Yorktown, the various Enterprise crew appear to be drifting a bit.  Fortunately for them, a distress call from within an unexplored nebula brings the Enterprise out from Yorktown station in a rescue attempt.  Kalara (Lydia Wilson) begs help for her crew deep inside the unexplored nebula, stranded on the planet Altamid.  As can be expected, the distress call is really a trap (where is Admiral Ackbar when you need him!) and the Enterprise is mercilessly attacked.  These bee-like destructive metal creatures tear at the ship, until after a long and brutal effort, Kirk orders the crew to abandon ship.  A strange creature searches the Enterprise for the peace offering we saw earlier, but finds it is incomplete.

The various Enterprise crew are now forced to separate in space, essentially tag-teaming on Altamid.  Uhura is with the newly-token-gay character Mr. Sulu (John Cho), who are captured by our villain, Krall (Idris Elba).  The cantankerous Enterprise doctor, Dr. "Bones" McCoy (Karl Urban), has taken flight with the ever-cerebral Mr. Spock (where the good doctor's medical training helps save a badly injured Vulcan).  Captain Kirk finds himself with navigator Pavel Chekov (Anton Yelchin), as well as Kalara.  Engineer Montgomery "Scottie" Scott (Simon Pegg) doesn't get any Enterprise crew with him.  Instead, he finds Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), an earlier crash victim who offers to help him if he helps her. 

Did I mention Simon Pegg co-wrote the script?

It turns out she has been holed up in the U.S.S. Franklin, an earlier Starfleet ship on Altamid, and the engineer is able to help her get her camouflage in more functioning order.  Soon Kirk and Chekov stumble upon the Franklin (after having disposed of the traitorous Kalada), and together they manage to get Spock and McCoy aboard with the ship's rudimentary transport system.

Now all they have to do is rescue Uhura and the now-token-gay Sulu and go back.  There's a slight hitch in those plans, however: the 'evil' Krall has coerced one of the Enterprise crewmembers to give him the missing peace of the Maguffin and with it, he will have his Doomsday Device.  His first order of business? To get out of Altamid and attack the Yorktown, and from there, the whole of the Federation.

If nothing else, Star Trek villains tend to think big.

With his crew now regrouped after a daring rescue, Kirk & Company must use the antiquated Franklin to go after Krall, whose secret history with the Federation is revealed.  It's a Fast and Furious race to get to Krall, who sends his robotic bees to tear at the Franklin the same way they tore into the Enterprise.  However, at last they have a strategy for this: what McCoy calls "classical music".

The Franklin has a curiosity: rap music, and the bees are destroyed by playing The Beastie Boys' Sabotage.  The mind boggles if the Franklin had carried into space, say instead of Public Enemy's Fight the Power, Loreena McKennitt's The Mystic's Dream

It's now a full-on attack on the Yorktown, and it is a fierce battle between Krall and Kirk that leads to the saving of the Yorktown and the end to the much-tormented Krall.  With this newest victory under his belt, Kirk rethinks his decision to be an Admiral, and Spock rethinks his decision to leave the Enterprise as well.

We see the crew of the Enterprise looking up, awaiting their newest adventure.

As I said, there is nothing really terrible about Beyond, but there isn't anything special about Beyond either.  It all seems rather perfunctory, as if people in front and behind the camera are all fulfilling contracts and going through the motions.

This is the first NuTrek film where I felt the cast was essentially doing parodies of the original Star Trek characters.  I was irritated at McCoy's perpetual irascibility in particular, as if what was actually interesting the first, even second-time round was now just so much 'well, most people think DeForest Kelley played it like this, so I've got to do it exactly like he was supposed to do it, right down to the 'Damn it, Jim, I'm a doctor, not a...' bit that is part of any good (or bad) Dr. McCoy parody performance".  Beyond looked as if the mere fact that it was Star Trek was supposed to make everything exciting, but it constantly fell flat.

I put a great deal of the blame on Pegg and his co-writer, Doug Jung.  I understand Pegg is a super-fan and an all-around 'expert' on all things Star Trek, which leads me to think that Beyond is bad fanfic greenlit. There was no set-up for the Enterprise's mission, no real build-up to just about anything in Beyond.  Karala's betrayal?  Not only were we expecting this 'twist', we were wondering how they would suggest it.  They suggested it by putting it in by throwing it in when the story needed it to be in.  Since we didn't get to know Karala, why should her 'betrayal' be shocking?

Again and again, what should be exciting, what should be moving, what should be interesting, fails and fails again.  Pegg and Jung were interested in just moving things from one point to the next, with little to no interest in building up anything (tension, suspense, comedy, what have you).

Perhaps the worst part of this 'we should care but don't' comes through the newly-revealed idea that Mr. Sulu is gay.  For all the hue-and-cry about this hereto unknown aspect of Sulu's identity, the entire situation is played in such a shockingly nuanced manner that it is astonishing that Pegg congratulated himself on his 'progressivism'.  The first hint that Sulu is gay is the fact that he has a picture of a little Asian girl. 

The second, and we're supposed to believe, official 'outing' of Hikaru Sulu, is when said adorable little Asian girl is brought by a nondescript Asian man (co-writer Jung...what IS IT with the writers casting themselves in their film?  Don't give Doctor Who destroyer Steven Moffat any ideas...), and the three walk away together, with Sulu rubbing the nondescript Asian man's back with his thumb, which I guess in Star Trek is erotic foreplay.

Sorry, but the fact that one man rubbed another man's back with his thumb doth not equal gayness.  It's astonishing that despite the legalization of same-sex marriage and all the strides gays have made, this sorry 'blink-and-you-miss-it' bit was made out to be some sort of revolutionary act.  For all we know, that could be Sulu's brother or other relative.  There was no sense that there was any romance between said nondescript Asian man and Sulu.  There wasn't even any sense that adorable little Asian girl was in any way, shape or form connected to either man.

It's already bad enough that a particular plot point was introduced, but what makes it all the worse is that it is totally irrelevant to Beyond.  If Pegg/Jung had added a scene or dialogue where Sulu discusses his desire to see his partner and daughter, THEN maybe it would have added something.  As it stood, not only was there no point in having this element in the film, it didn't even bother to follow through.

As a side note, the original Sulu, George Takei, wasn't too thrilled that the NuTrek Sulu was made gay (even if it was a 'tribute' to Takei himself, who is gay).  I am amused by the fact that Pegg, who is straight, essentially lectured a gay man about what it's like to be gay in a fictional universe. 

Would that count as Peggsplaining?

In short, Pegg and Jung pretty much botched so much of Beyond it will be a wonder if Paramount lets them have another crack at it.

Not that director Justin Lin did any better. Everything was so rushed and chaotic it made things ironically enough less exciting.  There are many things I hate about modern filmmaking, and one of them is shaky-cam.  Beyond has it in abundance.  It's a sad thing to see a Star Trek film rush from one scene to another, making the characters so dull, the villain another of those "he's really a victim" motivations, and all a horrid shaky-cam.

Everything in Beyond ultimately was perfunctory.  Michael Giacchino's score was appropriate, hitting the emotional cues when the film called for it (appropriately 'mournful' or 'exciting', but not interesting or memorable). 

I'm not sure whether Star Trek Beyond will, in the future, be looked on as the Star Trek reboot that showed it needed to be rebooted itself, but there is something of a crisis with the NuTrek.  It has to either shift into its own universe and loosen the bonds it has with the Original Series, or continue to play itself out as weak rehashes of what we've seen before with nothing either new or interesting to tell us.

I'm not sure whether I should be insulted or sad that Star Trek Beyond essentially ripped off a major plot point from of all things, Mars Attacks.

Star Trek Beyond is not terrible.  It's just not that very good. 

Das Vadanya, Anton


Next Star Trek Movie: TBA

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