Thankfully, this is light-years ahead of Into Darkness, so I’m pleased to say that, for me, the Star Trek film franchise is back on track. You can tell that Pegg is a true fan of this franchise as Beyond is lovingly written. He has paid close attention to every homage in the script and they feel like they were written as a natural part of this story. Whilst the homages to the original films and series are not quite up there with the quality we saw in JJ Abrams’ first reboot, they are not rammed down our throats like they were in Into Darkness.
A particular highlight of Beyond is Karl Urban as Bones, and this is in part down to how well he has been written. He has some heart-warming scenes with both Kirk and Spock and the spirit of DeForest Kelly really shines through his performance. Every Trekkie watching should feel tingles of joy with his interplay with Pine and Quinto (Spock) as it harkens back to the good ol’ days of Star Trek. It’s a remarkable achievement and it is most welcome as I always felt Bones had been pushed to one side in the previous films so that Kirk and Spock could take centre stage. They were always a trio and I’m so pleased that Pegg and fellow co-writer Doug Jung have brought this to the forefront once more.
However, there is a flip-side. Whilst the film isn’t terrible, it is boring. Okay, there is plenty of fizz, pop and whistle but, unfortunately, the trailer has given away most of the action set pieces that would have been edge-of-your-seat stuff if it hadn’t been seen already. Every Star Trek fan has seen the Enterprise blown up in previous films and despite the epic way in which she crashes and burns in this instalment it is still a mundane experience. However, there are new fans to the franchise and they have had the experience of seeing the Enterprise overwhelmed and obliterated taken away from them by a trailer that has given away far too much. Whilst there is a great story in there that could have been exciting and intriguing, it has been so uninterestingly fleshed out that my mind started to wander half way through the first act and didn’t really engage (pun intended) until the final third. Every scene on this mysterious planet that the crew find themselves stranded on is mind-numbingly dull and, bar the magnificent Urban, highlights how two-dimensional the characters in this are portrayed. Whilst the new Star Trek films are based on characters from the very first series and movies, the actors have not had the advantage of being established by a well-loved TV show, and, as a result, the new films suffer from the Film Fluff diagnosis of “X-men-itis”, where the director comes down with a curable case of inability to give the characters enough screen time to impose their personality on proceedings. Every Trekkie knows that the characters they love have a depth other franchises can only be in awe of, but this film doesn’t do anything to add to that or even prove that this is the case. Kirk, Spock, Bones, Uhura and Scotty have been well serviced by the three reboots, but Sulu and Chekov have not been so lucky. Even Krall, who is a complex villain that is clearly very dangerous, is done a disservice in this film as the threat he poses is limp and impotent. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that there are no surprises in this film and because this has been the situation with all the Star Trek films bar two, we come to expect the result at the end of each film which in turn also dampens any threat present on screen. It may be sacrilegious to suggest this, but the writers should take a leaf out of the Star Wars book and put in some genuine surprises. No spoilers here of course, but when I think of The Force Awakens, I can recall two moments that I didn’t see coming and both were big risks for the studio to take with such a beloved series of movies. The film was much better for taking those risks than if it just played it safe like Beyond and so many other Star Trek movies have done.
The frustrating thing is that the audience can see that Lin (below) and his team have really tried to bring this film to life, but the unimaginative and dreary way the story is told has really let this film down. The sum of its parts hasn’t made an interesting whole I’m afraid.
Now for the nit-picking! Beyond lacks the visual panache that Abrams brought to the previous two films. It is directed competently by Lin but it isn’t the treat-for-the-eyes that fans are now accustomed too. I miss the lens flare and the inventive use of the camera that Abrams employs in all his films, and also his ability to turn up his brightness levels! The action in this is more akin to the CGI characters thumping each other in the dark in Batman vs Superman than any previous Star Trek film! I had to stop myself from shouting “For the love of Pete, zoom out and turn the lights on!”. Speaking of CGI, it is flawless in the space battles yet surprisingly ropey when it comes to the actors’ stunt doubles. Think of The Matrix: Reloaded and you won’t be far off. I also lost count of the amount of times Scotty refers to alien scavenger Jaylah as “Lassie”. These may only be small gripes but they detracted my enjoyment from the film nonetheless…
…but I want to stress that I didn’t hate this film, although you would be forgiven for thinking that from the criticisms above. I just thought it was okay and nothing special, but at least the ship has been steadied for the next instalment.
Crikey, not only have I criticised Star Trek but pointed out where it could improve by comparing it to Star Wars! If anyone needs me, I’ll be in Mexico…