Star Trek Beyond (2016, Justin Lin)

STAR TREK BEYOND

Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

The USS Enterprise is destroyed during a rescue mission gone wrong, leaving its crew stranded on a planet with a man intent on revenge…

For the first time in a Star Trek film, the famous mission-statement narration is provided by more than one character. The seven chief crewmembers get a bit each: “Space, the final frontier [Kirk]. These are the voyage of the starship [Spock] Enterprise. Its continuing mission [Scotty]: to explore strange new worlds [McCoy]; to seek out new life [Sulu] and new civilisations [Chekov]; to boldly go where no one has gone before [Uhura].”

Regulars: Three years into the Enterprise’s five-year mission of exploration, Captain James Kirk (Chris Pine) is feeling restless. So much so, in fact, that he considers applying for a vice-admiral’s position. But there’s at least one last mission to complete when the Enterprise heads off to rescue people stranded in a nebula. It’s actually a trap, and the ship is destroyed when it crashes on a planet called Altamid. The crew is then split into fractured groups – Kirk, for example, is paired with Chekov (Anton Yelchin) and they rumble a traitor in the camp… Meanwhile, Spock (Zachary Quinto) has been shaken by the news that his older self – the elderly Spock who travelled back in time two films ago – has died. After the crash, Spock and Dr McCoy (Karl Urban) form an odd-couple double act whose bickering hides a deep respect. Spock is injured and tells Bones that he wants to leave the Enterprise crew to continue Old Spock’s work in rebuilding the Vulcan race… Scotty gets a lot of screen time, is the focus of a vital subplot, has plenty of comedy moments, is the only crewmember specifically named in Kirk’s introductory voiceover, and forms a touching relationship with the film’s major non-villain guest star. Completely coincidentally, actor Simon Pegg co-wrote the script… Uhura (Zoe Saldana) splits up with boyfriend Spock, while Sulu (John Cho) is revealed to be in a same-sex relationship – both are captured by bad guy Krall, but manage to send a distress signal and work out the villain’s plan.

Guests: Sofia Boutella plays the spunky Jaylah, an alien scavenger who’s been living on Altamid. She’s a big success – it’s a likeable performance and Jaylah is confident and strong but not boringly flawless. (Her name is a pun on Jennifer Lawrence, the actress used by the writers as a model for the character.) The main bad guy is initially presented as an alien called Krall, then revealed to be a mutated human who was once Starfleet officer Captain Edison – he’s played by Idris Elba with good physical presence and attitude. Lydia Wilson plays Kalara, one of Krall’s agents who pretends to be a victim. All her dialogue has to be translated by a machine so we hear her native language and English at the same time.

Best bits:
* The cold open: a comedic mini-mission showing Kirk negotiating with some aliens. There’s a good gag when we realise they’re only dog-sized.
* The early montage telling us that ennui has gripped Kirk, who’s bored after 966 days in deep space. “Things have started to feel a little episodic,” he says. Geddit? Like a TV show!
* The Escher-like architecture of Yorktown, a planet-sized space station with unusual gravity patterns.
* Spock learns that Ambassador Spock has died: a touching way to acknowledge the death of actor Leonard Nimoy.
* Kirk and Spock both say they have something they need to talk about… but that it’ll wait till later. They know how movie scripts work!
* The Enterprise is attacked by thousands of tiny spacecraft that act like a swarm, causing huge damage. It’s the start of a long, exciting and well-staged action run that’s full of character and plotting. The Enterprise crashes and is practically destroyed (as it was in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and Star Trek: Generations – ie, we lose an Enterprise in roughly a quarter of these films).
* “Abandon ship, Mr Sulu.”
* Scotty’s escape pod comes to rest on the edge of a cliff.
* Krall can speak English!
* Spock and McCoy’s bickering: “Cut the horseshit!” “Doctor, I fail to see how excrement of any kind bears relevance on our situation.” Bones then pulls the old trick of asking a distracting question just before painfully cauterising Spock’s wound.
* Scotty finds a communicator, but the flip bit flops off when he tries to use it.
* Jaylah’s neat trick of generating holograms of herself during a fight with bad guys.
* The revelation that Jaylah’s ‘house’ is an age-old Starfleet ship, the USS Franklin.
* Krall takes… life power or essence or something from Federation prisoners. A process that hurts them. A lot.
* Spock and Bones movingly discuss Old Spock’s death. The conversation ends with Spock laughing; Bones assumes he’s delirious.
* We briefly see a 100-year-old video of the Franklin crew. Wonder if that’ll be important later…
* Spock and Bones are surrounded by bad guys. “Well, at least I won’t die alone,” says Bones – just as, behind him, Spock is being beamed to safety.
* The reveal of where Kirk hid the MacGuffin.
* Kirk on a motorbike, which just happened to be lying around on the Franklin.
* Kirk jumping through the air *whilst being beamed* so he can grab Jaylar’s hand.
* Spock begins a long, detailed explanation of his plan. “Skip to the end,” interrupts Kirk. The joke is a deliberate quotation from Spaced, the superior Channel 4 sitcom Simon Pegg co-wrote and starred in.
* The crew need to jam the swarm’s communications, so decide on a loud, distracting UHF signal. Scotty knows just the thing: Sabotage by the Beastie Boys. (As well as meaning a kickass song is in the movie, it’s also a callback to the 2009 film.)
* Turns out that video is important: Uhura watches the whole thing and realises Krall was once a Federation captain. We then see his century-old logs, where he helpfully fills in backstory and descends into madness.
* Spock goes through Old Spock’s possessions. We see a photograph of the Enterprise crew in middle age: it’s a publicity snap from Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, so features the original actors. As well as a bit of meta fun, it’s also a nice reminder that this series is an alternate timeline, not a remake.
* The final shot: a ‘speeded-up’ CGI image of the Enterprise being rebuilt.

TV tie-in: A month before this film’s release, Anton Yechin died at the age of 27. Producer JJ Abrams soon confirmed that the actor’s character won’t be recast, so it seems Star Trek Beyond marks the last appearance of Pavel Chekov. He was first introduced in the original TV series, in a second-season episode called Amok Time, and was played for 27 years by Walter Koenig… In Amok Time, Spock must return to Vulcan – it’s the franchise’s first ever visit there – to take part in a bizarre mating ritual.

Review: It doesn’t exactly start with a bang. The first 64 seconds of this movie consist of a plethora of production-company logos, then there’s no big action beat to kick things off. But once the plot gears up there’s a huge amount to enjoy. Unlike the first two films in this timeline, Star Trek Beyond is a one-off, self-contained story, and the result is confident, polished and very enjoyable. It was a worry when, after those first two reboot movies, director JJ Abrams ducked out in favour of making Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Thankfully, replacement Justin Lin hits the ground running. He’d spent the previous few years making crass-but-fun Fast & Furious sequels, and as you’d expect from that CV this film’s stunts, chases and fights are well staged and thrilling. But there’s also plenty of soul and subtext. The regular characters retain their easy chemistry and are fun to hang out with, while the storytelling is very impressive. You can sense the layers of the onion being peeled back at pleasingly paced intervals – the villain ends up being much more interesting than we first assume; Kalara’s story has a couple of fake turns before we find out the truth; and plenty of ideas and plot points are set up then paid off in interesting ways. A good example is Spock giving Uhura a necklace. At first it’s solely a character beat, a way of dramatising that he still cares about her. Later the jewellery’s material allows him to track her down, so has a plot function… then comedy is generated from the other characters’ reaction to Spock’s ability to stalk his ex-girlfriend. That’s smart, economic movie writing, doing a lot in a short time. Maybe only the action climax disappoints a bit. It’s based on some gravity-based exposition that just comes off as nonsense, while the odd decision is made not to have Krall de-evolve back to normal. If you’ve cast Idris Elba, a handsome and charismatic man, wouldn’t you want to free him of all his prosthetics for the final showdown?

Eight incomprehensible cosmic anomalies that could wipe us out in an instant out of 10.

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