Star Trek Beyond (2016, Justin Lin)


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.

Star Trek Into Darkness (2013, JJ Abrams)


Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

After Starfleet command is attacked by a terrorist, Captain Kirk and his crew are sent on a mission to hunt him down…

At the end of the film, Kirk recites what he calls the captain’s oath. Chris Pine, therefore, becomes only the second actor (after Leonard Nimoy) to read the famous Star Trek narration in a movie: “Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Her five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds; to seek out new life and new civilisations; to boldly go where no one has gone before…”

Regulars: James T Kirk is on mission at the start, trying to protect a planet from oblivion without revealing his efforts to the natives. However, he disobeys this caveat in order to save Spock’s life. His actions lead to him losing command of the Enterprise, but after his mentor, Pike, is killed he gets it back so he can find the murderer. Once Kirk realises Admiral Marcus is the bad guy, he teams up with terrorist Khan, but then has to sacrifice his life to save the ship… On that first mission, Spock goes down into a volcano to stop a catastrophe. Once Kirk has rescued him, Spock pisses his captain off by submitting a contradictory report. During the crisis, he calls his older self from the previous film and asks him about Star Trek continuity. He outsmarts Khan and tricks him into destroying his own ship, but is then devastated when Kirk dies – it puts him in a blind rage, and he goes after Khan for revenge… Dr McCoy is on that opening mission with Kirk, and later helps new science officer Carol Marcus to open a mysterious torpedo. He does the research on Khan’s genetic ability to regenerate and uses his findings to resurrect a dead Kirk… Uhura is still in a relationship with Spock, but it’s not going well. She gets to use her communication skills when she confronts the Klingons on their own planet… Scotty works out how Khan escaped from San Francisco (he used the trans-warp technology Scotty was given in the preceding movie), then objects so much to 72 strange torpedoes being aboard the Enterprise that he resigns. Kirk later calls Scotty while he’s in a night club to apologise, admit he was right, and ask him to investigate some coordinates Khan has mentioned; Scotty ends up hiding on Marcus’s super ship… It’s Chekov who replaces Scotty as chief engineer (“Go put on a red shirt,” Kirk tells him) and he later saves Kirk and Scotty as they dangle off a balcony… Sulu gets to be acting captain while Kirk, Spock and Uhura are off the ship.

Guests: Doctor Who’s Noel Clarke plays Thomas Harewood, a pensive father who Khan manipulates into helping him. It’s a good performance, especially when you bear in mind that he has only seven words of dialogue. Khan is played superbly by Benedict Cumberbatch, although it’s 67 minutes before we learn the character’s true identity. (Why he’s no longer Hispanic, as in the timeline established in his first two appearances, is not addressed.) Bruce Greenwood returns as Pike, who’s now an admiral and gets killed off. Peter Weller plays Admiral Marcus – anyone who’s ever seen a film before could guess he’s the baddy – while Alice Eve appears as his daughter, Carol.

Best bits:

* The bonkers colour scheme on Nibiru, the planet at the beginning.

* Kirk and McCoy escape the natives by leaping off a cliff into the sea. (I first saw this film in 3D and IMAX – this moment made my stomach lurch.)

* The Enterprise is underwater!

* McCoy admitting that Spock would leave Kirk to die if their situations were reversed.

* Every single lens flare.

* The natives now worship the Enterprise.

* CGI London: St Paul’s Cathedral and a fuckload of skyscrapers.

* The mournful piano music during the Noel Clarke sequence.

* Kirk in bed with two women. Who have tails.

* Kirk admitting he’ll miss Spock after the latter is assigned to a different ship – and Spock’s inability to respond.

* The attack on the conference room.

* Spock mind-melding with a dying Pike.

* Scotty resigns (as does, in solidarity, sidekick Keenser).

* Kirk learns that Uhura’s having problems with Spock (“My God, what is that even like?!”)

* After McCoy has said both, “You don’t rob a bank when the getaway car has a flat tyre!” and “You just sat [Sulu] down in a high-stakes poker game with no cards and told him to bluff!”, Kirk tells him, “Enough of the metaphors, all right. That’s an order.”

* Sulu warning Khan: “If you test me, you will fail.”

* Spock and Uhura’s argument, with Kirk caught in the middle and chipping in.

* During a chase, Kirk flies his shuttle through a very narrow gap between two buildings by turning it sideways (surely a deliberate reference to a similar moment in The Empire Strikes Back).

* The atomic-winter feel of the Klingon planet.

* Khan saves Kirk, Spock and Uhura – then surrenders when they confirm they have 72 torpedoes on board.

* Uhura standing on tiptoe to kiss Spock.

* Kirk and Khan’s confrontation through the glass.

* McCoy: “Don’t agree with me, Spock. It makes me very uncomfortable.”

* A cute CGI shot zooming in on the Enterprise, through the window and onto the bridge.

* McCoy’s arm getting trapped in the torpedo as it counts down to detonation. Carol says, “Shit,” and simply pulls out some wires.

* The space battle at warp speed.

* Kirk: “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Spock: “An Arabic proverb attributed to a prince who was betrayed and decapitated by his own subjects.” Kirk: “It’s a hell of a quote.”

* Kirk and Khan’s space flight.

* Khan kills Marcus by squeezing his skull (is he a Blade Runner fan?).

* Kirk and Scotty running down a corridor, which due to changing gravity conditions is rotating.

* A dying Kirk talking to Spock through a glass door – the key scene from The Wrath of Khan reversed, of course.


* The Tribble squeaking into life.

TV tie-in: The use in the plot of a Tribble – an animal that looks like a fluffy ball of fur – meant that I chose the Deep Space Nine episode Trials and Tribble-ations for the final example of television Trek I rewatched for this process. Made for the franchise’s 30th anniversary in 1996, it’s a brilliant bit of postmodern fun. The DS9 regulars travel back in time and interact with the crew from the original TV show. The period sets, costumes and lighting schemes are a joy; the script is genuinely funny and smart; and new footage is seamlessly cut together into old clips.

Review: Choosing to revisit classic villain Khan – and essentially remake both TV episode Space Seed and movie The Wrath of Khan – has certainly put some people off. But Star Trek Into Darkness is a very entertaining two hours, full of life and vim and vigour. Like its immediate predecessor, it’s built on the rivalry, friendship and affection between James Kirk and Spock. Even more so than the last time, in fact. Actors Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto are both really excellent, and the emotional journey their characters go on – especially the usually uptight Spock – is touching and believable. The whole movie zips along and has many pleasures. It looks superb, there are tons of great scenes and witty lines, and Benedict Cumberbatch is fantastically menacing as Khan. But it’s not a total triumph, with three chief problems. The female roles are perfunctory: Uhura is mostly defined by being Spock’s girlfriend, Carol Marcus is forced to strip off for salacious reasons, and neither character has much impact on the story. Secondly, the pace sags halfway through and there’s a dull run of scenes where characters simply tell each other back-story. And finally, the moment when Spock phones his older self from the first film and asks him about Khan is dramatically tiresome. You can argue it *is* what Spock would do, but it feels like an enormous cheat. Overall, this is flawed but still tremendous fun.

Eight trade ships we confiscated during the Mudd incident last month out of 10.

Star Trek (2009, JJ Abrams)


Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Ninety-four years after the events of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, Spock is thrown back in time along with a vengeful Romulan called Nero. Their time-travelling creates a new, alternate reality where Spock’s younger self – as well as James Kirk and other familiar faces – team up to defeat Nero…

For only the third time in a Star Trek movie, we hear the famous narration. And for the third time, it’s Leonard Nimoy who delivers it. It comes at the end of the film: “Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Her ongoing missing: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life forms and new civilisations; to boldly go where no one has gone before…”

Regulars: The elderly Spock (Leonard Nimoy) can’t prevent the destruction of Romulus, so when pissed-off Nero travels back in time to seek revenge, Spock follows him – thereby creating an alternate reality. The James T Kirk of this new timeline is born in the opening scene: his mother goes into labour while being evacuated from a starship. Kirk’s dad, meanwhile, is killed just after he discusses baby names with his wife. We next see Kirk as a kid, where he’s clearly a bit of a wild child, then as an adult when he gets into a bar fight with some tough guys. After joining Starfleet, he cheats at the Kobayashi Maru test (as did the original Kirk), then is quickly promoted to first officer of the Enterprise during a crisis. However, after he rows with the young Spock (Zachary Quinto), he’s stranded on an ice planet where he has to evade CGI monsters and bumps into the Spock from the future. At the start of the film, we see this timeline’s Spock being bullied as a boy for being only half-Vulcan, and he kicks off when his human mother is insulted. As a young adult, he turns his back on the Vulcan Academy and joins Starfleet, where he develops the test that Kirk uniquely beats (by cheating). When Captain Pike goes off to talk to Nero, Spock is made captain of the Enterprise. Nyota Uhura meets Kirk in a bar, where he tries to flirt with her. She’s studying xenolinguistics at Starfleet – Kirk quips that she must have a talented tongue. She’s initially assigned to a different ship because boyfriend Spock was trying to avoid favouritism; she soon demands to join the Enterprise and takes over as communications officer. Also in the new crew is Pavel Chekov, a Russian who has trouble with his Ws. He does a natty bit of beaming to save Kirk and Sulu from certain death. Hikaru Sulu is a late-replacement helmsman who cocks up his first go at driving the ship, but shows his mettle on a mission with Kirk. Dr Leonard McCoy meets Kirk when they both join up. He has a fear of space-travel, and has lost so much in a recent divorce that he’s only left with his ‘bones’; during the crisis at Vulcan, the Enterprise’s medical chief is killed so McCoy takes over. Finally, after Kirk has been abandoned on the ice world, he meets Montgomery Scott, a grumpy engineer doing research at a remote Federation base. He has a mute alien sidekick, Keenser.

Guests: Chris ‘Thor’ Hemsworth plays Kirk’s dad. Faran ‘Warehouse 13’ Tahir plays the captain of the USS Kelvin. Eric ‘the Incredible Hulk’ Bana plays Nero. Greg ‘mate of JJ Abrams’ Grunberg plays Kirk’s stepdad. Ben ‘Dark Shadows’ Cross plays Sarek. Winona ‘Winona Ryder’ Ryder plays Spock’s mum (in aged make-up: the scene she shot as a young woman was cut). W. Morgan ‘seaQuest DSV’ Shepherd plays a prissy Vulcan official. Bruce ‘…didn’t he play JFK once?’ Greenwood plays Captain Pike. Tyler ‘Tyler Perry movies’ Perry plays a Starfleet bigwig. Rachel ‘Alias’ Nicholls plays Kirk’s one-night stand, Gaila. Deep ‘Doctor Who’ Roy plays Scotty’s sidekick, Keenser.

Best bits:

* The prologue – the wormhole, the Romulan ship, the chaos on board the Kelvin, the frenetic editing and whip-crack camera moves, Kirk’s birth and his dad’s sacrifice… It’s an 11-minute sequence that grabs you by the throat. This isn’t your father’s Star Trek.

* The graceful yet powerful incidental cue over the logo.

* Kirk as a boy, in a stolen sports car, bombing along and listening to the Beastie Boys. He’s chased by a robotic cop and ends up leaping from the car just before it careers off a cliff.

* The Harrison Ford smirk that a grown-up Kirk gives to Uhura after her accidentally feels her up.

* “You can whistle really loud, you know that?”

* Pike to Kirk: “Your father was captain of a starship for 12 minutes. He saved 800 lives, including your mother’s and yours. I dare you to do better.”

* Kirk’s green-skinned girlfriend (a knowing nod to the original TV series).

* The Kobayashi-Maru test. A smug Kirk eats an apple because he knows he’s going to beat it.

* The reveal that Spock designed the test.

* Kirk and Spock’s first meeting – a courtroom-style clash over Kirk’s cheating.

* “Who was that pointy-eared bastard?” asks Kirk. “I don’t know,” replies McCoy. “But I like him!”

* In a brilliant run of comedy and plotting, McCoy puts Kirk through blindness, a huge tongue and ridiculously swollen hands in order to smuggle him aboard the Enterprise.

* Spock walking from engineering, into a lift and out again onto the bridge – all in one fluid shot.

* The TV-show-like lighting effect on Pike’s eyes as he sits in the captain’s chair.

* Kirk realizing what the lightening storm is, and his mad dash through the ship to find Pike. (In a wonderfully illustrative bit of writing, Spock listens to Kirk despite their antagonism and backs him up when he talks sense.)

* “I’m Christopher Pike. To whom am I speaking?” “Hi, Christopher. I’m Nero.”

* The guy in the red space suit. A red space suit. Red.

* Kirk and Sulu’s skydiving down to the huge platform above Vulcan, and the subsequent fight.

* Spock running into the Vulcan temple and telling the group that the planet will imminently explode. Because they’re Vulcans, no one quibbles with him and they all flee.

* Uhura and Spock’s moment in the lift, him grieving and her being supportive

* “Out of the chair,” Spock says in a singsong reprimand when he spots Kirk slouching in the captain’s seat.

* Spock’s nerve-pinch on Kirk.

* Old Spock! “I am Spock,” he says to a confused Kirk. “…Bullshit,” says Kirk.

* The trippy mind-meld sequence, which handily fills in backstory.

* McCoy challenges Spock’s logic: “Are you out of your Vulcan mind?”

* The perspective gag as Keenser, who’s about four-feet tall, runs down a long corridor.

* Scotty’s story about experimenting a beaming process with Admiral Archer’s beagle. “I know that dog!” says Kirk. “What happened to it?” Scotty: “I’ll tell you when it reappears.”

* “Can I get a towel please?”

* Spock getting angry.

* The touch-too-hard slap on the arm that Kirk gives Spock after they make up.

* The Enterprise rising out of the gas atmosphere of Titan.

* Kirk’s expression when he spots Spock and Uhura kissing.

* A computer thinks Spock is his older self. “Wow, that’s weird,” says Kirk, trying to sound casual.

* When Nero has been defeated, Kirk offers mercy, explaining to Spock, “It may be the only way to earn peace with the Romulans. It’s logic, Spock. I thought you’d like that.” Spock: “No, not really. Not this time.”

* The two Spocks meet.

* When Kirk is promoted, he relieves an injured Pike of his command. “I am relieved,” says Pike, putting about 47 different meanings into the phrase.

* The final scene on the bridge – each crewmember getting their moment in the spotlight. (The way Kirk says “Bones” is pure Shatner.)

TV tie-in: Given the presence in this movie of Captain Pike, it felt right to also rewatch Star Trek’s pilot episode. In The Cage – which wasn’t broadcast at the time – Pike is played by Jeffrey Hunter and is in command of the USS Enterprise. It’s a fascinating piece of sci-fi history, notable for both the great ideas already in place and the oddities later dropped when the series was picked up. Of the cast, only Leonard Nimoy as Spock became a regular. What stops the episode being fully entertaining is its earnestness – when the show went to a series, William Shatner took over as lead actor and added some much-needed charisma and a sense of fun.

Review: What’s immediately obvious about this movie is that there’s emotional rigour at all times. It might be a big-budget, summer blockbuster full of CGI and action scenes – but it’s constantly dealing with characters, relationships, choices, reactions, hopes, feelings, regrets and friendships… The story is built around two leads, Kirk and Spock, and actors Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto are both fantastic. They’re channelling their predecessors, for sure, but are not doing simple impressions of Shatner and Nimoy. While you can sense the original characters’ DNA in these performances, there’s also danger and unpredictability. The rest of the team are fun too. Simon Pegg doesn’t show up until the halfway point, but adds a turbo-boost of comic relief, and Karl Urban is also terrific as the tetchy and sarcastic Dr McCoy. Meanwhile, other actors move away from the established template: Zoe Saldana, for example, is not especially reminiscent of the original Uhura (this one has a personality). This familiar-yet-different tone is down to the plot’s time-travel element. It’s a wonderful example of having your cake and eating it. The film acts as both a reboot *and* a continuation. By creating a separate timeline, it can utilise all the recognisable Star Trek continuity, but it also has freedom to tell its own story. The destruction of Vulcan feels like a mission statement: in this Star Trek, nothing is safe. It means the film can appeal to both fans and newcomers. If you don’t see any irony in Captain Pike ending up in a wheelchair, then no matter; if you do, then you get something extra. But in what other ways is this one of the best films of the 21st century? Well, it looks absolutely superb. There’s real beauty in the production design. The 1960s-style costumes are a treat. The CGI is skillful and used to tell story. And the infamous, extensive lens flares keep everything alive and ‘in the moment’. There are also bountiful amounts of energy and pace and zip to the whole thing, thanks to brilliant director JJ Abrams (who has yet to make a weak film). The two hours *breeze* past. This is endlessly rewatchable entertainment packed full of vitality.

Ten cupcakes out of 10.