Going where everyone has gone before..
A former Starship captain-turned-alien tries to reignite interstellar conflict between humans and aliens. It gets Kirk off his bored ass, into action posedown mode.
STAR TREK: BEYOND doesn’t seem to know what to do with itself, much like Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine); after 966 days in space, he’s feeling jaded fulfilling the credo of going where no one has gone before – because he’s already been there done that. Kirk narrates at the nadir of his boredom that his job feels “episodic” (– a wink to the fact that TREK started as an episodic series?).
After the perfunctory opening action sequence, and elegant introduction to the three main characters as they walk and talk in a perfect 3-shot frame (Zachary Quinto as Spock, Pine as Kirk, and Karl Urban as Bones), their Starship Enterprise docks for shore leave at a visually-amazing globe structure called Yorktown, with three-dimensional levels and planes, where gravity works according to Einstein’s Laws of M.C Escher.
Where Kirk has a drink to his dead father (Thor!); where it is revealed Vulcan Spock has broken up with human Uhura (Zoe Saldana) to be faithful to his species after the annihilation of his planet; and where we discover Sulu (John Cho) is a gay father (which is a twist on art imitating life, as the original 1966 Sulu character was not gay, but the actor playing him was (George Takei) – and now the actor is not gay, but his character is).
At this outpost, two Vulcans present Spock with a plaque honoring “Ambassador Spock” (Leonard Nimoy) – dead. In real life. And thus, in this series also. Very sad. Although I have simply started considering Quinto as Nimoy – it’s unfair to the rest of the cast how damn good Quinto is in this role!
BEYOND would eventually throw the Enterprise crew headlong into another adventure, but it seems forced, resembling every other adventure the Enterprise crew has been on. If you’ve seen all the TREK media, then we too have also gone where no one has gone before. And here we go again – as Starfleet picks up a distress signal from an alien ship in an uncharted nebula… and Enterprise is sent to rescue them. You mean, like in every STAR TREK adventure? Also, it’s a hot alien damsel in distress (Lydia Wilson), so Kirk’s boner racing to the rescue is also nothing new.
Turns out the hot alien chick is a spy for an alien villain named Krall (Idris Elba, unrecognizable under heavy rubber) to decimate the Enterprise with his CGI swarm of Galaga-thingies (I hate CGI swarms – insects, spiders, locusts, mecha-bots, etc. – a cop-out eyestrain wank), in search of the artifact that Kirk wielded in the movie’s first comedic action scene. Krall wants to insert the artifact into the air supply of the Escher globe to turn everyone into aliens, or sap their human-ness or something – all we know is: THAT’S the McGuffin that Krall wants and that Kirk is trying to get, with his Sweet American Right Hook.
It’s quite a dire situation for the Enterprise crew, as the main stars are scattered across the alien planet after evacuating their annihilated ship, with the rest captured by Krall and forced to listen to his Bond Villain Evil Plans.
Separated from the gang, Scotty (Simon Pegg) encounters another hot blond anatomically perfect alien chick, Jaylah (Algerian actor/model/dancer Sofia Boutella), whose “home” is a decrepit, downed Starfleet ship called The Franklin. They discover Krall was the once-human captain of this abandoned vessel, and has turned into an alien through the cunning use of forehead makeup.
Directed by Justin Lin (FAST & FURIOUS), and screenplayed by Simon Pegg and Doug Jung, I find it funny that Pegg, the same guy who has written himself as the hero in his action-comedy films (SHAUN OF THE DEAD, HOT FUZZ, WORLD’S END) resorts to writing himself as the damsel in distress in this action-adventure film, watched over by the stronger woman, much like his character in the MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE series. I guess we can give him kudos for writing such a powerful female role model (but then, the feminists must ask themselves, Is kicking ass the measure of a woman? Isn’t that what defines the weakness in men – someone who lashes out rather than thinks it through? And why is this female an alien? Does that negate the nod to strong human women?…)
Kirk, Bones, Spock, Scotty and Chekov (Anton Yelchin) meet at the Franklin Starship and locate Uhura at Krall’s base. Kirk asks, “Can you beam them out, Chekov?” “No, there is geological interference blocking the signal”– Of course there is, which precipitates the John McClane Sweaty Wife-Beater Rescue – Kirk’s hero-ride on a motorbike, looking like Jon Bon Jovi. (The filmmakers go for that annoying gambit of making scores of hologram Kirks ride around to befuddle the guards. If it’s giving them as much eyestrain and annoyance at over-use of CGI in modern movies as it’s giving me, then it’s succeeding.)
Krall escapes nonetheless and the gang has no way to chase him, until Jaylah offers, “You take my house and you make it fly!” meaning they should fire up the decrepit Franklin starship, to which Scotty has a pragmatic science retort: “These things were built in space! They’re not meant to take off from an atmosphere – they’re called starships for a reason!” He’s absolutely right! Calling to mind all those STAR WARS bullshit shots of Star Destroyers hovering over a city, or X-wings taking off from a planet and spiking through interstellar space. I’ve pointed this out for decades, but for the first time ever in either STAR WARS or STAR TREK, this idiotic practice is addressed! (Although it’s not explained: The propellant required to achieve escape velocity in something as gargantuan as a starship would outweigh the ship itself if it were to take off from an atmosphere, or try to fly around in one.) Yet – up she goes, the Franklin Frankenstein, making a mockery of physics, taking off like an old Datsun that needs a manual push down a slope.
The big spaceship climax scene makes zero sense, as the Franklin chases Krall’s ship through the Escher space station, unable to reach Krall due to being separated by city pathways. The chase is ended when the Franklin suddenly rises up from under a body of water, causing Krall to smash into its underside. But to come up through a body of water, it means they punched a hole somewhere else to get INTO the body of water – a hole where the water is now leaking out doing countless trillions of damage to the space station, not to mention probably drowning thousands of families. But then, interstellar starship operating in atmosphere – AND UNDERWATER! – gives them license to do anything they damn well please.
Comes down to punching. Haven’t we been here before? Kirk versus Krall in a little dome where the filmmakers have no idea how gravity works. For this final fight, Krall turns into Idris occasionally, for the same reason Marvel doofuses keep taking their masks off to talk – we need to see real emotion, not some dog-poo mask. Idris makes a great tragic villain, too far gone to regain his humanity, yet not alien enough to defeat a puny human in basic punchaboo…
The coda is quite touching, when Kirk, who had put in an application to be a Vice Admiral at the Escher complex, turns it down after he asks the Admiral, “Vice Admirals don’t fly, do they?”
“No, they don’t.”
Kirk: “Where’s the fun in that?”
He is thanked by the Admiral for his daring mission success, and replies: “It wasn’t just me. Never is.” The somber look in his eyes made the tears edge mine. Michael Giacchino’s evocative, sparkling soundtrack does the rest.
In another office, Spock is given Admiral Spock’s personal effects, and he finds a picture of the old crew – taken during STAR TREK VI: THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY. Now I’m just outright crying. (Consider: aren’t those old people meant to be these young people in an alternate future?)
Director Justin Lin displayed some creative chops in putting this movie together, and wraps it as elegantly as he started: final scene is a bookend to the early 3-shot of Bones, Kirk and Spock – now the three are in profile, watching the new Enterprise being constructed, as their crew gather round, and the construction goes into fast-motion… accompanied by that prime directive narration, “Space, the final frontier…” with each of the cast getting one line, proving that going where we’ve been before is not always a bad thing.