Opinion has been sharply divided over the two rebooted Star Trek films spearheaded by J.J Abrams. Many long-term fans of the sci-fi behemoth have been underwhelmed, dismissing the films as action films set in space. Others with less investment in the property, myself included, have found great enjoyment in them for precisely the same reason.
Which brings us to Star Trek Beyond (2016). Abrams has departed directorial duties to work on another sci-fi property you may have heard of, leaving Justin Lin to steer the ship, assisted by Doug Jung and actor Simon Pegg on writing duties. Whilst you can certainly see the different creative stamp on the film, the basics remain the same. There is little of the exploration focus that is a traditional hallmark of the series, with basically all the action taking place in a couple of locations and not too much mystery surrounding the locales in question. This is again is predominately an action film, just lent a fantastical edge by the fact it takes place far off in to the future, far away from here. However the film has a definite comedic focus, which seems to be where the new creative team has focused their efforts. The first sequence is full of levity, essentially unheard of in this age of ever darker blockbusters. Here the focus on Chris Pine hamming it up and a silly visual gag that lands really quite well. Immediately following that, Pine’s Captain Kirk assumes a reflective mode with a voiceover pondering the toll and philosophy of long-term space travel. The film as a whole leans more to the lighter end of the scale out of these first two impressions.
Following the opening sequences, the film launches into the main narrative. And to be honest, there is not a whole lot of it. This is certainly the weakest aspect of the script, and realistically the story could have comfortably fit into a half hour TV episode. There is a spectacular opening battle that results in the crew of the USS Enterprise being scattered all over a foreign planet. This is a promising setup. However it really only serves to remind you that so much of the charm of this current crop of films comes from the dynamic and patter between the crew. This part of the film settles into more of a low-fi survival tale rather than the grand space opera we glimpsed exhilaratingly earlier on. Eventually though, the crew is all back together again to hit the skies and battle the big bad (though the stakes never actually feel all that big). Idris Elba is a reasonable enough villain, though pretty undercooked. He also looks disturbingly like Christopher Walken’s Green Goblin. Overall though, the film looks wonderful. The effects and ship design are not only slick, but also creative. As for the action, it is best in the broader scale intergalactic dogfights rather than at closer quarters, where the editing makes it all a little hard to read.
There is a real sense of fun that overwhelms any sense of stakes in Star Trek Beyond. Sure it would have been nice to have a more substantial plot, but it is also refreshing to have a blockbuster unafraid to mix comedy throughout and to do it quite well. The writing of the character of Spock, who can so easily be tiresome and contrived, is surprisingly witty and manages to boost stretches of dialogue that can be a little clunky. Similarly Karl Urban’s Leonard McCoy MD has a shtick that should definitely grow tiresome by the end of the film, but the cheeky performance and the assured comedic writing makes him the film’s best character. Urban and Zachary Quinto as Spock are just two good performances amongst a sea of them. Surprisingly it is only really Pegg who underwhelms and Elba is a little wasted. But to counter that are fun, believable turns from Chris Pine in the lead, John Cho who is kinda brilliant here, Sofia Boutella and of course the late Anton Yelchin. There is also a really nice, very subtle tribute to the devastating loss of Yelchin late in the film which is perfectly pitched.
There is nothing revolutionary here. But if you are after a blockbuster rendered with a light touch that is becoming increasingly rare, then there is plenty of fun space-based action to satisfy you here.
By Tim Hoar.
Director: Justin Lin
Writer(s): Simon Pegg and Doug Jung
Starring: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, Idris Elba, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Simon Pegg and Sofi Boutella
Runtime: 120 minutes
Release date(s): Australia: 21 July 2016
Tim Hoar is a Canberra based writer and lapsed podcaster. In addition to movies he enjoys schlocky television, mid-1990s professional wrestling and making his baby giggle. Tim tweets from @beer_movie and blogs at www.beermovie.net.