Sunday, July 31, 2016

Where Everyone Has Gone Before

Much in the same way that Star Trek Into Darkness lacked any genuine darkness, so does the latest film in the rebooted Star Trek franchise fail to live up to its title. There is little new, or original, or beyond in Star Trek Beyond, but it does have the saving grace of not being quite as stupid as its predecessor. It also manages to have moments that are truer to the heart of the original Star Trek series than any in the two previous films. But while these moments are evocative of the original, they also lack much in the way of originality.

Star Trek Beyond opens on an Enterprise three years into its five year mission, and like the prime universe James Kirk in the episode The Paradise Syndrome, NuKirk (Chris Pine) has grown a little weary of his mission, so much so that he is considering transferring to a vice-admiralty position on a shiny new star base called Yorktown. In a scene mirroring one in The Wrath Of Khan (a film that the new productions have been obsessive about restaging one scene at a time) Kirk and McCoy (Karl Urban) have a drink and discuss birthdays and career options. In the original Kirk was lamenting the promotion that had taken him out of the center seat, while in Beyond it’s the captaining he wishes to escape. The film might have broken new ground with the introduction of Sulu’s (John Cho) new status as a gay man, but for Star Trek, that was on the cutting edge of promoting tolerance and acceptance of different people all the way back in the 1960’s, this could qualify as a case of ‘too little, too late.’

Word of a ship in distress leads Kirk and the Enterprise crew through an uncharted nebula to the planet Altamid, where they are attacked by a swarm of small ships that quickly rip the Enterprise into pieces, leaving most of her crew dead or captured. Kirk reaches the surface with Chekov (Anton Yelchin) and the alien captain who had requested assistance, while Spock (Zachary Quinto) and McCoy crash a swarm ship they had appropriated into a different location. Scotty (Simon Pegg), the only other crew member not captured by the aliens, runs into an orphan/scavenger named Rey Jaylah (Sofia Boutella) who promises to help him locate the crew if he will assist her with some engineering problems. Sulu and Uhura (Zoe Saldana) are prisoners of the alien antagonist, Krall (Idris Elba), who is looking for the component of an “ultimate” weapon that was stored on the Enterprise, and that Kirk was able to hide before leaving the ship.

The film follows each group as they overcome injuries and obstacles to reunite and figure out away to stop Krall. Quinto and Urban as Spock and McCoy prove the most adept at channeling the essence of the original characters. Jaylah leads Scotty to her home, the long lost Federation starship Franklin, which is repaired, and as the crew are reunited becomes a means of both escape and of thwarting Krall’s plans to use his new weapon against Yorktown. There are a ton of continuity problems with the Franklin that might annoy hardcore fans, but the real problem is how uninteresting the whole story is. There is a twist on Krall’s identity that doesn’t have much impact. His whole beef with the Federation is rather vague, and is not significantly clarified when we learn who he is. Elba does as much as he can with the part, but even with the twist there is not much to the role. Jaylah might have been a more interesting character if we’d not already seen an orphan scavenger with superior technical and fighting skills six months ago in another movie.

Of course by Hollywood Summer Tentpole Blockbuster logic the film has to end with massive property damage, this time inflicted upon the over-designed Federation Starbase Yorktown, the home to millions of beings. Yorktown looks very cool, but the station’s M. C. Escheresque design is neither practical nor likely possible. I won't spoil the resolution but nothing very original happens. Some of the visuals even reminded me of Guardians of the Galaxy. At the best it is all adequately entertaining if inevitably forgettable. But it was nice to see a glimpse of the old Star Trek again, even if for the most part it was buried under the layers of noise that pass for film making in Hollywood these days.

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