I have rather stopped watching movies in the cinema in recent years. This is partly due to my lack of leisure time, but for the most part it’s due to the lack of actual good and interesting movies. It appears to me that the overwhelming part of movies in the theatres are by now either re-makes (such as Spiderman) or sequels and mixtures of already well-known ingredients. I would consider Inception and Interstellar to be the last truly original movies in the past years (and, yes, most probably I’ve overlooked something – but considering the fact that I could overlook that would prove my point).
Paying respect to the franchise that I have spent so much time with, I watched Star Trek Beyond in a cinema near me the other day. Since I’ve only seen it once and there is not yet much access to background matrial, I can’t really say that many deep things about it. The punchline would be: it was entertaining.
Note: This text contains heavy spoilers. Don’t read it unless you have seen the movie, or unless you wish to be spoiled. You have been warned.
Star Trek Beyond tries very hard to be a modern Star Trek movie, being released in the 50th anniversary year of the franchise. One can tell from the optics, from the lines, the various references to the old movies and even to Enterprise. They also hid several small in-jokes in there (some more hidden, some less), such as the seat belts which are only present in the old-era ship. They really tried this time, and I believe they nearly succeeded. Beyond does not feel like classical Star Trek, it’s a modern action movie – but then again, you couldn’t make classical Star Trek episodes on the big screen these days. You couldn’t even make classical Star Trek episodes on the big screen in the old days (I don’t believe, Darmok would work in the cinema; and neither Wrath of Khan nor First Contact are the beloved Star Trek from TV: they are action flicks of their respective time as well).
The credit goes, as far as I can see, to Simon Pegg, writer of the movie and actor of Scotty. He did a fine job of trying to translate Star Trek to modern-day cinema. In the end, we have got a very entertaining movie with a proper balance of action and comedy, a tiny bit of character development and some very nice sequences of the entire crew working together. On top of that, there are interesting new aliens (in the first place of course Jaylah, but I also liked Ensign Syl). Jaylah was a really interesting character – if only Scotty had stopped calling her “Lassie”.
The fact that the crew works together to achieve their goals had been lost in the franchise. Both Next Generation and Deep Space 9 had been ensemble-shows. Each character was important in their own right, and they all got their moments to shine (not all of those moments were well-used, sadly, but nonetheless). Towards the final seasons of Voyager and for most of Enterprise, this had been dropped altogether. Problems were dealt by Janeway, Seven of Nine and the Doctor (only briefly assisted by the rest of the crew, dropping Chaktotay and Harry nearly completely) or by Archer, T’Pol and Trip. In Beyond, the crew works together, which is, of course, some sort of the message of the entire movie: the villain does not believe in teamwork, so he’s beaten by a strong team. This makes the movie like sort of an ensemble show again, down to the point where they complete each other’s sentences, and the even split the classical Star Trek monologue so that each of them has a couple of words in it.
I really liked the scenes of McCoy and Spock, who pay homage to the old series, but who also push the boundaries of the chemistry between these characters. Those two are the buddies of this movie, not Kirk and Spock. And still, Uhura gets her time with Spock again.
Completing the ensemble-topic, I have really come to appreciate the cast, especially the actors of Spock, Uhura and McCoy. They do a really fine job of not impersonating the well-known actors but of giving their characters a new level of personality (which comes from the different experiences they have had in the alternate reality).
I totally loved the looks of the starbase, a huge city in all three dimensions of space. The really put some effort in this one, as well for the looks of the old starship that had stranded on the planet. Also, the small attacking ships have a great and scary look to them – well done, there.
Many of the action-ideas are nicely executed, let me just name the capture of the three rogue ships by letting them smash in the starship, or the Sulu’s really awesome lift-off sequence of the ship by letting it fall down a cliff (only slightly cheesy be having it strike a mountain during its rise).
Now to the rather weak parts of the movie: there’s too much fast-paced action for my taste. Especially towards the destruction sequences of the Enterprise, I had lost track of what was going on. Too many quick cuts, too many close-up shots. I wasn’t even aware of what I should be frightened of, anymore. Action is well and good, and it has its place, but the thing is: I need to understand what’s going on. In particular, in 3d this is quite tough to deal with (as an aside: I’m not fond of 3d anyway and I think it sucks that there are too very little instances to watch the movie in 2d).
Then, the villain. I’ve even forgotten his name, and I didn’t really get his motivation. That’s sad, because they tried to construct a motivation that is tied into the Enterprise-stories of the Xindi and the Romulan War. They also tried to elaborate on this but – hey, couldn’t you do a little better than that? It’s already tough to understand why the villain is as bloodthirsty as he is, why he actually has a grudge against the Federation (he was a maco-soldier in duty to Starfleet, after all – what did he fight for, then? Even if they screwed him over, why not avoid the Federation completely?), why he wants to destroy the starbase, and what did he need that artifact for? The whole storyline doesn’t really fit. The revealing plot-twist isn’t explained either – why did Uhura notice that particular guy in that old movie (is it a log?) to be their villain? It couldn’t have been the looks, but was it the voice? No explanation. What is it that this artifact does – the death of Ensign Syl is shown, but what is going on there?
Then, the deus ex machina planned in advance: there was no actual reason for McCoy and Spock to steer the enemy ship. They didn’t do any good there (because music would save the day, huh?). But on the other hand, we needed a rescue option for Kirk 20 minutes later. In the meantime, they had plenty of time to return to their crewmates, and they didn’t have anything else to do either. But, they stay away in their enemy ship to save the day in the nick of time. Seriously?
Then, the music. Oh, how I loathed the first trailer of this movie when it came out (there’s a reason why I don’t even embed it here). It looked like some random action-packed over-the-top funny movie. When I re-watch the trailer now, it strangely fits, but there’s this music-topic. Rock music saves the day to stop the attack on the starbase. That might have been a nice idea, but it’s executed so strangely and with a ridiculously large explosion… my dear.
Then, is there a reason why this movie is called Beyond? There’s not so much of undiscovered countries, or of breaking frontiers. Even though the villain is talking about the frontier that pushes back – they deal with an unknown part of space. That’s what they always do, that’s their job on this mission. I actually expected a deeper mystery of some sort.
To conclude: too bad that they had to cling to their clichés so much. Too many fist-fights, in the end a fight with the villain to the death, even a ridiculous motorcycle sequence… possibly necessary for success to the box office, but it wouldn’t have been necessary for a proper movie. Especially since I am going to forget most of my impressions of this movie soon. It’s not like memorable movies that make me think even today. But it was fine entertainment and it will keep the Star Trek universe alive.