Watching Star Trek Beyond is like seeing a straight-A student get a C on a paper: You know they can do so much better, and it’s disheartening to see them deliver such sub-par work, probably because of too much weed-smoking and pre-pubescent lusting. For everyone else it would be a solid, possibly above-average work, but for them, it’s just mind-boggling.
I say mind-boggling because given a franchise with two incredibly impressive, and entertaining entries before it I couldn’t believe how often I was looking at my watch. I just wanted this movie to be over SO BAD—which means a lot considering it’s a movie about spaceships and laser guns. Not because it’s necessarily bad, but because it’s extraordinarily unspecial. I sat squirming in my seat knowing that there were two great, modern Star Trek movies I could be watching at home, but instead I was watching one that had all the same characters and angles with none of the passion, drama or…well…jenesequa that made the last two so special.
The sad thing is the movie doesn’t start out that way. In fact, it begins in a very spirited, delightfully weird way, as Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) tries to make a deal with a race of pygmy-dinosaur looking creatures. Then, it transitions into a thoughtful meditation on the arduous nature of space travel, as we hear Kirk entering in his space log about how his days—traversing the galaxy, mind you—have become monotonous and dull. We see a doubtful Kirk, wondering if this is really the life he was meant for. Over-privileged space generation, I say.
But then—BOOM, BANG, ZIP, KAPLOW! The Starship Enterprise is attacked by a swarm of space bots, and they’re forced to crash-land on a foreign planet. At first I thought this fascinating. Take such a climatic, devastating scene normally reserved for climaxes, and throw it at the beginning. This leaves plenty of room to challenge the characters’ sense of purpose—all on an alien planet.
Once they hit the planet, though, is when I realized there’s nothing interesting on the surface. Any depth to Kirk is immediately washed away as we see he’s not really in a vulnerable, contemplative state, but is just easily bored. Not to mention, all we see of the planet is drab, grey rock surface, and all the other characters go unexplored and are shoehorned into scenes to take up time, and in order to remind you they’re all in this together writers Simon Pegg and Doug Jung pair each strayed crew group two-by-two
Take for instance Mr. Sulu (John Cho) and Uhura (Zoe Saldana). The two have almost no chemistry or really anything to talk about. They spend all of their time simply reacting to the villain’s evil, plans and giving very disapproving looks. As a result, these interesting, classic characters are treated more like props than humans, which is tragic, especially for Sulu. In this film a certain aspect of him is revealed, but if you were to lean over to your friend to complain about the hygiene of the plump man next to you, you would miss it entirely. It’s never brought up again, which is woefully unforgiveable, seeing as how important and fascinating it would’ve been to explore. It’s like it was hastily thrown into the mix to say, “Hey, look how progressive we are!”
Then we have Kirk and Chekov (the late Anton Yelchin). Kirk, the once engaging, devil-may-care rogue, is replaced by a predictable movie hero who is only slightly meditative, who only occasionally has some funny reactions to his surroundings, but is mostly a bore. With him is Chekov, who says things in a funny Russian accent. Comedy!
However, there was a glimmer of hope in the pairing of Spock (Zachary Qunito) and Bones (Karl Urban). The uber-logical nature of Spock and the blunt, down-home realism of Bones make for a sweet, unique dichotomy not seen in previous Treks. Spock faces a morality dilemma after the death of the older Spock (played by the late Leonard Nimoy), and Bones is there with simple, no-nonsense advice. They have a sweet moment while talking about the nature of life and death; I just wish it lasted more than a moment.
Then for the “entertaining and fresh” storyline we have Scotty (Simon Pegg) teaming up with a new alien badass, Jaylah (Sofia Boutella). The latter is the standout of the whole flick, not only because she literally kicks the most ass, but because Boutella plays her with such commanding confidence. Boutella is such a primal, natural actress which makes her perfect as the rough-and-tumble space scavenger. Sadly, like everyone else, she is given little depth to really make her seem just as unique as she is cool. But with everything else the movie is lacking, her little bit of cool goes a very long way, even though Scotty calls her “lassy” about a bajillion times. I thought the dog Lassie would come wandering into frame after a while.
As you can see, these sparse storylines and environments account for so little in the way of importance or human drama it just seems meandering. Nothing is being explored emotionally between the characters that when they do team up to finish the baddie, I don’t feel like I’m seeing evolved characters tackling a new threat. Instead, I’m seeing unchanged characters shout things at each other and then having them pass it off as the overall message—which is marketed as unity through struggle. It’s easy to be unified when there’s no drama challenging that unity.
Sure, I’m sure anyone arguing with me would say the villain is the conflict—which is true. A story is only as good as its villain. But the bad news is this villain is not good. In fact, I’ve never been so bored by a villain played by such a tremendous actor, Idris Elba as Krall. Gone are the personal, sinister villains of Nero (Eric Bana) and Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch) of the previous films, who had such immense presence and passion behind their schemes. Here, we get a slurry, lizard-faced mess whose plans go little beyond, “destroy it all!” As well, only spends time around the sad team of Sulu and Uhura that his personal conflict with the rest of team is nonexistent. When he and Kirk bash it out during the climax the emotion amounts to, “You’re bad, I’m good, let’s bash each other.” There’s no gravitas to any of it. Not to mention under such heavy makeup Elba looks less like an imposing villain and more like a rough-skinned dildo.
Underneath the mess that is the character development and plot is a movie trying to be about unity through immense struggle, but the characters spend so little time being explored that it amounts to nothing. The ingredients are there, they are just glossed over for…what exactly? Special effects and set pieces? Sure those are splendid and the humor between the gang is as infectious as always, but it means nothing if there’s no depth to go with it. Simple can be fun, but Star Trek Beyond is so simple that it’s simple-minded. It could’ve been better, it should’ve been better, and if my watch-looking means anything, it means explosions and banter can only entertain one for so long.