The Enterprise crew are back, but with a lack of ambition and a forgettable villain, this is a disappointing sequel to JJ Abrams’ fantastic reboots.
When JJ Abrams quit as director of the freshly-rebooted Star Trek film franchise to jumpstart another space opera comeback, it seemed like this would be the latest victim of the threequelitus that plagued X-Men: The Last Stand and Terminator when their respective guardian angels jumped ship and left their established universes in the hands of less capable directors. Justin Lin, the Fast & Furious veteran inexplicably handed the keys to the Enterprise for this instalment, is no JJ Abrams. That said, the many problems this film suffers cannot generally be blamed on Lin, who carefully retreads Abrams’ successful footsteps while adding a new youthful energy to proceedings. Simon Pegg and Doug Jung, meanwhile, inject significantly more comedy into every scene of scientific exposition than Abrams’ Trek or Into Darkness had, and this is- though ultimately making the film feel more Mission: Impossible than Star Trek– a successful formula.
Frankly, the incredible cast that Abrams assembled in 2009 could make a fairly fantastic film without a director or a script: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, John Cho, Zoe Saldana and the late Anton Yelchin have extraordinary chemistry, and this is utilised more than ever before in Beyond– a film severely lacking in the plot department. Quinto and Urban’s Spock and Bones, thrown together for the middle act and handed the film’s wittiest exchanges, are standouts among the cast. Yelchin is given a larger role than in Into Darkness and is allowed to showcase briefly some of his immense talent. It is Saldana and Cho whose voices are most quiet in the ensemble on this occasion, with Uhura taking a back seat to Sofia Boutella’s Jaylah and Mr. Sulu memorable only for a culturally significant but all-too-brief revelation of a gay relationship.
Where Into Darkness was a multi-layered psychological thriller, seeing Pine’s Captain Kirk face off Benedict Cumberbatch’s deliciously-malevolent Khan, Beyond is a simple and decidedly small-scale adventure which bears none of the blockbusting weight of its 2013 predecessor. This is Star Trek: B-Movie edition, owing more to a 42-minute Original Series episode than any 2-hour piece of cinematic science fiction.
Beyond begins with an extended Captain’s Log, as Kirk records his sense of existential despair at witnessing the vastness and loneliness of space (Sartre Trek, anyone?). This is the highlight of the film. Once the action kicks in, it’s all downhill (the closest the last act gets to capturing the brilliance of the 2009 film is a short sequence that makes terrific use of Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage”). What there is of a plot involves Idris Elba’s spectacularly uninteresting villain Krall, whose motives in attacking Starfleet are as vague as his facial features, which shift and evolve from scene-to-scene until his ridiculous prosthetics are stripped away to reveal a man who looks absolutely nothing like Idris Elba. To follow Cumberbatch’s Khan was a difficult task, and Elba has failed imperiously. One wonders if Krall is intentionally one-dimensional for the purpose of evoking Original Series nostalgia: back when villains came and went in under an hour and were best presented unexciting and unmemorable. In many ways, Beyond feels like a return to the episodic nature of Trek old, losing the grand scale of Abrams’ efforts. If the franchise continues in this direction, and with a new CBS series on the way in 2017, what will distinguish the Enterprise’s big-screen outings from its televisual appearances in the future?
As great as Gene Rodenberry’s Original Series was, Beyond‘s reverence toward it is the primary source of its misgivings. Like Bond and Skyfall, this is laboured with having to serve as Official 50th Anniversary Celebration for the franchise. Other than a small tribute to the original cast (though mostly to the late Leonard Nimoy), Beyond does not succeed in feeling commemorative; rather, it feels derivative.
JJ Abrams tackled Trek from the perspective of a Star Wars fans, and gave us two fast-paced and catchphrase-heavy action movies. Lin, meanwhile, is a lifelong Trek fan, and Beyond is visibly influenced more by Rodenberry’s work than George Lucas’. That’s great, if you’re a die-hard Star Trek fan, but if you’re one of the millions of Trek cynics whom Abrams’ films brought on board the Enterprise, Beyond may be the film that causes you to disembark.