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November 12, 2016

Star Trek Beyond

by Franz Patrick


Star Trek Beyond (2016)
★ / ★★★★

In terms of quality, Justin Lin’s “Star Trek Beyond” is several solar systems away from J.J. Abrams’ “Star Trek,” an exciting, thrilling, mainstream summer blockbuster that has more similarities with the classic “Star Wars” pictures than it does with its original material. There is great energy and freshness to Abrams’ film, elements that are sorely lacking in this installment, resulting in a dour, slow, expected foray into what is supposed to be uncharted regions of space.

It begins from an interesting perspective given that the USS Enterprise and its crew are in their third year of a five-year mission. Led by Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine), we feel the team’s fatigue which stems from the day-to-day responsibilities that have begun to feel more like chores. From a storytelling standpoint, it works because it is a way of relating to the audience directly: Although the characters’ mission involves space exploration, what they do is still job and so there are times when excitement hits a low point. But the writers, Simon Pegg and Doug Jung, fail to take this perspective in fascinating and thought-provoking directions.

Instead, we are given a whole enchilada of action. Although they can be appealing once in a whole, it comes across as painfully standard. None of the extended shootouts, spaceships crashing on landscapes and onto one another, or even the hand-to-hand combats are memorable. One gets the impression that kinetic movements and a sci-fi action noises are simply served to appease viewer expectations rather than to challenge, question, or provoke. Put the film on mute and the images mean nothing because the majority of them are computerized anyway; there are no concrete ideas for us to hang onto and ponder over.

Because the screenplay is dirt poor, notice that even the musings of Commander Spock (Zachary Quinto)—usually the most curious and amusing of the crew—sound forced and out of place. The attempts at humor are even more awkward; the timing from the actors are there but the material’s wit is lightyears away. These exchanges are supposed to function as reprieves between the elaborate action sequences but they, too, do not offer anything of value. Over time, I caught myself actually looking forward to the battle scenes not because they are necessary better but at least they are steps taken toward the film’s conclusion.

It is said that movies within this genre are defined by their villains. Krall (Idris Elba) commands a terrifying swarm of bee-like fleet but the character himself lacks any dimension worth exploring. Some effort is put into fleshing out the villain during the final act but it is too late by then because we have ceased to care about his motivations; the special and visual effects, the noise, and other distractions have completely taken over.

“Star Trek Beyond” is missing an identity and substance. Compared to its two direct predecessors, notice there is not one moving scene to be found here that precisely digs into why this team and its members are worth investing our time and energy into. It is clearly inferior, not at all within the league of its livelier and more thoughtful antecedents.

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