By Travis Trombley
Saying I’m a fan of the Star Trek films is getting harder to state with any confidence in the label, as it distances itself from the core themes and tones of the source material, moving towards the generic, big-budget blockbuster lacking those core defining traits.
Abrams’ original reboot in 2009 felt like an episode of the original series given a blockbuster treatment. It served as a character study first and foremost, privileging the relationship between Spock and Kirk with immense narrative weight highlighted by, but not in service of, some impressive action beats. In contrast, Beyond feels like a blockbuster given a Star Trek treatment - a movie that uses character angst more as excuses to get to the next over-the-top action sequence than anything else.
And that’s not necessarily bad - it’s not broken, like Dawn of Justice or the Fantastic 4 reboot, it’s just not the Star Trek I want.
Beyond catches up with Kirk and his Enterprise crew nearly three years into their five-year mission. It starts with a scene of Kirk failing as a diplomatic representative, which quickly drops any hint of political relevance in lieu of comedy. Once back on the ship, Kirk expresses some angst about his motivations (comparing his thrill-seeking to his father’s altruism) and the episodic nature of their quest, and Spock juggles his perceived responsibilities to the near-extinct Vulcan people and his relationship with Uhura.
Both of the these get resolutions. Satisfying ones, even, if you’re willing to shoulder the intellectual work, because the film quickly becomes far more interested in spectacle than exploring such petty matters.
After a quick pit stop at the beautifully realized Yorktown space station (if you like the Citadel in Mass Effect, this is right up there in design quality), the Enterprise is immediately dispatched into the “nebula” to help some stranded strangers. However, the nebula greets them with destruction as Krall and his swarm-like armada of ships board the Enterprise in search of a weapon; when they can’t find it, Krall takes the crew and destroys the ship. The major cast members escape their doomed home-away-from-home in a variety of forms (torpedo, escape pod, hostage), setting up some interesting dynamics in act 2.
Spock and Mccoy land together to share some banter and bonding moments usually reserved for Spock and Kirk. Scotty encounters another survivor - Jaylah - who’s handy in a fight and has scavenged and mostly rebuilt a long-lost federation starship. Conviennent, indeed. Uhura and Sulu are taken hostage by Krall, giving us a means by which to explore his background and motivations, and Kirk partners with Chekhov to root out Kroll’s plan and reunite the crew.
Of the film’s character roster, Krall suffers most. Unlike Benedict Cumberbatch’s reimagining of Khan, Krall’s character motives simply come up wanting. His beef with the federation isn’t its imperialism, as hinted by his “frontier pushes back” line, but with its emphasis on peace. Krall despises unity and thinks that struggle defines meaning. So he plans to blow up a federation space station hoping to . . . well, before I could think about it too long, something else blew up.
And thus we return to Mr. Lin’s favorite character: the action. Ranging from impressive hand-to-hand combat to motorcycle stunt scenes to high velocity spaceship maneuvers, the action in the film rarely fails to impress. While there’s never really a weight to the action as in The Revenant, it’s certainly fun to watch, especially when Lin goes big, flipping ships with characters inside and warping the influence of gravity.
Additionally - while I know I might catch some flack for this particular opinion - this movie made one of the best uses of a soundtrack in an action movie that I’ve ever seen. Sure it was ridiculous, but I audibly whooped nonetheless.
Most notable, perhaps, are Beyond’s newcomers. Sofia Boutella, who plays the striped alien-survivor Jaylah, dominates every scene she’s in. She proves her range portraying her character with a balance of confident strength and competence, childish curiosity, and fear, never one making the others less believable. Idris Elba acts the hell out of his role as Krall, playing it out with weighty, Shakespearean body language to match his menacing voice. What few words he’s given, Elba articulates with obvious precision, balancing accent and prosthetic mouthpiece with ease.
I can’t condemn the film for not being what I want it to be, but one can argue that it planted many seeds only to let the spectacle hog all the sunlight. The opening scene indicated Kirk’s failure at diplomacy in the face of xenophobia. Krall could have represented the consequence of colonialism (which could have complimented the diplomacy and expansion theme). The fractured crew could have illustrated various forms of trust and collaboration to solve problems rather than relying on convenient, pseudoscience fixes.
Gratefully, this film does avoid most of the tumbling points of Into Darkness. There’s no gratuitous female objectification or mass, meaningless destruction here. Just a lot of fun to be had, if not much to think about afterwards.