After 5 years of exploring the farthest reaches of space, James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) has become disenfranchised with the monotony of day-to-day life aboard a Star ship. But as he contemplates departing from the Enterprise, a distress call from an unknown world pulls the crew back into action where they’re attacked by a mysterious alien species led by the villainous Krall (Idris Elba).
A mild improvement over 2013’s frustratingly grim Star Trek Into Darkness, Beyond has a more light-hearted, fast-paced tone that feels like the modern Star Trek film that J.J. Abrams promised with the 2009 reboot. Unfortunately, Abrams relinquished his directing duties once he had the chance to make an actual Star Wars film. In his place. Fast and the Furious alum and director-for-hire Justin Lin took the helm. Lin tries to spice up Beyond with forced action sequences, and he actually includes a perplexing motorcycle chase for no apparent reason. Why, in a future with flying ships and alien villains did he have to go there?
Beyond has a melancholy tone that resonates through the first act, and Kirk’s downhearted mood inhibits the plot development. That changes as soon as the surprisingly unimaginative action takes place, and in the end, the film becomes just a rehash of the same old Star Trek trope where the Enterprise is stranded on a remote planet and Kirk and his crew have to save the day.
Having to adopt the iconic personas of such well-known characters is no easy task, yet the leads fully inhabit and embrace their roles. Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto own their interpretations of Kirk and Spock, while Simon Pegg (who’s also one of the writers) skirts around self-parody as Scotty. The rest of the crew is also adept, but they’re given surprisingly little to do beyond playing up their stereotypes.
It’s too bad the director flounders with the material, because the cast is still as charming as ever. Beyond is at its best when the crew of the Enterprise is together playing off the natural chemistry the cast has built up. So why would the writers choose to split up the crew for the majority of the film’s running time?
And why did Lin hide Idris Elba under a mountain of make-up and prosthetics and give him guttural monologues to spit out? Elba is a skilled actor who teems with natural charm, and yet his role could have been played by any faceless stuntman in a Halloween mask.
Writers Simon Pegg and Doug Jung use our familiarity with the franchise in place of actual character development or plot, relying far too much on self-reference and winking at us instead of creating something fresh and exciting. While there may have been some validity to the negative critiques of Abrams’ 2009 reboot, at least that film felt alive and energetic.
It's no more apparent Star Trek has gone stale than when you see an iconic shot of the Enterprise rising up from destruction. Once a dramatic and energizing effect, the shot is now just routine.
The technology looks alien, almost to a fault. Star Trek Beyond feels sleek and foreign to the point of losing credibility. Sure, the TV series used particle board sets while Abrams leaned more toward practical environments, but Beyond feels like a weird coupling of the two aesthetics.
The film spends far too much time trapped on the alien planet, and honestly, this is a trope that rarely works. Instead, the plot and all the villain-fighting feels like nothing more than a minor inconvenience for the crew, since we know that undoubtedly they’ll make it back into space in time for the climactic battle.
Although Pegg is well versed in the Star Trek universe (it’s said he got the writing gig because he was such a huge fan), his script is a shameless retread of where the franchise has gone too many times before. By winking at its audience, Beyond tries to hide its predictable script that feels more like an extended episode of the show.