Friday, July 22, 2016

Star Trek Beyond

The good news about STAR TREK BEYOND is that it’s as good as this series of STAR TREK adventures produced by J.J. Abrams (STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS) is going to get. The bad news is that it’s as good as this series is going to get.

Light on human drama, literary allusions, and social and political commentary — aspects of the 1960s television series that made it popular enough for Paramount to continue making STAR TREK films fifty years later — STAR TREK BEYOND is not STAR TREK exactly. However, it is a moderately entertaining action/adventure film that, to its credit, retains the humanism and progressive ideals introduced to television audiences by Gene Roddenberry in 1966.

Aside from Chris Pine (JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT), whose screen intensity matches those of his blue eyes in the iconic role of Captain James T. Kirk (originally played by William Shatner, natch), the new U.S.S. Enterprise cast assembled by Abrams for 2009’s STAR TREK (the execrable STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS followed in 2013) deliver impressions, rather than full performances. They can hardly be blamed, as the screenplay by Simon Pegg (who plays chief engineer Scotty) and Doug Jung (TV’s DARK BLUE) doesn’t give them much to play outside of standard action beats.

Zachary Quinto (TV’s HEROES) as emotionless (sometimes) Mr. Spock and Karl Urban (DREDD) as crusty Dr. McCoy do a nice job of channeling Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley, though making two films together, rather than 79 episodes of television, prevents them from sharing the sharp chemistry the script wishes to convey. Same goes for Quinto and Pine, who try to convince us that Spock and Kirk are a “great team” and best friends, even though they barely tolerated each other in the first two movies.

Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty, communications officer Uhura (Zoe Saldana), navigator Chekov (Anton Yelchin, who died in a tragic accident shortly before the film’s release), helmsman Sulu (John Cho), and the rest of the crew meet trouble in outer space in the form of Krell, an angry alien who wants to destroy a Starfleet base because...well, Pegg and Jung are a little vague. Hopes that Krell’s motivations would become clear by the third act or that we would learn more about him are dashed, as director Justin Lin, fresh from several THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS movies, moves the plot along too fast and too furious to be bothered with evolving any relationships, including the spotty romance between Spock and Uhura.

Krell is played by Idris Elba (BEASTS OF NO NATION), who is so bogged down by rubber makeup and false teeth that spoil his diction that he’s unable to give a performance. The makeup does all the emoting. A more successful addition to STAR TREK BEYOND is Sofia Boutella, the razor-legged assassin of KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE, giving an electric performance as Jaylah, a tough, smart alien stranded on the same planet as Kirk and crew after Krell destroys their beloved Enterprise. Few action cliches are left unturned, and Urban actually has to say “The fear of death is what keeps us alive” without puking.

If you had to guess which cast member wrote the film, no doubt you would guess Pegg, who gives himself the best lines and a solo subplot with Jaylah apart from the other regular cast. Editing is sloppy — shore leave at the starbase seems to last about ten minutes, and Sulu and Uhura begin a scene escaping from a cell we didn’t know they were in. The starbase itself seems imaginatively conceived, but Lin never gives a chance to get a good look at it, even though the climax is set there. Costumes are eye-pleasing and faithful to the original show, though the zippers would make Roddenberry freak out if he were alive to see them. Michael Giacchino (THE INCREDIBLES) provides a decent score (his third straight STAR TREK), and the late Leonard Nimoy’s death just prior to production is given a classy nod. The film is dedicated to him and Yelchin.

No comments: