Star Trek Beyond

There is an old Trekker adage that Star Trek movies follow the even formula, as in, all the even numbered Trek films are good, Khan, Voyage Home, Undiscovered Country, First Contact etc.  With the new, JJ Abrams inspired “Kelvin Timeline” Star Trek series, the hope was that all the films would be good.  But, the even numbered film formula has devolved into the law of diminishing returns; Star Trek Beyond, the 13th Star Trek film, unfortunately lives up to both adages.  The mistakes of Star Trek Into Darkness are front and centre again and Beyond, with a new writing team (led by Simon Pegg) and director (Fast and FuriousJustin Lin), may aim for the stars, but they cut the fuse too short.

Star Trek Beyond begins three years into the Enterprise's first five year mission and the stresses and strains of the mission are starting to show.  Kirk’s (Chris Pine) opening on board his ship (after a nose leading diplomatic mission with the macguffin of the film) shows how the “Kelvin” Kirk is struggling to cope with the demands of leadership and the requirements of command.  It is an interesting opening, reminding us that this is not the Kirk we are used too.  The Enterprise is headed to the Federation’s latest deep space spacestation, which is more like a planet, Yorktown (and not the Yorktown that was disabled at the beginning of Star Trek 4: The Voyage Home).  Here we see that Kirk has applied to become the Vice-Admiral of Yorktown, the strains of starship command becoming too much to handle.  We also see Spock (Zachary Quinto) being told of Spock Prime’s death and coming to a decision about the fate of his people, the same choice Spock Prime told him not to take.  Into this mix arrives, from the fortunately nearby uncharted nebula, a damaged ship broadcasting in an unknown language.  The commander of the ship, once popped in the universal translator, tells the gathered Starfleet officers that a man, Krall (Idris Elba), has captured the crew of her ship and needs help to save.  The Enterprise with her sensors (which just happen to be the most sophisticated in the fleet, with the exception of the new starship being built at Yorktown, hint, hint…) is the ship for the job and Kirk gathers his crew from shore leave and heads into the nebula, where they are promptly ambushed and boarded for the weird bit of rock from the odd opening scene.  At this point, you can almost hear Simon Pegg saying “see what we did there”.  Anyway, the crew fight back and the bit of rock becomes the fulcrum of the battle that is slowly and literally ripping the Enterprise apart.  What is left of the crew abandons ship and the Enterprise crashes to the planet surface and Krall and his men start rounding up the crew in their search for the rock.  Separated, the various issues the command crew have are on display as they struggle metaphorically and physically to get back together.  This in itself is classic Star Trek and, for a few moments, it works well and gives you hope.  But you quickly see that the whole tale is missing that most important Star Trek element, Heart.

I won’t go into too much more detail about the plot because, frankly, if you have watched the trailers and the latest TV spot that is on Facebook all the time, you kinda know the rest of the film.  The plot is, at its base, the same as a fourth season Next Generation episode called The Wounded (S04E12, Den of Geek's recapp here), in which a rogue Starfleet captain goes off the reservation and tries to restart the war with the Cardassians.  It is a great episode that looks at the aftereffects of war and is a brilliant Chief O’Brien episode that Colm Meaney owns.  The issue with Beyond is that it plays it's Krall cards close to its chest (if you ignore the advertising).  When the big “reveal” of what is left on the planet in the nebula, your first reaction isn’t one of surprise but why that wasn’t that the story in the first place and why the hell Krall didn’t think about THAT, considering he knew all about it.  Beyond being a classic Trek rescue tale would have worked so much better than the poor twists and turns Pegg’s script bring us.  You know you’re in trouble when a Trekker walks out of the latest Star Trek film telling the mate he brought along how good Public Enemy and the Beastie Boys sound in Dolby Atmos.  

Star Trek Beyond, I fear, is the last voyage we will see for a while.  Beyond, while visually impressive and the planet's design is very classic Trek, misses what makes Star Trek so important, the heart and bond of the crew.  Karl Urban’s Bones and Pegg’s Scotty hit all the right notes and are the best things in the film, but the underlying bond of the crew is missing.  While this may be the point and the adventure binding them back together is the goal, it falls flat.  Pine’s rather vacant Kirk and Quinto’s overly distracted Spock mean that we struggle to engage with our heroes.  Justin Lin is a good director, his Fast and Furious films are great, insane, fun, but the choices he makes here, whip pans in the middle of the action and during sweeping shots of Yorktown and Enterprise, are out of place and you miss seeing what is going on.  This is space opera and not a car chase.  Say what you will about JJ Abrams’ box ticking style of directing, he understood the heart at the centre of Star Trek and nailed in the first film, let it slip with  Star Wars distraction while making Into Darkness and now the important elements of a Star Trek tale seem to override what makes Star Trek's heart really tick.  Star Trek stumbled along for years with poor tales but with the bond of the crew and the heart of the whole ethos intact.  That is why Star Trek was reborn with the original films and how The Next Generation survived the first two terrible seasons before exploding into life in season three.  Star Trek Beyond isn’t terrible, it has some great moments, but it lacks the soul and compassion that makes Star Trek great.  Star Trek Beyond feels like one of those forgotten, second season TNG episodes, not terrible, but not great either.  It worries me that we may not see beyond Beyond or, at least, until the next reboot and new timeline.

Star Trek Beyond is released in the UK on Friday 22nd July 2016.

UPDATE July 18th: Typical, as soon as I post this saying there won't be another Star Trek Kelvin film, Paramount announce one with Chris Pine and his Kirk's Dad, Chris Hemsworth, attached.  So, time travel ahoy!  Terribly imaginative... Den of Geek story here.