WARNING!!!!! *** Lots of Spoilers ahead. Don’t say I didn’t warn you! ***
So… I went to see STAR TREK: BEYOND last night, at the Brewery Arts Centre here in Kendal. Having seen all the trailers… many times… I had a pretty good idea what to expect from a Star Trek film directed by the same guy behind the Fast and Furious franchise: not a brain-meltingly complicated or subtly plotted modern 2001, but a high-energy, wham-bam crowd-pleasing Star Trek for 2016. And I wasn’t wrong, or disappointed. The film was all those things and more… but I came out feeling a mixture of things: satisfied by some parts but frustrated by others; full of admiration for some parts, full of meh for others. It was a good film, but not a great one. It was a good Star Trek film, but not a great one. Out of the three “JJ” Star Trek films it was probably my least favourite, to be honest, and I’m not sure it was the fitting tribute to half a century of Star Trek the anniversary deserved. But it was an enjoyable night out.
The good things about it first – and there were many…
This film confirms just how well the roles were cast in the first place. Kirk, Bones and Spock are all very well established, rounded and believable, with lots of funny banter and thoughtful exchanges between them, especially Bones and Spock. Sulu has a lot more depth this time, and gets to step up to be a hero in his own right, and Chekov is… well, he’s there too, and what little he has to do is effective enough.
The opening scene is simply brilliant and hilarious, a real “twist in the tail” sequence which had everyone (I say everyone… the studio was barely half full, oddly for opening night…) laughing out-loud and was a great way of opening the film and showing just how much Kirk has matured since the end of the last film. After that there was one of my favourite parts of the film – a look at how Kirk and his crew have adapted to being in deep space and away from home for three years, how relationships have developed, how frustrated – and bored? – Kirk himself is by then… There’s a great “heart to heart” scene with Kirk and Bones that was strangely moving, too.
Another highlight: when the Enterprise arrives at “Yorktown”, a deep space space base which looks a lot like – as Bones observes – “a goddamned snow-globe in space”. It’s huge, and I mean huge; a space base as big as a city, with its own districts, railways, parks etc. Basically a deep space colony or habitat, you get the idea. And the arrival of the Enterprise at Yorktown was one of the highlights of the whole film for me, it just looked absolutely, jaw-droppingly beautiful. Seeing the Enterprise gliding through a series of transport tunnels, like some enormous ship sailing down an enclosed river or canal, was simply gorgeous. When I get the DVD I’ll be replaying that sequence a lot, I’m sure.
One of the greatest delights in the film is the “other” main character, the alien Jaylah, who ends up fighting alongside Kirk et al. In contrast to almost-invisible Uhura, Jaylah is an honest to god, wheel-kicking, baddie-punching kick-ass heroine. She steals every scene she’s in, and dominates the screen with her charisma and physicality.
Other highlights… the way they handle the death of Leonard Nimoy is simply exquisite, with Spock taking delivery of and opening a package of “Spock Prime’s”things. Opening a small box he finds a photo… but not just any photo, it’s a photo of the ORIGINAL series crew, which instantly links the modern JJ verse to the original series one, and as Spock looked at that photo, showing the original Enterprise crew in their bright red uniforms, I will admit I found myself filling up a bit…
Ok, things I didn’t like so much…
The story is weak. After arriving at Yorktown our heroes and heroine are called away, in true Star Trek style, to solve a mystery and save the day, but the plot is a tortuous and twisted one that really makes no sense, and it’s once the crew start facing up to the film’s baddie (Idris Elba, phoning in a sneering villain part) that the film “Beyond” could have been gets buried beneath the film the studios wanted.
There are too many twisty-turny special effects sequences that do nothing for the story but just give the audience a migraine and show how amazing CGI is nowadays, at the same time as proving that it’s easier to fill the screen with swooping spaceships and massive explosions than it is to plot out a good, deep story and give your characters meaningful dialogue. Don’t get me wrong; the space battle sequences are all stunningly shot, but there are sooooo many of them, and they go on for sooooo long, and there are sooooo many explosions in them that they just lose their impact. Comparing this to “Wrath Of Khan” with its legendary Hornblower shoot-out between the Enterprise and Khan’s hijacked “Reliant” is like comparing a choir-girl singing a beautiful solo in a cathedral to a thrash metal band playing a stadium gig.
…and the Enterprise, oh my poor, beautiful Grey Lady. The trailers gave it away from the start that the old ’01 gets mortally damaged in “Beyond” but it’s so much worse. She gets the living **** kicked out of her by the baddies’ ships, and doesn’t make it out of the film alive. Now, I could have accepted that if it had been done properly and respectfully – taking the crew out of the ship and making them fend for themselves was a great idea – but I really hated how disposable the ship was in the film. There’s no soul-searching by its Kirk like there was by the original Kirk in “Search For Spock”, no swirling, orchestral send-off, no lingering, loving shots of the great ship dying; just a long, long, wow-look-at-THAT! BANG! BANG! BANG! series of increasingly savage ass-kickings that wrecks her. At one point it’s obvious that the ship is doomed, and that was when the music should have rushed in, grabbed our heartstrings and plucked them like Katniss going crazy with her bow in a firefight… but nothing. NOTHING. Kirk just looks out the window as the saucer section falls towards its doom, and accepts it. Not good enough, sorry.
And when she’s crashed, and lying in bits, no-one who survived seems bothered! Not even Scotty! There seems to be no attachment to the ship at all… which is very practical and all, but it made the ship seem like just a machine, instead of a character in its own right, as it always was in the TV series and in the other movies. JJ did such a great job of making us (well, some of us; there are may people who hate, loathe and despise the reboot 01 with an absolute passion!) fall in love with the new ship in the first film, first with that glorious shot of her being built in the desert and then with the graceful orbital fly-around which followed) that I was really surprised he was so happy to just slash her to bits and throw those bits away in this film.
But maybe that was just me being too sensitive and Enterprise-huggy… I do have models of several different Enterprises lined up on top of my computer over there as I write this, after all…
…and all the scenes back on Yorktown at the end were pretty dumb, to be honest.
…and then there’s Scotty… Sorry, but as much as I love his other roles, and his writing, I really find Simon Pegg jarring as Scotty. I just don’t see it. And as for that mute, walnut-faced, whatever-the-****-it-is Jar Jar Binks dwarf sidekick of his, I can’t see the point of it AT ALL, and every time it comes on screen I just want it to be gone.
…and as for Uhura… jeez, what a wasted character this time. It’s as if the writers forgot she was actually a member of the crew…
BUT I don’t want to be too negative! There is lots to enjoy in BEYOND. In places it is genuinely funny, with some laugh out-loud dialogue and exchanges, and moving too. Jaylah is a fantastic character. There is now a real spark between Bones and Spock, like in the good old days. The resurrection of the old Federation starship was a stroke of genius, particularly the way it is “jump started” by dropping it off a cliff. Loved that.
Is BEYOND the film we all wanted to adore so desperately – the epic, inspiring film that paid a fitting tribute to the epic story of Kirk, his crew and his ship, and made us all come out of the cinema besotted with Star Trek all over again? No. No, it’s not. It really is, in places, “Fast and Furious IN SPACE”. But it is very entertaining, and funny, and in places surprisingly deep and emotional. It has flashes of the sheer joy of Star Trek, scenes of utter head-shaking beauty, and in several places takes us by the hand and leads us back to the original series, and crew, and lets us dive into our precious memories of journeying to the stars with them. I enjoyed it but didn’t love it. But I don’t love Star Trek any less for it. Obviously I’ll buy the DVD and watch it again, and again. It’s a Star Trek film, come on… !
Should you go and see BEYOND (if this review hasn’t ruined it for you! If it has, why did you read it?? I said there would be spoilers!!!)? Of course! It’s a Star Trek film! And after all, you might like the bits I didn’t, films are such personal things. Go, make up your own minds, I’m just offering my own personal observations here.
There will be another film, we already know that. At the end of Beyond we see a new Enterprise A being built (in rather jarring speeded-up style… ugh….) which some JJ-haters are already pouring their disgust and hatred onto, and press releases have already said that it will feature Kirk meeting his father, so we have that to look forward to. A new Star Trek TV series is in the works, and the franchise shows no signs of dying yet. Not sure there’s another 50 years in it, but it’s safe to say Star Trek is going nowhere for a while.
Which is fine by me.