In and of itself, the third episode in the rebooted Star Trek franchise is entertaining enough, containing the usual mix of jokes and frenetic action, though after around six hours with these reinvented characters it’s hard to see where this trilogy is actually going, and therefore one wonders whether it will run out of steam sooner rather than later (though it must be said all of the cast members seem to be retaining their enthusiasm). The important crew members of the USS Enterprise are in the same position at the end of Star Trek Beyond as they were beforehand, and although there is a little relationship development here and there in this film, there’s nothing to suggest that any great masterplan is in place. That said, in a world where the majority of franchises seem to be constantly building towards something (something that never seems to arrive, in one or two cases), perhaps there is room for this kind of well-executed exercise in water-treading; the Mission: Impossible series of movies seems to be in good health having done just that for close to 20 years.
In fact, at times Star Trek Beyond plays out like a big budget, extended episode of the original TV series, much in the same way some of the earlier, pre-reboot Star Trek movies have done. Justin Lin – director of four Fast And The Furious films – has taken over from J.J. Abrams, while Doug Jung and Simon Pegg – still playing Scotty with the kind of accent that must make Scottish people weep – have taken on the writing duties. Their story revolves around little more than a desperate to-and-forth battle for a macguffin – alien artefact blah blah bioweapon blah blah blah – and it manages to incorporate giant space stations (you know, the kind with their own ecosystems where you see lots of people strolling around on big, open walkways), a quite devestating (and well-staged) assault on the Enterprise by an alien race led by warlord Krall (Idris Elba giving average bad guy), and an extended rescue mission after most of the ship’s crew are captured during the aftermath.
Yet it’s what happens in-and-around this meat-and-two-veg plot that provides Star Trek Beyond‘s most notable moments. There are a few vague attempts to make the audience care about the on/off relationship between Zachary Quinto’s Spock and Zoe Saldana’s Uhuru, though in truth the various TV and film incarnations of Star Trek have always been more notable for the bromances, and the wittiest scenes here involve Spock and the permanently catty ‘Bones’ McCoy (Karl Urban, who has consistently been very funny throughout this franchise). There are also a couple of scenes dedicated to the hesitant – though asexual – relationship between Spock and the Enterprise‘s captain, James T. Kirk (Chris Pine, now looking decidedly similar to William Shatner in his 1960’s pomp); like the TV show these great friends have been side-by-side for several years, and yet the characters seem to be unable to talk openly to one another and share their personal feelings. It’s a shame that their screen time together in this film is limited.
There are interesting touches elsewhere. It is revealed after all these years that John Cho’s helmsman Sulu is gay, and that he has a partner and an adopted daughter. The dialogue between Pegg and George Takei – a prominent champion of LGBT rights as well as being the man who played Sulu for a number of years – has been interesting to follow in light of this development. Takei felt it would have been better to create a new, openly gay character; Pegg, meanwhile, thought it was a shame that the franchise had never featured a major LGBT character, but that the film would be accused of tokenism if it brought in an entirely new person who happened to be gay. Personally speaking, I found it a welcome surprise to see this, particularly as big budget sci-fi tends to be quite shy around such matters, although you can sense there’s a bit of hesitation, as if the studio has said ‘you can show it, but you’ve got a maxmimum of 15 seconds’. Just speculation on my part, of course, but you can imagine the money men being wary of the effects that prejudice can have on box office takings, and of the ease with which the sequence can be cut for the film’s release in less-tolerant markets. Not that it should be, of course, and hopefully (a) that hasn’t been the case and (b) will not be in the future. Additionally, there are a couple of subtle and sweet tributes to the late Leonard Nimoy, it’s sad to see Anton Yelchin so soon after his death, and Sofia Boutella is a good addition to the cast as an ass-kicking alien named Jaylah.
Though the desire to work in 20th Century cultural signifiers is a little cringeworthy – The Beastie Boys’ Sabotage, Public Enemy’s Fight The Power, a motorbike – it’s a half-decent, entertaining blockbuster in a year of disappointments. Lin is known as a director of frenetic action with a penchant for busy camerawork, and there’s plenty of that as crew members fight inside and outside the various spaceships; I lost count of the number of scenes that begin with the camera turning from an upside-down position, though due to the film’s heavy reliance on crashing spaceships and controlled gravity some of it is justified. It’s not a style that I’m particularly fond of, all told, but the director seems to be popular, and as cinemagoers like spending time with these characters I dare say most will feel fairly satisfied by this film. No attempts have been made to re-invent (or even improve on) a well-turned wheel but the cast are comfortable in their roles, there are a few laughs and a few thrills, and maybe…just maybe…we’ll actually end up getting somewhere in episode four. Eventually someone – a writer, a director, anyone – has to boldly go etc. etc.
Directed by: Justin Lin.
Written by: Simon Pegg, Doug Jung. Based on Star Trek by Gene Roddenberry.
Starring: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, Anton Yelchin, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Idris Elba, Sofia Boutella.
Cinematography: Stephen F. Windon.
Editing: Greg D’Auria, Dylan Highsmith, Kelly Matsumoto, Steven Sprung.
Music: Michael Giacchino.
Running Time: 122.