REVIEWS STAR TREK BEYOND
More power to your Elba
A lifelong Trek fan gives his verdict on the new film.
When Star Trek Beyond’s first trailer was released, there were howls of outrage from certain quarters at how action-centric it was. “Wait and see,” others advised, “There’s bound to be more to it.” Very sensible. And there is. But not a great deal more. One suspects that ultimately what people will remember will be broadly the same things which leapt out in that concentrated one-and-half-minute burst. Like that ruddy motorbike.
Not that there’s anything wrong with Star Trek doing action. The view that Trek is fundamentally philosophical is to some degree exaggerated, a fan myth partially fostered in the ’70s by creator Gene Roddenberry, who was happy to see himself placed on a pedestal as a visionary thinker. Fact is, action’s been a key component from the moment Kirk ripped his first tunic. But it’s vital to embed that action within a compelling narrative.
Undeniably, Fast & Furious veteran Justin Lin has moulded some impressive sequences here – beginning with extended destruction-porn, as the Enterprise is shredded by a swarm of thorn-like alien craft which bombard it kamikaze-style. Every time you think the ship can’t take any more of a battering, some fresh indignity is visited upon it. When the wreckage comes to rest you half expect a giant foot to give it one final stamp. The sheer brutality is breathtaking.
With our heroes stranded on a remote planet, reliant on their survival skills, the action continues, with similarly shipwrecked scavenger Jaylah (Sofia Boutella) kicking ass, and Kirk doing diversionary motorbike leaps to help spring his crew from chokey, and a thrilling fight high above the streets of Federation starbase Yorktown (whose impossibly twisty-turny geography recalls both Inception and Spaghetti Junction). Much of all this is as dizzying as it is exciting, with both characters and viewers sent tumbling around as, say, the crew fight sneering reptilian villain Krall’s forces in the corridors of a ship in freefall.
However, some of it’s as difficult to swallow as the convenient discovery of a motorbike. Co-writer Simon Pegg says the approach was basically Original Series Hulks out – “as if an episode had been injected with gamma radiation” – but at times it feels like the Enterprise crew have had a superhero-origin retcon, particularly the now seemingly invulnerable Kirk. After hours of incidents that should guarantee shattered bones and lacerations, the worst he has to show for it is a black eye. We even see him fly – kind of. Surely what we want from our very human captain is regular heroics, not superheroics?
Idris Elba’s Krall is the point around which the script’s more substantial elements coalesce. The idea, apparently, was to embody
Pairing up Spock and Bones is a particular delight
the violent separatism we see in the headlines, creating a figure who underlines the Federation’s collectivism by standing in stark opposition to it. Sadly that doesn’t come across clearly. Krall seems more like a disgruntled avenger, out to get his own back on the Federation – which after Nero and Khan feels rather old hat. There’s a good film to be made about “the Frontier pushing back” – perhaps by questioning if the Federation is a colonialist power – but this isn’t it. And the character’s Big Twist leaves your mind spinning with unanswered questions. Once again, this franchise seems too eager to move on to the next stunt – to shrug, “Pfft, maybe we’ll explain it in a prequel comic one day.”
Where the film triumphs is in the way it nails the basic character dynamics. Pairing up Spock and Bones is a particular delight, affording us the chance to see the Vulcan crack a smile and handing Karl Urban a quiver-full of zingers. But elsewhere the film struggles to find absorbing character arcs. In Kirk’s case we’re told that he’s been ground-down by the routine of exploration… granted, this is the Kelvin timeline version, but the notion of James T suffering such ennui seems so alien to his nature that we’re not buying it.
The result is a film which, though less likely to infuriate than its predecessor, also proves less interesting. Into Darkness’s recycling of Khan was something you could debate for days. For all its mass-appeal pleasures, Beyond is a movie that begins to mentally recede from view the moment the taste of popcorn fades from the tongue. Ian Berriman
Beyond goes heavy on the action, lighter on the philosophy.
Scotty was really done with this game of Risk.