More power to your Elba

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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.

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