With a tired but excited disposition, we sat down last night to an official Star Trek triple bill, knowing that it would be a bittersweet experience in light of the recent loss of Anton Yelchin. Star Trek we had seen many times, Star Trek Into Darkness we hadn’t seen for a long time and the film actually sat much better with us this time. Then as midnight struck, we got to see the long-awaited Star Trek Beyond. Below you will find our spoiler-heavy review of Justin Lin’s third instalment in the revived franchise.
Before we jump in we want to address Anton Yelchin. It goes without saying that we are torn up at his loss and that the Star Trek franchise simply won’t be the same without him. Viewing the three films back to back was an entirely different experience, knowing about Anton. The scene in Star Trek where Captain Pike asks Sulu if he took the parking break off of the Enterprise, for example, proves especially hard to listen to and loses its joy entirely. Each time Anton is was on screen it brought us a pang of sadness, but also a feeling of pride to see him performing so tremendously well in what is undoubtedly his most famous role. Everyone loved him a Chekov and Anton is simply irreplaceable, to the point where J.J. Abrams even publicly stated recently that they won’t be recasting Chekov but will retire the character instead. It’s a smart move by J.J. and a commendably respectful one.
We’re pleased to say that Star Trek Beyond does provide Chekov with a little more focus than usual (the whole film is more thoroughly an ensemble piece), which will forever stand as a proud final Star Trek film for Yelchin. Post credits, just after ‘In loving memory of Leonard Nemoy’ there follows a short ‘For Anton’, which closes out the film on a heartbreaking note. We half expected that it might have been to late for Paramount to slot in any farewell to Anton, but at least there is that one tributary line and that line is no small thing.
Star Trek fans have been trepidatious about Fast and the Furious director Justin Lin helming Star Trek Beyond from the start, but we feel that the film’s flaws don’t lay with Lin, but rather with the film’s script. The writing credits for this film span five writers, two of whom are Simon Pegg and Roberto Orci, and we wonder if this might be a case of too many cooks spoil the broth, because this is the only film of the three that holds that many writers. It is also the first without Alex Kurtzman as a writer and the first to include Simon Pegg as a writer (who is known for being a walking Star Trek bible).
Put simply, for a film with the title ‘beyond’, the film spends an awful lot of time one single planet (where villain Krall has downed many vessels, stranding their sparse survivors), which is great in terms of showcasing alien worlds, but it’s a move that limits the film’s narrative potential for a lot of its screen time. Where the third instalment in a franchise should escalate and elevate, instead (remembering that we watched all three back to back) Star Trek Beyond felt by far like the least thrilling of the three films.
A lot of this comes down to Krall himself (Idis Elba). It’s no fault of Elba’s, who does a fine job, but once Krall starts showcasing how he drains other characters’ lives into order to sustain himself (much like a certain villain in the disastrous Warcraft: The Beginning, which we don’t want to be reminded of) his villain begins to lose his quality, both visually and narratively. From this point onwards, Krall becomes much less terrifying and sinister, as his body slowly changes back into a human form (Idris Elba’s normal appearance), and by the film’s close you’re left feeling like Krall didn’t amount to much at all.
One thing that the film does do well is maintaining the style and tone of the previous films. What we mean by this is the jokes still feel in the same vein and are as funny as the preceding films, the characters still feel like the characters that we know and love, and the visuals still feel fully in line with what Abrams started (the choice to keep the same score throughout all three films aids in this, also). In this respect, it does feel like a sleek and seamless step forward, despite the change of directors, but it’s a third instalment that is all too lacking in any real excitement.
Certainly the film’s opening is its prime marvel, as the Enterprise is torn apart by Krall’s ships. Pieces of the Enterprise are severed away, like limbs being hewn off and hurled aside, until only the saucer-like core of the ship remains, which then crash lands on a planet. This is where we meet who we feel is the film’s greatest strength – the character of Jaylah (Sofia Boutella).
Stranded on the planet, just like our crew (but Jaylah for much longer), Jaylah is confident, beautiful and unknowingly funny too (she calls Scotty “Montgomery Scotty” and Kirk “James T”). While the films falls down in other ways, Jaylah is its constant, providing an intriguing backbone throughout. Almost unrecognisable under the heavy make-up, Boutella’s naturally heavy accent (which is a French accent in real life, although she is Algerian-born) is put to great use and when the film closes out with an offer for Jaylah to join Starfleet, you’re left very happy at that prospect.
We went in with high expectations and we were underwhelmed with Star Trek Beyond, after watching all three films back to back. Moments like the motorcycle scene (which probably has nothing to do with Lin) felt a little forced. Even more forced is a scene in which the the song from the film’s trailer is quite literally used by the crew as a weapon. In between such failings, however, you will have moments like Jaylah sitting in Kirk’s chair or Chekov just being excellent, all of which balances the film out.
Star Trek Beyond is by no means a disaster, it just feels a little weak and uneventful sitting next to Star Trek and Stark Trek Into Darkness. We deserved something a little more impressive for a third entry and we’re left feeling like we’ve having to settle for less. As an entry in the wider whole, Star Trek Beyond will have to do, and who knows – it might play a little better on a second viewing.
Image credits: Paramount Pictures