J.J. Abrams and his team did a masterful job rebooting Star Trek for the silver screen in 2009, and then followed it up with a capable sequel that packed a few surprises and heart. The latest film however, Star Trek Beyond, saw J.J. depart for his Star Wars duties, and as a result it’s definitely lacking the magic that the first two films had. I chalk this up to the fact that Abrams didn’t direct the film, but more so for Justin Lin’s style of filmmaking, which is very fast and frenetic to say the least. Beyond isn’t a disaster, it has some genuinely great moments and more than a few nods to the original franchise, but its horribly filmed action sequences and a noticeable lack of emotion keep it from being as entertaining as it could have been.
Star Trek Beyond features Kirk and his crew in the last leg of their five year journey to boldly go where no man has gone before, and the Captain is starting to question his motivations for joining Starfleet. This kicks off the movie long plot thread about the Federation and its impact on the galaxy, and how some men are equipped to be peaceful explorers of the universe, while others can’t let go of their violent pasts. Anyway, upon returning to a Federation space station Kirk commits to one more peace mission aboard the Enterprise before stepping down to run the space station, which effectively kicks off Beyond’s main plot.
Kirk and his loyal crew head out into the furthest reaches of space to help a stranded alien find her crew, but within moments of arriving to the system she said her crew was last seen, shit hits the fan in epic fashion. This action sequence is one of the film’s best, and easily one of the most devastating attacks to ever be levied upon the storied Enterprise, which gets picked apart by an unknown alien threat that resembles a pissed off hive of organized killer bees. The sheer destructive force this threat packs is awe inspiring to behold, but unfortunately–and this is true of every action sequence in this film–it gets a bit hard to follow and process once the action transitions into close quarters combat.
Lin’s cinematography is very poor during these fact paced moments, which in concept could’ve been amazing bits of sci-fi action that would make any fan of the franchise throw up the iconic Vulcan hand gesture with fervor. The way they’re filmed just ruins the scene because it becomes work to follow what the hell is going on, so you never really can put together who is fighting who and how the mess of humanity and aliens you’re watching play out in front of you will turn out. At times I would just close my eyes to give my brain a break from trying to make sense of the chaotic action taking place. The fight scenes make the Jason Bourne fight cinematography feel well shot, and that franchise invented the horrendous shaky-cam fight look. It’s as if you’re watching a demolition derby every time the intensity of the movie picks up, so while the action set pieces probably looked great on paper, the final product leaves much to be desired.
The problem with the poorly shot action is that it makes the rather dull plot’s issues stand out more than they would’ve if the action was filmed in a way that blew people’s Spock ears off. With sci-fi movies like this, or pure action films, they don’t need a complicated plot with deeply emotional character moments, because the pure adrenaline of its frenetic scenes are enough to blind viewers from the plot issues. That’s just not the case in Star Trek Beyond, which features a narrative that starts out rough, gets very intense and enjoyable in the middle, but then becomes weak again with its climax. It just felt at times that if Kirk and the main cast wasn’t involved in some form of action, Lin would hit the fast forward button on the plot to get to more action. There are plenty of moments where characters could have stolen the show with some impactful dialogue that also had meaning to the viewer’s life and ordeals, but for the most part these moments are glossed over or poorly written in favor of the next explosion or fire fight.
This is a shame because the cast remains as excellent as ever. It is packed full of talent, and the camaraderie amongst the actors, which have been together for seven years now, is just as real as it is between the characters they play. There are some memorable dialogue exchanges between Spock and Bones, and the relationship between newcomer Jaylah, who is played by Sofia Boutella, and Simon Pegg’s Scotty feels legit. Although, Jaylah’s past and motivations are shortchanged, as well as why she’s wear she is when Scotty meets her, so she too feels a bit shallow in terms of character.
Love him or hate him, but J.J. Abrams knows how to make a fun and entertaining sci-fi film that can also honor characters that people have enjoyed for decades. I truly believe Beyond would have been a much more complete and enjoyable film if Disney didn’t pull him away with Star Wars, but Lin’s version isn’t a complete mess. The action moments that you can process really are amazing to behold, and the world itself looks super cool and authentic. It’s just the way the plot is executed and how the characters are handled that leaves this film feeling like some part of the Abrams’ formula for making decent Star Trek reboots is missing. It’s still a worthwhile movie to catch on the big screen, and looks great in 3D, so even though it’s the worst of the three Star Trek reboots, it’s still entertaining enough to warrant a trip to theaters. Just be prepared to feel like someone is constantly shaking your head every time the action ramps up, because the jittery footage is as shocking as seeing a naked Tribble.
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