Take the wordy slapstick of Hot Fuzz and splice it with the spectacle of Fast & Furious action and then set it in the Star Trek universe. Automatic win, right? In the case of Star Trek Beyond, Vulcan logic may be less useful than a flagon of Romulan ale.
Universal Translator: The style clash almost makes sense, if you look at it from the right angle and with the proper mood altering Trekkie devotion. Otherwise, the cinematic mixtape (literally, but more on that later) is an ambitious yet awkward installment in the Star Trek franchise.
“The more time we spend out here, the harder it is to tell where one day ends and the next one begins,” says Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) during one of the opening sequences. “It can be a challenge to feel grounded, when even the gravity is artificial.”
That adventure-weary comment from Kirk perfectly sums up much of the film, which struggles to mix what is probably the most visually stunning Star Trek film to date with moments of character interplay that generally fail to deliver the punch of past films in the franchise.
Spock (Zachary Quinto) ditches and then hooks back up with Uhura (Zoe Saldana), Dr. McCoy (Karl Urban) shines as Spock’s partner under duress, and alien outsider Jaylah (Sofia Boutella) works as the coolest character on screen, dispatching enemies with martial arts and holograms.
But where past films written by Simon Pegg (who also plays the role of ship’s engineer Scotty) like Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz give you the feeling you’re eavesdropping on a chat between besties as they navigate peril, Beyond‘s witty interplay comes off more like listless “episodic” banter (Kirk’s mood is contagious).
Along with Pegg, Beyond‘s writers include Doug Jung (who makes an appearance as Sulu’s husband), John D. Payne and Patrick McCay. Roberto Orci, who co-wote the first two films in the new Star Trek series, was slated to direct the film, but after unspecified issues arose he was replaced by Justin Lin, who helmed several of the successful Fast & Furious films. That hasty director switch may help to explain some of the awkwardness present throughout the film, but the voice of Pegg and Lin still stand out, although not quite in harmony.
Star Trek Beyond. Some web sites still list me as a writer. They are wrong. I have no writing credit. All credit due to new writers.
Roberto Orci (@realboborci) May 30, 2016
It’s hard to feel embarrassment while hidden in the darkened confines of a movie theater. But when Kirk and crew decide (through some pretty hastily explained faux tech logic) that the sonic dissonance of the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” would save the day by destroying enemy ships I buried my head in my hands.
When Kirk and crew decide that the sonic dissonance of the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” would save the day … I buried my head in my hands.
In a Pegg movie, these moments work, but in the context of Star Trek, it felt forced. Other than failing to give us our usual Trek moral allegory treats, the other major misstep is the villain Krall (Idris Elba) whose motivations take so long to be revealed that by the time we find out the truth we’ve already stopped caring. The stakes (loss of the Enterprise? destruction of a space station resort?) never seemed worthy of much more than a television episode, not a major film release.
As the third attempt to craft a fresh, alternate universe Star Trek, what started as a promising launch in 2009 (Star Trek), followed by an edgy, albeit uneven follow-up in 2013 (Into Darkness), Beyond hints that Treks fans will have to make peace with the fact that franchise producer J.J. Abrams (who directed the first two films) favors action over introspection.
For serious Trekkies looking for the complicated moral and political questions familiar to “Star Trek prime” (the non-alternate universe version of the franchise) the only hope on the horizon lies in the upcoming Star Trek Discovery series coming to CBS and Netflix.
But in the realm of film, Abrams’ alternate universe take (aka the Kelvin Timeline) isn’t waiting around for Trek purists to come around. Pegg and Lin underscore the final passing of the cinematic baton in an inelegant but nevertheless touching scene that gives the original cast (William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and the rest of the crew) a final onscreen bow.
This shift in the franchise, which will likely color the next Star Trek film (featuring the return of Chris Hemsworth as Kirk’s father) might go down easier for longtime Trekkies like myself if it turned out that Abrams’ alternate universe was actually a gradual trip into the “evil Spock” alternative universe revealed in the original series (“Mirror, Mirror”). That would be brilliant. Barring that, it appears that Abrams’ reverence for canon only applies to his producer work on the Star Wars franchise reboot, which is unfortunate.
Never send a Jedi to do a Trekkies job. But if you must, J.J. Abrams Star Trek Beyond team does a good enough job of keeping the franchise fresh and relevant enough that it should help the franchise live long and prosper, despite itself.