Friday, July 22, 2016

Pleasantly Cliché-Laden: Star Trek Beyond, Reviewed



This review originally appeared on SFist.com.

Early on in Star Trek Beyond, after a failed and ultimately comedic attempt at interstellar diplomacy, Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) wearily confesses in his captain's log that his life has "started to feel...episodic."

It's both a sly nod to Star Trek's television origins, and a meta commentary on the film itself: It's the third entry into latest Trek reboot, but it's also the one that comes closest to feeling like an original Star Trek episode.

Kirk and his crew are sent on a mission to rescue a stranded ship, only to find themselves ambushed by an alien swarm that attacks and ultimately brings down the Enterprise. The non-red shirts of the crew manage to escape alive, but land on different parts of the planet.

Uhura (Zoe Saldana) and Sulu (John Cho) are captured by alien warlord Krall (Idris Elba), who is after a missing part of a weapon of mass destruction that's hidden on the Enterprise. Meanwhile, Bones (Karl Urban), tends to an injured Spock (Zachary Quinto), while Kirk, Chekov (Anton Yelchin), and Scotty (Simon Pegg) get help from an alien named Jahla (Sofia Boutella) who kind of looks like Gwen Stefani if Stefani had joined KISS.

Star Trek Beyond takes some risks by destroying the beloved Enterprise, (don't worry, that's not much of a spoiler, and it's not the first time it's happened), and separating the crew through the majority of the film. But the rest of the movie is filled with some pleasantly Trekian cliches, like a planet covered in fake rocks, and fist-fights with aliens. (Those aliens seem to number in the millions when in their swarming spaceships, but we only see a handful of them walking around, and they occupy only about an acre of land on the actual planet.)

Simon Pegg co-wrote the movie with Doug Jung (who has a cameo in the film as Sulu's partner, in a scene that is very short and perfectly subtle), so it's filled with the kinds of humor and references you'd expect. Yes, Bones says "Dammit Jim!" and Spock raises an eyebrow more than once. Where the script falters is with the villain, and that mega-weapon that never makes a whole lot of sense.

J.J. Abrams directed the last two films in the franchise, but he's presumably a little occupied with another Star franchise right now, so has handed the directing helm to Fast & Furious franchise director Justin Lin. While the Fast & Furious films are probably best known for their elaborate action sequences (of which there are plenty here), Lin has also proven to have a good handle on ensemble casts, allowing their familiarity and looseness with each other to come across on film.

Star Trek has always centered on the crew's camaraderie and strengths, and the film's best moments come when Bones and Spock are working together while bickering; or Kirk comes up with a "plan;" or Chekov figures out how to get a ship online one more time (Anton Yelchin will be missed). If Star Trek Beyond were an episode of the original show, it probably wouldn't rank up there with the best of them. But it would still have you coming back the next week, wanting more.

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