Star Trek Beyond (2016) (a film review by Mark R. Leeper).

August 24, 2016 | By | Reply More

Justin Lin of the ‘Fast & Furious’ films directs the new ‘Star Trek’ film with an adventure a little scaled-down from the previous film and much more like an episode of the original TV series. We are given a lot of action, as we might expect with Lin, but the story has an old MacGuffin plot, searching for a super-special thingamajig. Look for a new character for the series. Otherwise not much has changed.

Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10

STAR-TREK-BEYOND-5

Justin Lin directs ‘Star Trek Beyond’. Lin was a new name to me. This is the third episode of the rebooted ‘Star Trek’ film series. J.J. Abrams directed the first two. I prefer more ideas and fewer action sequences than Abrams favors. Under the hand of Justin Lin, there seem to be even fewer ideas and more action.

The original series did all they could to have the episodes playable in any order. Only the later series provided an actual arc to the story. It makes a better story with characters and situations that develop. People who noticed the interchangeable property of episodes referred to the ‘reset button’, which undid any major changes in the episode. But in ‘Star Trek Beyond’ they go back to the resetting and never has it been so obvious. There is what appears to be an irrevocable change to the series. Don’t you believe it. The change is being blithely undone at the end of the film. Except for the death of Leonard Nimoy, I see little reason why ‘Star Trek: Into Darkness’ could not follow ‘Star Trek Beyond’.

The plot of the new ‘Star Trek’ film gives the impression of being fairly complex, but it falls apart under scrutiny. It might well have been titled ‘Star Trek III: The Search For Macguffin’. Okay, well, it is ‘Star Trek III’ of the episodes set in the current universe. It has a MacGuffin plot. We are supposed to wonder what this artefact is all about but it is extremely hard for even a sensitive New Age Guy like myself to commit and really care about the fate of another MacGuffin after I worried through three long films about the fate of The One True Ring but that is another story.

We are introduced to the MacGuffin in the opening sequence and it hangs over most of film as the reason everybody is doing what they are doing, whether they realise it or not. That is just what a MacGuffin does. When we do find out that the MacGuffin is some part of a weapon that has mystical properties but you have to expect that because, hey, this is space, and who knows what is out there? The script is reasonably well-written but perhaps better suited to an hour-long episode. Director Justin Lin fills time with action scenes to bridge the plot developments. That would be more or less expected of Lin who is known for directing the ‘Fast & Furious’ films short on plot but long on action.

The screenplay is written by Simon Pegg (who plays Scotty) and by Doug Jung (a new name to me, though I am intrigued that he is working on a Science Fiction thriller to be called ‘The God Particle’). One good touch is that there is less humour than in previous films. In this case less is more. When ‘Trek’ writers try to get funny they have Scotty walking into bulkheads or getting stuck in the plumbing. One good touch is that they point out that the Enterprise has a particularly vulnerable spot to be a target for an attack. The neck that connects the saucer to the warp engines is an obvious target for a physical attack. This is the first time an enemy seems to have noticed the vulnerable spot and it makes up for lost time.

The script does provide a plot point to explain why Ambassador Spock (the late and lamented Leonard Nimoy) is exiting the series. The series owes a lot to Nimoy and now it will have to go on without him. On the other hand, there is what will almost certainly be a continuing character, Jaylah (played by Sofia Boutella) whose character looks like she was inspired by Darth Maul. One very good touch is that the villain at the end of it all turns out not to be evil. He believes what he is doing is good.

Also not really explained is what is the gigantic urban space station, the Yorktown, doing in space. It has a population in the millions. That raises the question of what are all these people are doing on it. I am sure some people with Starfleet doing business with it might want a place like this. But who are the people on the Yorktown, how did they get there and why are they there? It is like building a complex of luxury condos in Lapland, only on a much bigger scale. This is one of multiple spacecraft that have been given the name Yorktown.

One scene dropped in our lap is never fully explained. Either flying though a nebula or perhaps flying at hyper-warp speed, give us a nifty looking image of the Enterprise cutting through streams of something. We see it only once and I do not think we are told what it represents. If it looks nifty, don’t ask. Speaking of a nebula, the Enterprise is directed to go to a planet in such-and-such nebula. This is not a very exact directive. Nebulae are hundreds of light years across.

It may be a function of the theatre where I saw ‘Star Trek Beyond’, but two people I discussed the film with and I all had trouble making out the dialog. It was the same problem we had with ‘Interstellar’. It may be just a case of ‘in space nobody can hear what you’re saying’. Much too often dialog melted into the sound effects which were many and densely packed. The visual effects are also many, complex and intricate. In this case, that may be more of a virtue. The views we get of alien geology and even a little entomology, to pick an instance, are detailed and many do not look to me like terrestrial formations. They are delightfully alien. Scenes inside of spacecraft are similarly detailed and if they have any drawback, it is that they do not stay on the screen long enough to be appreciated. Not surprisingly there are ever more aliens with rubbery faces. But, of course, they are all humanoid. After all, how could anything intelligent not be humanoid?

Going from this film to watching some of the original series, the older sets look fairly threadbare. There is really too much detail to appreciate in part because most of the scenes are in a dark visual style. One would almost not believe that the old series and the current film take place in the same universe (which I guess they don’t. Over the series there is less talk and more action. I might have preferred the talk, which is where all the ideas could be found. There were good ideas in ‘Star Trek Beyond’, but you had to listen for them. In fact, the villain’s motive for all he is doing is arguably the right thing to do and we know he is wrong primarily because he is opposing the good people of the Federation.

I rate ‘Star Trek Beyond’a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.

Mark R. Leeper

(c) Mark R. Leeper 2016

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Category: Films, MEDIA, Star Trek

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