Does it go beyond expectations..?
I was very lucky to be invited to attend a screening of Star Trek Beyond at Picturehouse Central on Thursday. Disclaimer: I am not the world’s biggest Star Trek fan. I watched some of the Patrick Stewart starring episodes for a period (I’ve got vague memories of it being on BBC two before/after The Simpsons..?) and I’ve seen the previous two films of this reboot, thought they were quite good, but that’s about it. The following review therefore is the review of someone who may not know everything about Star Trek but adores the Science Fiction genre. This someone also thinks that the special guest of the preview screening, the one and only Idris Elba, is pretty damn cool too…
It’s three years into the crew’s five year mission. Life aboard the Enterprise has become mundane and routine, boring even. It seems like Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) is the only one struggling, with stifling boredom, so much so he’s even applied for a new office-based job. Recent upheavals in Commander Spock’s (Zachary Quinto) life may result in his leaving too. However, when a rescue mission goes wrong, and a seemingly unstable swarm of aliens led by Krall (Idris Elba), the crew are forced to abandon ship. The crew left stranded on an unknown planet with seemingly no means of rescue and totally separated from each other in pairings they’re not used to being in – Kirk and Chekov (Anton Yelchin), Spock and Bones (Karl Urban), Uhara (Zoe Saldana) and Sulu (John Cho) with Scotty (Simon Pegg) adopted by a fierce warrior/engineer alien called Jaylah (Sofia Boutella) – the crew find themselves under attack from a new and ruthless enemy.
Of the three films so far in this franchise this easily has to be my favourite. It has an incredibly well-balanced amount of fun and serious, action and comedy, light and darkness.It’s an entertaining adventure which fully engages for the majority of the film’s 122 minutes running time. It may not push itself in terms of plot, or as seems to be the case with many of this 2016’s blockbuster releases go as far as it could/should, it’s more than successful at doing what it sets out to do. It wants to amuse and entertain, both of which it does. With spades.
Most of the film’s fun comes from the inter-personal relationships of the characters, and the majority of the film’s storytelling is rooted in these relationships. This is successful as the film does a great job at making you care about the characters – you like them and want them to survive. This is down to two of the film’s best elements – the script and the cast. As Simon Pegg co-wrote the film it’s easy to observe some fanboy & fan service elements within the script – you get the sense that he gets the characters to do things he’s always wanted them to do – along with true consideration of what the characters would actually do/say in the situations he puts them in.
Much of the plot, particularly when the crew are lost on the strange planet, seems to pay homage to the 1960s series (a fact I was only able to identify through my love of the Futurama episode ‘Where No Fan Has Gone Before’). Seeing Kirk and crew away from their ship, back-to-basics style armed with basic technology, they face seemingly insurmountable odds. Starting the film off with Kirk experiencing ennui (a feeling of listlessness and dissatisfaction arising from a lack of occupation or excitement) was an excellent touch, along with examining the realities of being stuck in deep space for 1000-odd days. It sets the film off well, establishing a tone for the movie that has heart and well as light.
The best bit about the film has to the characters, all of the cast do a fantastic job. Pine as Captain Kirk does a solid job at being the man holding the reins, even when the ship has been destroyed and his crew are missing he still retains his authority and want to do the best for his crew. Urban as Dr ‘Bones’ Mccoy is underappreciated, a superbly deadpan everyman character. Anton Yelchin gives his best performance yet as Chekov, a fact which is truly poignant considering due to his recent tragic death it is his swansong. How the franchise will address his passing is uncertain but here, when watching this film, you will rather melancholically find yourself drawn to Yelchin. His open inquisitive face and joyous enthusiasm at everything that crosses his path – a true talent who died tragically young. Yet his screen time here is a record of his incredible skill to capture audience’s attention, a epitaph to artistry the world only had a small glimmer of.
Salanda and Cho are great with the little screen time they have but are ultimately rather underused. Pegg is wonderfully entertaining as the Scot who can fix everything. Boutella as Jaylah is an excellent addition, a fantastic character who hold her own amongst the existing crew and happens to be female. Ultimately this is the Spock show, with Quinto stealing the attention with every eyebrow action. Although the film is set up with both Kirk and Spock experiencing their own personal crises it is Spock’s journey as a character that is both more fulfilling and more fun. His banter with Bones and bromance with Kirk truly make this film and cause it to be as watchable as it is.
The plot itself is fine, it’s not groundbreaking or brand new, but it does the job in allowing the characters to shine. Many elements are cliche-ridden and some of the MacGuffin’s are drowned in far too much pseudo-science. And yet this is not problematic as the characters still shine. The only ‘problem’ is how ill served Elba is as the film’s villain. Considering how long the man must have spent in make-up each day to sort out his prosthetics he doesn’t actually get to do much – his character appears to be a man of words rather than actions. This is something that is a problem bigger than the film as Hollywood really seems to have a villain problem at the moment – i.e much of its output seems to establish a great villain yet struggle with the follow-through and retaining them – but that’s a discussion for another day…
Having gone into the film with zero expectations Star Trek Beyond did not disappoint at all and was a genuine pleasure to watch. I was gripped for the first third, frightened for the well-being of characters I’d truly grown to care for, entertaining for the second third, and gripped once more for the final third. I laughed a lot and held my breath for the dramatic sections. What more could you ask for from a Summer Blockbuster?