Saturday, September 29, 2018

Star Trek Beyond (2016)

I think it is safe to say that Star Trek Into Darkness wasn’t what most people expected in the follow up to the 2009 reboot film. Even though I enjoyed the film and found a lot to get behind, I was still disappointed that the movie went in the political thriller direction. For the third film in the franchise I was hoping the writers would get us into actual space exploration with the adventures and moral quandaries that tie to it. The first good sign was that the third film was going to take place during the five-year mission into deep space. The first concerning sign was that it was going to be directed by a man known for his work on the Fast and Furious franchise. Maybe this film was going to go a little too far Beyond.


About half way into the five-year mission into the frontiers of space and Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) is feeling a bit of malaise. He struggles to live up to his father’s famous heroism. It is as if all the exploring isn’t yielding anything new for the crew. To top it off, his birthday is just around the corner. Dr. McCoy (Karl Urban) tries to cheer the captain up with some fine liquor and the prospect of docking at the impressive new star base: The Yorktown.

While at the Yorktown the crew is contacted by a survivor of a downed survey mission deep in a mysterious nebula not too far away. Kirk gathers his people and hurries off to help. While exploring the nebula, the Enterprise is attacked and decimated by a swarm of alien vessels. Most of the crew is captured and brought before a being called Krall (Idris Elba) who is crafting a dastardly scheme to wipe out the Federation presence in space – and he’s going to start with The Yorktown. It is up to the Enterprise crew to work together with a new ally, Jaylah (Sofia Boutella) to figure out Krall’s plan and stop it . All the series regulars return to their roles including Spock (Zachary Quinto), Sulu (John Cho), Uhura (Zoe Saldana), Checkov (Anton Yelchin) and Scotty (Simon Pegg). Will this be the Enterprise’s final Star Trek Beyond?

Good Points:
  • Includes some great moments for the crew, especially Spock and McCoy
  • Sports impressive visual effects and sound design
  • The action scenes are well executed 

Bad Points:
  • Focuses so much on action that we lose the wonder and scope in the story
  • Some may find the 20th century touches to be too distracting
  • Feels obligatory instead of special


This film is a solid entry in the franchise, but never rises to more than that. The acting is very good as usual, and the main crew has some great moments of interplay. But the main antagonist and his plot aren’t terribly interesting, although they provide some interesting thematic elements. Overall it is the rigid focus on action over all else that hurts the film. It keeps Beyond from being all the memorable or engaging. Not a bad film, but a hollow one.

Scores(out of 5)
Visuals: 5
Sound: 5
Acting: 4
Script: 3
Music: 4
Direction: 4
Entertainment: 3
Total:  3

In Depth Review

Take a good look now, because she isn't going to look this good for long.
I planned to write about Star Trek Beyond a lot sooner than I actually did. But I kept running into two problems. The first was that I wasn’t terribly motivated to watch the film again: never a good sign. The second was that I was having trouble separating what the film was trying to be versus the film I wanted it to be. Those two things were just not going to line up no matter how badly I wanted them to. What frustrates me most about the movie is that all the ingredients are in place to make this entry in the franchise one of the best, but time and again decisions were made that keep the film swerving from what Iwanted it to be.

We weren’t going to get a true adventure of the Enterprise on her mission. I wanted to see something like a supersized episode of the series, but with major impacts to the crew and even the Federation. It didn’t have to include an antagonist at all (I would have cheered if it didn’t’), but it would pose a challenge to them and force them to work together to solve the problem. Or maybe the outcome wouldn’t be quite what they hoped. They could have taken an existing episode of The Original Series and adapted it, twisting it for the new timeline. Or they could have come up with something original and intriguing. Elements of this do happen in Beyond, but not in the way hoped.

I think the little guy just photobombed this screenshot.
But let’s put aside all that for now. As I mentioned, this movie had a different target in sight and let’s see how well it works with that target in mind. But what is that target? Well it really feels like they were looking to crank up the action and intensity in Star Trek Beyond. They were shooting for some big budget visual spectacle and they were looking to keep all the members of the crew involved in the challenge and use all of them to stop Krall. They were also hoping that Idris Elba’s natural gravitas would convey through the heavy makeup and provide a villain for the ages.

When it comes to the visuals, Star Trek Beyond brings us some really amazing stuff. As a whole the revamped series has done a great job with the visual effects. This film goes for some really dynamic and interesting sequences that require a lot of impressive visuals to pull them off. You have The Yorktown itself, a sprawling space fortress encased by a clear sphere. It looks spectacular, and when we get some close up travel sequences through it near the end, all that detail and work really comes through.

Nice shot of The Yorktown through the Enterprise view screen.
I also like the insect-like design of Krall’s swarm ships and artifacts on the lost planet itself. They give us a new and otherworldly culture to examine (if you can slow things long enough to get a good look at the design). Krall’s soldiers and the antagonist himself are formidable designs as well, vaguely reptilian but with a mix of other looks reflecting all the castaways left on the planet. Jaylah is probably the most visually dynamic design with her white skin and stark black markings. But we get several non-human species in this film and they all look pretty interesting, and very tied to the look of the aliens from the previous two films.

Where the visuals really step things up a notch are the creatively conceived and executed action scenes.Star Trek Beyond is packed with them and they offer plenty of wow factor to the film. The attack and destruction of the Enterprise is unlike anything we have really seen in Star Trek before (and admit it we’ve seen The Enterprise destroyed quite a few times now). They fluid motion of the swarm as they rip the ship apart is really something else. Later in the film while Kirk and Chekov search the downed Enterprise saucer for key information another action scene erupts. This one ends with the mammoth saucer flipping over as its thrusters fire. It creates a constantly moving and dangerous battleground for our heroes, and a smashing doom for one of our villains.

Um... yeah, this is a thing that happens. Did they learn nothing from the
dune buggy incident in Nemesis?
Jaylah’s holographic projectors play with illusions in the film, and that makes for a couple of interesting action scenes. It was fun to see multiple Jaylah’s kicking butt all around a befuddled Scotty. But it is the use of them with the motorcycles that really creates one of the most unusual scenes in any Star Trek film. Of course it is also one of the scenes that some fans of the franchise feel goes a little too Fast and Furious and less Beyond. I think it works well enough and leads up to an exciting finale for that scene.

Then you have the escape of The Franklin, the battle against the swarm and the final threat of Krall on board The Yorktown. These action scenes occur one after the other and give us so many different and exciting visuals that it really is impressive. We have never seen Star Trek tackle this kind of action before, hell even Star Wars would be hard pressed in this comparison. The finale involving shifting gravity with Kirk and Krall facing off is really handled well, and ratchets up some nice tension.

The villains lair has a very interesting look.
Director Justin Lin continues with Abram’s constantly moving camera work for Beyond, and combined with his well-executed action it all works great. Lin also opts to return to the brighter color palate of the 2009 film, and I’m really pleased with that. This movie is overall much less dower and grim than the previous one in a visual sense. That is pretty impressive especially considering they destroy The Enterprise in this film.

Matching the visuals is the sound work. Everything here sounds like Star Trek as envisioned in the modern age. Added to it are all the action-oriented sound effects. That means plenty of explosions, metal ripping, ships zipping by and phasers firing. We get some great rumbles as The Franklin attempts to take off. The swarm provides some of the most dynamic sound of the whole series. It’s just a real treat of sound design and Beyond’s action focus gives us plenty to chew on.

Bones knows that Spock is in serious trouble when he sees the Vulcan smile.
We can’t have a modern Star Trek film without Michael Giacchino returning to compose the score. This means he brings back his main theme from the 2009 film, as well as the Spock theme created for that film (although it is hardly used). None of the new material for Into Darkness makes an appearance, but that makes sense considering all the new themes for that film were specific to characters in that movie. Instead we get three new themes.

Sadly his theme for Jaylah isn’t all that interesting. It feels pretty light and never makes much of an impression. Giacchino gives it a couple of full-throated renditions during the film, but most of the time we hear it in fragments. I wasn’t even aware she had a theme until I got the score and heard the suite version of it.

"Sorry Krall, you're uglier than Thanos."
More impressive and often used in the film is Krall’s theme. Like many of Giacchino’s villain themes, this one is simple but powerful. It is played in many guises throughout the film, sometimes flowing like the swarm, other times bombastic and oppressive. It is a malleable theme and one that suits the villain quite well.

The best new material is for the star base Yorktown. Here Giacchino takes a page from James Horner and creates an almost romantic track for this location. It is lovely and can be adapted with choir to have an impressive power behind it. Giacchino gets to use the theme as bookends, and it provides a bit of a respite from some of the more bombastic action tracks. The performances of The Yorktown theme are the highlight of the score and well worth seeking out on their own.

She doesn't look at that friendly here, but she is one of the good guys.
As a whole the score to Star Trek Beyond is a solid effort. Giacchino does some spectacular stuff with his main theme for the series, really putting it through the ringer during the destruction of the Enterprise sequence. But it is the Yorktown theme that is most memorable musical concept for the score. To me it is the weakest of the three Star Trek scores he created, but it is still very good and well worth adding to your Star Trek film music collection. As always it supports the film very well.

The cast of Star Trek Beyond nails the roles, with the material they are given. Pine feels like a more mature and in control Kirk, closer to the version we are familiar with in the series. He adds a weariness to the part that is much different from what we saw in the previous films. The rest of the cast fills in the parts we are familiar with; a bit more time is spent with Scotty and his interaction with Jaylah. We also get some wonderful sequences with Urban’s McCoy and Quinto’s Spock with the banter that we expect between these two based on their interaction in the original series. It makes me realize how much I missed that kind of dialouge in the previous films.

"Uh, you're not gonna hurt me with that, are you lass?" "Only if
you keep calling me lass."
For the new characters, the performances are solid. We have Boutella doing a very good job as Jaylah. She gets the most screen time of the new characters and gets to develop her personality a bit more. Her interactions with the crew are handled well, and she does a very good job in her hand-to-hand fight scenes.

Idris Elba is fine as Krall. The part doesn’t give him all that much to do other than threaten and glower for the bulk of the film. When we finally get his backstory and the film allows Elba to do some more with the role it is almost too late. By that point the film is moving at breakneck speed and can’t afford to slow down to allow Elba’s talents to shine. In some ways it is a thankless role and one that just about any good actor could have handled, no need to get one of Elba’s talents. I’m guessing there was more to the character before rewrites and editing whittled him down so much.

"Ok that is a little too strange for a strong new world."
The script is the main issue for the film. Star Trek Beyond came out on the fiftieth anniversary of the whole Star Trek franchise. As such, I think a lot of fans were expecting something celebratory and impressive. Something that encapsulated everything they loved about Star Trek. But that is a tall order for any film, and in most cases they can’t measure up to it. Just see how Die Another Day and Spectre were handled for key anniversaries for the James Bond franchise.

For a lot of fans the script to Beyond didn’t really capture much of the spirit of Star Trek. But what defines Star Trek is different for many fans. Instead it felt like the creators were looking for a new audience with this film, one that was more focused on over the top action set pieces and cool characters than the wonders of space exploration or a thematic look at the human journey. I’ve seen some folks accuse Paramount looking bring in big audiences in from overseas (specifically China, going by the huge Chinese corporations credited in the opening of the film) and thus reworking the script to suit the potential new audience.

Star Trek doughnuts! You'll love 'em!
But Star Trek Beyond feels like a creation that is trying too hard to please everyone and ends up not really pleasing anyone. Fans of the classic series don’t feel like the film represented what they wanted. Fans of the new cast from 2009 didn’t get a whole lot of time to spend with them (since most of the movie moves from action set piece to action set piece). Finally you have the new audiences that were supposed to flock to this film for the big spectacle, but were not given a real reason to care about any of these characters.

A good example of this is the destruction of The Enterprise. It was included for a number of reasons. First because the Enterprise was destroyed in Star Trek III, and since this is the third film of the new series, there is some interesting symmetry there. Second, it made for an amazing action scene. Third it would raise the stakes in the narrative, making it nearly impossible for the crew to escape the planet.

Um, you dropped a little something back there.
But Beyond stumbles here. Yes The Enterprise was destroyed in Star Trek III, but it was also destroyed in Generations and in the last two movies alone we’ve seen the ship take a hell of a beating. Seeing massive destruction on board the ship and to the ship doesn’t have the punch it should. This is compounded because we have only spent a couple films with this Enterprise. So seeing her desteroyed will not have the same punch as the same action occurring in the previous films, because both of those ships had years and years of television episodes aboard her. And finally, this film suffers from the same issue that Into Darkness had with the “death” of Kirk. It is resolved so easily that there is no time for us to feel any loss. In the 1980s we had to wait years and through the bulk of The Voyage Home before seeing the “A” edition of The Enterprise. Here is happens during an epilogue.

Beyond does do some things right. It gives us a few moments of character interplay that works great. We get a thematic core about the power of unity and cooperation versus hate and divisiveness. You don’t really get more Star Trek than that. It gives each character a moment: to save the day, or come up with a clever plan, or be a key actor in their scene. And yes, it has some impressive sci-fi spectacle moments that are hard to top.

And Kirk crashes the Franklin too. Just keep him away from star ships!
Yet the film stumbles time and again. Krall’s motivation is interesting, but delivered in such a throw away manner that it become unimportant. He is a threat because he hurts people and plans to hurt more. But his presence is not really felt in the film, despite the fact you have Idris Elba playing the part. And by writing a story that centers around the actions of an antagonist, you need to do the work to make that antagonist feel dangerous and ever present. Beyond never manages that, and I will say that Into Darkness did a better job building up Khan, even though he was a retread villain.

On some level the movie is entertaining, and fun popcorn entertainment at that. It does have nods to all the previous films and even to some of the episodes from The Original Series (I’m looking at you HUGE GREEN HAND). Director Justin Lin did an outstanding job with the action scenes. They are some of the best of the series and he creates a great pace for the film. It never slogs, it balances the humor and surprises pretty well. He never really lets up off the gas once the swarm attacks the Enterprise, and yeah, that is an impressive feat.

See! The huge green hand from "Who Mourns for Adonais"!
But does it make a good Star Trek film? Well, good is about as far as we get here. I think most of us were hoping for great. The shackles were off and the alpha quadrant was wide open to explore. What we got was an action packed thrill ride that ended up feeling a bit empty by the end. Star Trek Beyond will join Insurrection and The Search for Spock as solid entries in the series, but not ones that you revisit all that often. If this is the final voyage with this crew, it is a bit sad, because I think they were capable of much more. But at the same time, it was an enjoyable journey, and there is always a place for that.

"So, who is up to save some whales?"
Had to include this nod to the poster to Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

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  1. You know, when I saw the title of this blog post, my first thought was "I should get around to seeing this entry in the franchise." When I saw the pics embedded in the post, however, my response was, "Oh yeah, I did see this one." The point is not that my memory is failing -- I'm not yet more (or less) absent minded than ever -- but that the movie wasn't particularly memorable. The pictorial jog was enough to bring it back though, and like you I enjoyed it well enough, but the thought never occurred to me to see it twice. I won't be buying the DVD. Nonetheless, I will see the next entry in the franchise.

    1. Yeah this entry may be the most forgettable of the series. Even "Insurrection" had moments that were a little bit more memorable, such as the face stretching for the villains and... well that's about it. "Beyond" is a solid entry, but it could have and should have been more than that.

  2. I'd say Beyond was predictable, formulaic--something like that. I have to say the biggest turnoff for me was the makeup designed for Jaylah. I can't put my finger on it exactly, but it's just ugly. Sometimes I wish Star Trek would be a bit more alien with their aliens like Star Wars or Trek's past on TV. Trek's aliens have become predictable too for the most part--just biped lifeform, people in makeup. What happened to the mechanical menaces, the blobs, the malevolent super computers, heck even an inverted ice cream cone like in The Doomsday Machine. You'd think having Simon Pegg writing parts of the screenplay there might have been more humor, I might could have enjoyed that aspect more. And although there's always some humor, it didn't necessarily stand out.

    What if there was a movie and they are exploring space, they encounter an alien or some conflict, overcome it, go to relax at a waystation, encounter another conflict, and a third, but with each one it gets tougher and tougher to overcome the incident. You'd have a build-up each time. Just a thought, I'm no script writer. :)

    1. I agree that Beyond didn't really go all that much beyond anything from a script point of view. I really think that Paramount is stuck when it comes to Star Trek. They know what worked previously and they don't want to stray too far from it, except if they feel that the change is safe. So Justin Lin is brought in because his movies made a ton of money, not because he is a huge fan of Trek (although he said he was).

      I get the feeling that the script was rewritten quite a few times. The way they handle Krall's backstory and motivation feel like proof of that. It is just thrown in there in a really lame scene involving watching his backstory play out via captain's log. I feel that a good screenwriter would have had that play out more in dialogue and actions instead.

      As for the aliens, I know Star Trek explained away why all the aliens in the alpha quadrant look similar. I can't remember if it was in Voyager or Enterprise, but there was some kind of explanation. But I'm with you, I would love for them to encounter something a bit more alien. Another reason I love "The Motion Picture' because V'ger really is unlike anything they've encountered before (unless you count Nomad). But if Paramount is holding the reins, then they are thinking that on "Wrath of Khan" or "First Contact" clones are going to work for any Star Trek film.

      I like your idea, and that is more what I was hoping for. You could even create a through line that connects those adventures in a way that leads to a bigger crisis at the end. Seed for a sequel or just resolve it there and have it impact our heroes or the Federation exploration in some way.