More noise than signal

Star Trek: Beyond

Republished from the show notes of my other site, Fuds on Film.

Justin Lin takes over the reigns of the other successful Star franchise, what with J.J. Abrams off bothering the Star Wars universe. Not, it must be said, an announcement that filled this podcast with confidence, as while Lin set the template for the Fast & Furious‘s becoming the commercial juggernauts they now are, he also started their slide towards the exceedingly ludicrous, admittedly from a starting point that wasn’t all that far away from ludicrous anyway. If nothing else we’re curious to see how he handles this.

Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and crew are now deep into their mission of flyin’ aboot and lookin’ at stuff, ken, and if anything seem to be getting a little bored by it all. What seems to be a routine delivery of a gift to seal a peace accord goes a little south when some nervous little critters force Kirk to retreat, and log the gift into the Archives for safekeeping. Unbeknownst to him, this artefact is a Ancient Lost McGuffin of Unsual Power, and its re-emergence brings Kirk to the attention of someone who wants it rather badly.

Heading back to a spiffy new Federation starbase, the Yorktown, that appears to have been designed entirely for impressive fly-bys with no concession to practicality, they’re almost immediately sent back out on a rescue mission. A ship has crashed on a planet inside an uncharted nebula, and only the Enterprise has the advanced navigational equipment to safely traverse it. So, off they go, only to be attacked by the forces of Krall (Idris Elba), McGuffin-seeker extraordinaire.

In short order Krall and his fleet of drones unceremoniously rip the Enterprise apart, kidnapping most of the crew in the process and crashing the saucer section to the planet below. Through various combinations of guile and luck, Spock (Zachary Quinto) and Dr. McCoy (Karl Urban), Kirk and Checkov (Anton Yelchin), and Scotty (Simon Pegg) escape to the surface, although strewn about the shop.

Scotty makes a new friend in the shape of Jahlay (Sofia Boutella), similarly stranded on the planet but who was able to escape Krall’s camp after her father sacrificed himself in a diversion, allowing her to escape. She’s been busy fixing up a crashed, long-lost Federation starship, which allows Scotty to bring the gang back together. This leaves them merely having to come up with a plan to save the crew and defeat Krall before he unleashes a bioweapon on the Yorktown, killing thousands. Millions, maybe. I forget. Which is a bit of a microcosm of the film in its entirety, I guess.

It’s probably closest in spirit, if little else, to Star Trek IV: The One Where They Go Back In Time And Get A Whale And That, inasmuch as it’s a completely disposable, lightweight, throwaway adventure during which we learn pretty much nothing about anyone involved. If any characters were developed during this film, I must have been examining my popcorn at the time. I’m sure this may annoy a subset of people who take Star Trek altogether too seriously, which is to say in any way seriously at all, but it didn’t bother this casual fan.

If I were taking this seriously, there’d be a great deal to be annoyed about in Star Trek: Beyond, and most of it’s the script. There’s a cursory attempt at an overarching theme of how the Federation’s unity goes against a survival of the fittest, War as an engine for progress, but it’s laughably underserved and one of the weakest rationales for committing atrocities I’ve heard in sci-fi. But while the overarching vision is a little shaky, it’s the smaller details that would surely be more infuriating.

I can’t go into them in any detail without spoiling too much, but here’s a couple of examples. There’s a fully functioning motorbike on board that there crashed, long-lost Federation starship. You can presumably immediately come up with a list of reasons that’s nonsensical, so perhaps it’s for the best there’s no justification presented at all for its presence. There’s an audaciously stupid “signal jamming” moment that plays like a homage to Mars Attacks!, and is no less credulity-stretching. The final revelation on who Krall really is not only has no impact whatsoever, it also required an ass pull of mysterious future technology 11 to baffling effect.

There’s more, but I came here to praise Star Trek: Beyond, not to bury it, because it is an honourable film. It’s certainly flawed, and will be remembered, if it is remembered at all, as a minor work in the Star Trek canon. It will, however, not be remembered as a boring, or terrible, or boringly terrible Star Trek film, of which there is no shortage, so all in all that’s a win for all concerned. I wouldn’t advise you to rush out and see it, but perhaps gently stroll out and see it sometime, at your convenience.