STAR TREK BEYOND (Paramount)
Dir. Justin Lin, Script. Simon Pegg & Doug Jung
Cast: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, Sofia Boutella, Idris Elba
Plot: Lured into a trap and stuck on an unknown planet, the crew of the Enterprise must figure out a way to defeat Krall (Elba).
I never thought it would end – the stream of reviews for films which played out their runtimes and, once I left the screening room and published another TWIM post, I would never really think about again. The whole of 2016’s mediocre summer, in fact, could be described as an amnesiac; its not that all of the movies have been absolutely horrible, but they’ve all felt so unimportant and lacking in anything discussable that I feel like I’ve been neuralysed by Tommy Lee Jones every day since May started. But, last weekend, the wait ended for an objectively good movie. In hindsight, I should’ve never doubted Star Trek to deliver: the first of the rebooted series still remains one of my favourite blockbuster movies, and Into Darkness does have its merits despite having plenty of flaws. But Star Trek Beyond is, despite its heavily-panned teaser trailer a few months ago indicating otherwise, a very solid film, full of the fun and action that has been so sorely lacking from theaters recently.
The fact that Star Trek Beyond is my movie of the summer isn’t to say that it’s fantastic; if anything, it’s more of a subtle kick at how bad this summer has been for me to be this excited over it. But let’s activate the dilithium core and warp into why this movie actually delivered. For a start, this is one of the best looking movies of the year so far, and that’s primarily down to a cinematographer called Claudio Miranda. Miranda’s shooting style, coupled with the fast action style of new director Justin Lin, makes Star Trek Beyond one hell of a film to look at. All the action is pretty expansive, on sets even more grandiose in their 23rd Century chrome – Miranda’s photography makes Star Trek feel like more of an epic than it ever has before. Beyond is one of those movies that you can experience on a visceral level: an early sequence in which the Enterprise is attacked is a truly brilliant set piece, that not only has a strong pace and wonderful camerawork, but also feels as emotional as it should – finally a movie which seems to want you to care.
And with characters like these, why on Klingon wouldn’t you (Disclaimer: No Klingons on this occasion)? Counting back, this is the TENTH movie in which the original Star Trek characters have featured, the third with the new cast who now seem totally assured in their roles. Admittedly, that’s a lot of context for Kirk, Spock et al to feel three-dimensional (or more dimensions – such is the randomness of Star Trek), but these characters have even more added to them throughout Star Trek Beyond. James T. Kirk, played by ‘Hollywood’s fourth favourite Chris’ Pine is pondering over reaching the age of his long-dead father (played by Hollywood’s third favourite Chris, Hemsworth), and Spock tussles with his own death (a touching tribute to the deceased Leonard Nimoy), something which is admittedly weird to consider. Some characters do fall to the wayside, most notably Uhura and Sulu (who has been made gay in a tribute to the LGBT activism of original Sulu, George Takei, which he hated), but Zoe Saldana and John Cho have more than enough charisma to keep them interesting in what little screen time they have.
And I suppose ‘charisma’ is the perfect word to describe most of the performances here. Pine began his tenure as Kirk with a much more explosive, rough and ready portrayal, but he’s toned it down a bit into a more restrained performance. Despite him being more on the rails as a protagonist, he still remains a brilliant screen prescence, and Pine allows the flashes of arrogance and charm that make him a superb lead actor. Zachary Quinto is an even better Spock, grounding everybody’s favourite Vulcan with an emotional backbone behind his controlled, logical surface – he’s also never been funnier, in a truly hilarious double act with Leonard McCoy (Karl Urban) which deserves its own buddy cop spin off movie. Urban is terrifically blunt as the Enterprise’s Chief Medical Officer with a top-notch deadpan delivery. The fact is, Star Trek Beyond is funnier than most mainstream comedies, and that’s not by chance. The way in which the narrative is constructed is designed for the Enterprise crew to bounce off each other, and with members of the crew that aren’t usually seen together (Kirk and Chekov, for example, played sweetly by Anton Yelchin in a showing that reminded us what a talent he was). It’s almost as if Star Trek Beyond, a $185m sci-fi action blockbuster, was written by a comedian.
I imagine Simon Pegg must have peed a little when he got told Paramount wanted him to write Beyond: a Trekkie at heart, the Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz writer has taken the opportunity with both hands, along with screenwriting partner Doug Jung. As well as cheekily giving his own character, Montgomery Scott, far more to do than usual, he’s managed to put together a really solid blockbuster screenplay, that hits all the beats you want and hits them well. The dialogue is snappy, and the pace relatively propulsive although it has its occasional dragging points. The script also introduces a strong new character, Jaylah, played impressively by Kingsman‘s blades-for-legs assassin Sofia Boutella, and a choice of music during the final act will have your mouth wide open, either in amazement or bemusement. The plot, admittedly, is a little thin however, with a couple of quite major plot holes and in Krall, a pretty weak villain by recent Trek standards that resides the commanding Idris Elba to wearing enough prosthetics to make him look more Play-Doh than space rogue, although there have been plenty worse. And, after the brilliant Enterpise sequence, the few minutes in the aftermath of that set piece are Batman v Superman level jumbled, with four separate subplots going on at once without any one feeling like the main plot – it’s a psychological fact that the human mind can only process three separate plots at any one time, so unless Pegg wanted to expand the horizons of the human brain then that has to be counted as an error.
Another positive that Star Trek Beyond has is one that the J.J. Abrams-directed predecessors don’t. Beyond feels like an extended episode of the TV series in tone, and no, not as in the movie is two hours of William Shatner stage-punching ‘alien beings’ which are really wearing something a fancy dress shop would spit at, Meryl Streep a la The Devil Wears Prada. Lin, Abrams’ replacement as he jumped ship to that other massive space-set franchise, focuses on the characters while also allowing for Fast & Furious style action scenes at the right moments. Beyond is definitely more focused on Trek-lore as well, with the peace and unity that the utopian Federation has provided questioned by Idris Mutant Elba Turtle. The film never stylistically feels like its going to shift, although it does sometimes straddle the very edges of plausibility (which I know could be expected from a movie set in the mid-23rd Century, directed by a filmmaker best known for a runway sequence which would need 25 miles of tarmac to obey the laws of physics, where hopping to an uncharted galactic nebula is quicker than walking around the corner for some milk).
Who cares though? Its Summer, and more importantly perhaps, its Trek. And my god, its a relief that somebody remembered how to make a good tent-pole movie. While Star Trek Beyond is definitely a flawed affair, with a loose-ish plot, a weak villain and some small pace issues, its got enough charm to make you look past it. It’s another solid, winning entry in the Trek franchise and a movie that I reckon is finally worth you going down to the cinema for. I’m really beginning to believe that the reboot cast has become just as assured, if not even more so, in their roles than their 1960s counterparts, and what was once a franchise famed for its inability to make an odd-numbered movie good is now looking like one of the more reliable franchises around. Beyond wouldn’t have me this happy in many other summers – but you’ll take any drink when you’re stranded in a desert.
BEST WATCHED: Get the kids outside, fuel the car up, get on down to your nearest cinema screen (make sure you go on Tuesday for £5, you’ll feel better), and have fun.
Remember when I said Chris Pine was only Hollywood’s fourth favourite Chris? Well, with the box office coming in nicely and the reviews looking good too, Paramount have already confirmed a FOURTEENTH (let that sink in) Star Trek film, and have also made the announcement that they are bringing back Kirk’s father into the frame, played by the slightly more preferred Chris of the Hemsworth variety, in a move which will probably see Pine in a bar on his own in the not-too-distant future. The Trek ensemble are also lined up for plenty of other movies. Pine has a major role in Wonder Woman next year of course, whose trailer has just been released, while Idris Elba will be heard in cinemas again from Friday on with his minor role in the much-anticipated Finding Dory. And of course, Zoe Saldana won’t be out of space for too long, with her announced to return as Gamora in Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 and as Smurfahontas herself, Neytiri, in three ludicrously budgeted, ludicrously delayed sequels to the ludicrously successful Avatar.