Star Trek: Beyond is the 13th film to spin out of Gene Roddenberry’s original series, which began-hard to believe-over 50 years ago. The film is a change of tone with a new writer in Simon Pegg (who also plays Scotty) and a new director in Fast & the Furious’ Justin Lin taking over for JJ Abrams. The last installment, 2013’s Star Trek: Into Darkness, was deeply divisive, but Beyond came out in the back half of a deeply disappointing summer to fairly good reviews and did well enough that a fourth installment with Chris Pine & Zachary Quinto’s new crew is already scheduled. Despite all that, this was the first Star Trek film I didn’t see in the theaters on opening weekend since Star Trek VI. I didn’t see it in the theaters at all. I never felt excited by anything I’d seen. The first trailer, featuring the Beastie Boys “Sabotage” blaring over what looked nothing like Trek really put me off (though if I knew the song was going to be a major plot point I probably would still be putting off seeing the film). Mild spoilers below.
Star Trek: Beyond is very comparable to every film The Next Generation cast made (outside of First Contact) in that a day after I saw the film, I’ve largely forgotten everything about it. That’s tragic given the death of cast member Anton Yelchin means that this is the last film we’ll have a Chekov (at least with this crew). A new direction for the series was a good idea after the last film, but in all honesty, I think Into Darkness is a better movie than Beyond. Yes, even JJ Abrams will tell you that Into Darkness made a major mistake in trying to recreate Wrath of Khan, but that film still was better written, acted, and directed than this one. There are moments in Into Darkness that are among the best of the franchise. The only things that really stood out to me in Beyond were 1) Michael Giacchino’s continuing brilliance in scoring these films and 2) the handling of the death of Leonard Nimoy.
Even before Yelchin’s death, Trek fans were mourning the loss of the original Spock and the heart of the franchise: Leonard Nimoy. Without Nimoy’s willingness to return to his signature role and help JJ Abrams create this new path for the series, there’s no way it would have been as widely accepted by series die-hards and casual fans alike. While his cameo in the last film felt forced, I think it was very appropriate to address it in Beyond and it’s done in the simple, tasteful way that Zachary Quinto’s Spock is informed of the death of his alternate universe counterpart, and receives a final gift from Nimoy’s character that is so touching and so RIGHT that it brought tears to my eyes. So, for that alone, Beyond is worth seeing, but there’s very little other character development for anyone.
The crew is three years into the five year mission they began at the end of Into Darkness and they are FRIED. I liked that there was a weariness to them and much more familiarity than in the past films. That felt right. They’ve been in such close quarters for so long now that they’re no longer referring to each other by rank and have settled into the kind of first name familiarity the original crew developed. Unfortunately, there’s no plot awaiting this crew or memorable foe worthy of their time. How you manage to waste Idris Elba as a villain is Beyond me (punny). There are just odd sequences in this film that don’t feel true to Trek’s core. The opening scene, for example. The previous two films had probably the two best opening sequences of any in the series and this one landed with a quizzical thud.
The next big error was destroying the Enterprise…..again. Every crew does not have to tank an Enterprise. The first time it was done it was shocking and well-plotted. This time the ship’s fate was featured in all the marketing and a freaking swarm of space bees took it down. The film doesn’t have that funny, kinetic energy of the last two. It’s downright boring in spots. There’s lots of things about it that I think Justin Lin thought were cool in a Fast & Furious sort of way, but that series only really got memorable after he left it. In the end, nothing of consequence (aside from the Spock storyline which isn’t a huge part of the film) has happened and we’re left in pretty much exactly the same place the first two films ended.
I know this review is harsh, but the 2011 and 2013 installments showed so much potential and gave us a new grew with amazing rapport. This film feels like a waste of time. We were poised to introduce the Klingons finally after the last film, but instead of them we get this one-off adventure that feels more like a middling episode of one of the series than an event film. I know lots of people liked it, and came back feeling good about it, but if you saw it in the theater, five months later do you really remember much about it? The actors are so good and so likable, and the farewell to Nimoy so perfect that overall my score for the film is positive, but I can’t ever really see myself watching it in its entirety again.