It’s bad enough having to see Star Trek Beyond with a heavy heart, the deaths of Leonard Nimoy and Anton Yelchin casting shadows that make getting into the film difficult. But it’s even worse that their legacies are irrevocably tied to a rebooted franchise in which Gene Roddenberry’s utopian, socially aware vision of the future is stripped away and replaced with action sequences and special effects. Star Trek Beyond, the third film in this new franchise, continues this trend; like its predecessors, it plays less like thoughtful science fiction and more like lightweight summer popcorn escapism, with too many scenes devoted to explosions, laser blasts, aerial chases, and hand-to-hand combat.
Director Justin Lin, who takes the reins from J.J. Abrams, understands action very well, having directed four of the current seven Fast & Furious films. Yes, but they were made strictly in the name of entertainment, wisely avoiding all attempts at edification – in essence giving audiences license to put their brains on autopilot for two hours. This doesn’t comply with the Star Trek universe. Oh yes, there have been stunts and special effects in all previous film and television Star Trek incarnations, but for the most part, they were also imbued with an awareness of character, theme, and the hope of a better tomorrow. This new franchise doesn’t show much effort being put into any of these. It’s more about filling theater seats than actually saying something.
Because Star Trek Beyond is more action oriented, audiences are far more likely to pick up on the very implausibilities and irresponsible narrative touches a good sci-fi film would make us not care about or entirely not notice. Take, for example, a vast Starfleet space station, in which city-style skylines trail across interlocking concentric circles; it doesn’t make much sense that each circle would have its own center of gravity, nor that the gravitational pulls on the other circles wouldn’t be affected, nor that the massive glass sphere containing the circles give the population the illusion of sunlight and a blue sky. Why would there be city-style skylines in outer space, anyway? I grant you it’s great to look at, especially in IMAX 3D, but logistically, it makes no sense.
Also take the main villain, Krall (Idris Elba), a reptilian-faced soldier who possesses the ability to absorb life forces. His plan to destroy the aforementioned space station is clear, but his reasons for wanting to destroy it are anything but. The best we get are very opaque speeches about unified societies being weak. Villains, even the campier ones, are only effective if we’re made to understand their motivations. In the case of Krall, it’s as if he’s evil simply for the sake being evil, of giving the crew of the Enterprise an excuse to be in a sequel. It’s also not adequately explained how he obtained an army of followers vast enough to pilot what appear to be thousands of shuttle crafts linked like bees to a hive mind.
Now let’s ponder why a hundred-year-old crashed Starfleet vessel would contain a motorcycle, and I mean apart from an obvious ploy to give James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) a reason to look like a stunt cyclist in one scene. While we’re at it, let’s consider the thinking that went into the said hundred-year-old ship having some kind of futuristic boombox, and the boombox having access to actual twentieth-century songs, and the only two songs that get played being Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” and the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage.” How would a stranded alien (Sofia Boutella) know how to reactivate Earth technology, even if she happens to be an engineer? More to the point, did co-star/co-screenwriter Simon Pegg really believe these songs in any way reflect what Star Trek is about? Or was it merely a way to push the franchise that much further away from Roddenberry’s optimistic sensibilities?
Other issues plague the film, the most notable being the last chapter of the confusing, nonsensical subplot involving the young Spock (Zachary Quinto) and the old Spock (Leonard Nimoy) existing in the same timeline, I think. “Ambassador Spock has died,” the young Spock announces … which technically means he’s announcing his own future death, which I don’t think is possible, not even in the heightened reality of this film. And then there’s the very title Star Trek Beyond. In what way the Enterprise or her crew go beyond anything is something the film doesn’t bother to address. It sounds every bit like a title conceived of merely because it’s marketable and it looks good on posters and billboards.