Feature Article

Star Trek Beyond Review

Set phasers to "fun"

After Star Trek Into Darkness, the rebooted Star Trek universe was starting to feel a little boring. In Star Trek Beyond, Kirk and Spock are bored too. They’re bored of going where no one has gone before, and want for something different. Conveniently, Beyond steers away from the convoluted space-faring stories we’ve seen in the previous films. Instead it feels more like a palate-cleansing monster-of-the-week-style escapade, and it’s every bit as entertaining in its own right.

To get there, Star Trek Beyond takes some drastic measures. The events that occur during the film’s first quarter dramatically frees the plot of a driving narrative device from the last two films. A brutal and unknown alien enemy is introduced in the process, and the Enterprise crew eventually become stranded and separated from each other on an unknown planet. Forced outside of their comfort zones, the rest of the film sees Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) and company scurrying to survive, improvising with their ingenuity, and forging new alliances to try and gain footholds against seemingly unbeatable foes.

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As conventional as it may sound, this setup works well. By dividing characters, Beyond manages to spend just enough time with each major Enterprise officer to give audiences a proper sense of motivation for each, as well as taking time to introduce Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), a survivor they encounter along the way. The film does not assume knowledge of these characters, and as a result, each hero’s personality is painted clearly but not bluntly--something director Justin Lin executes well.

This arrangement also allows the film to balance scenes of exposition, action, and its increased amounts of humor more easily, although some story branches are more enjoyable than others. The mismatched couples of Scotty (Simon Pegg) and Jaylah, as well as Spock (Zachary Quinto) and McCoy (Karl Urban) provide Beyond’s more amusing scenarios. The characters shine as they jaunt through planetary hijinks and clashes of culture, laying the foundations for the film’s more memorable, lighthearted tones.

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Kirk and Chekov (Anton Yelchin) on the other hand, are left to deal with the film’s far less compelling MacGuffin thread. Kirk displays some cunning and takes part in the majority of action scenes, but the two are otherwise left to turn the dull cogs of exposition. Sulu (John Cho) and Uhura (Zoe Saldana) are annoyingly restricted from flaunting their nature too much, since the situations they’re put in don’t afford them much room to do so. Most disappointing of all is Idris Elba’s role as Krall, the leader of Star Trek Beyond’s antagonistic enemies. Elba’s usual intimidating finesse is mostly lost behind layers of makeup and prosthetics, ultimately making him just another big, loud guy who really wants to get his hands on the thing the heroes happen to have.

Most of the Enterprise crew’s encounters with Krall and his cronies take place planetside. This leads to a sizable number of close-quarter battles in Beyond, and unfortunately for the viewer, these scenes are difficult to watch. The hand-to-hand fights are shot too close to the action and edited far too erratically, making it impossible to follow the flow and dynamism of the conflicts. Lin’s direction here is a little too fast, too furious. One of these fights broke out in darkness, and immediately made me wonder why the film even bothered when Scotty, Spock and McCoy could have be delivering more chuckle-worthy lines instead.

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Action scenes that embrace the film's sci-fi setting are much stronger. The scenario for the final encounter is positively dizzying, and scenes involving the overwhelmingly fearsome enemy starfighters are satisfyingly devastating. Newcomer Jaylah also brings with her unique gadgets that add a playfulness to clashes with enemies.

However, despite the presence of all the interesting, futuristic technology, the most definitively memorable part of Star Trek Beyond is the almost flippant incorporation of 20th-Century Earth technology into the film. The explanation of their presence in the on-screen world is flimsy at best, but the way these devices are used to service the plot is, to put it lightly, hilariously baffling. At one point the film reaches a height of ridiculousness so great, it spills over into awe-inspiring. Although this plot device could easily turn viewers off, it does serve as an astute exclamation mark to emphasise Beyond’s more eccentric direction.

Beyond tries not to retread old ground, and its resulting tone and high moments can feel unexpected. The film shirks a number of Star Trek reboot tropes, and there are moments that feel more like Guardians of the Galaxy than Star Trek. But the time spent with the Enterprise crew on this fun, lively adventure still feels valuable, leaving you eager to see them get back on deck to search the galaxy for more escapades like it.

The GoodThe Bad
Interaction between characters is a treatClose-combat scenes are terrible
Use of humor is frequent and endearingLeading antagonist is generic
Enemy race is legitimately fearsomeSome characters are underrepresented
Hilariously baffling at times

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Edmond Tran

Editor / Senior Video Producer for GameSpot in Australia. Token Asian.

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