Star Trek Beyond

I was thinking…

…it is often said a story is only as good as its villain. The American Film Institute lists Hannibal Lector and Darth Vader as two of the top three best film villains of all time and with little wonder. While none of Star Trek‘s villains list anywhere in the top 50 of that list, there have certainly been some over the years worth remembering. No one can easily forget Kahn Noonien Singh. Or should I say, Kaaaaahhhhhhnnn! And there is the fanatical and cold Borg Collective.

Unfortunately, when it comes to really diabolical antagonists, worthy and infamous enough to go down forever in the annals of film history, Star Trek‘s roster feels a little thin. For the half century of its existence, not to mention the scope of its domain, the Star Trek universe is decidedly lacking in really–I’m aware of the contradiction here–good villains.

While 2009’s Star Trek reboot certainly catapulted the franchise back into the realm of relevancy once more, its follow-up rushed to tap the Khan tree, leaving us with, well, the rather Star Trekkie aliens of Star Trek Beyond.

Three years into their five year mission, the crew of the Enterprise are encountering one strange alien culture after another. Receiving a gift of peace from one such culture, the crew returns to a planet-sized Federation space station for some well deserved rest and recuperation.

While there, Spock (Zachary QuintoHitman: Agent 47) (read the review here), learns of the passing of his alternate reality self (Leonard Nimoy), which sends him down a course that may lead him away from Starfleet.

Shortly after Captain James Kirk (Chris PineThe Finest Hours) is offered a promotion to Vice-Admiral, an alien arrives, requesting aid. She claims her people had been attacked and imprisoned by an unknown species that hides beyond an uncharted asteroid field and nebula.

Because the Enterprise has the best navigation system in the fleet, the crew is sent into the unknown to aid the alien, but they are almost instantly ambushed by the same species who attacked their guide. Losing the Enterprise in the process of the rather one-sided fight, the crew is separated and marooned on a desolate planet.

While the majority of the survivors are imprisoned by their attackers, they discover the gift of peace they had just received is not at all what it seems.

Still unaware of who their antagonists are or why they are there, several members of the bridge crew find aid in a resourceful, plucky and wily alien girl named Jaylah (Sofia BoutellaKingsman: The Secret Service, read the review here).

I am not going to engage in a Star Trek vs. Star Wars debate, but I have a persistent problem with the alien species in the Star Trek films and myriad television series. One would think, after 50 years, they would manage to come up with something marginally, well, alien looking. Unfortunately, their aliens mostly still look like what they are: humans in prosthetics and face paint. While there is a viable reason for this in Star Trek Beyond, (Idris Elba‘s Krall being a perfect example), it would be nice to see some more imaginative design work in the films to come.

Writers Simon Pegg and Doug Jung also, for no reason whatsoever, thought to push forward an unnecessary agenda by making the character of Mr. Sulu a homosexual. It served no purpose to the story, moved nothing along and felt entirely tacked on. Even though it was done to somehow pay homage to the actor George Takei, that reasoning feel apart the second George Takei himself protested the move. Calling it an “unfortunate” decision, he went on to say it was “a twisting of Roddenberry’s creation.” Sulu was meant to be very heterosexual, by Takei’s own admission.

Those things aside, Beyond still holds onto the wry wit and humor that had been established by the earlier films and especially by the original series. The bickering dichotomy of Spock and Bones is more delightful than ever and Karl Urban (Dredd, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers) brings a warm, curmudgeony hilarity to the character.

What’s a science fiction film without a slew of special effects? In this respect, Star Trek has come a very, very long way from the Christmas lights and cardboard sets of the original low-budget 1960’s television series. Of course, it’s not a low-budget–if you’ll pardon the pun–enterprise anymore. Obvious stunt doubles in every other frame of a fight scene and models being held aloft by visible wires will no longer cut it; and, rest assured, those days are gone.

Star Trek Beyond does make some interesting points regarding conquest, struggle, exploration and the price of peace. While it is clear the Trekker school of thought is mired firmly in the peacenik camp, it does so riding, in an ironic–or some may say, hypocritical–way on the back of war and belligerence. I found myself more interested in this struggle than in the attempts at character development, which felt somewhat weak and underdeveloped.

The problem with an ensemble cast and a two hour run time is there is limited space to flesh everyone out to the degree they deserve. However, where movie serials are concerned, one need not attempt to develop every character equally with every installment in the franchise. The writers, unfortunately, did attempt it and their efforts fall somewhat flat.

Nevertheless, the writers did have to deal with the real world death of Leonard Nimoy and especially the unexpected and untimely death of Anton Yelchin. While Nimoy’s Spock is written out in an understandable way, Yelchin had still been alive for principal photography; so how they’re going to explain his character’s absence in following installments remains to be seen. That being said, as I have a personal love of the Chekov character, I was extremely pleased he played a rather prominent role in this Star Trek.

While Star Trek Beyond is still far from the best of the new series, even my parents enjoyed, which certainly says something. Plus, it stands well above some of the original films in its levels of excitement, writing and pacing. It also ends in a way that seems totally appropriate for the franchise’s 50th anniversary.

Considering what has transpired in this film, both in front of and behind the camera, it leaves us wondering: just where will the crew of the Enterprise go boldly next?

Ammo Dump rating: 7 out of 10

I’ll talk more about this film and others during my radio show every Friday afternoon at 4:10 pm. Listen in on WJBC-AM1230 in Central Illinois. For the rest of the world, listen on WJBC.com. And don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @ALphaEXray.

Star Trek Beyond
Rated PG-13
Run time: 122 minutes (2 hours 2 minutes)

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