It’s always impressive when a film can create so much excitement on the screen, but produce zero excitement in the audience. And that’s exactly what Star Trek Beyond achieves with its CGI-saturated action sequences, poor story, and forced subplots. Audiences will be staring blankly for roughly two hours, waiting for something interesting to happen or for a moment to actually touch them on an emotional level, but it will never come. Instead, they’ll leave the theater having watched yet another average action movie.
After failing to broker peace between two alien races, the crew of the starship Enterprise docks at a Federation stronghold called York. Here, Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) and Commander Spock (Zachary Quinto) consider leaving the Enterprise after wrestling with their own individual concerns. Before decisions can be made, a ship in distress arrives at York, and its pilot begs Starfleet to send help to her crew stranded in a nearby nebula. The Enterprise is dispatched to investigate, but is set upon by an overwhelming force led by the ruthless Krall (Idris Elba). Most of the Enterprise crew is killed in the attack, which also dashes the starship to pieces. Only Kirk and a handful of his officers manage to escape capture and land on a nearby planet where Krall has staged his base of operations. It’s up to Kirk and a handful of stalwarts to rescue his crew, find out what Krall wants, and stop him from effecting his plans.
Star Trek Beyond suffers from having too many “important” characters with specialized skillsets. As such, there’s an expectation that each character will have an exclusive moment that only they can solve or at least be useful in a singular way. Bones (Karl Urban) will have to perform medical treatments, Scotty (Simon Pegg) will do engineering things, Sulu (John Cho) will navigate, and so on and so forth. But trying to accommodate every principal character’s specialty does feel belabored, especially with characters like Spock, who don’t necessarily have a specialty and must rely on obnoxious character traits to stand out. Sadly, Uhura (Zoe Saldana), with nothing to translate, spends the film as someone for the bad guy to talk to.
Krall is one of the weakest and under-developed villains to grace a tent pole Hollywood film in a long time despite the heroic effort by Elba to bring the character to life. Krall seems to have a grudge against the Federation, but doesn’t explain it until the very end of the film. And when audiences discover who and what he was decades prior they’ll be even more confused. There’s probably some bit of dialog that explains away the confusion, but it’s so brief that most will probably not catch it. This writer definitely didn’t.
The best part of the film is Sofia Boutella who plays the alien Jaylah. Not only is she cool to look at, but her character is fun, sympathetic, and memorable. She’s the only character with clear motives and who audiences can understand why she does what she does at any given time. It’s a shame that the film didn’t complete her story arc of avenging her father’s death at the hands of Krall’s primary henchman. As a result, the film feels incomplete.
For all of the criticism J. J. Abrams received for his overuse of lens flare in his Star Trek reboot at least had a specific aesthetic he was trying to achieve. And, all things being equal, he was able to communicate a feeling of vastness, uncertainty, and exploration with his film. Director Justin Lin’s turn at the helm just produces purely utilitarian shots, and, save for a couple of inspired imagery towards the end of the film, there’s almost nothing evocative on-screen.
Star Trek Beyond is, after all, an action movie, like the prior films in the rebooted series; so there’s little time for actual art. There’s also little time for the intelligence that made the Star Trek brand what it was and so beloved by its fans. Instead, we have ridiculous action sequences, literal cliffhangers that produce no tension, and heroes spouting longwinded retorts to villains while precious seconds tick away on a doomsday timer in another room. Whatever this film is, it doesn’t feel like Star Trek. It also doesn’t feel exciting, no matter how much CGI litters the screen.