Sunday, 31 July 2016

"This is where it begins, Captain. This is where the frontier pushes back!"

Well received upon its initial release, J.J. Abrams' Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) has since undergone a recalibration and a re-evaluation. Criticised for being too dark, for its blatant riffing on previous series entries such as Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan (1982), and for simply not feeling like a Star Trek movie.

Star Trek Beyond feels like a reaction to that reaction. Here is a movie where the emphasis is on good, old fashioned fun, and that feels, in a good way, almost like an extended episode of the original Star Trek TV show, right down to stranding the crew of the USS Enterprise on an alien world where the sets sometimes feel fashioned out of polystyrene. It is a movie that, in almost every word of Simon Pegg and Doug Jung's (Confidence) script, is a direct response to the fans' criticisms.





That kind of fan service can, of course, be dangerous, and Star Trek Beyond is not without its flaws. But the key tweak here is a welcome one. Namely, a new focus on Chris Pine's Kirk, Zachary Quinto's Spock, and Karl Urban's Bones. That trio were the beating heart of the original iteration of Star Trek, but in terms of scenes together, they have been largely lacking in this new, younger quise. Indeed, Urban has talked about his reluctance to return for this instalment, and given how McCoy was reduced to virtual cameo status in Star Trek Into Darkness, you couldn't have blamed him if he had walked. But here, he is given so much more to do, as Bones and an injured Spock become a virtual double act, bantering and bickering with each other as they face what seems to be near certain death. Quinto is also excellent in these scenes, which allow him to further showcase Spock's humanity without ever compromising the character's emotional core.

Pine is the standout here, though, as Kirk wrestles with the ghost of his father, and a monumental career decision. Once again, the actor strikes the perfect blend of swaggering action hero, thoughtfulness and occasional William Shatner nuance. There is a moment during a third act action scene that should, by any rights, be utterly ridiculous, yet Pine sells it with nothing more than a gleam in his eye and a typically Kirk smirk.

In an ensemble movie, heavy emphasis on some characters may mean others are somewhat underserved, and that does happen here. Even though the film's structure allows new director Justin Lin (Fast & Furious) to split the Enterprise's crew into different factions and place the emphasis on resourcefulness and teamwork as they try to figure out a way off the rock they are stranded upon, there is still not a huge amount for Zoe Saldana's Uhura, John Cho's Sulu and the late Anton Yelchin's Chekov to do. Elsewhere, Pegg's Scotty is a little more involved, joining forces with Sofia Boutella's (Kingsman: The Secret Service) native survivalist Jaylah. Her striking monochrome look and ability to multiply herself holographically certainly make her and interesting addition to the line-up. Abrams may have moved on from the Star Trek reboot, but his biggest legacy was in casting these roles perfectly, and there is a joy to be gleaned from watching them interact.

If there is one area in which the film suffers as a result of pushing back against the previous movie, it is in the choice of villain. For all his faults, Benedict Cumberbatch's Khan was a glorious highlight of Star Trek Into Darkness, always needling away at our heroes, always front and centre, so much so that if felt at times as though Kirk and his crew were occasionally cameoing in their own movie.

Krall, again, seems like a direct response to that. After an eye-catching entrance, Krall retreats to the edges of the movie, his motivations initially unclear, his grand plan somewhat ill-conceived in design. He is a mystery rather than a fully fledged character, and when we do catch up with him, he monologues in the standard tones of the many nondescript nemeses that have gone before him. You sense that he is a character whose anti-Federation viewpoint is designed to spark debate – is Starfleet really a good thing? But the answer is obviously yes, and so the debate quickly dies. Sadly, there is precious little in Krall's words or deeds to suggest why an actor as talented as Idris Elba (Prometheus) would subject himself to hours of prosthetics.

Those concerned by the hiring of Lin to replace Abrams need not be. Yes, he is the man who revitalised the Fast And Furious franchise by taking it in a gloriously over the top direction, but here he dials down that freneticism for something more considered. The film is relatively low on the explosions front, and there are whole scenes here where the camera barely moves. But when the action does start, he is more than capable of handling it, most notably in the bravura extended sequence when the Enterprise is torn apart by Krall's seemingly unstoppable swarm of ships. And throughout it all, there is a lovely reverence for the legacy of Star Trek.

Powered by a spirited sense of adventure and a teamwork dynamic, Star Trek Beyond is a return to fun and form for the rebooted franchise that serves as a sensitive send-off for both Yelchin and Leonard Nimoy.






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